Archive for February, 2006

I….broke it…*sob*

Tuesday, February 28th, 2006

Last night I turned on the little camera I talked so much shit about a couple of days ago and was greeted with a brilliant prismatic puddle punctuated with radiant fracture lines, a tiny silicon spider web of sadness. No picture except for the very bottom. Broken LCD.

I’ve got a 2-year warranty from Fry’s, but it specifically excludes broken screens. I’ll try anyway, but the chances seem pretty slim.

I’m not exactly brokenhearted about it–I wasn’t exactly in love with the damned thing–but I am pissed off. I know I’m not easy on electronics–or anything else, for that matter–but I didn’t inflict any particular trauma on this camera, that I’m aware of. It was in my coat pocket all day. It’s just a cheap piece of crap, the kind of thing I’m not used to getting from Sony, but am starting to see from them more and more often. It pisses me off. That’s almost a day and a half take-home pay down the drain. 12 hours gone from my life, and for what? Twenty fucking pictures? Fuck you, Sony!

Grrr….Grrr….Grrr….Grrrr…

You get what you pay for, I suppose. It’s just that I thought I was getting a cheap camera because it had limited functionality, not because it breaks if you look at it wrong.

I am hard on things, I guess. In refutation of the utter super-breakable crap that permeates the world today, here’s my list of things that last:

  • Motorola StarTAC — This phone was the bomb. As good the day I stopped using it as the day I started.
  • Sanyo SCP-5150 — This phone made the StarTAC look like a little bitch. I took this phone for swims with me just so it wouldn’t get lonely. It was eaten by a Chihuahua. It was dropped down cliffs. I used to throw it down on concrete sidewalks and stomp on it just to demonstrate how indestructible it was. I bought the successor model to this phone, the PM-8200, just because I was so impressed with the 5150. It seems like a good decision so far–Half the pretty is knocked off the outside, but the camera and both displays still work, even after a couple of good dunkings and a memorable episode involving the phone and I taking parallel 5-foot falls onto limestone (the phone came through it better than I did).
  • Doc Martens — I’ve had two pairs of boots and a pair of shoes. They’re the most durable shoes I’ve ever had, period…and I’m hard on shoes.
  • Structure 6-button polo — I’ve had a pair of these shirts since I was 19, and they’re still going strong. Not a rip in ‘em, and you know that’s not due to my careful storage and use. Structure used to make some damn fine shirts. I also had a couple of their raw silk “Architect’s Work Shirt”s, and they lasted a large number of years, too.

…sadly, that’s about it.

Well, surprise, surprise, surprise

Monday, February 27th, 2006

The latest issue of Foreign Affars contains a story by the former CIA National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, Paul Pillar. Not exactly a bleeding heart liberal pansy anti-war protestor, he has a few choice words about the Bush administration’s use of intelligence leading up to the Iraq war:

…it has become clear that official intelligence analysis was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions, that intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions already made, that damaging ill will developed between policymakers and intelligence officers, and that the intelligence community’s own work was politicized.

[The Administration's] perception of Saddam’s weapons capacities was shared by the Clinton administration, congressional Democrats, and most other Western governments and intelligence services. But in making this defense, the White House also inadvertently pointed out the real problem: intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs did not drive its decision to go to war. A view broadly held in the United States and even more so overseas was … that the best way to deal with the weapons problem was through an aggressive inspections program to supplement the sanctions already in place. That the administration arrived at so different a policy solution indicates that its decision to topple Saddam was driven by other factors.

The Bush administration’s use of intelligence on Iraq did not just blur this distinction [between intelligence gathering and policymaking]; it turned the entire model upside down. The administration used intelligence not to inform decision-making, but to justify a decision already made. It went to war without requesting — and evidently without being influenced by — any strategic-level intelligence assessments on any aspect of Iraq. … As the national intelligence officer for the Middle East, I was in charge of coordinating all of the intelligence community’s assessments regarding Iraq; the first request I received from any administration policymaker for any such assessment was not until a year into the war.

The intelligence community never offered any analysis that supported the notion of an alliance between Saddam and al Qaeda. Yet it was drawn into a public effort to support that notion.

…the Bush administration repeatedly called on the intelligence community to uncover more material that would contribute to the case for war. The Bush team approached the community again and again and pushed it to look harder at the supposed Saddam-al Qaeda relationship — calling on analysts not only to turn over additional Iraqi rocks, but also to turn over ones already examined and to scratch the dirt to see if there might be something there after all. The result was an intelligence output that — because the question being investigated was never put in context — obscured rather than enhanced understanding of al Qaeda’s actual sources of strength and support. … The process did not involve intelligence work designed to find dangers not yet discovered or to inform decisions not yet made. Instead, it involved research to find evidence in support of a specific line of argument — that Saddam was cooperating with al Qaeda — which in turn was being used to justify a specific policy decision.

Pretty heady stuff. Mr. Pillar also makes some very sensible suggestions as to how we might go about preventing this sort of thing in the future, but I won’t bother quoting from any of that, because you’ll never see any of them put into place.

Winter at Spyglass, and a cheap-ass camera.

