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29 July 2008

 

The purple E! The purple E!

I'm not sure I'm entirely comfortable supporting the TMZ paparazzi (a woman near the end of the video calls them "vultures"), but it's refreshing to see a celebrity like John Mayer have just as much trouble doing family phone tech support as the rest of us:

Via Dan "No Longer Fake Steve" Lyons.

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28 July 2008

 

My slightly lazy choices for black and white film

Miss L at Flickr.comBlack and white photos make for compelling images, because they are inherently unrealistic, without any colour information, so you look at them differently. And as a photographer, you create them differently, with different composition and exposure, if you know they will be black and white in the end.

There are numerous ways to create excellent B&W (or, to be accurate, greyscale) images from colour digital originals using Photoshop or similar software tools—but there is still something to be said for black and white film photography.

When I first got into photography in the 1980s, and when I didn't plan to process and print the film myself, I would use Ilford's XP2 film for black and white, because unlike most B&W films, any regular colour photo lab could process it using their automated C-41 chemical machines. And I found myself a roll of XP2 for the first set of photos I took with the Nikon F4 film camera I bought recently.

FlowersWhat I didn't know is that the two big film manufacturers, Kodak and Fuji, also make similar chromogenic black and white films that can be processed using C-41: BW400CN and Neopan 400 CN respectively. I don't know when those were introduced, but I don't think they were around 20 years ago along with Ilford. I also discovered that many local photo retailers (even non-specialist, non-pro stores) carry at least one of the three—London Drugs has triple-packs of Kodak BW400CN for a reasonable $4 or so per roll, for instance.

Miss MWhile I've tried cross processing of slide film pictures taken with the F4 camera recently, and the wacky colours there are fun, I think I'll be spending most of my film shooting time in black and white. I'll see whether I prefer the Ilford or Kodak (and maybe Fuji) stocks when I do.

Yes, I may try some traditional black and white silver halide film (which requires different processing), but the C-41 black and whites are just so easy to take it to the local supermarket for one-hour processing, printing, and scanning to CD. It's almost like the instant gratification we're used to in the digital era. Or as close as I can get while still using film anyway.

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26 July 2008

 

My face hurts

Pimpleface - side effects of panitumumab at Flickr.comFirst of all, before you read on here, please head over to Raul's and Rebecca's sites, as well as others who are doing 24 hours of continuous blog posts for Blogathon 2008 today. Raul, in particular, is raising money for cancer research, and so both my wife and I have contributed guest posts to his site. Here's mine. Read it and then maybe donate some money if you feel like it.


Anyway, we're coming to the end of our idyllic week here in Whistler (courtesy of my aunt and uncle who own the apartment), and I'm glad it's been generally restful, because the brand new rash on my face that has developed here (an expected and inevitable side effect of my new panitumumab anti-cancer drug) is harsh and brutal and it sucks.

The pimples and redness came on shockingly fast (as they are supposed to), mere days after I received my first dose of the drug last Thursday. They're worst on and around my nose and on my forehead, although they extend up under the hair on my head, down my neck, across my chest and shoulders, and onto my upper back. The rash looks pretty gross, and sometimes feels even worse. Bleah.

KA asked me how sensitive my skin is. The best description is that feels like a permanent sunburn, and my nose in particular feels like a big raspberry. Sometimes I'd like to take a belt sander to the entire front of my head, but no, I shouldn't squeeze or even scratch the pimples. The best I can do is the occasional gentle rub, and a wet washcloth from time to time. I do have hydrocortisone and antibiotic cream that I apply twice a day, and they help. The L'Occitane cream my wife Air got me also does some good, though it stings at first.

What's dismaying is that my face might actually look better smeared with white goop than it does without—the cream helps hide the rash itself. Until now, I don't think I've ever in my life been genuinely embarrassed by my appearance. I didn't have bad acne when I was a teenager, and while I've always been a nerd, I've thought of myself as a decent-looking one. Now I walk around Whistler and consider whether people are looking at my face and wondering what's wrong. When I buy something at a store, I have to remind myself to look people in the eye, because my instinct is to turn my eyes down and avoid a direct gaze.

But when I look in the mirror, I realize that while the rash does look gross (pimples, dry skin, little scabs, ew), it feels worse than it looks, especially from a distance, and I shouldn't be too self-conscious about it. And I'm sure glad my wife and kids are still willing to hang around with me.

