Mad Times

“To be sane in a mad time is bad for the brain, worse for the heart.” – Wendell Berry

December 14th, 2006 at 12:20 am

Lost Glove #110

black glove on gravel drive by a xmas tree lot

This is probably the single most complex lost glove photo I’ve ever taken. It was too dark to get anything hand-held that didn’t make the background all zig-zaggy, so I put the camera on my little folding tripod that I carry everywhere and hardly ever use. The framing I wanted didn’t put the glove in the focus sweet spot so I had to tilt the camera and tripod down to get a focus lock then put it back with the button half-pressed before doing the full press to take the picture. But it was too dark to get a focus lock so with my other hand I shone my green Inova LED flashlight on the glove while doing the half-press. Clicking the full press was enough to blur the background too, so I set the self timer to make it wait before snapping the final picture. And I used the night scene mode to get a long exposure of the background. Whee!

My bike is actually right in the center of this shot, but I cleverly camouflaged it by strapping our Christmas tree to it before taking the picture.

December 14th, 2006 at 12:19 am

Lost Glove #109

black glove on brick walk outside window with xmas display

At Gilman Village outside Lilypad Books

December 14th, 2006 at 12:11 am

Lost Glove #108

tattered black glove by a red curb

From December 11

December 14th, 2006 at 12:10 am

Lost Glove #107

grey glove on a bench with seattle winter in background

From December 8

December 14th, 2006 at 12:09 am

Lost Glove #106

black glove in a gutter by a utility box

From November 1

December 13th, 2006 at 10:50 pm

Red Lightning by John Varley

big spaceship with a lightning strike behind itSequel to Red Thunder, but set 20 years later. The kids from the first book are the parents of the kids in this book. And the kids in this book spend a lot more time as baggage than their parents did in the earlier adventures.

This book also lacks the single story arc of Thunder. The first half of the book shows the family heading to Earth (from Mars, natch) to attempt a rescue of grandma from her Florida hotel in the wake (heh) of a major Atlantic ocean tsunami. The afterword of the book reveals that this part of the book was written before the 2004 tsunami and long before the Katrina fiasco. In light of that, the book is astoundingly prophetic both about the scale of damage from such an event and the utter lack of preparation for dealing with the aftermath.

The second half of the book is about a corporate and governmental man hunt in the wake of the disappearance of the quirky genius Jubal from the first book and the impact of another of his physics-redefining inventions.

The book is fun reading, but the resolutions of both halves of the story left me rolling my eyes at implausibilities.

December 11th, 2006 at 11:53 pm

Darwin’s Children by Greg Bear

Child's profile with Earth in place of eyeSequel to Darwin’s Radio. I was disappointed in the first book, but based on Bear’s record of usually writing stuff I enjoy, I gave this one a chance. Oh well.

The primary plot mover is that the US has reacted with fear to the new species that seems to be trying to emerge. The fear is somewhat justified in that there’s a literal viral element to the conception of these new children, but with a couple of notable exceptions (in millions of cases), the new children don’t seem to pose a medical threat. The story revolves around the measures various factions take to sequester the new children and the actions other factions take to resist.

The problem I have with the book is that while there’s some degree of plausibility to the quarantine approach, it’s no fun to read about. What I was hoping to get was more about the implications of the changes Bear made in the genome. Instead it’s just another exploration of man’s inhumanity to man.

December 9th, 2006 at 5:00 pm

Housekeeping and Indexing

Okay, I’ve tweaked the blog template into a semblance of the old color scheme and layout. I’ve made a sort of peace with wordpress’s annoyingly nanny-like html editor. And I think I’m done mucking with the look and feel for the moment.

Let me know if you have any remaining problems with presentation or usability here at Mad Times.

Now I’d like to draw your attention to the unassuming link in the upper left corner of the page that says “book review index“. The page lists every book I’ve read since I started keeping track back in 1992 (835 titles at the time of this posting) sorted by author (431 authors) and includes links to the individual reviews (712 links) or completion notes (another 161) (total of 873 book readings).

