Sunday, July 23, 2006

(Not Quite) A Starry Night


A star party that I've been looking forward to for the last couple of weeks was held this weekend. The SJAA hosted the party at Willow Springs which is a piece of 40-acre land owned by Bob Ayers about 2 hours south of San Jose. The site itself is pretty good for astronomy and ranks very highly for dark skies and is rivaled (in the continental USA) only by other sites in the darkest parts of Texas, New Mexico and other nearby states. Every report by the clear sky clock up until Saturday claimed it would be spectacularly clear that night; well every report except the Saturday afternoon simulations. Turned out the later simulations were correct and we got clobbered by a lot of clouds. I took the picture above around 11:30 or so and as you can see there is still a lot of clouds about (hence a fair amount of light pollution). Shortly after midnight the north and northeast portions were a bit clearer; however it wasn't clear enough to motivate me to actually align the scope and try any serious imaging. I did manage to do some quick 2 second exposures of the milky way (shown to the left).

I had really high hopes for the night (and brought a lot of gear to do a variety of imaging) but sadly this was the extent of the shooting I was able to do. Things started getting worse at 12:30 and I decided to head to bed. Since the site is over 2 hours away (over some rough roads) the SJAA (and thanks to Bob Ayer) offered people the chance to camp. The tent was setup without the outer rain flap; so I could see the stars overhead as I tried to fall asleep. Keeping the rain flap off also prevented the tent being an oven since even at 1 AM the temperature was over 80F (27C); thank goodness it wasn't humid. Annoyingly enough I didn't get much sleep (uncomfortable, the tent was on a slope and it was freaking hot) and so I kept waking up every 45 minutes or so. The sky looked like it cleared up a little nicer around 3-4am; but I didn't feel like unpacking all the gear yet again.
We both (Kim came with me) got up at 5am and caught a very nice sunrise as we drove home. There were also a fair amount of fauna. On the drive up on Saturday we saw a deer roadside we also saw these little birds constantly running back and forth on the road. It wasn't until Sunday I managed to get a shot and we later discovered they were California Quails.

The most unexpected 'wildlife' we saw definitely had to be the wild boar (actually I'm not sure they were wild, but I'll assume they were since they looked like they were freely wandering about).

Even though the night was a wash from an astronomical perspective, I still had fun and am looking forward to the next star party (which usually happens for a couple of weekends every month (depending on lunar cycle)).

Technical Specs: All astro (and sunrise) shots with the Canon 5D, 17-40L. The star trails were a summation of two exposures (14m16s & 10m) @ ISO 100, f/4; the milkyway ones were at ISO 1600, f/4 for 2 seconds; the sunrise at ISO 200 @ 40mm, f/11 at 1/125s. The boar was shot with the Canon Rebel XT, 300mm f/4L IS + 1.4x TC @ f/5.6 at 1/400s.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

On Display!


Woo hoo! This is the first time any of my photographs have been on display. When we moved back to the 10th floor, the team decided that we should have a hand in the decoration of our floor. To that end they solicited photographs from the Photoshop, Photoshop Elements and Lightroom teams; and there are some really talented photographers on these teams. Of the several photographs submitted a few were chosen to be framed and hung on the walls. Though 5 of my photos were submitted I was only able to find these 2 (the one of the left and the far right) actually hanging on the wall. If you come to SJ, I'll be sure to show them to you.

Technical Specs: Fuji F30, ISO 3200, f/2.8, 1/115s, curves, noise reduction, local contrast enhancement.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Bananas in the Garden

One of the perks of Kim's job is that she gets a very nice plot of land in the back of the building on which she has a garden. They are nice enough to provide water and a whole bunch of gardening tools. Even though she had the choice of having a really large garden, Kim chose to stick to something manageable (which sometimes is still more than she can handle). We decided earlier this week to get banana trees and if you are coming to the wedding you'll see why. It turned out that Lowe's actually had a few (3) banana trees in stock and they looked healthy. We picked up a pair and put them a couple of feet into the ground in the garden where hopefully the abundant sunshine and plentiful water will keep them happy until the wedding.

These trees apparently grow up to 7-8 feet tall and it turns out they are fruit producing, so it'll be interesting to see what they actually manage to produce.

