While I guess I can thank my lucky… whatever that I’m generally pretty healthy and in ok shape (would be “good shape” if I did more regular exercise), but I do have one built-in health flaw: I attract flu germs like a magnet. Where other people get a slightly sore throat, I get a clogged-up one and some light fever to boot.
So yeah, guess what I’ve been hosting again this week. Sigh. Stayed home yesterday, today was at work but decided not to go to swords practice because I’m still feeling a bit shaky. Maybe tomorrow.
This week is once again bracketed by VTES games, it’s not hard to tell that the European Championships are approaching. Last Saturday we had a mini-qualifier at Fantsu; my Kiasyd deck did ok (2 VPs) but didn’t quite make it to the finals. It’s a pretty nice deck, though, I intend to tune it some more. The final victory went to Otso Turunen, playing a fairly stock Imbued deck which seemed to be tuned pretty well. Because this was a mini-qualifier, the only qualification of the day went to Otso.
This Saturday we’ll have the second “proper” ECQ in Finland, this time in Tampere. This will be my last chance to get a qualification before the EC’s “last chance” qualifier. We’ll see.
Other than game stuff, I’ve been reading a bit: the two first books of Charles Stross’ “Merchant” fantasy series (very good escapist adventure), Stross’ “Glasshouse” (excellent take on the posthumanist scifi genre), Greg Stolze’s “Reign” (wonderful new fantasy rpg engine and world) and “Manacle & Coin” (slavery, drug use and other fun stuff for Exalted). I currently seem to be reading half fiction, half rpg material. Works for me.
I also had to ugrade our Cat Alcatraz Feline Containment System (tm). Typhoon, the small fuzzy renegade, managed to find a hole under the fence and vanished for hours on end. I finally found him in the near-pitch-black woods nearby, after searching in the gathering dark for 1.5 hours. Not fun. So I added some more mink mesh… and what do you know, the little critter found out that he could climb a tree in our yard and jump to the top of the shed from there. Sigh. So next up is something to stop the cats climbing up the tree.
Cats. Never boring.
Still catching up, some words about last weekend. Teemu and Tuukka had arranged for a weekend of VTES mini-qualifiers at Teemu’s summer place in Pernaja, by the seashore. Much fun was had by all, though sleep proved to be a rare luxury. I got there Saturday around noon, with the first tournament starting around 1pm. Didn’t do well (I think I scored dead last among 14 or so players), but strangely enough I didn’t decide to dismantle my deck afterwards; I was playing a !Salubri rush affair which didn’t quite have enough “oomph” (and pool gain) to survive in the tournament, but otherwise worked nicely. I now have a tweaked version which works better, but it still needs some love.
Anyway, the “official” games ran until late in the evening on Saturday, I played a “for fun” game after those with a !Tremere anarch deck (which, to my no great surprise, sucked) and then went for sauna + swim in the sea. After sauna and some booze, we decided to play “just one more little game”… which might have been a mistake, since that game went on until close to 5am. I was playing my Anarch Daughters vote deck which was having problems with Marko’s gargoyle + War Ghouls horde, but Tuomas’ amazing Saulot & friends deck managed to survive double War Ghoul rush for something like 10+ consecutive rounds and keep me in the game with suitable Eagle’s Sights. Quite a feat, everyone was a bit hysterical near the end there. Very strange game.
Since it was already close to morning, I got my camera and went out to get some shots of a nearby anchored ship in the morning light, before curling up in my sleeping bag for a refreshing 4-5 hours of sleep. Then it was up and about, some breakfast, and another day of tournament.
Sunday went just as badly as Saturday for me, though it was also a lot of fun. I was playing a Synesios Temptation deck and had the misfortune to be the prey of a Black Annis rush deck twice (two different decks). Since the deck really can’t survive permarush, I was ousted pretty fast. The third game went a bit better and resulted in a timeout, but still… I’ve since dismantled that deck, it’s fun but it’s simply too slow and vulnerable. I’ll have to rethink the concept, this incarnation just doesn’t work efficiently enough. I still have hopes of getting the !Salubri deck into tournament shape at some point.
After that was over I was feeling pretty wiped out, so I headed back towards Helsinki, stopping by the airport to pick up Janka (who had just returned from a conference trip), and then home and a deep coma.
Some pictures from the weekend are available.
Thanks to Teemu and the guys for the weekend, was a lot of fun and a great idea generally.
