Sunday, October 30, 2011

Apple iCloud's My Photo Stream

I have played around a bit with Apple's iCloud.  I was pretty unhappy with how it messed up my Outlook Calendar.  This was surprising because my iPhones have synched perfectly with Outlook for years. One feature I do love and keep enabled is My Photo Stream.  By activating the iCloud software on my laptop and on my iPhone, any photo I shoot on the phone shows up very quickly on my laptop.  I don't have to think about it.  I don't have to attach the phone. They just magically show up. Very handy!
Today's iPhone 4S picture is Jasper visiting with the llamas and mini-donkeys. Here he is giving a mini-donkey a kiss.  We got lucky on the timing.  Within minutes of our visit, the owners arrived to load up all the animals and take them to their winter pasture.  No more visits until June or so.  I know Jasper won't understand driving by the empty field.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Visiting Arches and Canyonlands

Julie and I loaded up the dog and cat and headed to Moab for a week.  Moab is a town of about 8,000 full time residents, but it swells and shrinks with the flow of tourists. The three big attractions seem to be mountain biking, ATV riding, and the proximity to some incredible parks. 

It was interesting to see the locals.  Moab was definitely full of outdoorsy people, but they weren't the granola people from Portland or the athletes from Park City.  They seemed to lean closer to a variation of Grizzly Adams, who now mountain bikes, drives off road, and camps out of the back of his car. I saw one open garage with nine mountain bikes, a bike stand, a tool chest, and no space for a single car.

This was our first journey with the pets, and they did wonderfully well.  We plan to go back to Moab for another week in the spring, and they get to come back with us.

Julie and I got up one morning and did the sunrise trip into Arches.  The rock always glows with the warm morning light.  This formation is The Three Gossips.
Right across from the Gossips is a monstrous fin. They are definitely my favorite formation in the park.  Here's a nice explanation of how fins and arches get created.
This is the well known "Balanced Rock".  Ideally, I would have waited the extra 20 minutes for the sun to creep up into the little notch, but there were places to go and things to see.
There are 2500 arches in the park.  To count, they have to be at least 3 feet across.  Unless Julie is about 4 inches tall, this one counts.  This is one of the "Windows", right near Balanced Rock.
Julie is pointing to one we found that probably won't make the cut for another few millenia.

After a day in Arches, we went for a visit to Dead Horse Point State Park.  This park is right next to the vast Canyonlands National Park, which we visited the following day.  Both of these parks overlooked the huge carved out canyons of the Colorado and Green rivers.  It's amazing what 10 million years of erosion can do.
Both parks had some form or a "rim trail"  They allowed us to get in some exercise while having a nonstop scenic vista.   Because Dead Horse is a state park, Jasper got to hike along with us.  We also found a great map of hikes around Moab that Jasper can join us on during future visits.
The rocky landscape with little but brush and scrub doesn't provide an easy way to mark trails.  You quickly get used to looking for cairns.  A cairn is defined as a mound of rough stones built as a memorial or landmark, but there is a much more interesting read here.  Most of the trail markers would be 3-5 medium-sized rocks in a simple stack.  Sometimes they got a lot more interesting and definitely required more time for creation.
When you lose the trail, you really appreciate finding the next pile of stones. 

Another day and we went back to Arches.  As we got into the park, you could tell that all 20% chance of rain was arriving.  Not great for most touring, but as a photographer, I have learned to hate clear blue skies.  They make the light harsh and add no interest.  Even though this was mid-day, the light on the stone was a lot softer.
But there were places where the clouds hadn't moved in yet.  Soft light, a bit of blue, and some big puffy white clouds starts getting more interesting.
The reason we went back to Arches was to do the ranger-guided tour of the Fiery Furnace.  This tour takes on a three hour hike through the furnace, a set of large, tightly packed fins.  It's a great trip and I definitely recommend it.  Sign up in advance, especially if you are going during any time close to peak season.

