Playing with Aperture

I got a copy of Aperture this week, just in time to get to play with the new 1.5 update. I'm really impressed with the application. It blows iPhoto out of the water.

I was trying out some of the new features, and thought I'd see if I could tweak one of my favourite photos of Evan to make it "pop" a bit more. On the left, the original, "in camera" image. On the right, a version with white balance correction, and an application of the new "Spot & Patch" tool to remove some blemishes.

Evan - tweaked (before and after)Evan – tweaked (before and after)

The tweaked image definitely "pops" more. Might be a bit too warm, but I was just messing around with Aperture. I'm realizing a couple of things:

  1. shooting in RAW is awesome (I went for a walk around campus today, shooting RAW for 90% of it. what a difference…)
  2. I have huge gaps in knowledge/understanding of photography. I'm having fun slowly learning, but man, do I have a long way to go.

King jokingly suggested I should quit my job to be a photographer. If that would pay the mortgage, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

UCalgary Flickr Group Geotagging

The UCalgary Flickr Group has really taken to the new Flickr Geotagging feature in a big way. The almost-30 group members have tagged 154 photos of campus already, providing a pretty impressive coverage of the major areas of campus.

UCalgary Flickr Group GeotagsUCalgary Flickr Group Geotags

I've been spending the morning doing mind-numbing copy-and-pastery, so I'm going to grab the camera and try to fill in some gaps. I might hit the Olympic Oval, or even as far west as the new Children's Hospital. (the brown spot on the left side of the map above is now the most advanced children's hospital in north america – opened on Wednesday)

UCalgary in the Fall

I went for a quick walk around campus at lunch, and dragged along the camera to get some shots of the leaves turning colour. Sometimes this campus can be really beautiful. We may not have a rose garden or a nude beach (or any other kind of beach) but it’s pretty nice sometimes.

Apparently, I’m on a quest to become the unofficial UCalgary photographer… :-)

iUofC.com – student online campus community

iUofC.com is a community forum site created by students at UCalgary, offering a central off-campus student-managed place for students to share information about classes. It's currently a rather empty shell, with forums created for every class. As students find out about it, it's starting to slowly grow.

iUfoC.com ScreenshotiUfoC.com Screenshot

The thing that blows me away about this "web *.0" stuff is that students are willing to take on large scale efforts completely on their own. Set up an open wiki, and students create tons of pages about what's important to them. Open up a forum system, and they fill it with topics important to them. If these tools had been provided by The University, would students be interested? It's awesome that the students don't need to wait for The University – they can come up with solutions as effective (or moreso) on their own. Power to the people. Right on.

Craig E. Nelson on Fostering Critical Thinking

IMG_3324.JPGI had the pleasure of attending a presentation/workshop by Craig E. Nelson this morning. The Teaching & Learning Centre hosted the event, which brought faculty members from the various sides of campus together to discuss critical thinking and implications on pedagogy.

It was a really interesting session, with Craig telling stories and modelling effective use of the strategies and activities he was talking about (and getting us to talk about). My takeaway points from the session:

  1. there are no broken students, only broken pedagogies
  2. successful students are the ones who can adapt to repair broken pedagogies for themselves (spontanously forming study groups, connections, etc…)
  3. “shut up and allow for processing time” – give students a chance to move stuff from short-term to long-term memory. simple 2 minute pauses and asking questions may be enough to start this.
  4. “bulemic learning” – binge/purge of stuff, leading to mental starvation
  5. an educator’s job is to educate students, not sort/filter them. The goal is not to enforce the bell curve, it is to maximize grade inflation through effective teaching and learning.

