Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Great Blue Heron

By my count English Bay Vancouver is home to at least three Great Blue Herons with one of the two younger ones pictured on the left. These solitary birds are patient hunters who will remain perfectly still in ankle deep water waiting for their dinner of minnows or frogs to swim or hop close enough to grab.

I'm slowly working my way closer and closer to the one pictured here and while my distance limit to date is 5 meters or so I'm hopeful I can get close enough for a near full frame shot at a focal length of 50 to 80 mm. The ideal setting for nature shots. This young heron is naturally quite timid but I expect patience will pay off in the long run and I'll get the chance to snap that perfect photo. The bird comes first though and if it finds my presence too disturbing I'll stick to telephoto shots at 100 mm+.

The older of the three (a 4 foot, 130+ cm tall giant) seems to prefer the north edge of English Bay Beach and is often too far out in the water to approach. One day though the tide will be perfect, the sun just so and the heron's temperament tending towards trusting. And no, I havn't given them names .... yet. :)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Boys & Their Toys

While it freaks out the cats to the point that they hide underneath the bed ... me personally there is nothing cooler than the sound of a hovercraft either coming or going. Especially one that's powered by engines you'd normally find on a 10 passenger aircraft.

Today, while cruising to and from Second Beach here in Vancouver I caught a moment of the Canadian Coastguard's hovercraft trainer putting the peddle to the metal and letting the craft soar. For half an hour I'd watched the hovercraft perform very basic training maneuvers and when the moment to rock arrived I was so glad I had my dual still/video camera ready.

Apologies for the jerky motion in the video. Give the tech a few years and the smarts in today's basic $1,500 Hi-Definition video camera, in particular the motion stablization smarts, will be wrapped into your basic $199 point and shoot for free.

Snowcapped Sunshine

The weather has returned to predictable here in paradise with 4 days of low cloud and rain trading places with 3 days of gentle sunshine. And, after just over 7 weeks of diet and exercise, I'm into a nice state of acceptance with the weather. Rain or shine - 6 or 7 days per week - I'm out there burning off the fat (9 lbs so far).

I haven't felt this good physically in 10 years and can't wait to hit my next weight target and spoil myself with one of those new nifty comfy bikes. Walking 7 km (4 miles) per day is great but I'm looking forward to spring and the variety that I expect biking 2 or 3 days out of 7 will bring.

The interesting thing that I've discovered about dieting in particular and personal behavioral modification in general is that as time goes on you can't remember why you didn't make the change in the first place. Yes there are major bumps and minor bumps along the road but they seem to get smaller as the new behavior takes over and dominates the old.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Communing With God

Do cats have souls?

This is one of those metaphysical questions the opposite of which I consider self-evident. None the less it is also one that I love to mentally dissect as often as it pops into my mind.

Of course animals in general and cats in particular have souls. Why would you think otherwise?

I have held Cirrus (pictured on the right) in my arms while she's been sound asleep and have felt her dreaming. The twitch of her paws, her quick sharp breaths, the momentary flair of her nostrils.

OK, so maybe dreaming is not evidence of spirituality. Fine. That's cool.

I've worked on tough, stubborn software problems (I work at home mostly) and while on the outside I've been as cool as ice on the inside I've been royaly pissed. Grrrr. This is a simple problem made twisted and convoluted by another programmer's laziness and I'm supposed to get inside his head and fix it!? .... Then Cirrus appears and mews what I'm feeling and drags me out to the living room to give her a brush.

She's so smart.

And so empathic.

How could she wrap her emotions with mine like that without a soul?

So, like a reluctant hero defending an ancient perspective on spirituality I try, as best as I can, to defend the idea of me and my kind as the only life forms in the universe close enough to God to share a bit of Him.

Then I look into Cirrus's eyes as she gazes off into the unknown while wrapped in fresh crackling laundry and I kiss the futility of such a belief goodbye. Someday I will again touch the souls of the many wonderful animals whom I've loved and been loved by.

English Bay Sunshine

Forget Paris in the spring time - Vancouver's where it's at.

These days it feels like the calm before a Vernal explosion and, as a photo-nut, I'm subconciously urging Mother Nature to "go-go-go!!". Stanley Park, Kitsilano, the North Shore mountains, Cypress Falls Park, the numerous gardens, ... sigh ... maybe I should pick up another high-speed high-density 4 GByte SD card for my digital camera.