Of course, we were about an hour into it when it started to rain.  To their credit, they just keep right on going.  They said the only two reasons to call off a tour are lightning and flash floods.
When we came out of the fins and got back to the parking lot, God seemed to be parting the clouds a bit.
There aren't many trees taller than 10 feet in the parks, but there were some nice aspens growing down in a stream bed. For the few trees around, it was close to peak season.
Back to the outskirts of Moab, where we found a ski lift.  It looked like it was in great shape, but we never saw it move.  We talked to some locals and discovered it was part of some great tourist plan in the late 90s.  The idea was that you take the lift up to awesome views, mountain biking, rock climbing, and tourist shopping.  Unfortunately, it became a huge fight with the zoning and city council.  The lift hasn't run in years and there is nothing at the top to visit.  The latest news is that some rich woman was buying it and tearing it all down to "return it to its original state and give it to the Nature Conservancy".
We were staying in a condo on Williams Way, just a 5-10 minute walk from the core of Main Street. There are a number of condos for rent along this street and we definitely plan to stay there on our next trip.  Why?  Decent places at OK prices.  Convenient to town. Quiet.  And of course, across the street from the regional hospital, should that ever be an issue.

This vehicle belonged to people renting just down from us.  They had two other similar off-road monsters. If you like off road driving, or think you might, you won't find a much better place to visit than Moab.  You can rent little ATV's, somewhat mellow four passenger ATV's, serious dune buggies, Jeeps (both current and old army versions), and even Hummers.  Julie and I are a bit too much of the nature loving hikers to explore this seriously, but clearly we were in the minority.
I heard some people complain that restaurants in Moab were mediocre and touristy.  Thanks to reviews on Yelp, we had nothing but great luck.  I would happily recommend:
  • Breakfast and lunch:  Love Muffin, Eklecticafe, Jailhouse Cafe, Pantele's Desert Deli, and Wicked Brew
  • Dinner:  Desert Bistro and the Moab Brewery
I hope to catch a few days this winter when it snows down around Moab and the parks.  I'll hop in the car and go shoot pictures.  Like so many areas, this clearly looks very different in each season of the year.

Friday, October 28, 2011

What beast did this?

When we got back from Moab, we found one of our bid feeders lying in the driveway, beat up a bit.  We found the post it hangs on looking like this.
Damn!  That's a pretty solid 1/2 inch metal bar, sunk down into a 4x4.  This is not one of those cheap little WalMart feeder hangers.  Something with some heft must have grabbed the feeder and yanked. Then yanked again.  All I can imagine is either a moose or a buck.  I didn't find poop from either one though. 

I guess the alternative would be a concerted effort by 30 or 40 Magpie's. That would actually be scarier than the moose.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

My first iPhone 4s video test

It's just a quick test.  We just got home from Moab and Jasper was twirling to burn off some energy.  I uploaded the HD version, which requires a WIFI link and some patience.  If you watch it, you can see a fair number of motion artifacts.  His rapid motion is a good test for any small camera.  In general, with decent light the 4S seems to take good movies.  My next test needs to include some useful sound.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Moab for a week

Our trip in Moab is going splendidly.  The pets have settled remarkably well and that cat is doing better than the dog.  You just can't tell until you try.
We did Arches, then Dead Horse State Park, then Canyonlands.  The views in Canyonslands are breathtaking.  We stayed last night to try for some sunset pictures.  They were ok, but not great.  I'll post some when I get home.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

An experiment in pet travel

Julie and I have pondered renting a house somewhere during Park City's spring season that we refer to as "mud season".  One of the big questions is how well the pets will do living in another house.  Jasper will almost certainly be fine, as long as he gets to hang with us.  The cat is the big question.  Cats tend to get more upset about being displaced.

We rented a condo for a week in Moab, Utah, starting tomorrow. Moab is right next to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and Dead Horse State Park.  Should be nice for photography.  Hopefully it will be nice for pets as well.

Nikon DSLRs in short supply

If you have been giving any thought to buying a Nikon DSLR, including the great new 7000, you might want to jump on it now.  The plant that makes a lot of the low-to-mid range Nikon DSLRs is very, very underwater from flooding in Thailand.  The cameras will be in short supply, making it unlikely to see any big discounts for Black Friday or Christmas.  From what I have read, it sounds like they may have to rebuild the plant from scratch.  Fine assembly machines don't work well after weeks under water.