Note: there is a miniqualifier in Fantasiapelit tomorrow Sat 7th starting at 11:00, if we get at least 12 players the highest non-qualified gets a qualification. You know the drill. Entry fee 2 euros so we can get some small prizes for the finalists.
I’ve always liked photography, but haven’t done much of it for ages even though we are starting to have a very nice “prosumer” kit; I guess it’s one of those things that comes and goes. Lately I’ve started dabbling in it again, partly because Burning Man is coming up and one of my favorite things there has been walking around with a camera – there’s just so much to photograph. And no, I don’t mean the naked chicks…
Another thing that has woken me up is the introduction of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. Up to now I’ve used the tried and true “file pictures in folders, and use Gimp to process them” workflow. It works (though I’d use Photoshop if I had access to a copy), but… as anyone knows who has done any amounts of this, it’s a pain. Lots of separate programs involved, cumbersome viewing and selecting of pictures you want to keep, etc etc. It’s doable, but not fun. And now, probably in response to Apple’s Aperture, Adobe came out with Lightroom.
It rocks. Enough to make me seriously think of buying it, even though it requires me to work in Windows (don’t have a Mac yet) and even though it costs something in the ballpark of 250e. I’ve never paid that much money for software.
Adobe is a smart company and they provide a 30-day trial license + download of the full thing (no stupid “limited demo version” crap). It’s a smart thing to do, because once you start playing around with this thing you really don’t really want to go back to the old filesystem + Gimp/Photoshop hassle.
What makes it good? Lots of things, but they boil down to one thing: it has a user interface and functionality that is tailored to one specific thing, producing web/print -ready results from digital camera input. It also acts as a very nice image storage catalog, with keywords and other metadata allowing you to organize your pictures “virtually” in pretty much any way you want. On the processing side, it has all the image enhancement/processing tools you normally need and lots of exotic extras besides – sure, you’ll still need Gimp/Photoshop for very specialized stuff, but I suspect 99% of the time I can stay totally within Lightroom and get the results I want. As an additional bonus, Lightroom now includes some very nifty image enhancement tools (“clarity”, “fill lights”, etc) which would require either lots of manual work or add-on plugins in Photoshop. I’m just a hobbyist – but the fact that a lot of pro photographer workflow input has gone into the UI design here really shows.
There are too many good features to list, but I guess the best part is that everything is non-destructive, the originals are always kept untouched and all changes are layered on (and are undoable directly through a stack view of operations). This works for JPGs, too, not just RAW.
My workflow now is:
- import new pictures from camera (via USB cable) into Lightroom, automatically adding some EXIF tags for copyright info etc.
- use the Library view to scan through the images, marking obviously failed shots with a “reject” flag. After this is done, delete all images marked for reject.
- go through the surviving images, mark the ones I want to display (i.e. work on) with a “pick” flag. When done, filter view to only show picks. This leaves me with a view with only my “want to work on these” pictures.
- do white balance correction (incl black levels and possibly fill light), cropping/straightening, interactive HSL balance, clarity, vibrance, sharpening, and other fun tools. Maybe add some lens vigneting, as an effect.
- when I’ve done with all the images, I select them and go to “export”, which dumps out scaled JPG copies to a separate folder.
- the exported JPGs are uploaded to the gallery, and I’m done.
This is so much nicer than the old flow, especially since I can go back to the pictures whenever I want and add (or remove) some processing. The only bad part is needing to boot to Windows for this; sometime in the future I hope to have enough cash for a Mac OS X laptop which I could start using as my normal workstation. Oh well, one thing at a time.
I don’t have any documentation as such on Lightroom, but Lightroom Killer Tips has a pile of short training videos that demonstrate parts of the system. I watched them all, and it helped substantially in figuring out how the basic usage is supposed to go. For a “first look” impression of Lightroom 1.0 straight after beta you can read this, it goes through the major features. Lightroom is now at version 1.1, the upgrade brought some major improvements including image catalog import/export, a really cool ”clarity tool” plus versatile sharpening tools from Adobe Camera Raw 4.1 (this article gives an overview of how those work), and lots of nice tweaks here and there. For something with a “1.1” version number, this is one cool piece of software. Excuse my gushing here, but I’m rarely this impressed by software and it’s a joy to find something that really does what it claims to do, and does it well. I’m sure there are bugs and annoyances here, but I’ve yet to run into any even semi-serious ones. Oh, and it’s pretty fast, too (at least on my machine).
