5.31.2008

Old school digital: The Pentax K100D Super

My K100D Super fitted with an old 50mm Vivitar manual focus lens (not a quality item, it's made of plastic): Kitted out like this, nothing is automatic, it's a few steps removed from using a K1000 film slr... I like it.

I bought a Pentax K100D Super camera at around New Years -- the model was a closeout and quite heavily discounted. The K100D was a somewhat contrarian choice of cameras, Nikon (D4o, etc.) and Canon (the various incantations of the Digital Rebel series) dominate the market for entry level DSLRs. I've had the camera for almost 6 months now and have acquired a few lenses to go with the kit lens that came with the camera.

Some of the features that attracted me to the Pentax brand were in-camera (as opposed to in-lens) image stabilization, backwards lens compatibility, and size of the viewfinder.

I must say that my experiences with this camera have been somewhat mixed. On the plus side:
  • Excellent build quality. I didn't buy a Canon DSLR because I thought they felt cheap and plasticy. The Pentax feels solid.
  • I like having a camera with an optical viewfinder, I don't really need 'Liveview' or any feature like that.
  • I'm lazy and have poor technique, I use image stabilization pretty much all the time.
  • The 'only' 6mp K100d Super is an awesome low light camera (with the right lens), it will practically take photos in the dark. Unfortunately this is not something I need to do too often -- though some examples can be seen here.
However there are some cons as well:
  • The menus feel archaic, ergonomically it's not the best setup. The camera as a whole feels kind of old fashioned, it lacks the glitz of some other brands at this price point.
  • The software supplied with the camera is also pretty unpleasant. Unfortunately the assumption seems to be that a copy of Photoshop or Lightroom is close at hand.
  • A potentially handy feature, auto-ISO selection, doesn't seem to work very well.
  • Nothing to do with the camera, but backwards lens compatibility with all Pentax cameras, means that the market for used Pentax gear is very hot, it's discouraging. I really don't have the patience to deal with Ebay especially because anything desirable generates lots of interest.
  • The camera is loud: Taking a photo generates an audible 'clunk' as the mirror retracts.
  • [This has nothing specific to do with the k100D S] DSLR setups are heavy, require specialized (and expensive) lenses, and are prone to environmental contamination. I will keep using my point-n-shoot when hiking/skiing etc. because it only weighs one pound and is a quite flexible setup in natural light.
I'm still learning the ins and outs of this setup, I will keep plugging away at it. I have been reading a Pentax forum online and I must say while I have seen some interesting & quality images posted there... it seems many of the users are more interested in gear as opposed to aesthetics, and I have seen some quite prosaic images taken with very expensive lenses and fully featured camera bodies. I am trying approach things from the other direction, however, and if I can get nice images from a $30 lens from Ebay, all the better.

I have enjoyed learning how to use the camera with manual focus lenses -- it's a throwback for sure -- here are some samples.

These two were taken on a showery Saturday afternoon at my condo complex.


Taken 5/23/08 in Waterbury Center.

5.29.2008

Keeping track of the endtimes

Four dollar a gallon gasoline has arrived in Vermont -- it's hardly surprising or unique. Today the local newspaper had a story how the sharp increases in the cost of fuel will have a pronounced impact on the municipal budget in the coming year, Waterbury -- a small town, not flush with cash by any means -- had budgeted for a 15% increase in energy costs, a figure that now seems hopelessly optimistic. The difference, of course, will have to be made up by taxpayers.

On a much larger, macro scale, today's Wall Street Journal (not an organ of Al Gore inspired environmental hysteria) had a article "Oil Exporters Are Unable To Keep Up With Demand" (posted in its entirety on a blog here) that suggests that 'Peak Oil' is here and that the current situation (and worse) is the new reality of the worldwide energy market: The existing major oil producers (lovely countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Nigeria, etc.) are tapped out, if they could produce more, they would have a strong incentive to do so. Conversely though some new supplies may come online, the energy produced will be expensive and is unlikely to keep up with burgeoning worldwide demand.

And the other side of this equation is that the NY Times had a blog post today about how the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are tracking to truly unprecedented levels -- 1,000 ppm -- that will likely bring very severe and noticeable consequences (goodbye to many major coastal cities, etc.) in the not too distant future.