Overall, it is extremely unpleasant, considerably worse than I expected. I'm amazed how quickly the rash came on after I started getting the medication—but the people at the Cancer Agency did warn me, and said that a serious rash is a sign than the panitumumab is doing its job. It's some nasty shit. Hopefully, it's even nastier to the cancer than to the rest of me.

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25 July 2008

 

Aahh

LeapRight now it is pretty much exactly room temperature and sunny by the pool in Whistler. We are not going to the music festival in Pemberton, so we're avoiding what Megan Cole is calling a "Gong Show."

It's a pretty sweet vacation, I tell you.

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23 July 2008

 

Up the mountain, down the mountain

Here's where we were today:

Valley HDR Off the peak
A and M ready for the mountain Yes, there was a bear

It's been a good time. Huge thanks to my relatives Christine and Norbert for offering us the place to stay in Whistler this week. This place is awesome, and the weather has been spectacular.

One annoyance: as our trip began, the main side effect of my new panitumumab cancer drug has kicked in with a vengeance, and that consists of an acne-like rash on my face, neck, and upper torso, particularly around my nose and forehead. It feels like a constant crinkly sunburn, and looks like I'm a particularly unlucky pubertic teenager with hundreds of tiny whitehead pimples. Yuck. I'll have to get used to it.

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21 July 2008

 

The beach

20 July 2008

 

Hangin' ten

No Zune talk today. It's working, my daughter likes it, and we're all going to the beach.

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19 July 2008

 

Continued Zune fail

UPDATE: By some miracle (and no, I don't know what I did), one last try at installing the software worked at around 12:30 p.m., and I managed to load on some video and audio, plus podcasts, onto the Zune device. I'm going to transfer a bunch of my daughter's MP3s and let her give it a spin to see what she thinks of the Zune now that it's working, more than 24 hours after I first started trying.

Zune fail at Flickr.comIt's been a few years since I used Windows regularly, but as a typical Mac fanboy I do have to ask: do those of you who run Windows regularly actually have to put up with this level of frustration all the time?

Right now I'm staring at the Zune installer program screen, telling me for the fourth or fifth time that it "Can't access Microsoft Update" (I can access it fine by going to the website, by the way). This is on the second computer I've borrowed from my dad to try to install the Zune application. Yesterday I spent something like nine hours (on and off, mostly off, thankfully) trying, repeatedly failing, and then eventually getting the Zune software to install on his older Windows XP laptop. And then, at the end of the day, while the computer itself could see that the Zune player was connected, the software never did, and I could never sync anything to be able to play it.

Having worked for a Windows software developer at one point, I have decent Windows tech-fu techniques, which I employed during yesterday's mess, even creating a new user account before the software successfully ran. Yet here I am again, needing to put the same skills to use once more the next day to get a Microsoft product working with a Microsoft operating system, because yesterday all of my ninja skills weren't good enough to get the music player to, you know, play music.

It's a pity. I like the Zune as a piece of hardware. It's cute, the packaging is nice, it seems well built, the premium headphones are really quite elegant (if bass-heavy). Yes, the Zune design team has tried way, way, way too hard to ape the iPod Nano—the one that's two generations old now, by the way—even down to the "Hello from Seattle" etched into the back in place of "Designed by Apple in California." They've made the hardware as close as they can get to an iPod without getting sued, I think.

The Zune pad that replaces the iPod scroll wheel is good, and the onscreen interface is nice indeed, smooth and useful and (for once) different. What I've seen of it, anyway: I've been unable to do anything with it, not even listen to FM radio, because the Zune (unnecessarily, I think, like the iPod too) needs to be set up from a computer first. Which is my whole problem.

If you buy an iPod, is setting up iTunes on Windows this bad? I've never done it, but I may try just to see how the experiences compare. If it is, I'm sorry, and it's a wonder that anyone ever uses a portable music player. At this point, if I'd actually paid money for the Zune, I would have returned it by now, since for the past day it has been an attractive electronic paperweight, and not a sufficiently heavy one at that.

But for now, as I've been writing this rant, I've used one of my Macs to download the full Zune installer package and move it to my dad's XP laptop using a memory stick. It seems to be installing. Perhaps by the end of this paragraph I will know if the Zune software can see the Zune player, and maybe let it play some music or videos...

Nope. "INSTALLATION FAILED. Could not write the Zune Launcher to key \SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\Current Version\Run." What a lovely experience, and waste of my time.