Faithful reader Dan requested this feature back in the 1990s. I had big plans to build a database and allow dynamic search result generation and all that kind of good stuff. Obsessed about that for ten years, then spent a few evenings hacking up this completely static implementation that seamlessly accesses all three book review systems I have here on the site. There’s probably a lesson for me to learn here somewhere. I’ll have to think about it for a while and see if I can come up with an unambiguous statement of what that lesson is and then move towards implementing a full system to work around it.

December 8th, 2006 at 11:49 pm

Camera obsessing

Am I being unreasonable for wanting all the features I want in one camera? Evidently, yes.

My Pentax Optio S4 has been my almost constant companion since 12/30/2003. I obsessed before buying it too. I’d keep on using it, but a few things are going wrong. There’s some dust on the sensor that’s showing up in my pictures (shows up as a blurry smudge in the lower left corner of some pictures.) The lens extension motor has started making an ominous screeching grindy noise recently. The eensy little tab that holds the battery in is showing signs of impending failure. The door that covers the battery/memory compartment doesn’t close all the way anymore due to a dent in the corner caused when I dropped the camera on a cement floor (no other obvious damage!) There’s been a cat hair stuck inside the lens for a couple years that hasn’t caused any visible problem. Recently, too, I’ve started noticing my pictures being more washed out looking in a way that makes me wonder if there’s something going wrong with the (ridiculously complex and tiny) lens.

I’m not going to give up having a pocketable point-and-shoot camera so it’s time to shop. I’ve narrowed it down (mostly!) to three cameras.

The Pentax is really only there because I’ve enjoyed the S4 so much and could probably be happy with the newer version in spite of the fact that it still has all the shortcomings of the S4. They really haven’t done anything new with this camera but add pixels (that I basically don’t need). It still doesn’t have an autofocus assist lamp. It goes up to ISO 400 now, but the other two cameras here go to 1600 and even 3200. It gets the love because it’s tiny (4mm thinner than the Panasonic, 8mm than the Fuji) and has two features I’ve used a lot in the S4 (time-lapse movies, and voice recorder mode) that neither of the others have. It’s also the only one with manual focus though I’ve only used it on the S4 a few times.

The Panasonic has the one feature I’ve been whining about and pining for in a point-and-shoot: a 28mm wide angle equivalent. Pant pant. Not only that, it’s in a lens made by Leica. Drool. The rest of the features are pretty good, but pretty comparable to the other two. On the down side, the thing appears to be worthless for low-light picture taking. While it can go to ISO 1600, it seems you can’t take it beyond ISO 200 before noise and noise-reduction artifacts make the results hardly worth bothering with.

The Fuji’s drool-worthy feature is class-leading low-light performance. It goes to ISO 3200, and even at those lofty heights produces images that don’t make me wince. Shiny! Plus it has aperture and shutter priority modes which neither of the other two offer. That’s something I’ve missed in the Optio S4 and whose lack is a real hindrance to learning to expose my pictures in a controlled way rather than relying on the camera to get it right. All the other features are comparable to the Panasonic except for the pedestrian (36-108mm equiv) zoom. The downside here is the fact that the camera uses xD memory instead of the SD I’ve invested in for my existing cameras. Argh! Plus it’s the chunkiest of the three.

Here’s the dpreview side-by-side comparison of all three plus the Optio S4.

Anybody got any advice for me? I’m leaning toward the Fuji despite the memory and size issue. What I really want is the 28mm Leica lens with the Fuji sensor and processor in the Optio box. Will somebody make me that, please?

Can you imagine the obsessing that’s going on with my ongoing internal debate about whether to get a DSLR and if so, which one? It ain’t pretty. And I’ve barely even started to think about lenses.

December 8th, 2006 at 10:45 pm

Holding down the couch

Cats curled at opposite ends of a couch

output here