Monday, October 29, 2007

Resolved: Mac OS X 10.5 vs. Sonnet Tempo-X eSATA 4+4 card

My previously mentioned problem—that the Sonnet Tempo-X eSATA 4+4 card's firmware is violently incompatible with Mac OS X 10.5—has been resolved. Owners of that card or other cards that use the same firmware need to be aware of the following: Version 2.1.2 of the firmware is 10.5 compatible. Apparently there was a problem with a 10.5 beta version, but that was corrected at Apple's end prior to 10.5's release. The reason that people, like myself, who went to the Sonnet downloads page to get the latest firmware for their cards received firmware that was not compatible with 10.5 was an error in the page markup. Specifically, if you clicked on the great, big down-arrow graphic to download the firmware, you received version 2.1.1 (which is not 10.5 compatible), but if you chose to click on the word "download" next to it, you received version 2.1.2 (which is 10.5 compatible). I've alerted Sonnet to the problem and it's probably been fixed by now. Hopefully, they've added a big, red note about this fact, since the version number of the firmware won't have changed to tip-off people about the difference.

One mild caveat: I had only a few minutes to try the Tempo 2.1.2 firmware with Mac OS X 10.5 before I had to leave for work earlier today, but they did seem to be working together just fine, which is consistent with what Sonnet technical support claims about the 2.1.2 firmware.

Follow-up: Yes, the 2.1.2 firmware works fine with Mac OS X 10.5.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Pano from the Show

I've been meaning to swing by the show of my, Margaret's and Kathy's works at the LBJ Wildflower Center before it closes, in order to shoot some panoramas by which to remember it. I shot a few shortly before closing time this Saturday, October 27th. There were a few people taking-in the show even at that hour, which was nice to see, and left me tempted to introduce myself, and offer to answer any questions they might have had about the images or the ranch. I suppose they might have enjoyed that, I also suppose that they might have felt waylaid by an emotionally needy artist. So I shelved that urge and shot panos until the security guard came-in to lock-up. Below is the first of those panos that I've assembled. It includes about 40% of Margaret's drawings, 75% of my panos, and most of Kathleen Marie's photos, although none of these works can be appreciated in the available resolution. It does, however, capture some of the nice setup the Wildflower Center has provided for the show.

Photographically, the scene presented some serious challenges. One was the white balance; with the scene illuminated by direct and reflected sunlight, along with one or more types of artificial lighting, there was no single white point that would be correct for the entire image – more like three or four. There's no way that I know of to reconcile all of them, although I can imagine a white balance algorithm that would apply different pre-established white point corrections to separate areas of an image, while gracefully interpolating plausible white points for the areas between the pre-established points. Tone-mapping algorithms already perform similar spatially-adaptive work on other aspects of images, so I don't think I'm going out on a limb with this notion. Unfortunately, I don't have time to try coming-up with an implementation of my own. In any case, a lot of color-tweaking brought this image to a reasonable compromise among its varied white points.

The other challenge in this pano was that, even when shooting three "raw" exposures (at separations of two f-stops) of each segment of the panorama, the sunlit world outside the windows still ended-up overexposed. Unfortunately, my camera has neither support for automatically shooting more than three separate exposures at one time, nor for increasing the difference between them to anything beyond two f-stops. Perhaps when I return to finish shooting the show, I'll try manually shooting the additional exposures that these scenes need, but doing so introduces a lot more opportunities to make mistakes, and seriously slows-down the shooting process, which causes its own problems.

One of these days, I hope, we'll have affordable cameras with the kind of native dynamic range in their sensors that will make the multi-exposure approach obsolete. That'll leave the current crop of high-dynamic range photographers with a lot more competition, but I'm looking forward to the development of such cameras, nonetheless.