I'm 42, if I live another 30-odd years or so (and I know that there are no certainties, I could get hit by lightning, die of hypothermia in the winter backcountry, have a run in with a car while riding my bike to work, etc., to list just a few possibilities that have been documented here), I expect to see some really drastic changes: I think that the world of tomorrow could be new, strange and quite unpleasant. I also think that my interest in documenting things like blizzards, backcountry ski trips, and local wildlife is partly based on my expectation these are things that could disappear quite suddenly under certain circumstances.

5.27.2008

Damaged bike

Saturday evening I was riding around the top of Perry Hill in Waterbury trying to find the upper access to the mountain bike trail network. I think this access no longer exists: Houses are going in, which is kind of sad, but also not unexpected, it is a spectacular patch of land. This is why new trails are being built, to divert the trail network off of private property and onto state land.

Anyway I never found the trails and was riding down a long class IV road/ATV trail. I portaged a washed out culvert and tried to get going again on a steep section; a stick promptly got caught in the drivetrain and that was all she wrote: There was a sharp bang and the dérailleur was dangling free from the frame of the bike -- the fixing bolt is purposely designed to break easily. I was quite deep in the woods when this happened, daylight was fading (lots of bugs) and also kind of lost so I just hiked the bike out the way I came in. Fortunately Perry Hill Road is long, steep and paved so without too much hike-a-biking I was able to get home by gingerly coasting down the long grade.

Today I will try and get the bike to a shop to get it put back together, hopefully by the coming weekend. It was kind of a shame that this happened because I was really enjoying being out on the bike and would have ridden some more over the course of the weekend.

5.23.2008

101 tulip images

While I was putzing around Waterbury and Mt. Hunger last Saturday with my dslr, my other camera was recording another day in the life of the garden.



The music -- fragment of a Charlie Parker solo -- is appropriate as the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival is starting up next week. Also, there are some additional images from the garden posted here.

5.22.2008

Trail work, Perry Hill, 05/18/08

The work crew gets ready to begin.

"Bowling Alone" (title of a book defining this concept) -- the idea that American society is fragmented, made up of alienated, disconnected individuals, that there is no sense of community any more.

Although I tend to agree with the prevalence of this concept (we seem to live in an era of cheap, meaningless networks of electronic 'friends' & 'contacts') there's still some hope I guess. This past Sunday was a trail work day on the Perry Hill mountain bike trail network in Waterbury and a record 16 people showed up to put in some hours getting the trails ready for the season.

I did a trail work session last summer as well, it was a fairly minor task accomplished in few hours, helping putting in some bends on a trail that went up hill to minimize erosion. This year's project, however, involves completely re-routing one mile of trail off of private property -- a very involved task that will absorb many man hours over the course of the early summer. Building a legitimate, sustainable mountain bike trail involves removing trees and saplings, building bridges and drainages, and removing the top layer of loam on the forest floor down to the base layer of soil... it's a pretty involved and complex job.

Taking a break a few hours later. Not shown in this photo: Clouds of black flies.

5.20.2008

Saturday images: Junk, wildflowers, a patch of snow

I spent most of Saturday playing with my camera, there is a learning curve with this device for sure. I am not terribly enamored of any of these images but it was a beautiful day, sunny and pleasantly warm, with enough of a breeze to keep the blackflies mostly at bay.

A field full of rusting agricultural implements on Rt. 100, Waterbury. More photos of this area are posted here in my photoblog account.

The Mt. Hunger trail winds through the woods. This is at a lower elevation near the start of the trail, by half way up the mountain, the trees are only beginning to leaf out.

Painted trillium.
I don't have a true macro lens so these images are something of a compromise.

Violets.
Violets again.

And again...

A contrast from the cultivated flowers in the garden at home.

A patch of snow near the summit of Mt. Hunger. Other Mt. Hunger images are posted here, I need to acquire some more equipment (filters) to take waterfall images, or hike in on a gloomy day with less natural light.

5.17.2008

More tulips (4 hours in the life of the garden): My patio as photo studio

No need for a lot of words in this post, I don't have to wander far to find colorful objects to photograph.

The 'tulips in the rain' images were taken on a showery morning before going to work, it must have looked quite comical, me in a ratty bathrobe awkwardly holding an umbrella and trying to work the camera. These were taken with my Pentax and an old manual focus lens which means that operating camera requires two hands, nothing is automatic. I just received my ridiculous 'stimulus payment' and I'm thinking that a new camera lens may be in order.