On a tangent: up to now I’ve used the best-quality JPG setting on our Canon 20d, and the results have been more than good enough for me. However, many photographers swear by RAW and claim it’s the only thing you should use… while some others basically say JPG is almost always better. I’ve yet to decide one way or the other, though I did try shooting in RAW last weekend. A few nice pictures, but I’m sure they would have been just as nice as JPGs. At the moment, I think I’ll stick with best-quality JPG for normal shooting, and switch to RAW when doing low-light shooting and other difficult lighting conditions (where the tiny extra bit of information lurking in RAW may help salvage borderline shots).
If anyone has any strong opinions on the RAW vs JPG debate, please let me know. Right now, it’s looking like using RAW is just a way of filling your CF card and hard drive up faster. Does it really give you extra benefits, when you take into account that new tools like Lightroom allow you to work non-destructively in JPG, too?
Oh, and I finally got around to testing our new and shiny 70-200mm 4.0 IS L. Wow. This thing is worth every penny, even though it costs quite a shitload of pennies. Frankly, this lens is way too good for my skill level… but I’m not complaining. The image stabilizier is a joy to use, the image just starts to float in the viewfinder and you can take handheld shots at surprisingly low shutter speeds. This tech works.
Our kit now consists of: Canon 20d, 50mm 1.4, 17-40mm 4.0 L, 70-200mm 4.0 IS L. If I take crappy pictures, there is no way I can blame the equipment.
Been a busy couple of weeks, haven’t updated here though quite a bit has happened. So, let’s see…
A week ago we had our combined Juhannus + housewarming party at our place. We started off some time Friday in the early afternoon and continued until Saturday evening. Lots of food, drink, sauna ja people, was fun. Friday afternoon was pretty kid-oriented, since we had lots of children bouncing around while their parents concentrated on the important bits in life (aforementioned food, drink and other people). At one point our jacuzzi had more little girls in it than water – at least that’s what it seemed like, judging by the squeals, waving arms & legs, and splashed water.
We got a fun “norski Kimble” drinking game set as housewarming present (thanks, guys!), Marko Saari took some pictures of people playing that.
I “went to sleep” (i.e. crashed on our bed) sometime between 1am and 2am, I hear the party continued for quite a while after that, but since it apparently involved lots of off-key singing I was probably better off asleep. The next morning we kicked ourselves in gear with a healthy dose of eggs, bacon & sparkling wine, a breakfast innovation pioneered by Mervi in Ylistaro and warmly recommended by us. After that some more people arrived and the party went on, though it was more of a chill-out day that party; everyone was more or less hung over and in lizard mode.
All in all, a success. It’s always fun to host a party, but the arrangements plus cleanup make it something that you don’t feel like doing too often. It’s been a while since our last one.
I haven’t read all that much fiction lately; I’m a fairly slow reader compared to some, and I’ve also read a lot of roleplaying sourcebooks which further cut down on fiction. Anyway, the Akateeminen bookstore had (and maybe still has?) a 20% sale on all paperbacks, prompting me to pay them a visit and grab few – well, 8 or so – books that had been on my “should buy” list.
Last night I finished the first of those, Alastair Reynold’s Pushing Ice. Quite a ride. As one SF Site review says:
Alastair Reynolds’s novels are reliably fascinating at the “big idea” level. He’s got a truly first rate hard-SF imagination, and the chops to take cool ideas and reveal them via action plots, often hiding the really neat ideas convincingly until the end. He is a “light speed limit” author, and fascinated with Deep Time. And all this describes Pushing Ice quite excellently.
Quite. It starts off fairly low-key and low-tech, for a Reynolds book: in the year 2057, Janus – one of Saturn’s moons – suddenly starts behaving in a decidedly un-moonlike manner and accelerates towards Spica. The ice miner ship Rockhopper is the only ship in position to rendezvous, and despite some crew misgivings is diverted to investigate. Needless to say, things get dangerous and weird at a very fast pace, and without spoiling things I’ll just note that there are quite a few surprising plot turns along the way.
Central to the story is also the relation between captain Bella Lind and her friend, engineer Svetlana Borghesian. It’s perhaps not totally believable all the time and gets a little too long-term bitchy, but it still grounds all the ultra-tech in a human foundation. As always, Reynolds’ characters are not quite 3d enough, but it’s not bad – he’s a lot better at characterization than many other hard-sf writers are.
While I’ve always liked Reynolds (his debut Revelation Space kicked serious ass), this is maybe the most intresting thing I’ve read from him in a while; Century Rain, which I’ve also heard good things about, is still in the reading list pile. Sense of wonder, twists you don’t see coming, and enough action to keep things moving: what else can you ask of a summer book?