(On the other hand, I run into a lot of photographers who don't mind their skies showing-up white when they were actually blue, etc., and who are, therefore, perfectly happy living within the constraints imposed by shooting JPEG images, even when they could just as easily shoot "raw", and thereby eliminate at least some of those dynamic-range limitations. I don't understand that, but there are a lot of things I don't understand, and perhaps I'm so hopelessly outside the mainstream, that there won't turn-out to be enough of a market to justify the development-, or sustain the production-, of cameras with the ultra-high-dynamic-range sensors for which I'm waiting. It'd be a shame if things worked-out that way, but the successes and failures of technologies have surprised me before, and, doubtless, will again.)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Mac OS X 10.5 vs. Sonnet Tempo-X eSATA 4+4 card

I installed Mac OS X 10.5 this evening. I knew it could be a mistake (I've been using Macs since the first one was released in 1984, and have been punished for being an early adopter many times), but the list of disappointments I was expecting proved to be too short in one critical respect: having installed 10.5, my Mac started freezing every time the Finder loaded. No way out, except to power-cycle the machine. After much experimenting and checking of vendor web pages for firmware updates, I discovered that the Sonnet Tempo-X eSATA 4+4 card, which I depend on to access the vast majority of the storage on my Mac, is not compatible with 10.5. In the final sentence of the paragraph describing the latest firmware update for that card, Sonnet does acknowledge this: "Note that Mac OS X Version 10.5 beta will not currently operate with these cards and Power Mac computers." Wish I'd thought to go searching through vendor web pages for these tiny, vital gems of information before I'd installed 10.5. But even more, I wish Sonnet had fixed the problem during 10.5's lengthy beta period. (My past experiences with the company lead me to expect better than this from them.) So, if you happen to have one of these Sonnet cards, best to hold-off on the 10.5 upgrade, and maybe even drop Sonnet a line expressing your interest in a fix. I know I'm waiting anxiously for their response to my email.

Late addition: It also seems worth noting that Apple's practice of releasing products like 10.5 on Fridays (and in the late afternoon, no less) leaves customers who encounter problems like mine stranded without access to tech support from most vendors for more than two days. Monday releases would be a vastly better choice in this regard.

As an article in Mac User magazine, I think it was, said of early adopters about twenty years ago: "you can tell the pioneers by the arrows in their backs." This is a hopelessly flawed summary of events in the settlement of the American west, but a very good description of the settlement of many technological frontiers. Of course, if my judgement had been better, I'd've skipped being an early adopter in this case, as I usually do, but it remains to be seen, from Sonnet's response to this problem, whether that would have made any difference.

Much later addition: This issue has been resolved.

Friday, October 26, 2007


I learned this morning that my panorama-on-canvas "Bamberger Ranch, West Slope Middle Grassland, no. 2", which is currently on display at the LBJ Wildflower Center, has been sold.

I don't know who bought it, but I send them my compliments. I hope they get many decades of enjoyment from it. It is, by the way, the "artist's proof" no. 1 print—the very first print of that image in that format (or, as it happens, in any format)—so it is singular; more limited even than the small limited edition that will follow. So, on the off chance that my work becomes collectable in the future, that print should be uniquely valuable.

For any readers wondering about that image, here's the description of it that I wrote for the show:

July 29, 2007 – Hip-high grass swaying in a warm breeze, scattered oak stands, sunshine, and an oncoming storm.

Three years of random visits may be required, but a sweeping field of grass scattered with shady stands of oak, and gifted with a distant horizon, may eventually be caught in a favorable condition, season, and light, and, just maybe, with dramatically unfavorable weather impending. There’s some persistence and judgement in such an endeavor, and a lot of luck.

This field adjoins those reserved for the world’s last wild herd of Scimitar-horned Oryx. From time to time, it, too, plays host to the critically-endangered antelope. Its elements should bear some deeply-welcomed resemblance to their native African savanna, and its most striking element—the grass—most of all. Planted specifically for the Oryx, the African Klein grass stands fine, tall, and dense. Its blades pass luxuriantly against an interloper’s legs. If their flavor is the equal of their look and feel, the Oryx eat well at the edge of extinction.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Enjoy it while you can, Al Gore