Mmmmm .... Color .... What a warm concept. :)

Watching the Waves

Sunshine has returned to Vancouver and you can almost hear the creaking and popping sounds of spring preparing to burst out all over. During the next 6 weeks the city will go through that wonderful switch from a palette of dark moist greens to one that's mostly eye popping pinks and blues. I can't wait. This winter proved to be a nutty one with more meteorological violence than I've seen during my previous 15 west coast winters.

The past few days I've been messing around with some old school neutral density filters and new school digital manipulation and while this photo is as close to reality as a Big Mac is to a healthy meal it's still one that wound up in my CoolPics2007 folder.

Hindsight is always 20/20 and "had I all it to do over again" I should have used a bit of fill flash to punch up even higher the contemplative tourist on the right side. The reality of the shot though was that the whole thing transpired over the course of 45 seconds and Mr. Tourist did not spend 10 minutes gazing out over English Bay. Don't command the moment. Surf it.

Yaletown Vancouver

Vancouver has seen some dramatic changes over the past 20 years with perhaps the most stunning being the transformation of the gigantic empty lot that was the site of Expo '86 into what has become known as Yaletown.

Yaletown is a pretty nifty corner of downtown Vancouver filling the area east of Burrard Street and south to False Creek. It has retained much of that area's older heritage with many of the 50 and 100 year old heritage buildings being converted into studio sized work and living spaces. The area reminds me of the old town quarter of Montreal with the same urban planning ideas at work here in Vancouver. Keep the form of the old (the exteriors) but make the buildings functional given the needs of the 21st century. Form complimenting function rather than struggling with it.

The area is also wonderfully post-modern (aka post 20th century) in that it's home to thousands of Vancouverites who can easily walk or bike to work either downtown or just across False Creek to the south. Such a great way to lower anyone's carbon footprint and, by turning the morning commute into pure pleasure, lower anyone's stress level.

The photo in this post was taken on the south side of False Creek looking north into Yaletown the morning of November 1st 2006. I really like the ripple effect of the buildings in the water as well as the brilliant splash of fall red compliments of the trees on the far eastern edge of Granville Island. The red was pumped somewhat using Capture NX and the extra boost adds a nice centering spot in the photograph to anchor the viewers initial attention. Once you're drawn to the rich red your eyes then simultaneously take in both the top and bottom of the photograph (the buildings and their reflections) providing a nice marriage of elements - art in motion - form and function - technology and nature.

A great shot and one that I'm ->.<- this close to getting enlarged and professionally framed. "Time for some new wall art." as my friend JB used to say.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

How I Rate the Movies I Watch

I'm a big fan of movies and, big surprise, focus mostly on the guy-flic genres - action, sci-fi, horror, crude comedy, animation, anime, etc. I don't often rent musicals, chic-flics, movies about guys watching chic-flicks or movies about guys watching chic-flics in hopes of convincing chics that they prefer those sorts of movies over flics involving action, sci-fi, horror, crude comedy, animation or anime.

To the right you'll find a list of movies I've recently viewed with convenient links to their Internet Movie Database (IMDB) entries. To the left of each title you'll find my totally opinionated opinion about the movie using my patented one to five rating scale.

Here's how I rate movies.

1/5 ~ I was unable to get past the first fifteen minutes of this piece of trash and might have been unable to get past even its opening DvD menu. Rather than waste 90 minutes of my life watching this cinematographic fur-ball I opted instead to spend the time in quiet reflection crying over the senseless waste of good DvD plastic that was this movie's creation.

2/5 ~ I watched the movie all the way to the end but, in order to make it that far, I had to dig deep into my soul and use the determination and courage I employ when I get a filling from the dentist without any anaesthetic. More than likely I'd reached the mid point of the movie and, being a stubborn moron, refused to put those just spent 45 minutes of my life to waste by not watching to the end the entire piece of crap that is this movie.