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18 July 2008

 

Zune arrives, not working yet

Yeah, I got the Zune today, but no, despite efforts all fricking day long, I have not actually managed to play any audio or video on it yet. So here are some photos:

Zune letter Zune photo setup Zune for U.S.A. only Zune stickies Zune package contents Zune photo setup 2
Zune headphones Zune charging Zune download Zune license agreement Zune preparing... forever... Zune cancel
Zune fail Zune box Zune packing Zune contents Zune headphones (cross-processed) Zune rising
Zune FTW Zune hooked up Zune subscribe to IHR Zune - come to the social Zune 8 back - "Hello from Seattle" Zune stove charge

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17 July 2008

 

My Zune may be about to arrive

It looks like a few people are getting those free Zunes from Matchstick I mentioned recently. Mine would have arrived yesterday, but I was off at the clinic, and again today, so FedEx Ground is dropping by again tomorrow.

Honestly, other than the Zune itself, I'm most interested in the "premium headphones" this promotional one seems to come with. I've always found Apple's stock iPod headphone earbuds remarkably lame. On the other hand, these premium earbuds don't come stock with the Zune either.

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16 July 2008

 

The blast

The barfing came on last night, around 10:30 p.m., after a shower. I only threw up once (in the kitchen sink, which was pleasant). But that was after a whole day feeling that I'd like to. Today I went for my blood test at the cancer agency, but otherwise I have slept almost the entire day away, zonked out by the anti-nausea drugs. I hope things improve tomorrow, since this reaction to the chemo blast seems to be lasting longer than my previous ones.

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15 July 2008

 

Who are those fuzzy brown rectangular monsters chasing the kitten?

ETech 2006 (Monday) at Flickr.comOne of the classic Internet meme images is the blocky stuffed monsters chasing a tiny cat. (The associated tagline is "Every time you masturbate, God kills a kitten.") I didn't know the origins of the image, or who the monsters were, so at a low level I wondered about it—but not enough to look it up.

Then Tod asked, in frustration, "What IS this anyway?" Since I was already in bed with chemo side effects without the motivation to do much else, that got me rolling. It didn't take much to find out, and inevitably the best explanation was at Wikipedia:

Domo is the mascot of Japan's NHK television station, appearing in several 30 second stop-motion sketches shown as station identification during shows. [...]

[Domo-kun is] described as 'a strange creature that hatched from an egg.' Domo's favorite food is Japanese-style meat and potato stew, and he has a strong dislike for apples, due to an unexplained mystery in his DNA. Domo-kun is known to pass gas repeatedly when nervous or upset. [...]

The popularization of Domo as an internet meme and cliche outside of Japan is often attributed to a Fark thread from July 28th, 2001. The thread became popular on the then-young site, prompted in part by its serendipitous ID number of 31337. From there, Fark users began using the image and likeness of the character in various image contests and as additional, humorous banter in threads.

Alas, most images in the thread are now broken, so Google Images and Flickr to the rescue.

In other words, it's one of those semi-fluky Internet memes that no one could possibly have predicted. But the meme-launching "Domo-kuns chasing the kitten" photo has just the right combination of cute and "blurry '70s Sasquatch documentary" creepy for me that, in a way, it needs no explanation.

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14 July 2008

 

Frightening photo of the day

Frightening if you were the doughnut, anyway:

13072008953 at Flickr.com

Photo by teh Boris, featuring the Mouth of the Travis.

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13 July 2008

 

Back to reality

Derek at Flickr.comIt's been close to two months since I last had a chemotherapy treatment, after about seven months of if every two weeks. I've been grateful for the break: other than the old bowel-blockage thing last month, I've been feeling pretty good.

There remains no evidence of any recurrence of cancer where surgeons removed the major tumours from my intestine exactly a year ago. However, the metastatic lesions in my lungs—there are four, created when cancer cells made their way through my body and somehow took root there—continue to grow very slowly. They are all small, the largest one being only 1.4 cm across, less than the diameter of a dime.

But that's still too big, and slow growth is still growth. So starting tomorrow, we're attacking it with one of the same old chemo drugs (irinotecan, a.k.a. Captosar) and a new one (panitumumab, a.k.a. Vectibix, manufactured by Amgen Pharmaceuticals). I'll be taking them intravenously every two weeks for some time to come—how long depends on whether they are effective.