The Washington Post has some interesting pictures of the flooding here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A future Photoshop feature that will amaze

It isn't in the product yet, but this is amazing technology.  Adobe has learned to analyze a blurry photo, figure out how you must have been wiggling the camera to make that blur, and then they undo it.  The before and after pictures are stunning. Watch it in full screen mode.

Monday, October 17, 2011

iPhone 4s camera

Here is a photo I took this morning with my new iPhone 4s. It is fairly easy to get a decent picture in bright sunshine. I was a little disappointed in the amount of noise in the blue sky. You may not be able to see it on a small copy, but it was pretty obvious in Lightroom.

It's nice to have a camera in your pocket all the time, but this clearly isn't going to replace a good pocket camera.  The sensor is definitely better than the older iPhones, but you can only do so much through a lens the size of a pencil lead.

More as I take them.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The new iPhone

I just upgraded my iPhone from a 4 to a 4S.  If you have read all the press, you know that wasn't a very big upgrade so why bother?  I HAD to get off AT&T and move to Verizon, so I waited for a new phone to make the move.  In the Mountain West, AT&T basically sucks.  I can't get a solid signal at my house, on the ski hills, or in anything remotely rural in Utah.  Switching to Verizon gets me much better coverage almost everywhere.

So, given that I have the new iPhone, what makes it interesting?
  • Physical layout?  Nope.  I wish the screen was at least a half inch larger.  I hit 50 in a few months and tiny text is getting more challenging.
  • Faster processor?  It feels a little quicker, but I never had problems with the iPhone 4.
  • 4G support?  Nope, they seem to have forgotten this.  I would love to have it, but we are a year from getting LTE support in Park City, so it doesn't matter much.
  • The new camera?  Now it gets more interesting.  I have done a few quick tests with the camera and can see a noticeable improvement.  I will do some real shots and post them out here.  The biggest change seems to be in low light.
  • Siri?  This is the new voice recognition and artificial intelligence software. I thought this might be stupid, sitting there chatting with your phone, but I am beginning to understand how this might be another monstrous change in the way we interact with phones/computers. Not only is it voice recognition, the phone is smart enough to know where to go look for what information.  
Here are some examples of what you can ask the phone to do/find.  There's a much more complete list of examples here.  I have tried a number of these and they work almost flawlessly.
  • What's Michael's address?
  • When is my wife's birthday?
  • Who is Michael Manning?
  • Set up a meeting with Michael at 9
  • Schedule a planning meeting at 8:30 today in the boardroom
  • Reschedule my appointment with Dr. Manning to next Monday at 9am
  • What's on my calendar for Friday?
  • When is my next appointment?
  • Wake me up tomorrow at 7am
  • Change my 6:30 alarm to 6:45
  • What time is it in Berlin?
  • What's the date this Saturday?
  • Email Lisa and Jason about the party and say I had a great time
  • Show the email from Lisa yesterday
  • Directions to my dad's work
  • Where is Starbucks?
  • Find a gas station within walking distance
  • Good Mexican restaurants around here
  • Send a message to Susan on her mobile saying I'll be late
  • Text Jason and Lisa where are you?
  • Play Alicia Keys
  • Play some blues
  • Call Susan on her work phone
  • What's Apple's stock price?
  • What is the Dow at?
  • Check next week's forecast for Burlington
  • What's the forecast for this evening?
  • When is sunrise in Paris?
  • How many calories in a bagel?
  • What is an 18% tip on $86.74 for four people?
  • What's the square root of 128?
  • How many dollars is €45?
  • What was the Best Picture of 1983?
  • How many days until Christmas?
Pretty interesting.  Apple's plan is to add additional data sources to Siri so that you can ask more questions.  For instance, tying it to the flight databases would allow you to ask about flight status, plan trips and buy tickets.