3/5 ~ I watched the movie all the way to the end, only checked the clock a few times and rather liked it. However it proved to be mostly entertainment with little in the way of substance, directorial creativity or cinematographic excellence. I will watch the movie again once it's the last one left in the rental store. If given this movie as a gift by a loved one it will not be too difficult to simulate sincere appreciation at such a thoughtful gift. "Gosh!! I've already seen it but it's been so long I can't wait to see it again. Thanks!!"

4/5 ~ I really liked this movie and, if it touched my heart, I had a good cry watching it. In fact I liked it so much that I watched most of the bonus materials that were included with the DvD. I thought about the movie for days after and did some research on IMDB searching for previous works by the same director or cinematographer. I will certainly watch this one several times over. This movie has further convinced me that the movies of Steven Segal do not, as previously theorized, represent the pinnacle of Hollywood substance and meaning. If I can see several movies this good during a month then I'm a happy camper.

5/5 ~ This one's a keeper and there's a greater than 50% chance that the day after watching the movie I popped into and bought a copy of the DvD. I've decided to name my next World of Warcraft character after the director of the movie. In celebration of such a great viewing experience, I happily burn half my collection of ever dwindling Steven Segal DvDs. In a great year I might be fortunate enough to see five or six movies of this caliber.

(HD) ~ This means I watched the movie in it's High Definition format (HD-DVD). I make mention of this for (a) the cool geek factor but also (b) the fact that the high definition format punches up the content so much my rating might be scewed just a bit.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Burrary Street Bridge - Vancouver

The Burrard Street Bridge connects downtown Vancouver with the quite fashionable and ever trendy micro burb of Kistsilano. On July 1st 2002 it quietly celebrated it's 70th birthday having faithfully supported the ever increasing automotive, bicycle and pedestrian traffic since 1932. During it's peak period, the morning rush, 9,000+ Vancouverites and assorted tourists toddle across it's art deco funkiness.

To the right is a photo of this nifty piece of concrete and iron art deco taken at night last January 26th around 7:15 PM. The bridge is enough of a landmark to have been featured in each of the past 3 releases of Microsoft Flight Simulator's scenery for Vancouver and, with a large enough telescope mounted on the Space Shuttle, can be seen from space.

You can find some pretty nifty info on the bridge via this Wikipedia article -> The Burrard Street Bridge.

I really like this shot for several reason.

First, the color rendition is quite close to the natural palette as I remember it. I used a relatively short exposure of 1.5 seconds and an f-stop of 4.5 with an ISO setting of 400. Going for a short exposure prevented the creep to orange that longer exposure photos tend to become.

My second reason for liking this shot is I adjusted it (very slightly) via my nacient skills using what I've a hunch will become my main stream photo processing program - Nikon's Capture NX. After just a few hours with the program I'm quickly converting from a card carrying member of the digital photo purest camp to the poster boy for digital manipulation goodness.

The most impressive thing so far about Capture NX is that it is smart enough to effectively create it's own masks of what sections in a photo should or should not be adjusted. I've been intimidated with both the sophistication and the layer managment in Photoshop to the point that I've never got to the "Oh my God this is too cool!" moment with it. With Capture NX on the other hand by page 11 of the manual I'd learned more than enough to be dangerous and had half a dozen "Oh my God this rocks!" moments with half a dozen shots from the past few months. Even the grey wet Vancouver winter photos seemed to be reborn after 10 minutes with Capture NX.

Expect some pretty cool photos over the next few days.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Jack and Alfie Dig a Big Hole

Since October of last year the City of Vancouver engineers have been tunnelling a new sewer main from Sunset Beach in the West End to Vanier Park on the eastern edge of Kitsilano.

The new pipe (roughly one meter in diamter) will cross under False Creak and supplements one built just before WWII in 1939. You can find all the nifty details in the June 2006 False Creek Crossing Fact Sheet

What does all this have to do with Jack and Alfie? Good question and I'm glad you asked.

My nephews and niece have been fans of Thomas the Train Engine and His Friends for a good number of years now. However, there is no greater a fan of Thomas and His Friends than the budding YouTube director and nephew extrodinaire known simply as camtaz2.

Back in January the Greater Vancouver Regional District began digging the western edge of the sewer extension and I recorded the initial dig as a timelapse over the course of 8 hours. It was a great day for video with constant sunshine, crawling shadows from the leaf bare trees in Vanier Park and then the perfectly timed arrival of bay fog as the winter sun set.