This is a clinical trial, a scientific study, so the first and second treatments with it will be time-consuming: on Monday I have to be at the clinic at 9:00 a.m., take a blood test, have the treatment, and then have more blood tests one hour, two hours, four hours, six hours, and eight hours later, so I won't go home until 8:00 p.m.  And then I must come back around 11:00 a.m. for the next three days for more blood tests. Then, two weeks later, the same thing.

But after that it will simply be the treatment every two weeks, and this time I don't need to use the "baby bottle," so that will be a relief. I hope that the side effects won't be too bad. Apparently I am likely to get some skin rashes and pimples within a week or two, but that might be the worst of it, other than the usual short-term nausea and longer-term hair loss. (And my hair has been coming in so nicely too.)

And I'm sure a lot better than I was a year ago!

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12 July 2008

 

First roll

I said I'd show you the first photos with my new/old Nikon F4 film camera. Here they are. Just for extra retro appeal, my first roll of film was black and white, using an expired roll of Ilford XP2 film:

Derek with Nikon F4 Sidewalk grate Bush Sour face B.C. Ford Miss L Tree bark Hat
My nightly regimen Nikon D50 Leaves Light pole Beach ball Miss M Miss L sleeping
The girls Tree Derek Flag and garage Graffiti on electrical box Flowers Parking lot lights

I took all of them with a single fixed-length prime lens, my Nikkor 50 mm f/1.8, the kind of lens all cameras used to come with.

P.S., I told you the camera was big. But it really is a marvel of electromechanical engineering—the promo materials say it has more than 1700 parts, including the clever tiny LCD and LED panels inside the camera body showing exposure information.

I'm sure modern cameras have a variety of equally interesting stuff, but what's cool about the F4 is that it's designed to be disassembled so you can actually get at the guts. The focusing screen, shutter, mirror, film winding mechanism, and so on are all easily visible, so it's much easier to understand what the camera is doing when you take a picture.

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11 July 2008

 

iPod Touch + iTunes Store = FailPod

iPod Touch 2.0 firmware + iTunes Store = FailPhone... uh, FailPod?

Looks like it's been a fun day in iPhone/iPod Touch land. And no, I don't plan to get an iPhone, and didn't get in line, but I did try to update my iPod Touch, without success.

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10 July 2008

 

Interesting stuff from the App Store debut for iPhone and iPod Touch

Apple has opened the App Store for the iPhone and iPod Touch, and here are some of the programs that initially caught my eye—although since the required firmware isn't available for download yet, I can't install or try any of them out. My interest comes purely from the store descriptions and screenshots. You'll need the new iTunes 7.7 to view them:

Some are free, some cost a little bit of money. You'll also need the iPhone/iPod Touch 2.0 firmware to install and run them—but as of right now, you can't get it yet. So you could buy these applications, yet not be able to use them until tomorrow or so.

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09 July 2008

 

The monster film camera arrives

Derek's Nikon F4s - fully disassembled at Flickr.comYesterday I got an online notice that my eBay purchase Nikon F4 film camera had cleared Canada Customs. I thought that might mean it would take a few more days to arrive, but the Canada Post truck showed up with it this afternoon. I made some camera nerd unboxing photos with my digital SLR if you'd like to see them.

I have to say this: wow. For a 20-year-old design, the F4 is an amazing camera. It weighs a ton, because it's both huge (freakin' huge) and made of thick metal under the rubber covering, but it feels great in my hands. It's remarkably responsive, easy to figure out for anyone who grew up with the dials, knobs, and buttons of an analog SLR, and fast.

I'd also forgotten what it's like to look into a bright, full-frame, 100%-coverage viewfinder with minimal clutter. Compared to the finder view in my D50, it's expansive, and having only one central autofocus point plus a couple of etched circles (to show where the different types of light metering act) means there's a lot less other stuff busying up the view.

Derek's Nikon F4s - 18-135mm DX zoom + SB-600 flash oblique view Derek's Nikon F4s - vertical grip

All my Nikon-mount lenses fit and work—even ones with technology designed more than a decade after the camera ceased production—although the newest, designed for a smaller digital sensor and lacking an aperture ring, is limited and vignettes heavily. Most surprising, my SB-600 flash functions pretty much fully, including reading lens focal length, working with through-the-lens (TTL) metering, and acting as an autofocus illuminator (which the camera otherwise lacks).