On to something else: I’ve always said that Nokia’s mobile phone UIs suck. I still hold by that claim, they suck mightily. Anyone who works at Nokia and has anything to do with UI design: game over, you’ve failed, sorry no bonus. Try sheepherding, it’s much more relaxing and people will hate you less.
The newer Symbian phones are actually more difficult to use than my ancient 7110 – and that’s no mean feat. My current theory is that the Nokia UI R&D department is actually manned by aliens who have no idea how actual humans think or work, but are trying to figure it out with fiendish experiments in UI design. That, or it’s drunk gerbils. Not sure.
Anyway… my “personal work phone”, a Nokia 6630, suffered a hardware breakdown during the weekend; the screen just started blinking and became unreadable. Luckily there’s still warranty left, so I took it to a shop and they sent it off for repairs, “it’ll take 2-3 weeks” I’m told. So we scrounged around at work for some phone I could use in the interim, and found an older Siemens phone. Mistake.
Now, as I’ve said, Nokia sucks in the UI department. But compared to the Siemens, it’s like sweet nectar from heaven. That thing is totally fucking awful, there is no logic to any part of it. Buttons change semantic meaning totally at random, the menus are confusing (if you can even find them), and to top it off, the damn thing just froze when someone tried to call it earlier, total software crash. It’s so bad that at the moment I’m charging the batteries on my ancient 7110 (yes, the “Matrix phone”, and yes, mine still works). I’d much rather use that stone-age piece of tech than suffer one more day with the craptastic Siemens.
Sigh. Why can’t we get a nice mobile phone that has both a good UI and reasonable technical specs? Don’t mention the iPhone, please, since in order for the iPhone to be even worth mentioning here in Finland it would need:
- lack of lock-in to a single provider
- reasonable price (300-400e max)
At the moment it looks like the iPhone will be a fancy dud, at least here in Europe where expectations of what a mobile phone needs to do are considerably higher than in the U.S. Pay 600-700e for a provider-locked phone without reasonable modern network support? What sort of idiot, other than the random Apple fanboy, would do that?
So the wait continues.
Got back from Provinssirock at around 1am last night, the 400km drive is a killer – next time we’ll seriously consider the train, even though it costs a lot compared to a car. Driving five hours after a 3-day long weekend of alcohol & rock’n’roll isn’t a total party.
So, Provinssi. Not bad at all, I’m glad we went. A big thanks once again to friends in Ylistaro who housed us (and some other people, besides) and provided for excellent company, a luxury bacon&eggs + sparkly wine outdoor breakfast, and overall a fun (if a bit exhausting) weekend.
Friday had Tori performing in the big tent; a pretty good – and surprisingly heavy – gig. It was a bit too short and the mixing was slightly hit-and-miss, but overall good and at times pretty intense. Partly overlaid with that, Flogging Molly was raising irish-punk hell on the main stage – Janka was over there and reported the show as really good. I only saw the last couple of songs, which sounded like good, energetic Pogues-y type music. Never too much of that in the world.
We tried to sleep late on Saturday, having gotten to sleep somewhere between 3am and 4am, and failed miserably due to a certain house guest arriving a bit after 9am and deciding that it’s an excellent time to test the house jukebox. The jukebox won out over need to sleep, and we stumbled outside sometime before noon for breakfast and some life-affirming alcohol. The gang finally made it to the festival area around 5pm-ish, in time to see Patti Smith perform. Patti was really good, she oozed street cred and her voice is as distinctive as ever. Good stuff, very old-school rock’n’roll vibe going on – in a good sense. Not surprisingly, Patti proved to be the highlight of the day, with Velvet Revolver being a total waste of stage time; utterly generic stadium rock. Yawn. We spent most of the rest of the evening hopping between beer tents. PMMP was pretty fun but the crowd was too… crowdy for Janka, so we bailed out. Disco Ensemble was ok, what little we saw of them. Fat Beat Sound System sounded like it might actually be pretty good, but our pre-ordered taxi was arriving around that time (a bit past 1am) and we couldn’t stay. Oh well.