Two of Thomas's friends are Jack and Alfie - a pair of diggers who love moving mounds of dirt from one spot to another and, from the unique perspective of timelapse, signed on to help with Vancouver's sewage system upgrade.

Here then is my latest video. Jack and Alfie Dig a Big Hole.

You can access the high resolution Stage6 (DivX) link by clicking here -> Jack and Alfie Dig a Big Hole. I'd recommend downloading the video and then playing it for smoother performance. You may also need to install the DivX viewer which is a pretty painless and computer safe process and one that will open up tons of nifty video viewing posibilities.

The You Tube link can be found here -> Jack and Alfie Dig A Big Hole. It's a lower resolution version of the same video.

The simplese route though is to click twice on the image below to view this latest video.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Cover Shots

Virgin Spring

Spring is in the air here in Vancouver and for those east of the Rocky Mountains here's a hint of things to come.

It was 11' C today which made for a great walk this afternoon. The sun arrived by the time I got home and I switched from the new kid on the block, the 5 Mpixel Canon to the workhorse Nikon.

I've been quite impressed with the versatility of the point and shoot digital but .... well ... once you go Nikon you really can't go back.

The pics to follow I'd hoped would be as crisp and clean as the originals but , sigh, tends to process the uploaded images to save space and download time (a good thing) and in doing so makes them .... fuzzy (a bad thing). Maybe it's time I followed my brother's lead and switched to Flikr.

22" LCD Wallpaper

I re-sized this image from my Nikon D80's native 3872 x 2592 resolution to something that, in theory, should fit better with a 22" LCD monitor running at it's native resolution of 1680 x 1050. It's the start of my daily Seawall walk and the point I look left and right for any high speed cyclists that may or may not be oblivious to us pedestrians.

In theory, if you click on this image you will be presented with a larger version that, if you choose to do so, you can then set as your Windows wallpaper. In theory.

24" LCD Wallpaper

And, for those at the leading edge here's another view of spring in it's infant days sized for the native resolution of a 24" LCD monitor - 1980 x 1200.

Tomorrow I'm taking the day off and plan to hike to the edge of the Stanley Park destruction. I'll be bringing the full compliment of gear (digital video, digital still and a real tripod) so the posts this weekend should be pretty cool. I'll upload the video to both YouTube and Stage 6 with links posted here.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Digital Single Lense Reflex (SLR) vs Consumer Point & Shoot Cameras

Beach Art

Scattered along Sunset beach and English Bay Beach in Vancouver is a funky and eclectic mix of metal sculpture. Each work adds a nice moment of incongruity for new visitors to the Seawall. To old fans like me though, over time, they've become cooler and cooler.

Funny how that works. With inanimate objects familiarity breeds affection. Tune in for details as well as photos of the various scupltures along the path.

And, while the weather here has returned to its winter norm (rain) we have not had "The Big One" (earthquake wise) and have not descended into nose hair freezing temperatures of -40 'C like the rest of Canada. Brrrr. There's something about being so low on the thermometer scale that Fahrenheit and Celsius match that just chills my spine. No pun intended.

Pink Sunset

On my walk a few days ago I brought along my video camera and mono-pod to capture some vibration free stock footage of the Seawall. I was quite happy with the results and for those not familiar with a mono-pod it's basically a device that serves the same purpose as a tripod only with one leg rather than three. It might seem like a useless concept but given that you can use your two legs as the second and third pods you and the mono-pod, in effect, can get nearly all of the benefits of a tripod.

The big advantage is that there's no cumbersome set-up involved with a mono pod. You park yourself, plant the mono pod and take a picture or film a slice of video.

This setup worked great with the video filming and most of the shots were solid as a rock. The more I upload to DivX's Stage6 or YouTube the fussier I'm getting with my video. Even though the digital video camera I use has tons of electronic smarts engineered to reduce the effects of vibration it's not good enough for me or the viewers. My 10,000+ viewed videos are rock solid. My shakey pictures of waterfalls get 200 hits. Do the math.

Anyway, ... I've digressed myself.