It's beginning to feel more and more like Star Trek.  I am still waiting for someone to invent transporters!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Leadership Park City

I was recently accepted into a one year program called Leadership Park City.  It's purpose is to help find and educate potential community leaders.  Over the year, we will learn a combination of basic leadership skills and lot about how our local government runs.  There's a lot better description of the program here.

This is the 18th year the program has been running, and there are 32 of us in the class.  Our first two meetings have helped us get to know one another and develop as a team.  I have to say that the group is fantastic.  There are a lot of very talented people with extremely diverse backgrounds in Park City. 

I'll blog a bit more about this as we get into the meat of our education, but for now, I am really excited about the opportunity.  Some of you may have heard me joke about being mayor or governor.  This is the first step.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

20th Wedding Anniversary

Julie and I are celebrating 20 years together, and that's if you don't count all the years we spent with on and off dating. Thanks to our family and friends who have been part of our lives for those two decades.

And us at Jim and Kathy's this weekend, still happy and in love.
This morning we exchanged romantic gifts and meaningful Hallmark cards to show how we feel.  OK, not really, but we plan to go for a nice dinner tonight at the Prime Steakhouse here in town.

Some spectacular time lapse photography

Make sure to watch it in fullscreen mode. The images are stunning.

Landscapes: Volume Two from Dustin Farrell on Vimeo.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A wedding in DC

Julie and I went to our nation's capital this past weekend to attend the wedding of Bill and Loris Benson's daughter Shannon. We got to stay with our friends the Covaleski's at their condo in Old Town in Alexandria. What a great location!

We spent Friday and part of Saturday getting some exercise, seeing Old Town and just hanging out enjoying the 75 degree sunny weather.  We were very lucky on timing the weather.  DC had been getting a lot of cold rain during the past month and Park City got snow on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Here we have Kathy, Julie and Jim about to hit the wedding. Living in Park City, we rarely find an opportunity to get dressed up. People go to the fanciest restaurants in boots, jeans and a fleece.
The wedding was held at the Hay-Adams hotel in the middle of DC.  The wedding was on the 9th floor and here was the view.  We were right across the street from the White House, looking at the earthquake-damaged Washington Memorial, back to the Jefferson Memorial, and on to the Potomac River.  Not too shabby!
Dave and Shannon, the groom and bride. 
Julie and I at the wedding.  I so rarely end up with pictures of us together, because I frequently have the camera. My tan is from spending the previous week outdoors in Grand Teton.
It is easiest to do these out of order.  On the right is Bill Benson, father of the bride and very close friend from Park City.  On the left is his son Seth.  In between is Seth's girlfriend Ericka.  They recently moved from Manhattan to Denver and are now enjoying the mountain life.
Jim and Kathy dancing out on the balcony.  You can barely make out the White House behind Jim.  I wonder if our band was keeping the Obama's awake.
A bevy of beauties.
And we end with a full-length shot of my beautiful wife.  It's nice to have such wonderful arm candy.
Great weather. Great friends. A fun wedding in a gorgeous setting. Now I am back in Park City looking up at the snow on the mountain tops, remembering how much nicer walks are in the 70 degree weather.

Thanks to Bill and Loris for letting us share in such an important part of their lives.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Football Saturday

Cosette actually does like watching football. I'm not sure whether it is because of the big colorful movement on the screen or just because we're watching.  She seems to prefer college games over the NFL.

She reminded me that NC State sucks this year.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Summer, a few days of fall, then winter

I complained bitterly about the long, cold, wet spring we had. As a reminder, it snowed all three days of the Memorial Day weekend.  Now we have been getting our revenge.  It's October 3rd.  Not only have we been snow free so far, the last three weeks have been sunny and in the 70's, every single day!  This is incredible for Park City, so everyone has been cramming in the last of the golf, running, biking and such.

Now the end is near.  It is around 70 outside right now.  By Thursday, the highs may not hit 40.  The rain starts soon and turns to snow Thursday morning and it keeps snowing through Friday. Oops.  So much for fall.  The good news is that we leave Thursday morning for a wedding in Washington DC, where the weather is supposed to be sunny and in the 70's. 