As most of you have probably heard already, Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in raising awareness about global warming. The White House has even said it's happy for him (ya, sure). I'd just like to say: Congratulations, Al, and enjoy it while you can, because I expect the next thing that will happen is that the Supreme Court will rule 5-4 that George Bush actually won it.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Nocturnal Photographic Trivia

Over the previous few months, I've made a number of visits to the Bamberger Ranch for purposes other than taking new photographs; mostly picking-up panoramas from the Kirchman Gallery in Johnson City, where I've been having them printed. It is my usual practice to make the drive more pleasant by doing at least the outbound leg at night, then catching some sleep in the guest quarters (when available), and getting on with the business of the day whenever I regain consciousness. I usually bring along all of my photographic gear just-in-case. On several of these visits the "just-in-case" has been "just-in-case I arrive there early enough to try shooting a moonlight panorama, before I absolutely have to get to sleep".

All of those moonlight panoramas have been complete failures, because they turned-out so clear and colorful that they look a lot like they were shot in the middle of the day. I more-or-less expected that, but figured that I could add the "moonlight look" after the fact by playing with colors, levels, etc. That failed, too, probably because the way that the camera's sensor and the human eye's retina experience these low-light conditions are very different. There may yet turn out to be a way to get the look that we humans expect by processing the images after the fact, but I'm not optimistic at this point.

So, I pass along my failures for your amusement:

The panorama above was shot halfway up a valley wall in the region of the ranch known as Wildlife Preserve. Crossing valley-bottom streams and climbing by the light of the moon and a small red-LED flashlight was very time consuming and a bit dangerous. Nonetheless, I was eventually able to reach a spot very near where I had shot a panorama two years ago. That time, it was broad daylight and the exposures were trivially short. This time, there was a full moon, elegantly obscured by clouds, so I could only obtain reasonable exposures at f8 by using ISO 800, and a shutter speed of 2 minutes. With the camera taking an additional two minutes to perform noise reduction on each image, each shot really took 4 minutes, and therefore the whole, six-segment pano took about half an hour to shoot, and a lot longer if you include the time spent on various test exposures. As you can see, nothing about the image suggests that it was shot between 5 and 5:30 in the morning, exclusively by moonlight.

From one of the test exposures, above is a sample of the wonderful texture of the clouds that night. Unfortunately, little of that texture comes through in the panorama because the longer exposures used for those images allowed the steadily moving clouds to become undifferentiated blurs.

While I stood up there on the valley wall, waiting for the camera to do its job, there came a moment when I heard a descending whistle sound from one of the four or five valleys that open onto that scene. For some reason, I associated that call with a Great Horned owl (I'm not sure that's right, but that's what I thought it was at the time). With nothing else to do, I thought I'd try to call the owl over to me. Since I can't imitate any Great Horned calls, I settled for my iffy impression of a screech owl call, knowing that Great Horneds will gladly make a meal of screech owls. I never did see any evidence of a Great Horned owl, but I was surprised to find that my lousy screech owl impression was answered by at least one pair of screech owls in each valley. I knew screeches were in the area, but I was surprised to find that there were so many.

The failure of the previous moonlight panorama notwithstanding, on a subsequent visit I tried again by the light of a ¾ moon, and this time at the mouth of the chiroptorium, the artificial cave that the Bambergers built in an effort to establish a large bat population on the ranch. After a rocky start, the chiroptorium has become a complete success; the last bat count put the population at around 120,000. And what could be a more appropriate time of day to shoot a panorama at the mouth of a bat cave than the middle of the night? So I setup there, with bats hurtling all around me, and after a time-consuming series of test shots, began shooting the pano starting at 3:56 AM. To achieve acceptable exposures at f8 and ISO 800, I had to settle for a shutter speed of five minutes. Add to each of those exposures a further five minutes of noise reduction processing by the camera, and it took a full hour to shoot the six segments. Unfortunately, ten minutes gives the moon a lot of time to move, and that changed the lighting noticeably from one frame to the next. Those changes give rise to the obvious intensity differences in the sky at the frame boundaries. (There'd be some of that anyway, due to vignetting in the lens, but let the light source change its position with respect to the camera, and the problem is compounded.) And, it goes without saying that, once again, the pano looks like it was shot in daylight.