Sunday, February 26th, 2006

Ed. Note: I dropped over by the greenbelt entrance on spyglass and made a few pictures with the crappy new camera I talk about below.

My main camera has started getting about 20 pictures on a set of batteries, and unless I can figure out what’s going wrong or fix it myself, is not likely to get fixed. The economics just don’t really warrant it–it’s a $300 camera, and it seems unlikely it’d get fixed for less than $200. Even if it’s less than that, I’m kind of reluctant to dump more money in a camera that lately seems more and more limited. Maybe I’m just looking for an excuse to buy a new camera.

In any case, I managed to convince myself that I needed a backup camera, in case I, say for instance, went on vacation and found out my “real” camera was not working correctly. So, I went down and got myself a teeny little Sony DSC-S600, Which is a very small, very basic 6MP camera. I picked it up for $230, including tax and a 2-year warranty from Fry’s.

I’m pretty torn about this camera. The voice of frugality tells me to take the camera back and keep the money, because it doesn’t do many of the things that I want. However, anybody know knows me knows that that voice of frugality is usually muffled by the door of the small closet I keep it in when I’m not beating it fists full of $10 quarter rolls.

The problem is that it does do a lot of stuff. It does more stuff than the Canon PowerShot A20 I used before I got my E-10. Technically speaking, it’s even got some features my E-10 doesn’t have, like continuous 5-zone autofocus and more-zoned evaluative metering. Plus it’s got more pixels. It’s even got a movie-recording mode that doesn’t look half-bad when set to the highest quality.

On top of that, it’s very compact and lightweight. My E-10 weighs two pounds and change. The DSC-S600 weighs “and change”–6.4 ounces, with batteries. It’s small enough to fit in a pocket, whereas the E-10 is small enough to fit in a trunk, and most backpacks.

Of course, that’s not the whole story. The big story is the stuff that’s missing. No aperature- ot shutter-priority mode. As a matter of fact, no exposure control at all beyond a +/- EV setting. That’s no great problem, although it is a problem. The great problem is that there’s no manual focus. I’ve shot days with my E-10 where I rarely futzed with the exposure–most of my time in big bend was spent in completely-automatic Program mode–but I didn’t realize how much I use manual focus. More accurately, I used the super-sharp DSLR focusing screen to tell what’s in focus, even when I wasn’t focusing manually. It makes a huge difference. it is very difficult to tell, with this new camera, what exactly it is that you’re taking a picture of.

Another thing is the resolution. Sure, it’s got 2 million pixels more than the E-10, but that isn’t a huge gain on its face (2240 horizontal pixels to 2816, an extra 25% in horizontal resolution). Moreover, the teeny lens and relatively small amount of light admitted by it combine to make the individual pixels on the S600 considerably noisier and less sharp than on the E-10. I’d definitely go so far as to say that the E-10 produces sharper pictures, even at the lower megapixel count. I should have known that big huge honking lens was good for something.

Almost as important, there’s no lens thread to mount filters and such on the S600. This isn’t a big deal, except for the polarizer. If you don’t think a polarizer is a big deal, check out this image, with no polarizer:

…and this image, with:

Luckily, I can jury-rig a solution by holding my 62MM polarizer in front of the lens. Primitive, but it works.

So the camera sucks compared to a much more sophisticated camera that still sells for half again as much, even after six years. No surprise there. It’s not supposed to replace the E-10, but provide something for me to limp along with until next month, when I can work a little more overtime and replace it with a Canon EOS-300D or EOS-10D. Or maybe, if I’m feeling rich, Canon EOS-350D or even a EOS-20D. They’re coming out with the 30D now, that’s gotta drive prices on the 20D down…

Yongfook: check it.

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006

Check out Yongfook. It’s this British web guy living in Japan that does a blog nominally about Japanese food and Tech. It’s “Sexier Than A Sexbot On Maximum Sex.” and “Tastier Than Buttered Jesus.” He’s got some pretty funny-ass podcasts.

More miscellaneous pics….

Tuesday, February 21st, 2006

When I was posting my Big Bend pics, I noticed that several galleries I’d created weren’t listed on the gallery list on the left. I’m not sure if I didn’t put them here before, or if they got wiped out in my bungled Drupal upgrade attempt, but I re-exported them, and here they are now:

  • Townlakia III – More pictures from Lown Lake, circa October 2005
  • Townlakia IV – Town Lake pics from November. It occurs to me I’ve got quite a bit of year-round Town Lake images.
  • Red Bud Isle – Red Bud Isle, Red Bud Trail at Town Lake, another city park. It’s awesome. November 2005
  • Back Porch Flowers – I saw some flowers on the Patio last November, snapped a few pics.
  • Campus II – Some pics from the UT campus last October.
  • Greenbelt in October – The Greenbelt. In October.
  • Mount Bonnell – Mount Bonnell, a big fault-created hill with Delusions of Grandeur and a cliff on one side. It’s got a nice view of Lake Austin. These are a few pics I snapped in October
  • Still Life — Honeycrisp apples and bottles taken in my bathroom. I’m only uploading this because of an OCD need to match the photos in my screensaver with the photos on my web site. Not really worth looking at, unless you don’t know what a large bottle of Chimay looks like.