To pay a brief homage to fall, I offer some pictures of our local scare crows.  Every year they let people put up a line of scare crows on the fence near the historic white barn. As you will see, they get quite artistic.

The first, and most important is the Scarecrow of Liberty.  It was done by our next door neighbors, Sally and Hannah Lutzker, and friends of theirs.
This is "Crow Magnon Man"
"The Snow Queen"
"Fright of the Valkyrie"
"Nana Peep Crow",  but I thought this should be Big Bird.
And two of the most artistic and involved...  Willy Wonka.
and "Top Chef".  It is hard to see but the shelf on her right (your left) included very detailed containers of things like Belly Button Lint, Werewolves Eyeballs, Spider Parts and Rats Blood.
It's very considerate of the artistic people in town to do things like this so that those of us who apparently have no right hemisphere of the brain can wander along and enjoy them.

Health update

I got my flu shot this afternoon. I hope everyone has gone for theirs already or at least plans to.  Most places do it for free if you are insured. A few minutes or prevention sure beats a week with the flu.  I haven't had the flu in over a decade.

People are becoming more aware of the calories they ingest.  Eating at some restaurants can be terrible for your diet, including Macaroni Grill, TGI Fridays and Applebee's. What is often a huge surprise is how bad beverages can be.  Julie sent me a link comparing the sugar content of some drinks to food that you already know is horrific.  Take a look. My favorite is the DQ MooLatte, which has the sugar equivalent of a DOZEN Bavarian Kreme Doughnuts from Dunkin Donuts.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Photography in Grand Tetons National Park

I spent three days this week taking photos in Grand Teton National Park. Julie and I spent a day or so there a few years ago, but we haven't been back since.  I was trying to time my trip around the fall foliage, and for the most part I got it right.

I think the key to the quality of the trip's pictures, beyond my own skill or lack thereof, was the weather.  It was certainly a case of good news, bad news.  The good news is that we have had a massive high pressure system over Utah and Wyoming for the last two weeks.  The result has been sunshine, blue skies and unseasonably warm temperatures.  I spent most of each day in shorts and a t-shirt, which is absurd for northern Wyoming in late September.

The bad news was the same high pressure system.  Cloudless skies are actually very boring in photos.  Bright sunshine washes out all the color. The warm temperatures mean that there is no new snow up on the mountains.  Finally, the lack of storms leaves the air very still, which means all the smoke from the fires, both wildfires and prescribed burns, hangs around in this ugly haze.
Above is a picture of a prescribed burn that was started at the south end of the park on my last full day. I was so unhappy with how it messed up the mountain pictures, I decided to try to go photograph the fire itself.  As you might expect, as I got close, I was stopped by six rangers, a "fire information" vehicle, and a fire truck.  I never got close.  Fire is such a prevalent issue in the area of the country that there is a nice web site dedicated to the firefighting status and plans:

One thing the haze didn't affect was the foliage. The aspens were in full color and they were quite common along the Snake River.  When we went to Yellowstone a few years ago, I was disappointed by the very high percentage of evergreens. Grand Teton is much more interesting in Fall.
On several of my photo trips, I have found areas that if you catch them early in the morning before the winds pick up, you can get incredible reflections in the water. I find these to be beautiful and I end up with lots of different versions of these photos. This was from Schwabachers Landing.
This is Oxbow Bend.  Ansel Adams made this famous and I can't imagine photographing Grand Teton without spending at least a few mornings or evenings at this spot.
Jenny Lake is very scenic, but you are right up close to the base of the mountains, so it has a different feel.
There is a row of houses and barns at the south end of the park called Mormon Row.  It's on Moran Road, which seems too close to avoid confusion.  Several of the 100 year old barns are in good shape and their style seems quite unique.  They are very beautiful in the glow of sunrise.  Of course they would be nicer if they didn't have all that damn smoke behind them.
Here is a different one from down the road.  Notice how different the picture feels, even though the barns are similar and the mountains are the same.  The first was taken from about 200-300 yards from the barn.  The second was taken from about 30 yards away.  The change in perspective makes a big difference in how the mountains appear compared to the barn.
There are lots of split rail fences around the park.  I think some are to contain the wandering bison and the others are because there is still a fair amount of active ranching within the park.  I liked how this one pointed to the mountains and then curved out of the way. Did I mention I hated the smoke?
This was just a fun perspective shot.  There were odd weeds of some form that dried in fuzzy vertical clumps.  I wallowed around on the ground for a while trying to find a more interesting way to capture the image.  This turned out to be my favorite.  It was funny watching cars slowing down to figure out what in the world I was doing laying on the ground with a camera on a tripod.
On to the wildlife... I captured some pictures, but on the whole I didn't see as much wildlife as I expected and I couldn't get photos of some of the most impressive.