The video was great (rock solid) and the stills from a few days earlier with my Nikon were also great. However I've realized that I was starting to turn my daily exercise routine into a video or still photo shoot. Vancouver is such a cute city, rain or shine, that I hate walking past a great photo moment and thinking "Ack!! A great photo moment and I can't capture it!" Same with the great video moments. However slick feeder material for cool blog content is not the number one reason I go for a daily power walk. Burning 300 calories and eventually loosing this gut fat is.

Welcome to Vancouver

So, in a flash of brilliance as well as techno-rationalization, I was able to convince myself that it was time to take the plunge and pick up a cool little consumer point and shoot digital camera. A pocket friendly something that would take decent resolution photos, decent video and would not kill my budget. Something that, unlike my current Digital Video camcorder and hi resolution still camera, I'd have no problem taking on walks rain or shine.

What you see in this blog entry are the results of going from a nicely configured Nikon D80 10.2 Mpixel camera to a tiny little Canon PowerShot A530 camera. The Nikon can't do video (the Canon can) and while my digital video camera can shoot stills the 2 Mpixel images it produces just won't cut it. The 5 Mpixel images from the Canon however will, half the time, do just fine.

This might sound like ego talking but it's not the tool it's the brain behind it that really counts.

Today, as the rain trickled down, I had few concerns in exposing the Canon to the elements to snap a few choice shots. It was small and light enough to be there when I needed it but not THERE (so to put it).

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Uh Oh

B.C. braces for possible earthquake

Judith Lavoie, CanWest News Service; Victoria Times Colonist
Published: Saturday, February 03, 2007

VICTORIA - Check the emergency supplies, first aid kits and flashlights, there is an increased probability of a major earthquake hitting B.C.'s south coast during the next week.

Seismologists at the Geological Survey of Canada, based at the Pacific Geoscience Centre in Sidney, B.C., are tracking a series of tremors that started in Puget Sound along the U.S. West Coast three days ago and are working their way up Vancouver Island.

The low-level shaking, which can be picked up only by sensitive equipment installed up the coast by U.S. and Canadian governments, rumbled through southern Vancouver Island Thursday, said seismologist Garry Rogers.

"It's like a giant tear that moves 15 to 20 kilometres a day," he said.


It's not the main wave of an earthquake that I hate it's the precursor or P-wave that bugs me the most. 5 seconds or so before "the big one" hits there is this gentle precursor wave that makes you feel like you're about to throw up. It's like your inner ear suddenly looses it and, naturally, you think "What's wrong with me?".

Then the big one hits and it's cool but terrifying. How long will it last and will it get big enough to be ... ... ack ... the big one.

Hide your kittens.

Close Encounter of the Kitten Kind

Believe it or not I actually do have two cats. I know, I know, "Impossible." you say. "All we've seen on this blog is a never-ending series of cute pictures of Sirrus."

Photos of Sirrus, the most quirky cat I've had the pleasure of sharing space with not to mention a cat that was blessed with a great natural color palette (black and white), dominate my cute cat-pic folder.

Poor Sheba. As I learned with my previous generation of cats (two awesome male Bombay's Alfie & Owen) pure black cats, especially long haired ones, are very tough to photograph spontaneously. More often than not all I'll get is a picture of two dreamy green cat eyes staring at me from a fuzzy mass of black fur.

Here's a photo taken during the first hour spent with Sheba. She's 8 weeks old or so at this point and was confused enough and well lit enough to provide a nice composition. She's just as cute 5 years later (if not more) but remains a perpetual challenge to photograph. I think I'll make it a mini-goal of mine this year - get a good picture of Sheba.

The Georgian Bay Fog Monster

This winter has been the foggiest on record for Vancouver and, as you've seen if you've slid down to some of my earlier postings, has created no shortage of impressionistic photo moments.

This was an early morning shot (8:30 AM) last Thursday taken from my living room window with the long shadows of several of the West End Vancouver hi-rises caught as shadows in the bay fog. There's even a nice splash of sunrise pink in the upper left corner.

The rain returned today which will limit the photo opportunities for the next week or so. However I expect many cool pictures lie ahead and today I pushed my Seawall walk up to the edge of the devastation in Stanley Park. It's not a pretty sight and I plan to push my way deeper and deeper around the Sea Wall over the next few months to photograph the park's recovery. Naturally this blog will be ground zero for the photos and stories to come.

