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8.20.2009

Butterfly Photography


Butterfly and Thistle IMG_4662, originally uploaded by macrogeek.

I went out on lunch yesterday in search of something to photograph. I often spend half my lunch hour looking for anything interesting to shoot so that I can keep my skills sharp. I wandered an field behind an empty parking lot and found the mother load of bugs. Turns out what looks like a huge field of grass and weeds is actually full of thistles. There were bees and butterflies galore out there. It was hot out and about noon. I'm not sure how that affects the insect activity. Every one of these big thistle plants I approached was covered with bugs that were eating. I just had to walk up close slowly, and wait. Most of the insects would circle once and land right back on it again and go back to collecting pollen. I stood there and snapped away. I got some good detail shots.

I was using the kit lens from my wife's old film Rebel on my Digital Rebel XTi. Since her lens is an EF mount, not an EF-S, it's built for a full sized sensor. The XTi is a half sized APS-C sensor, so due to the crop factor when I use an EF lens it means that I get better zoom out of it. In this case it was just enough to let me get really good bug details from 3-5 feet away.
I guess two lessons were learned yesterday.

1. Never write off a location for photos because it looks boring or empty.
2. Check out those old kit lenses before you put them in storage, they may come in handy.

8.11.2009

Burn Disc T@2 using a Labelflash Drive and Free Software

I've found a bunch of forum threads trying to figure out which software still supports the discontinued Yamaha Disc T@2 format. (Disc Tattoo) Labelflash is a new technology that is competing with LightScribe. It's featured on many Toshiba laptop and many DVD Burners. Labelflash is based on the Disc T@2 tech from Yamaha. The advantage of Disc T@2 is that it works on the data side of regular media, you don't need special Labelflash discs. While it's not promoted, you can still use the Disc T@2 features on current Labelflash burners. You just need software that still supports it. While some European versions of Nero support T@2, there is almost no freeware with support for it. I spent a good amount of time researching T@2, and I finally found a free solution.
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Here are the steps to enjoy Disc T@2 support on your Labelflash drive:
You need a DVD+R or DVD-R with data already burned to it. (It's not supported on CD or DVD-RW) You need to leave about 900MB-1GB free for the images. I'm not sure whether you have to leave the disc open or finalized. I think you should not finalize it.
You need a DVD-RW drive with Labelflash support.
Go to http://labelflash.jp/enjoy/dl_software.html and download the Labelflash Index Maker.
See that little asterisk? Read the fine print: "(*1) It is possible to etch on intact areas of the recording side. However, in this case, image visibility may be poor."
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  • Download the LIM zip file and unzip it.
  • Run the executable.
  • Insert your already burned disc.
  • Click the "Scan Disc" button. This will import your folder / file info from the disc into suggested fields for the disc. You can edit this info to your liking.
  • Select a template in the upper left drop down menu. For my test disc I used "ocean". It has to be one of the "outer edge" only templates.
  • Push the "Config" button. Check the Disc T@2 button. This generated an error for me until I picked a compatible template.
  • Hit the "OK" button to burn your disc.

Here are some quick pictures of the disc I tested today.
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Managing my Media Mess, DIY CD/DVD Storage

One of my current home projects is reorganizing my desk.  My main goal is to get my currently cluttered desk area to a more minimalist state.  I’m planning on moving to a much simpler flat desk in the near future, so I’m trying to find simpler solutions so that I don’t need cubbies, organizers, and cases around anymore. 
The first problem to tackle was how to organize the large amount of CD’s and DVD’s that were scattered about in various cases and organizers. 
I started at Wal-Mart.  I picked up a Snap-Lock CD storage box and a 100 count box of Paper CD/DVD sleeves.  The box was $5 and the sleeves were about $4.50.
The box comes packed flat, and you just snap it together and put the lid on it.  The package says it’ll hold up to 150 discs in paper sleeves.
IMG_2007
I started with a collection of discs in these organizers:
IMG_2012 
and ended up with this:
IMG_2015 
I’ve grouped my discs by type, and used individual sleeves with the tabs flipped up as section dividers.
IMG_2013
If you don’t have enough discs to fill the whole tray, you can use an empty case as a bookend like this:
IMG_2014 
Right now I have about 85+ discs in the box. I think it is much more attractive than my old disc cases and binders.  I’m going to label the end and store it on my bookshelf.
IMG_2016
I’m storing all the nicer jewel cases, liner notes, manuals and boxes in a copier paper box that I can put in my garage or attic.  For games or software that required CD keys I wrote them on the sleeves.
I’m planning on copying all the music CD’s in the house to iTunes and then moving the discs to a second box like this in the near future to free up some shelves.

8.04.2009

Picking Software for Photo Library Management

In this digital age, we shoot a lot more pictures than we ever did before.  There is no cost of film to make us hesitate to press the shutter button.  If you keep all your photos, eventually you're going to outgrow the ability to keep track of your them using folders on your hard drive and you're going to need some kind of gallery or library software to help you manage your media.

While there are many professional and hobbyist applications that cost hundreds of dollars and have extensive features, you may be surprised to find the functionality available in several free applications.  They are very similar, but with some reduced features.  These programs allow you to group, name, and import your pictures into their system.  They support basic editing, like cropping, red-eye correction, some basic sepia or monochrome effects, and usually some printing and online sharing options.

Picasa - Google's offering.  Free, runs on Windows XP or Vista, or Linux.  Very low system requirements.  Integrates with Picasa Web albums for sharing.  Version 3 is very fast.  Supports plugin buttons to add integration with other sites like Facebook and Flickr.  Has Blogger integration.

Windows Live Photo Gallery - This is similar to the "Photo Gallery" that ships with Vista, but has many more web features, so I recommend that you go ahead and install this one instead.  Runs on XP or Vista.  Integrates with Windows Live Spaces, Flickr, and other sites.  Good editing features, and a pretty full featured import dialog that will seperate the files on your camera by the date taken.  I use this one myself.  It's a free download, Microsoft uses a unified installer for all their "Live" applications, but you can just tick the box for only Live Photo Gallery and install that.

iPhoto - Runs on Apple's OS X only.  iPhoto is a very slick consumer photo management application.  It's not free, as it's part of Apple's iLife suite of appliations, but iLife is included on every new Mac, so you should have some version installed if you own a Mac.   You will have to buy a new copy of iLife to get the latest version when updates come out.  iLife makes use of the same printing services as Aperture Books, so you can get very high quality books printed this way.

blueMarine - This is an open source project that runs on Windows, Linux, and OS X.  It's not finished yet, but in beta testing.  blueMarine is ready for evaluation, but not production use, so it's not 100% stable.  It has a feature set rivaling the organization sections of many professional products.  Right now it mainly works as a database and organizer, but will eventually have editing capabilities as well.  I'd watch their website for updates.  It's hard to explain all their features, but they have a nice video overview here.