While I was there digging the holes for the trees I also looked around her garden since I haven't been there in over a month. Its truly amazing how fast gardens can grow and how fast certain vegetables can grow. The first we noticed were this pair of huge zucchini which Kim says were non-existent on Friday. At this rate I'll have to be eating zucchini salad, zucchini stir fry, zucchini pasta, zucchini muffins, etc... (jk).

The tomatoes are also coming in nicely; so far there's only been a handful of grape tomatoes and an 'early girl' or two, though from the looks of things we are about a week away from tomato overload.

Kim has also planted okra, bitter melon, green beans (starting to harvest a bit now), watercress, Italian basil, Poblano peppers, bell peppers, Thai chili, cucumbers, Chinese celery, sugar snap peas and various herbs. Oh yea there's also a Kafir lime tree hanging out in a pot. Phew, so many things in such a small plot of land. The scary thing is the harvesting has shown hints of starting...

Technical Specs: Fuji F30, some shadows/highlights work in PS.

Friday, July 14, 2006

P.F. Chang's; A Friday Lunch

I usually go out for lunch a couple of times a week. On Fridays Edward tries to round up a bunch of people on the floor for lunch. A natural consequence of increasing the numbers in your lunch crowd is the limitation it imposes on your choices. Hence P.F. Chang's China Bistro is a place that gets picked often due to the fact it is fairly inoffensive to the tastes of a larger group of people.

I also recently got this little point and shoot camera, the Fuji F30 primarily so that I could take a camera anywhere (and in particular times when I don't want to either lug around my dSLR or don't want the attention a dSLR invariably seems to attract) and to help with the pictures for the PhotoBlog. Hence this is my first post with pictures entirely from the F30.

So like many other Fridays Edward and I went around rounding up people (Edward got really excited when he saw the camera, or was it the prospect of going to Chang's? I forget, he can tell you...).

As we walked out onto the street we were quickly reminded that the San Jose Grand Prix is just a couple of weeks away. I am told the grand prix is an interesting time; the downtown is almost completely blocked off and its hellish getting to work; gee I can't wait! The concrete barriers started going up last week and soon they will start covering the manholes and smoothing the road surface.

One of the signature P.F. Chang's elements is the 'Chang's Sauce'. I forget everything that is in it but I believe soy sauce, chili oil, vinegar and mustard are all ingredients. Usually your waiter will mix all the ingredients to you taste for you at the table but I guess ours today was slack (and we don't really care since I don't think any of us like the sauce all that much).

One of people's favorite appetizer are the shrimp dumplings which people usually order deep fried even though it isn't an option on the menu (steamed and pan fried are). Today Adam ordered the dumplings, but he got them pan fried. I didn't try them but I didn't hear anyone complain either. One of my favorite appetizer is the 'Chang's Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps' which is this incredibly tasty (but a little salty) wok seared tofu with a bunch of other vegetables served with lettuce cups; definitely try it if you are ever there.

The Chang's menu has many inoffensive items and especially considering it is a chain the food is quite tasty. I've been getting the same dish the last several times I've gone there; the Kung Pao Shrimp and Chicken. The curious thing is it isn't an item on their menu (they have Kung Pao Shrimp and Scallops and Kung Pao Chicken though); so I guess their kitchen is flexible which is something I really like about the place. The dish also has one spicy pepper beside it on the menu (indicating it is a spicy item). Sadly it isn't even close to spicy by default; however if you instruct your waiter to 'push the hot button 4 times' then it comes out a totally different color (hot red) and finally has a good amount of spice. The cool thing is that by asking to make it spicier they actually cook the food with more chilies instead of just douse it in Tobasco sauce.

Another fine dish that Edward ordered is the Chengdu Lamb which is cooked to have a really minty flavour. Oh yea they're also cool because they don't charge for rice (and brown rice is an option).

One of the other things I like about Chang's is the decor. Its very open and the decor is modern. Also as Adam put it today 'any place with a giant horse in it is ok in my book'.

Overall it was a pleasant lunch with some really cool folks (Edward, Adam, Russell & David). I like these Friday lunches (especially when they're at Chang's :) )

Technical Specs: Fuji F30.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

My new camera (5D)


Woo hoo! I got my new camera today (well its new to me anyway). I found a guy (a rather nice fellow) in Sacramento who wanted to trade his 5D for a 30D (and with a lens tossed in and some $$$) and this afternoon was when the deal was done. So yes, I am finally done upgrading cameras (this will be no. 4 in just over a year (300D->20D->30D->5D)), though now its time to start focusing on lenses and tripods and ...