I was there (primarily) to take photographs. I’ve been wanting to record the activities of the TLC for awhile now, and finally just started doing something about it. This was the first “real” event I’ve photographed, so I’m sure I was doing many things awkwardly. But, the end result is something I’m at least not disappointed in. I learned some things:

  • for an indoor event, get a long, fast lens. the kit lens won’t cut it. I used the zoom lens from our old D30 on my XT body, with ISO cranked up to 1600. Even at that, the aperture was too small to get decent shots. Fast, long lens is required. Something like this one would do nicely.
  • get a big CF card. Or two. Or three. I was using my 1GB card, so left it in JPEG/fine mode. It would have been better to be shooting in RAW so I could adjust white balance properly later. I was afraid of filling up the card too soon, so reverted to JPEG.
  • plan shots ahead of time. I was able to get some of the “best” shots by picturing in my head where Craig would have to be standing/looking, and where I’d have to be, in order to take advantage of (or reduce the effect of) background items in the room. It didn’t always work out, but thinking ahead would help reduce background distractions like the overhead projector…
  • try not to distract. I found I was being extremely self conscious of the shutter noise, afraid I was distracting the other participants, or affecting the audio being recorded for the session. I refused to use the flash, because I didn’t want the paparazzi effect. Work to find the happy medium between getting the shot and not being noticed.
  • I overplanned. I brought in my monopod (which broke on the way in this morning. crap.) I brought 2 batteries. I brought the extra lens from the office’s D30, as well as my XT’s kit lens. I brought lens cleaning cloth and brush. I brought battery charger. I brought vertical grip. I ended up not using the monopod, nor the vertical grip. But they were there just in case.

I wound up taking almost a hundred photos. Many were unusable due to the slow lens producing blurry or excessively grainy images. The survivors are available in a Flickr album.

UCalgary’s packet shaping is counterproductive

The U of C's connection to the commercial internet has been packet shaped for years. Back in the Napster days, they added something that makes any file ending in ".mp3" be transferred at about 2 bytes per second. The shaping filters have slowly been added to, winding up with something that basically says "is this file some form of media? then it's going to be slow…"

The latest case in point – I just tried to watch Stephen Downes' video commentary on his Group/Network whiteboard braindump. After about 25 minutes of downloading, I've managed to view the first 35 seconds of the video.

Stephen Downes' Whiteboard Braindump VideoStephen Downes' Whiteboard Braindump Video

All of this hype over "new media" and "broadband connections" is basically lost on campus. Anyone wanting to use this type of media, whether for research or other academic purposes, is completely left out. Unless the content publisher has the good grace to publish on an Internet2/CANet4 network.

We're seriously at risk of being left further behind, here. If we can't use media on campus, why bother? Should I be asking Stephen to send me a DVD via FedEx so I can see the video? By the way, he was able to post the video while travelling in New Zealand. I can't view it while sitting at my desk here in the office. That seems a little backward, no?

Camera + Bike transport?

I’ve been trying to find an answer to this, but haven’t found anything definitive either way. Occasionally, I want to bring my Canon XT DSLR along when riding my bike. I might want to photograph something on campus at work, or along the path.

So, the question is – is it safe to pack the XT inside a compact LowePro case, and stuff that in a pannier? It seems pretty secure, but I wonder about vibrations from the ride (about half an hour, ranging from 20-60 km/h, depending on weather, traffic, blood sugar…)

I’m trying to avoid a backpack, so I’ve tried this a few times without any obvious issues. But, am I begging for trouble? Better to suck it up and use a backpack or messenger bag? I suppose I could also stuff the camera inside the LowePro case, and put that inside the larger LowePro/Canon carrying case, and bungie that to the top of the rear rack…

Update: Did some more Googling, and came up with:

Wikipedia vs. Citizendium

Larry Sanger announced his organization’s intention to create a “progressive fork” of Wikipedia, with a different community/moderation model. Instead of just letting everyone create and edit pages, there will be a new class of citizens called “experts” who get final say. The rest of us are demoted to “unwashed masses”.

From Larry Sanger’s essay “Toward a New Compendium of Knowledge“:

According to one source, there are over one billion (a thousand million) people on the Internet. That means there must be tens of millions of intellectuals online–I mean educated, thinking people who read about science or ideas regularly. Tens of millions of intellectuals can work together, if they so choose.