Tulip time lapse from JG on Vimeo.

Probably the last time lapse clip for a while as the spring garden is now past peak. We have planted lots of tomatoes and peppers in containers, but they will take time to mature. There was a stretch of almost summer-like weather earlier this month but now things have reverted to being cooler, wetter, more spring-like.

This is where the time-lapse garden clips come from: My Canon Powershot s3is, an excellent little camera, it has an intervalometer function that will take up to 100 images at preset intervals, and also shoots video, records sound, etc. The rickety tripod isn't really suitable for a heavy dSLR but it works fine with a setup like this.

5.13.2008

Tulip time lapse


It's spring and our garden is going full blast, bulbs that were planted in the fall survived the winter and are now thriving. Where I live, it's dark and gloomy a good percentage of the time from November through April, so the color is definitely appreciated. I have also caught two glimpses of hummingbirds flitting about the garden already and I hope that they start to frequent the garden more this year (last year, hummingbirds were very infrequent visitors here).


This clip didn't come out very well, the camera was perched on a very rickety tripod, I had turned off the shake reduction feature, but perhaps that was a bad idea, also it was a cool, partly cloudy day, I don't think the flowers were very active.

5.10.2008

Terrapin doppelgänger

It's not the greatest image but it was the best I could do with the (poor) technique and (inexpensive) equipment that I have. I really need to think about the dslr thing because one could spend a lot of money in a hurry on this hobby. (Like, I was quite close to this turtle -- which was sunning itself on a small island) but even with a 300mm lens -- it was still not really close enough. And to get in this position required a certain amount of fortitude -- walking across an old beaver dam covered brambles and brush.

This was taken at the frog pond (teeming with tadpoles at this time of year) & I have posted some more images from today here -- take a look.

5.09.2008

Nepal: Work bikes of Kathmandu

Since it has been "Way to Work" week in Vermont -- meaning, a week where people were encouraged (as if almost $4/gallon gas wasn't enough incentive) to not drive to work*, I thought I would post these photos from my trip to Nepal. Kathmandu was quite an overwhelming place, crowded, dirty, noisy, chaotic -- the list goes on. Modes of transportation included walking, biking, motorized rickshaws, motorbikes (probably the most popular mode), cars (tiny little suzukis), overcrowded buses (passengers rode on the roof), etc. Crossing busy roads as a pedestrian was thrilling -- and not necessarily in a good way.

If I had found a few hours to myself I would have tried to do a photo essay on the bikes of the city which were universally old and used for very utilitarian purposes. I never really had the chance to put this idea into action but I did take a few images of old bikes that had been turned into rolling fruit & vegetable stands around the city.

Most of these bikes were no longer rideable -- in their decrepit state they became space-efficient, portable stands for fruitsellers. They would be rolled into position at the start of the day and moved again when it was time to go home.

Bananas were a local commodity and were commonly available, and very fresh.

Guy with baseball cap #1.

Guy with baseball cap #2: Same person, different location. While trekking (trek video here), we walked through Nepal's apple growing region, it was kind of an odd experience, and nothing at all like Vermont.

Not really a bike, but a cart making use of mis-matched old bike parts.

Lenin, Marx, Mao and a Hindu text share space on a Kathmandu bookstore shelf. The Maoists won the recent elections which can't be good news for the country -- however, previous Nepalese governments set an extremely low bar, so who knows how things will play out.

*For the record, I rode my bike to work 4 out 5 days this past week, so I did my small part for this cause -- and I plan to keep at it as much as possible. I did see a couple of other bike commuters out on the roads as well, maybe the tide is starting to turn a little bit. But traffic still thunders by on busy Vermont Rt. 100, the volume of cars and trucks doesn't seem to have diminished much, if at all.

5.07.2008

It's "Ride your bike to work week"

My idea of a SUV, my Redline Monocog 1x9, my post describing my initial impressions of this bike is fast becoming the most popular page on this site, there's quite a bit of interest in this setup. I should fix up my road bike because it would go a lot faster with much less effort when ridden on paved roads.

It is "Ride your bike to work week" (Or walk, take the bus, carpool, etc.) in Vermont. There's a website where one can sign up to win various prizes -- like an Ipod, high tech bauble of the consumer society -- and calculate how much energy and money your efforts are saving.