There are large numbers of Pronghorn in the 10-20 miles north of Evanston, Wyoming.  I saw some in the park, but these were a lot more fun. It's the rutting season and the bucks are working hard to claim and keep their harems.  That's not an easy task.  I kept running across a dozen or so doe's with one buck.  A hundred yards away would be another buck, constantly trying to move in a grab a few ladies for himself. The worst case was a buck who had two aggressors, one on each side of his harem.  As he would chase one buck off, the other would come closer.  He would move to chase that one off and the first would return.  As best I could tell, this never ends.

I like Julie's idea: just give each male one to leave him alone and keep the other females in peace.
This is a beautiful Bald Eagle.  He chose to fly right overhead while my camera was tightly gripped by a tripod aimed at some distant scenery.  By the time I realized what he was, unhitched the camera, zoomed, found him in the lens, focused and shot, he was on his way past. I sure would have appreciated a second fly by but it wasn't going to happen.
There are bison scattered around the park, but they are steadily heading south now. One afternoon I was driving around looking for places to shoot during the next sunrise and sunset.  The car in front of me stopped and I noticed that the reason was a herd of bison, about 50 strong. You probably need to double-click on this picture to see it large enough, but check out the bison in front of this car.  To paraphrase from the movie Jaws:  "Honey, I think we are going to need to rent a bigger car."
The bison were very interesting to watch.  They moved along at a grueling pace of less than a mile per hour, eating as they went. It was like watching fifty large, slow, noisy lawn mowers.  I wanted to get out of the truck to get better pictures, but didn't dare given how close they were.  I ended up rolling down the window and climbing on the roof of my Honda Pilot.  I sat on the roof for about 20 minutes watching them.

This guy was one of my favorites.  He clearly had an itch to scratch.  He moved at the same slow pace as all the others, but instead of munching grass, he moved from fence pole to fence pole, scratching on each one. You have to have a sturdy fence to withstand a bad itch from a big bison.
At some point I finally stopped whining about the smoke and started shooting the morning steam. This was at one of the active barns on Mormon Row.
And my favorite was in a secluded area just north of Oxbow Bend.  The light breeze was making the wisps of morning steam dance across the river.
The shots that got away...
  • The biggest bull elk I have ever seen, with a monstrous rack.  However, it was too dark for a photo.
  • The owl the I startled. He swept along the creek bed, about 15 feet from me. No way I could possibly react in time for a photo.
  • The pronghorn that sprung in front of my 45 mph truck at 6:15 in the morning (still pitch black out).  He missed becoming a hood ornament by about 3 feet.
  • The bull moose that came down to the steaming river at sunrise, swam across and walked out into the woods.  This could have been a spectacular picture, but I was set up for a wide angle sunrise at Oxbow Bend and my big lens was packed in the truck.  By the time I could move and switch everything, he was gone.  This one hurts to have missed.
It was a good trip and I feel I know the park a lot better.  I would like to try again in the fall, perhaps with some different weather.  An early snow on the fall foliage would be impressive. A storm rolling in across the mountains?  Wildlife that cooperates more?A big rain before I go that puts out all the fires?

I think to really get the most out of the park, you just have to keep visiting it and maximizing whatever it has to offer then.  Of course, I guess that logic works for almost anywhere.