Hiking Big Bend

Tuesday, February 21st, 2006

Everything at Big Bend seemed to be destined to go wrong, then be put right. I broke a tent pole, but fixed it with duct tape. My camera started eating batteries, but I brought 28. I forgot to change the ISO from 320, but this gave my pictures a grainy, 50’s-National-Geographic-Park-Feature vibe. I didn’t have the password to Paul’s computer, but called him from the top of Emory Peak to get it.

My plan was to camp out in the basin in the center of the Chisos Mountains, in the center of the park, do some day hikes from the central basin to some of the sights, and also to check out the Rio Grande.

I got to the park about 5p on Friday, and after a discouraging hike where I learned my camera was only taking twenty pictures on a set of batteries, I broke a tent pole and slept in my car the first night there. I don’t want to talk any more about that day.

Friday night was clear and cold, but I stayed pretty warm in my bag. From the window of my car I could see more stars in the sky than I’d ever seen before. I was awakened early in the morning by a light on my face, and opened my eyes to see a moon so bright it was hard to look directly at. I tried to go back to sleep, but ended up playing Tokobot in my bag until it was time to get up. It wasn’t exactly a back-to-nature trip, at least not while it was dark.

The next morning I woke up early and learned you can buy a damned good buffet breakfast from the restaurant at the lodge for seven bucks. I decided to make for Emory peak, and take it easy the first day. It wasn’t as easy as it should have been, but I got there–the highest point in the park, and the second-highest in Texas, at 7825 feet. The lodge was at 5400 feet, so the trail, about four and half miles long, climbed about 2400 feet. The view from the top was peace-inducing. I stayed as long as I could, and then headed back for the bottom.

I hurt all over by the time I got back to the lodge, so I washed down a Big Bend Burger with a Dos Equis at the lodge. It cost four dollars, same as the other Mexican and Texan (Shiner and Lone Star) beers there, while “American” beers, mostly Anheuser-Busch crap plus Fat Tire, were three. I thought this was funny. Of course, most of the people there weren’t from Texas, so it made a certain kind of sense.

I pitched my tent, then spent the next few hours in my car watching Gantz. It seemed a little lame to sit around in the park watching DVDs on a lap top, but if I went to bed when it got dark (8p), then I’d just wake up at four with nothing to do for hours on end. It got cold that night. Really cold. I don’t know how cold, but cold enough I always took the smallest possible sip of water, because anything more would give me chills. My bag was still pretty comfy, as long as I bundled up inside it.

The next morning I hit up the buffet again (fuck backpacking stoves when there’s a restaurant right up the hill), then went down to the hot springs on the Rio Grande. This is a crazy, magical place. There’s a little sand trail that winds between a cliff and sea of river cane on the bank of the Rio Grande until it comes to a building foundation with about two feet of wall left on each side. A hole in the bottom of the foundation lets in 105F spring water, which fills up the foundation until it spills over the lowest corner into the Rio Grande, which runs agains the outside of the foundation and was, when I was there, a few inches below the top of the wall, 12 feet deep and about 67F. It felt like Barton Springs. I’d spent a day and a half sweating my ass off in the Chisos, and this was about my idea of paradise. I stayed there for hours, finally going for a short hike in the desert to the east, then heading out to Boquillas canyon at the southeast corner of the park, where Mexicans from Boquillas set their goods on the American shore, with cups to hold payment and price lists held down with rocks, then wade across at night to collect the money. They hang out in lean-tos on the Mexican bank, I guess so that anybody who’d be cheap enough to cheat them will have to look at the people they’re fucking over while they do it.

That night in mountains was a lot warmer than the one before. I watched Suicide Club before I went to sleep. I understood it less then than I understand it now, but it’s still a very strange movie. I got up the next morning and hiked out to the Window, a large canyon that drains most of the basin and ends in a high pour-off that looks into the Mexican desert. By the time I got back up to the lodge parking lot, I was ready to get out of there. On the way out I stopped by a gas station, and a Schwan’s truck pulled up. Those bastards deliver everywhere.

I really didn’t like the pictures too much when I first got them, and I’m still not real happy, but for the purposes of telling a story, rather than as art for its own sake, they’ll do. They’re all pretty heavily edited to make them less harsh on the eyes.

Big Bend

Thursday, February 2nd, 2006

I’m going to Big Bend, probably Feb 17-19. I would go ahead and make a reservation, but I didn’t get my new check card in yet. :( It’s okay, I think there may still be a few available.

Anyway, it’s probably going to be camping in tents at a camp site with amenities. Max two cars, 8 people. 2 tents. Sleeping bags. I’ve got one tent. I gotta get a sleeping bag.

So far there’s two or maybe three people. If you wanna go let me know. I’m gonna hike and take pictures the whole time, prolly. I’ve never been to Big Bend.

-k. ~_~

Underworld: Evolution

Thursday, February 2nd, 2006

Yeah, so I haven’t seen that new Underworld movie yet. I’m going to go this weekend. If you haven’t seen it, you should come see it with me. Chris Taylor might be there. He was talking about coming up from SA this weekend.

Prolly Friday. Maybe Saturday.