Running the motor drive at top speed yields a full paparazzi kssht-kssht-kssht-kssht-kssht, much faster than my lower-end D50 digital SLR from 2006. Autofocus is surprisingly quick too, though not up to complete modern standards. Unlike my D50, the F4 has mirror lockup, dedicated buttons for exposure and focus lock, depth of field preview, and an eyepiece shutter on a removable viewfinder pentaprism.

Derek's Nikon F4s - closed viewfinder eyepiece shutter

I loaded the F4 up with some Ilford black-and-white film and took it along while my younger daughter and I walked to the store and the park this sunny afternoon. I also picked up a new camera strap at Kerrisdale Cameras, since none of my current ones have the keychain-style metal rings at the ends that work with the F4's teeny tiny metal strap connectors. And I'll have to track down a rubber eyepiece ring, since that's the only stock item missing from the camera.

Of course, the key frustration with any film camera is that you can't see your pictures right away—I'll have to wait to finish the roll and get it processed, just like I did my entire picture-taking life from childhood until I bought my first digital camera in 2002. And yet that also forces me to think a bit more: How will this look in black and white (for this roll)? What's the best angle for this shot (I can't waste film trying a bunch of different ones)? What works in this light at this film ISO setting (since I can't adjust that)? What kind of depth of field and shutter speed do I want? And so on.

Perhaps the greatest pleasure comes from something I haven't had in more than 15 years: an SLR camera with analog controls for every feature, not multifunction digital buttons and mode dials and four-way controllers and LCD screens. Other than the lack of a manual film winding lever, and the info LCD inside the viewfinder, the F4 has the same kind of excellent tactile controls and analog displays photographers relied on for decades, from the first Leica rangefinder shooters to the astronauts walking on the moon.

There's definitely a difference adjusting the lens opening with an aperture ring on the lens, and the shutter speed with a dedicated dial on the top of the camera, than with the one or two thumbwheels on the handgrips of modern digital (and even film) SLRs. In the digital era, only the otherwise imperfect Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 and Leica M8, with their retro aesthetic, offer anything like that.

Obviously, I don't have any of my photos from the F4 yet. But I'll link them up when I do.

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08 July 2008

 

Meet the New Odds, (almost) same as the old Odds, on Facebook

New Odds at Flickr.comBack in the '90s there was a popular Vancouver rock band called The Odds (or just "Odds"). They and their cover-band alter-ego The Dawn Patrol inspired my cover band, The Neurotics, and our former original-band alter-ego, The Flu. And, oddly (ahem), since 2003 bassist Doug Elliott of The Odds has been (as "Swingy Neurotic") one of the rotating cast of yokels who play in The Neurotics.

Anyway, The Odds broke up in 1999 after four albums, tours with The Tragically Hip, and some pretty decent commercial success, but have now returned with a slightly different lineup as The New Odds, releasing a booty-shakin' new album called Cheerleader a few weeks ago. They've been touring across Canada too.

As part of the revival, I just spent a bit of time with Doug setting up a Facebook page for the group. If you're on Facebook and like the band (either in its old Odds or New Odds incarnation), or if you think you might, why not head over and become a fan (the link is on the upper right of the page), so you can find out when they're having shows, what they're up to, and so on? It's way less nasty on your eyes than MySpace, I tell you.

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07 July 2008

 

An obvious discovery

Not surprisingly, I sleep better when my wife is home beside me. I'm glad everyone is back and snoozing away.

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06 July 2008

 

Coming back home

IMG_0320.JPG at Flickr.comOn Tuesday, my wife Air and our two daughters were joined by our friends KA and her son to fly to Disneyland, where they have been (with, for the first couple of days, our Australian friend Leesa, bound for home in Melbourne) for almost a week now. They fly home late tonight, when I'll pick them up at the airport.

As you might expect, it's one of those vacations that requires a nice break afterwards: they've been going going going almost non-stop for five days, with a few opportunities to sleep, swim in the pool, and have breakfast at the Best Western. To avoid the monster crowds on U.S. Independence Day on July 4, they rented a car for the 25-mile drive to Laguna Beach for a day in the surf, followed by In-N-Out Burger (mmm, In-N-Out).

The week has certainly felt odd here. I had a significant to-do list, including some paperwork, but (as I should have expected) only got about half of it done. What's most remarkable is how quiet our house is, and how little I've had to do laundry or run the dishwasher.

It's a bit lonely, however, and while I have as much room as I want to sprawl out in bed and sleep in, I've found myself still lying on my side next my wife's empty pillow, and not for as long hours as I might have thought. (I have returned to my college-age nocturnal behaviour, though, often staying up till 2:00 a.m. or later.) I'll be glad to have everyone back soon, so we can start our family summer, which I hope is a good one.