Sunday we again skipped the early-afternoon festival program and stayed in Ylistaro, eating a grill-breakfast-brunch thingy and lazing around (with some light acrobatics on the lawn thrown into the mix). When we finally got to Provinssirock we heard that the other main performer of the day, Amy Winehouse, had cancelled “due to medical reasons”. Because it’s fairly well know that she has an alcohol problem, there was (and still is) quite a bit of talk about exactly what sort of “medical reason” we could be talking about here, and if it might be related to the “medical condition” a lot of us had in the morning… A bummer in any case, I was looking forward to seeing her. With Amy a no-show, the day’s musical offerings slimmed down a bit. We watched Grand Slam play old Juice songs, not high art in any sense but a good bit of nostalgic fun. In a happy turn of events, the final big-stage band (Scissor Sisters) turned out to be very good; excellent show, and fun “gay disco” dance music. They (also) poked slightly evil fun at Amy Winehouse, with things like “we’ll dedicate the next song to Amy, it’s about drugs”…
Anyway, I was pretty amused to see the Provinssi big stage final show, which so often has been yet another testosterone-poisoned heavy metal posturing band, be dominated by a NYC-based gay disco band this time around. Everyone seemed to be having a lot of fun, the sunshine helped create a good party mood.
After Scissor Sisters it was “find car, bundle in, drive forever”. Thankfully the roads were pretty empty and we made good time, being able to curl at home among the attention-deprived cats before it was ridiculouly late.
So… another Provinssi. No absolutely amazing musical performances this time around, but some “very good” ones. Add lots of nice people, fierce sunshine, copious amounts of alcohol and good food to that, and the result feels like a vacation.
Last weekend we spent a sweaty couple of days cutting heavy wire mesh, digging trenches, pounding nails into all-too-hard planking, and generally doing things that were suspiciously close to this “physical labor” thingy people talk about.
Result: one Cat Alcatraz, version 1.0. Or actually v1.1, the first version (on Saturday) had the feline convicts confused for a while, but then Tempest got the bright idea of clambering on top of the fence at a low point. So on Sunday, it was a new trip to the hardware store to get 9 more meters of wire “mink cage” mesh and some more wood.
The new version has held so far, we’ve actually been able to keep the patio door open without the cats disappearing into the sunset. For now. I suspect this is a running battle, one of them has already begun what seems to be the beginnings of an escape tunnel.
Version 2.0 will involve covering the whole fence with extra mesh, and maybe some floodlights, razor wire and guard posts.
Version 3.0 will have a moat encircling the house, with sharks. Perhaps with fricking laser beams, too. Can’t hurt.
And yeah, I now have a new photo gallery up. Not much there yet and the layout is pretty simplified, one thing at a time.
We didn’t intend to go this year, with the house purchase killing our finances and available vacation time being uncertain. Bu then… we started looking at vacations and thinking “hmm, I guess we could sqeeze in 2 weeks in there”, and “well, it’s not that expensive, all things considered”. And “we really need a proper vacation”. And…
So now we have flights to San Francisco booked, and are heading for the playa once more, along with two other co-conspirators. No huge detours this time: we fly to SF, rent a minivan or some such, shop around (in Sacramento, probably), and head for the desert. On the way back we’ll probably drop by Hot Creek (yay!), Death Valley and (perhaps fittingly) Disneyland. We’ll see. We have a car and several days to fill, no need to make binding plans.
We might be hooking up with the Group W / Math Camp guys this year round, looking forward to that – they were good folks. Also need to email other people we’ve met the last couple of times and see if we can manage to meet up again. It’s always a bit random trying to meet specific people among 35k+, but it usually seems to work out somehow. Serendipity.
This year I think I’ll be walking around quite a bit, with camera and monopod. Methinks this is the ideal workout for our newish 70-200 L-series IS zoom lens. Also want to take some early-morning walks with camera, you get some nice shots that way. Always time to sleep a bit later when the sun is in “deep fry” mode.
Otherwise, life goes on. This weekend I think we’ll start actual work on Operation Cat Alcatraz, stay tuned.
Was out playing VTES at Valtteri again last night. First game I had a new experimental deck out: Alicia Barrows and friends recruit Escaped Mental Patients & Muddles, and Alicia Inspires them to great deeds (4 aggravated / 6 first strike, in particular). Alicia also votes, and Sennadurek uses Emergency Rations (and Consume the Dead) to chow down dead allies and bloat. I actually won the game with that, though largely it was due to fortunate table position. A bit unexpected. Second game also resulted in game win with my Sebastian deck. It works pretty well, but still has trouble reliably getting intercept on the table (and pool gain is also a problem). Will need to tweak some more. Third game had me in a worst-case position, with my Temptation deck between two rush decks. Ouch. Managed to last a while due to table politics, but it was a losing proposition from the start. Good fun, though did get home a bit late (around 1.15am). Yawn.