It's been a great week of blogging but it's time to shift gears for a bit and get editing some of the video that's been simmering in my DV camera for a month now.

As always comments and feedback about this blog and its content are very welcome and if you would like to see a larger view of any of the pictures just double click on it.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Gaining Perspective

I feel great these days and I owe much of it to my daily power walk along Vancouver's Seawall. The official Seawall walk is a 9 km (5.4 mi) 0% grade pedestrian and cycle path around Vancouver's beautiful Stanley Park. Over time though the city has extended the walk and mandated that the new developments in False Creak include extensions to the Seawall. As such, start to finish, the walk is now nearly twice it's original length.

It's a wonderful way to experience nature in the heart of a large city. Five years or so ago the walk was expanded to allow separate paths for pedestrians and cyclists making it a stress free adventure for both modes of transportation.

Unfortunately the storms of this winter left $5 million in damage to Stanley Park alone including our much loved Seawall. It will be months for the walk to recover and years for the park itself.

The past week we've been under this much needed high pressure cell and have been treated to pure sunshine intermixed with the occasional attack by our resident Straight of Georgia fog monster.

Having become recently addicted to daily 45 minute - 5 km power walks I'm happy to hit the Seawall rain or shine. Actually if given the choice I'd take a rainy day over a sun filled one. Getting drenched and not having to manoeuvre around the more casual walkers is quite liberating.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Sorting Laundry With Cats

One of the perception expanding realizations I've had over my many years spent with cats is that if you put aside your ego for even a few minutes cats can teach you as much as they can learn from you.

For example, cats love a big pile of pipping hot laundry. It's what they do.

Fresh out of the dryer and still crackling with just a touch of static electricity cats will gravitate to your freshly cleaned cloths nearly as fast as a they will to big pile of cat nip. Almost.

Here's Sirrus half buried in a pile of my fresh laundry claiming all that surrounds her as hers. If I was a cat owner I would have taught her and her sister never to do this and this photo-op never would have occurred. As a cat companion on the other hand I've long since learned that the moment by moment with cats is best spent intertwined and shared. Sirrus and Sheba, my two current cats, and those that came before them taught me this and it's worked out quite well for the past 26 years.

In fact sorting laundry with several fully clawed cats turns something pretty mundane into a game for all three of us. If I pull a sock from the pile and she's not distracted her paw will instantly grabbed it. No problem. Flip a fleece vest onto her head as a distracting manoeuvre then grab another sock. Eventually I'll win and all of the laundry will be neatly tucked away. Occasionally I'll loose a bit of blood if I don't think strategically enough to decide which of the pile to grab next. All's fair in love, war and laundry sorting with cats.

It's a great game and one that has taught me much about patience, strategy and how much of the kitten never leaves the cat.

Misty Marina

Ack! More orange. Jack Bauer's gonna kill me!!

The fog this January and February here in and around English Bay Vancouver has been spectacular. To the left is our resident fog beast slipping across the western edge of the False Creek marina. Lots of orange in the image thanks to the long exposure time (9s at f/5.6, ISO 100) which I'm sure I could PhotoShop from orange to white . However I'll save that bit of post processing for the time when I create my "Great Phogs!! of Vancouver!!" coffee-table photo book. An over priced 36" x 24" monster that I expect will be a big seller with the phog phanatic crowd. :)

Today I did a long (8 hours plus) time lapse of the bay fog at first retreating from then reclaiming English Bay. This time I went for a very long time lapse interval (4 seconds between video frames). Two hours of real time for this run will equal 1 minute of video.

So far I have just over 4 minutes (8 hours) recorded and the fog beast today could not have behaved better. After lurking outside of English Bay in the Straight of Georgia all day the beast made it's move a few hours before sunset and drifted in. The resulting video should be quite spectacular given the location I'm shooting from. At 32 floors above English Bay the view is blue sky above and fog below. Sort of like being in an airplane at 35,000 feet only you're sitting in your living room.

I'll process the video this weekend and should have it up on YouTube and Stage6 Saturday or Sunday. Tune in for it. I've got a pretty cute "This is a cat friendly video." bite at the end thanks to a purring Sirrus nuzzling the camera.