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05 July 2008

 

East Van, East Side, East End, West Van, West Side, West End?

East Van at Flickr.comThere are things you know about your home town that you don't even know that you know. For example, I was born and grew up in Greater Vancouver, and I instinctively understand the bizarro terminology for parts of the city that must seem simply insane to anyone just arriving here.

Here's what I mean. East Vancouver, the East End, and the East Side are all the same thing—essentially the entire portion of the City of Vancouver east of Quebec Street (or, depending on where you are and how you define it, maybe Cambie Street or Main Street, which are both close by). Cool, fine, makes sense.

However, West Vancouver, the West End, and the West Side all represent completely different places. West Vancouver is actually a different city (Canada's richest, by the way), across Burrard Inlet northwest of Vancouver proper. The West End is part of the City of Vancouver, but a tiny part, the dense residential area of the downtown peninsula northwest of Burrard Street and southeast of Stanley Park (and not usually including stuff north of Georgia Street near Coal Harbour).

The West Side is different again, basically the converse of the East Side (or East End, or East Van)—the large swath of the city west of Quebec Street (or Cambie, or Main), extending out to Point Grey and the ocean. The Downtown East Side (or Downtown Eastside, one word) is the opposite (in many ways) of the West End and the West Side and West Vancouver. It is on the opposite side of downtown from the West End, and is Canada's poorest neighbourhood. In a sane world, it would be the East End compared to the West End, or alternatively the West End would be the Downtown Westside. But no.


View Larger Map

Then we get to north and south. North Vancouver is again a different city (actually two—a City and a District—and no, I don't understand that either), again across Burrard Inlet, next to West Vancouver. Yes, West Vancouver and North Vancouver are next to each other, west to east, with neither one further north or south than the other, and together they constitute (get this) the North Shore.

(By the way, those of you used to the North Shore being on Oahu in Hawaii will be even further confused. In Hawaii, the North Shore means the northernmost land area of the island of Oahu, facing north. It is, in other words, the shore on the north side of the island, and is part of Oahu. In Vancouver, the North Shore is the southernmost land area to the north of the city itself, facing south across the inlet. It is the shore on the north side of the water, and is not part of Vancouver itself—even when we call it Vancouver's North Shore.)

South Vancouver encompasses parts of both the West Side and the East Side/East Van/East End. The southern parts, quite logically. Sometimes you also hear South Slope, or rarely the South Side, since most of that region slopes down from the high ground running east to west across the city. No one ever calls it the South End, and there is no North End or North Side either. There is also no South Shore.

There is a formal definition for Greater Vancouver (a.k.a. Metro Vancouver), encompassing suburban municipalities around, and mostly east of, the City of Vancouver, and which pay certain taxes to the Metro Vancouver district government (formerly the Greater Vancouver Regional District). But many locals extend that definition to reach out into the Fraser Valley to the east, and sometimes up Howe Sound to Squamish in the north these days. The boundaries expand as people commute farther and farther.

Finally, one more thing about the east-west dichotomy. Traditionally, Vancouver's East Side has been working class and the West Side more upper class, in broad terms. But these days, no one with a single (or double) working-class income could afford a new house anywhere in the City of Vancouver, because it's easy to find single-family detached homes approaching a million dollars, even in the most distant corners of East Van. That's what those expanding commuter boundaries are all about. Without help from family, existing real estate, or obscenely high incomes, first-time home buyers wanting to live in Vancouver itself are looking at a condominium or townhouse (and possibly an older one) at best.

In part because of that, the City of Surrey, part of Metro Vancouver, will likely exceed Vancouver's population in the next decade or so, and already covers a much larger area, but we won't be calling this place Metro Surrey anytime soon.

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04 July 2008

 

Matchstick and Microsoft are sending me a free Zune to review

Zune at Flickr.comI was a bit surprised to be contacted by Matchstick, a Canadian "word of mouth marketing" company, yesterday. I figured after some of their missteps a couple of years ago, they might have gone out of business—but instead it seems like they might have learned a thing or two and survived.