Even though I've shot with a 5D before there are a few things that still surprise me. First its heavy (not as bad as a 1-series but certainly heavier than the 30D) and second 12mp files are freakin' huge! I forgot just how huge which means it takes the camera longer to write the file to the card (the 30D was so fast it was done before I looked down at the LCD), takes longer to download, takes up more space (on both the CF card and on the HD) and when you edit a 12mp image in Photoshop at 16 bits/channel with many layers, well... you get the idea...

All those things aside though, I am as happy as a clam (are clams really all that happy? From where does that expression originate). My beautiful 17-40 (one of the only lenses I haven't traded away in the last year) is a true wide angle again so its fun times, though I will miss the 1.6x effect when doing bird photography. There are so many things I'd like to go shoot, but one thing in particular I am looking forward to is doing some piggy-back wide-field astrophotography. Oooh, that'll be fun.

Technical Specs: Canon 5D, 17-40@40mm, ISO 1600, f/6.3, 1/80, PTLens, curves, and output sharpening.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Santa Barbara weekend


This past weekend Kim and I went on a little trip down the coast to Santa Barbara. As usual there was plenty to do, see and eat (oh the food, more on that later) in SB. We left bright and early Saturday morning with our first stop being Hearst Castle.

We went on a tour of the castle and as impressive as the castle was, our tour guide was useless; so I'm not sure it was $24 / person well spent. I should re-iterate that the castle itself is magnificent; especially the two pools.

After spending a couple of hours at the castle (and watching the movie that is included with the tour (I enjoyed the movie BTW)) we were back on the road. The weather that day was a bit interesting by the coast (clear inland but cloudy/foggy by the coast) which made for some interesting photography; hence we stopped frequently so that I could get in a couple of shots.

One of the things you may notice as you drive along the Pacific Coast Highway (or Highway 1) are lots of fennel. I was a bit surprised to first discover fennel last November, but this time they seemed to be everywhere. Most of the fennel was green and fresh this time of the year, however by the fall they seem to dry up and become tasty. I wonder if anyone would mind if I 'harvested' a little bit?

Another sight you may notice in the distance as you approach Santa Barbara are the many oil platforms off off the coast. They are actually much easier to spot at night when they are all lit up. I though it was a bit strange when I first saw them since I don't usually associate California with oil production.

After checking into our hotel in Goleta, we immediately proceeded to the first of our Santa Barbara good eats. One of the things I love about visiting Santa Barbara are all the good places to eat there; they're good not only because the food is really tasty but also because they aren't necessarily hard on the wallet (I bet Rachel Ray could easily make an episode of her show here). We had 4 really tasty meals (3 of which are pictured at the top): first the Cafe Buenos Aires (good food and amazing caipirinhas); next lunch at Chilangos (the finest shrimp tacos I've ever tried); followed by dinner at the Montecito Cafe (amazing food, great service and even though the Montecito Inn is $250+/night the food is great value); and finally another lunch at the Palace Grill (fine Cajun food).

On Sunday Kim wanted to go fishing on the Goleta pier (first thing in the morning); so I tagged along and did some shooting. At first she wasn't having very much luck (not many others were having that much luck either), hence the pouting face. Then out of nowhere she caught a Halibut, on a spoon no less. Sadly the little guy was too small to keep so back into the water he had to go. However it was enough to give Kim something to smile about (at least for a while, since she didn't catch anything else that day).

On Sunday afternoon Kim convinced me to try ocean kayaking. We rented a kayak for a couple of hours and let me say it is one of the most frustrating things I have ever tried. We just couldn't get the damn thing to go straight. I'm not sure I would want to do that again. However between kayaking sessions we stopped off at a beach for a while and did some body surfing (or tried at least); that was a lot of fun (though the water was quite cold).

On this crazy weekend we also managed to visit an orchid farm (where Kim bought a vanilla orchid), the Santa Barbara zoo and the Santa Barbara Mission. The mission (pictured to the left) was somewhat interesting but nothing spectacular. I enjoyed the zoo; though it wasn't that large (it only took us about 2 hours to see everything) I liked the blend of flora and fauna.

Overall it was a fun filled weekend with plenty of things to see and eat.

Technical Specs: Shot with either the Canon 1Ds2 or 30D. All 30D were with the Canon 17-55 f/2.8 IS (a fantastic walkaround/vacation lens).