It's all well and good I suppose but I have been commuting on a bike -- not 100% of the time, but a good percentage of the time -- ever since I have been working and I am actually happy that gas prices are rising because I don't like the suburban sprawling land use pattern that has dominated the landscape most my life (growing up, I was very much a child of the suburbs). The whole edifice is constructed on the idea of cheap gas and families owning multiple cars.

Also, I have nothing but contempt for the current crop of politicians who are pandering to the citizenry's base instincts by suggesting a holiday from gas taxes. I heard Vermont senator Bernie Sanders ranting about this on the radio yesterday... I really don't see any profiles in courage on the political landscape these days. I would vote instinctively for a candidate who told it straight up like it is -- there are very hard choices to be made, and wrenching and uncomfortable changes coming -- and instead denial and pandering is the order of the day. I also note that John "Straight Talk Express" McCain is also in favor of this silly and contemptible gas tax holiday idea.

5.04.2008

Failed socialist daydreams by the lake: Burlington Telecom

News item in the Burlington Free Press: "Burlington Telecom still running below goal".

2008 is rapidly sliding by, another year gone, and (among other things) it means that I am another year removed from my past life in Burlington, and from my work experience in the Internet/Telecom space in Vermont. I was, however, not at all surprised by this story in the Free Press: From 1995 - 2000 I worked at an ISP in Vermont, mostly in business services, and from 2000 - 2005 I was still in involved in fragments of related businesses, and for the duration of all this experience, I was a taxpayer in Burlington. In short, I had a pretty informed (ie, unenthusiastic and cynical) perspective on the genesis and initial build out of Burlington Telecom.

As a taxpayer, I had a couple of opportunities to vote on this initiative, and I always voted against it, and it wasn't out of any sympathy for the incumbent cable/telecom providers, it was based on my experience of how state and local governments function (dysfunction) in Vermont: Bureaucrats in love with mandates and expanding the public sector (ie, adding unionized workers with generous benefit packages & fully funded pensions), living in happy ignorance of economic realities and supported by an electorate that didn't seem to care too much about such boondoggles. I just cannot see how an organization with 30+ employees working in a small and tightly defined market, saddled with $33M in debt will ever break even... and I do have a slightly informed opinion.

5.02.2008

Primo Maggio 2008: "Sacco and Venzetti"

We went to the Labor Hall in Barre last night, the Barre Historical Society marked May Day ('Primo Maggio') with a showing of the film "Sacco and Venzetti" presented by the filmmaker, Peter Miller.

The Labor Hall is an architecturally quite prosaic building (at one point it was used as vegetable warehouse) but there is a lot of history here, and it is a very appropriate venue to screen a film on Italian anarchists.

Peter Miller introduces his film. He said that his children woke him on May 1 (May Day) by singing "The Internationale" -- giving some idea of the political leanings of his household. The film, however, did make it clear how the existing power structure wanted Sacco and Venzetti dead -- there was little in the way of presumption of innocence. The police, prosecutor, judge, governor of Massachusetts, etc. colluded to ensure that this story ended in the electric chair.

Q&A session afterward. Tonight there is a second presentation on another figure in the anarchist movement in the 1920s, Carlo Tresca.

I have gone to three presentations in this venue and they have all been pretty interesting and informative -- if universally from a quite hard left perspective. Looking at some of the antics of state and federal government today, the anarchist viewpoint makes some sense to me. (Note to any federal elected officials reading this: It makes me furious when I read that the largest United State embassy in the world is being built in Baghdad, Iraq: I want no part in this imperial delusion.) And ironically, Vermont, known for being a hippie-liberal haven, has constructed an unaffordable and intrusive state superstructure; the current economic downturn is forcing unwilling and recalcitrant state legislators to consider the idea (very reluctantly) that the growth of state services cannot continue unabated...

Enough of my half-baked political ranting (riven by internal contradictions, as usual), here's the trailer to the film. It was very interesting, both for it's coverage of the case, including interviews with some quite elderly first-person witnesses, but also for it's portrayal of lost Massachusetts, it's disconcerting to see an interview at the scene of the crime, a once a street lined with houses, machine shops, factories... that is now just another anonymous shopping mall, the industrial landscape is gone forever, and I'm not sure that what has replaced it is much of an improvement.