They've been contracted by Microsoft to find bloggers and other types like me to evaluate the Zune media player, software, and online marketplace, which has finally become available in Canada after its U.S. release almost two years ago. I (and Chris Pirillo) had a chance to play with the first-generation Zune—yes, the brown one—briefly in Seattle before that original release, and I was impressed with the hardware and user interface. At a recent trip to Best Buy, I also liked the fun but very un-iPod-like approach to the Zune onscreen user experience, despite the extremely iPod-like form factor of the device itself.

But I haven't had a chance to work with the Zune software at all, and reviews of that over time have been mixed. Matchstick will be sending me a black Zune 8 to try out, so I'll find out for myself. But I'll either have to borrow a Windows PC from someone, or install Windows on my MacBook, to get it to work—there's no Mac support, alas.

But with luck I'll be able to find out whether our Zune subscription links at Inside Home Recording actually work. The little Zune should arrive next week sometime. Maybe I can photograph it with the new/old camera.

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03 July 2008

 

State of the digital SLR market: Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax, and Leica

Last year I created a little composite image of the various interchangeable-lens digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras then available from Nikon and Canon, the two leading camera manufacturers. It turned out to be one of my most popular pictures at the Flickr photo sharing service, of course because photo enthusiasts like to argue about Canon vs. Nikon almost as much as Mac and PC people do about their computers.

It became out of date pretty fast, with models discontinued and new ones introduced. But people kept looking at the image and commenting. So I decided to go further and create a similar composite visual chart of DSLRs currently available, as of the end of June 2008, from all the major camera makers: Nikon, Canon, Sony/Minolta, Olympus, Panasonic/Leica, and Pentax. The pictures are all the companies' publicity photos, sometimes sourced directly from their websites, sometimes from others such as DP Review and DC Resource:

State of the DSLR market: Nikon vs. Canon vs. Sony/Minolta vs. Olympus vs. Panasonic/Leica vs. Pentax digital SLR cameras, as of June 2008

No wonder people are confused about which camera to buy! Prices here range from around $500 (with lens) to about $8000 (no lens). The smallest cameras in this bunch are the Leica M8 (off by itself on the lower right, and not an SLR, see below) and the Olympus E-420 (top of the fourth column, see this review for real-life size comparison photos). The heaviest are the two pro monsters, the Nikon D3 and Canon 1Ds Mark III, in the lower left.

I have excluded a few other makers, such as Fuji and Sigma, and rebadged models from Samsung (nearly the same as some Pentaxes) and Leica (almost identical to the Panasonics). These images reflect the main line of SLRs (plus the M8) as of this writing.

Relative camera sizes are not exact. The positions of the various models vaguely reflect my impressions of a combination of price, features, and market segment. That's quite subjective, so you could easily argue with my placement of some of them. Take the image as a general guideline. Look down the columns to see how different cameras from a single manufacturer compare from low-end to high-end; look across the rows to see roughly comparable cameras (in features, price, or both) from different makers that compete with one another.

Nikon and Canon are (currently) alone in providing full-frame size semi-pro and professional DSLRs: the D700, EOS 5D, D3, and EOS 1Ds Mark III. The Leica M8 is the real outlier—not an SLR at all, but a digital version of the classic Leica M rangefinder; I put it here because a significant number of photographers looking at the high-end Nikons and Canons might also consider it.

The most crowded market segments are the introductory level (with something, and sometimes several confusing models, from every manufacturer), and the midrange enthusiast section (with some interesting choices like the D80, D300, 40D, A700, E-3, DMC-L1, and K20D). With all the choices, this might be the most interesting time in the history of single-lens reflex cameras, certainly in the digital era.

I also left out some models. Canon's pro sports-focused 1D Mark III, which looks and works essentially identically to the 1Ds Mark III, is one—the difference is that the "s" indicates a larger full-frame sensor (Canon needs a serious simplification of its naming scheme). The Nikon D40 is also the same body as the D40x (and the D60), but with a lower-resolution sensor. Some of these models, such as the D40x and the Canon XTi, may be theoretically discontinued now or soon, but remain widely available.

Finally, there will probably soon be updates rendering this composite chart at least partially obsolete. Canon is expected to replace the three-year-old EOS 5D any old time, Nikon might do the same for the similarly aged D80, Sony may release a full-frame DSLR (since they make Nikon's full-frame sensor, I believe), and Nikon could bring out a D3x or similar model with a higher-resolution full-frame sensor like the 1Ds Mark III. I'll let you know.