It also goes without saying that the panorama includes thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of bats. Only one bat held still long enough to be recorded in any of the images, but, believe me, they were there. One of the many nice things about working amongst all those bats was what wasn't there: mosquitos. Despite a pair of nearby ponds that should have been producing mosquitos in quantity, I was bothered by only two in the hour-and-half I spent there. As a mosquito attractor, I may have even been providing easy pickings for the bats that raced all around me; some returning to the cave, a smaller number emerging, and many others just swooping through the area.

One of those mosquito producing ponds provided the other great pleasure of that shoot; a chorus of leopard frogs. Their voices often sound a bit like a pair of inflated rubber balloons being rubbed against each other. Whimsically, I was left thinking that the species has been trying to sing with all its might for millions of years, but still hasn't managed to get the hang of it. And, I thought, on some distant night when they do, at long last, get the hang of it, these ponds ought to put the world's opera houses to shame, due to the cumulative effect of all that practice. My peculiar ponderings aside, the lady leopard frogs obviously find the singing appealing, so the fellows are doing something right. And I can't help but smile when I hear them, so I suppose I agree with the ladies.

Lastly there's the above experiment in long, night sky exposures on a moonless night. I had to guess at the pole star's location from some short, test exposures, and didn't get it exactly right, but I was in the neighborhood. That shot was a 45 minute exposure at 10 mm, f4 and ISO 400. Once again, noise-reduction processing after the exposure took as long as the exposure itself, so that was 90 minutes of continuous work for the camera, which makes it important to start with a freshly-charged battery. Fortunately, the noise reduction process works fine even with the lens cap in place and the camera standing at the end of a bed burdened with a snoozing photographer.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Opening Day

I dropped by the Wildflower Center shortly before closing time today, the show's opening day. My purpose was to upgrade the artist biographies that are included in the exhibit. Those printed-up by the Center turned-out to be sad black & white affairs, carelessly mounted on scrap foam core. I'm all for the recycling, but the quality of the results made it a wasted effort. So, Kathleen Marie printed and mounted the bios herself, I drove out to her studio near Johnson City to collect them, then returned home by way of the Wildflower Center to install them. The McDermott building was empty, so there was no trouble performing the unscheduled exhibit upgrade. (The headline "Artist arrested vandalizing own show" ran through my head more than once while considering this little errand.)

After the upgrade, I tried to stand back and see the exhibit the way a visitor might - but failed. Knowing those people and places, and especially my panoramas, which are something like frozen, idealized memories for me, I don't think I can possibly know what the exhibit will look like to anyone else. I can say that the lighting seemed good, and that the panoramas look a lot smaller on those big, 1883 carriage-house walls than they do on the modest, 1953 walls of my house. I straightened a few pictures, tidied up our business cards, read through the guest book, and slipped out as quietly as I'd come. It was nice to have seen a few familiar names in the guest book.

This evening, Margaret Bamberger called to ask about the exhibit, having returned home from the hospital late in the afternoon. The cancer treatment and aftermath sound like they were hell, but she's on the mend now, and all indications are that the results will be good, so, hopefully, she'll be back to a normal life in the not-too-distant future. It's not clear, however, whether she'll be feeling well enough to attend David's presentation at the Wildflower Center next Friday morning, and to join in the subsequent book-signing. By the way, she set me straight on the book signing. The text on the Wildflower Center's events page had led me to believe that Jeffrey Greene would be there to sign the book, but, in fact, it'll be the book's subject, David Bamberger, rather than its author, who will be doing the signing. That's understandable, given that Jeffrey lives in France, and the commute's a bitch.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Karma Vertigo

While working to finish the latest beta of Qwicap, I've also re-read Stewart Brand's book The Clock of the Long Now, which has previously tickled my mind in interesting ways. In that book, specifically on page 120, Jaron Lanier is quoted:

The computer code we are offhandedly writing today could become the deeply embedded standards for centuries to come. Any programmer or system designer who takes that realization on and feels the full karmic burden, gets vertigo.