This was taken right from the first paragaph. The “one source” isn’t mentioned, so it’s not verifiable. He could be pulling this stat out of thin air. Even Wikipedia wouldn’t allow this.

So, by his math, the Citizendium is a project for the top 1-10% of the online population. Definitely not open to everyone – the contributions of the other “uneducated, unthinking” 900 million people aren’t wanted. To me, this just smacks of authoritarianism – a compendium of knowledge by oligarchy. Which is cool, if you’re one of the oligarchs. But a little oppressive for everyone else.

I’ve got a problem with the approach. Sure, Wikipedia isn’t perfect. But it’s open. If you don’t like how something works, there is an existing (and vibrant) community in place. Working within the existing frameworks to create a better Wikipedia would be far better than splitting the tribe and moving to a new camp.

My problems with Citizendium are:

  1. Who defines “expert”? What is “expert” to one person/group may not be to another. This is a somewhat arbitrary definition – if not arbitrary, then at least relative. Case in point – Stephen Downes being flagged as “unremarkable” in Wikipedia. What would the process be like to have that rectified if only “experts” are the gatekeepers of our shared knowledge?
  2. Forking the Wikipedia (and the community). Instead of everyone just working on the One True Wikipedia, you’ll have to choose. You’re either with us or against us.
  3. Downplaying the importance of the “wild west” Wikipedia. The major reason Wikipedia has been as successful and relevant as it has been, is directly due to the fact that anyone can edit anything. No approval required. No login required.
  4. Implied authoritarian structure. Experts. Moderators. Approval processes. Anti-Wikipedian measures. The power of these tools is that they put the power into the hands of the people. All of the people. No exceptions. No preferrential treatment.

I know I’ll be sticking with Wikipedia (and the other various Wikimedia ventures) because of their openness. I really wish/hope that the effort being expended on the new Citizendium project would be redirected into the Wikipedia, rather than against it.

Update: Of course. Clay Shirky says it better.

Thailand coup, as told by Flickr users

My brother has a house in Phuket, Thailand, so I've been trying to follow news on this week's coup to see what's going on. I had no idea there was an ongoing corruption scandal of that magnitude. It seems unclear whether this coup was a good or bad thing. Some people say it's bad because it's "against democracy" – others say it's good because it gives a chance to reboot a democracy after cleaning out the garbage first.

I'd been following the story via Wikinews, which has been more useful than local/national newscasts. And then I stumbled across the Flickr coverage, linked from the Flickr Blog. They assembled photos from various Flickr users located in Bangkok, added audio from an interview with one of the photographers, and the result is a very powerful photographic slideshow.

Thailand Coup, told by Flickr users Thailand Coup, told by Flickr users

In our North American State of Heightened Alertness, I doubt we’d be allowed to freely pose for photographs with active tanks in the streets, if such a thing happened on this side of the Pacific…

1000 km and counting

I passed the 1000 km mark half way into my ride home today. Since I started riding in July, I’ve now ridden over 1000 km just commuting to and from work, broken into 80 equal 12.54 km trips. That’s roughly equivalent to riding from Calgary to Vancouver, even when accounting for vertical climb (92m per ride). I’m feeling better than I have in years, and am probably in the best physical shape I’ve been in since high school (although you couldn’t tell by looking).

I’ve realized just how BAD Calgary drivers are. Aggressive. Mean. Rude. Dangerous. And occasionally nice/courteous/cool. But mostly evil. They act like they’re entitled to the entire road. They don’t have to be aware of their surroundings. They don’t have to put down the cell phone long enough to pass through a busy intersection. They can cut off anyone they feel like, at any time, without warning. They have the “Baby on Board” sign on the minivan/SUV, so it’s all good.

I’m not planning on being a religious psycho bike rider. When the weather gets really crappy, I’ll start taking the bus again. But my definition of “crappy weather” keeps adjusting…