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02 July 2008

 

Goin' back to Cali... I mean film

for-fire-use at Flickr.comI've been writing more about photography lately, largely because I've been doing more of it, especially weird stuff like high dynamic range pictures—it's a hobby I can play with even when I'm on chemotherapy or otherwise ill. I've been happy using my Nikon digital SLR and small lens collection.

This week, Nikon introduced a new high-end DSLR, the D700. Of course it was fun to read about, but my D50 is just fine; the D700 is far beyond anything I need to use, and at $3000 is well out of any price league I'm likely to be in for a long time.

One thing I have been wanting to try is cross processing, of which I've seen some great examples in Kris Krug's photostream at Flickr. Cross processing, however, requires a film (not digital) camera. It usually involves taking slide film and instructing your film lab to process it using the same chemicals used for print film. Like HDR, cross processing creates some bizarre, surreal effects, as in these pictures from Kris. Taking some black-and-white shots might be fun too.

However, my last film SLR, a Nikon F601, died several years ago (the film transport crapped out while we were taking family Christmas pictures). I still use a couple of the lenses I bought for it on my digital D50, but I currently have no way to take film photos. Fortunately, now that we're well into the 21st century and the digital era, used film cameras are ridiculously cheap. As long as you're not going for a Leica or a Nikon F6, it's actually difficult to spend more than a couple of hundred bucks on even a very nice older film body.

So yesterday, Canada Day, I hunted around on eBay a bit and found this:

Used Nikon F4s

It is a used, slightly but deliciously worn Nikon F4s, which was Nikon's revolutionary top-of-the-line professional camera from 1988 to 1996, when it was replaced by the F5. The photographer at my wedding in 1995 (likely the year the particular one above was made) used the F4, as did many photojournalists, sport photographers, and other professionals a couple of decades ago. I put in a bid for the F4s above, and I won.

I've tried out a used F4 in a local camera store before, and unless you've handled a top-shelf professional DSLR—film or digital—the heft of the thing is a little hard to describe. Like the current flagship Nikon D3 or Canon 1D, it is large, extremely solid, heavy, and yet still very nice to hold. While it is a fully electronic, autofocus and autoexposure camera, all the controls on the F4 are analog: dials, buttons, and levers. There is no external LCD panel or menu system. It feels like you could hammer nails or fend off a robber with it and keep taking pictures afterwards.

Although it was designed when I was in my early years at university, there are numerous ways the F4 outperforms any camera I've ever owned, including its fast and precise continuous shooting frame rate (5.7 frames per second, almost twice as fast as my D50), and at least basic compatibility with (as far as I can tell) every F-mount SLR lens Nikon has ever made—from the earliest manual-focus models from 1959 to the latest autofocus ones from 2008—including all the ones I own. The F4 is midway through the line of professional Nikon F cameras made over the past 50 years:

F-evolution by Jeremy Allen at Flickr

All this for just over $200. That's about the price of a nice pair of boots, a decent set of men's clothes, an 8 GB iPod nano, or a low-end zoom lens today; $100 cheaper than Nikon's current low-budget student manual SLR, the FM10; about a third as much as the current intro-level Nikon or Canon digital SLRs (or what I paid for the D50 in 2006); and a mere 10% of the $2000 cost of a new F6—or of the F4 itself at introduction in September 1988.

My new/old F4 should arrive in a week or two. Now the question is: where do I buy slide or B&W film in Vancouver these days?

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01 July 2008

 

Happy Canada Day

It was a long, enjoyable Canada Day for me, even though it included a 3 a.m. wakeup to take my wife and kids to the airport for a trip to Disneyland, another trip a few hours later for our friend Leesa to fly towards home, and, later, nightmarish traffic to Vancouver's North Shore for a barbecue:

Ready for Disneyland! Exploding the inner tube Tempting fate with a kick Slippy slidey Waterstomper Fleur de lis
Happy Canada Day! The Jensen Canada Day BBQ John! Dude! Piñata 1 Piñata 2 Piñata 3
Piñata 4 Piñata 5 Piñata 6 Piñata 7 Piñata 8 Piñata 9
Piñata 10 Grownups relax Feet Bubbles Melon Simon and Derek
Jensen BBQ HDR Final Jensen Back Yard HDR Final 1912 House HDR Final Downtown Vancouver Skyline HDR Final Crane HDR Final Coast Guard Vessel HDR Final
Tugs HDR Final Lonsdale Quay 1 HDR Final Lonsdale Quay 2 HDR Final Piling HDR Final Container Cranes HDR Final Dual Cranes HDR Final

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