I've had that feeling from the beginning of the Qwicap project, and it grows with each new release. (And I've only been thinking in terms of a decade or two.) The work on the latest beta has included several vertigo inducing issues, from big things like creating an internationalization/multi-lingualization architecture, to seemingly trivial issues in the process of adopting Java 1.5 features, like whether, where, and how best, to add support for the "for each" loop and its associated Iterable interface to the public API.

There's been another kind of vertigo, too; one for which I know of no clever name. It occurs as the point of completion for the current beta seems to recede further into the future with every day I spend working on it. I'm getting plenty of work done on it, but, get one new feature more-or-less sorted-out, and it either uncovers the need for related work elsewhere in the code, or reveals whole new vistas of work in the form of features that suddenly seem both inevitable, and urgent, because, if I don't implement them now, while they can be cleanly integrated into the rest of the new work, I'll have to implement them awkwardly later. And thus the completion date seems to retreat further into the future the more I work to finish this beta. I'll be relieved when it's finally released.

Installation complete – the Wildflower Center show is almost ready

I spent much of Thursday at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center installing the art for the Bamberger Ranch exhibit. If my mental count is correct, we installed 50 pieces, including my four panoramas, Margaret Bamberger's 21 prints, and something like 25 photographs by Kathleen Marie. Margaret couldn't make it (we await word of the results of her latest cancer treatment), so Kathleen Marie and I, ably assisted by Johnny Ramirez of the 'Center staff, performed the installation. I had planned to shoot a few panoramas of the exhibit after the installation, for inclusion here, but the exhibit still needs to be lit. That task will take Johnny most of Friday, so it won't be in a fit state to be photographed until shortly before the exhibit opens on Saturday. So, I'll have to find some quiet day during the next month to slip back and shoot my show panos.

While the Center wasn't overrun with visitors this Thursday, we did have to keep turning-away small groups of people who happened upon us and wanted to see the works. Sorry about that, folks. Here's hoping that you can make it back after the exhibit opens this Saturday, October 6th (and before it closes on November 11th). There's no opening party, or anything; that'll just be the first that time visitors will be permitted into the McDermott Learning Center to see the show.

The closest that anyone will come to making an event out of the show is on Friday, October 12th when David Bamberger will be giving the presentation "Selah: The Story of the Bamberger Ranch Restoration" at 10:30 AM, followed by a signing of the book "Water from Stone: The Story of Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve" by its subject, David Bamberger, and, with luck, its illustrator, Margaret Bamberger. Salesman's blood runs in David's veins, so he gives a very good presentation. I recommend attending, provided that you aren't too busy earning a living at the time. (Why is it that these sorts of things are so often scheduled while most people are working?)

Anyway, every piece on display in the show is available for purchase through the Wildflower Center's gift shop. (Purchasers will have to wait until the show closes to collect their purchases, of course.) So, if you have friends with lots of disposable income, and some blank spots on their walls, please bring them along. Also, if you happen to see something that you like that has already been sold, other prints from those editions can be ordered from each artist. The Center should provide our contact information. (If they don't, drop me a line, and I'll provide it.) In my case, I can not only provide additional limited-edition canvas prints of my panoramas (60 X 18 inches, mounted and ready to hang, as seen in the show), but also smaller, unframed, and much less expensive, archival-grade paper prints (40 X 12 inches). I have one such paper print of each of the panos at the show "in stock", at the moment, so I can say with confidence that the quality of those prints is excellent.

It's good to have the show, the prints, pricing, bios, descriptions, and everything else squared-away at long last, but my main feeling at this point is not accomplishment, or even relief – it's exhaustion. I'm also struck by just how bare the walls of my house have suddenly become.

Oh, well. Wish us luck.

By The Way...

...there are several upcoming public tours of the Bamberger Ranch, including a public tour this Saturday, October 6th. See the ranch tour schedule for details.