Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

Category: Media (Page 1 of 31)

This is a container category for media reviews and related drivel.

A Cavalcade Of Duckies

As noted, I have my new camera (and it’s great). I have a bin full o’ duckies. I have a tripod. And now, as of this afternoon, I have a light tent (or whatever it’s supposed to be called, I dunno, I’m not a pro photographer or anything like that).

So how about some duck pics?

Tolo makes a great “test” duck for photo shoots. It’s so iconic in shape and color, and so very photogenic.

The “tent” is… larger than I originally wanted, but the size I wanted wasn’t in stock and I didn’t feel like waiting even longer to start this project, so here we are. It’s a 60x60x60cm cube with a big ring of tiny bright white LEDs up top for illumination and reflective surfaces on two sides. It gets bright in there, is what I’m saying.

Yes, this is a big improvement over the rickety setup from the last photo shoot attempt.

During the process of figuring out this test shoot I discovered that my camera has an aspect ratio setting. Hooray for the 16:9 option, but this means I need to be more careful about vertical composition since I won’t be slicing selected bits off the top & bottom anymore. A new learning curve to ascend, I suppose.

Those LEDs might be just a skosh too bright, actually…

I figured out how to lock the camera to an ISO of 100 to keep the graininess to the absolute minimum that I can with this rig. The aperture’s set to give me just a wee bit more than the minimum available depth of field as well. What I might need to do before embarking on the final photo shoot is to find a way to account for just how dingdanged bright it is inside the light tent. We’ll see, I suppose.

It’s so nice to get some of the Quacked Panes stalwarts out for some fresh air. Hello, Rei!

At first I wanted set dressing that wouldn’t distract or detract from the look of the ducks, but as I went through a variety of test shots I noticed something: While the gray blanket works great for the more traditionally (and less-traditionally) colorful ducks, the monochromatic ones have a harder time, like so:

I know it looks like Score, but this is the evil (?) twin, the one without the damaged beak.

We have a polyester throw blanket similar to the gray one you see in these pictures but in purple, and I think that might do the trick. Otherwise, we’ll figure something else out.

Poe manages to stand out while also nearly blending in. Neat trick there, pal.

Of course, the perennial problem of taking high-resolution pictures of plastic toys is that they get so dusty and dingy so very easily. And some of them are rather hard to clean due to the specific formulation of the plastic. I’ll do the best I can with what I have, I suppose.

I couldn’t leave Rusty out of this session, now could I?

There’s a long vacation-like stretch coming up next week, and that’s when I’ll try to get this project done properly. Wish me luck!

Bethany Lake Park Hike & Picnic

It’s a beautiful day, the last of those we’re likely to get for a while since the weather’s supposed to turn hot again after Monday. We decided to go on a hike up at Bethany Lake Park, and I figured I’d take the new camera along. There’s not a whole lot to interest your average shutterbug there but why pass up the chance to put the new gear through its paces?

Neither of us had ever walked much past the shaded part of the pathway, so this time we pushed onward to the top of the hill where the path goes right through, apparently, a whole entire golf course. Yes, it’s quite possible to get beaned with a golf ball while on a summer afternoon hike. (Neither of us were harmed, but there were a couple of close calls.)

Turns out that testing the panorama mode on the camera on a whim while standing under a whole bunch of power lines is not necessarily the greatest idea ever.

Having seen what was there to see (mostly dry grass and golf balls all over the place), we headed back down and found a shaded place to spread out a blanket and eat some snacks. Afterward, of course, I took more pictures.

I don’t know what these berries/fruits/whatever are but they photographed fairly well, and that’s all I care about at this point.

It really was a marvelous time. Quiet, sunny but not too hot out, people generally behaving themselves (to varying degrees), and enough exercise to make my doctor happy.

Are these snowberries? I have no idea. Dang, the new camera is doing great though.

On the way back toward the bus stop we paused at an unoccupied bench for a rest since our bus was some time off yet, and after looking around in the lake a bit I had to grab my camera because look at this marvelous bird:

Not bad for a handheld picture from 15 meters or so away at a substantial percentage of the camera’s zoom capability.

I then noticed a mallard swimming nearby and decided to push the camera’s zoom to the maximum and see how that turned out. The results were… better than the old camera would have done, but still, I think it’s best if I don’t try that again any time soon:

Please enjoy this very grainy picture of a mallard duck in a lake as best you can.

The best part, though, was when the mallard swam right by the heron:

“Hey, Herrie.” “Hey, Mallie.”

All in all, a good time out and a great validation of my new camera purchase.

Next time: More ducks! (Of one sort or another…)

First Light – New Camera

The Nikon CoolPix gave up the ghost, as noted previously, and for a while I didn’t think I’d bother replacing it. I don’t take many pictures, after all.

And yet. And yet.

I researched my options for a “bridge” camera, which is apparently the common term now for a device that’s not merely a point-and-shoot, but not a full DSLR or mirrorless body rig. In other words, a bridge camera is a fancy point-and-shoot. I avoided the Nikon brand, because that “take a picture, then vaporlock” bug seems to show up in several of their bridge-range models. Yuck. One particular model seemed to hit the sweet spot of being moderately well-reviewed (considering it’s a budget camera) and staying below my desired price threshold. And this week, after what’s been an absolute bastard of a month, I went ahead and ordered one.

My new piece of shutterbug gear is the Panasonic Lumix DC-FZ80, which came in at a bit under three hundred bucks (on sale).

Here’s the first pic taken with it, just a few minutes ago:

Please accept this adorable Eevee in place of a more traditional ducky.

My first few shots show that I’ll be fighting against a certain amount of graininess, but thanks to my research I knew that before making my purchase. (The amount of money required to escape certain problems is… more than I’m willing to part with.) What’s definitely missing is the Nikon’s weird feather-shaped smudges when you zoom in on the image file. I was worried that those smudges were going to be common to all image-stabilization algorithms. Apparently, no, just the CoolPix has that bizarre quirk.

Hopefully I can dial in a combination of ISO (to reduce grain) and aperture (for depth of field) that gets me the kind of results I want on this new rig. Then… it’ll be time to (re)start the Rubber Duck Image Gallery Project!

Huzzah!

Isn’t That Just Ducky

I had a bright idea. (No, seriously, it involved strong lighting so in truth, it was quite bright.) In short: I’ll take pictures of each of the duckies, most of which have been stored in a bin under the bed since we moved into this apartment over five years ago, and use them as a cute little pick-me-up where needed on social media or whatever.

Tolo duck, face forward view

This would help my mental health through mastering the technical aspects, through completing a low-risk low-intensity task, and through giving me a way to (possibly) put a smile on the faces of friends and strangers alike.

Yankee ducky, face forward view

Too bad my camera crapped out barely a dozen snapshots into the whole project. Oh, turns out that the Nikon Coolpix line, and the B500 in particular, is prone to a weird freezing-up problem. You take a picture and the UI just never recovers. The camera’s still on, it shows on the screen what you’re looking at as you move it around, but absolutely none of the buttons or dials do anything anymore. Particularly the power button. The only solution is to pop out the batteries (which is a bit extreme, and not necessarily easy to deal with when the device is attached to a tripod).

Pirate duck, 3/4 view

I guess I should be glad the damned thing lasted this long, but still: Once again I am bad at researching major purchases. Maybe next month I’ll think about finding a replacement.

Two Loaves For The Price Of Two

Instead of focusing on three dimensional digital fakery, I decided on my recent vacation to spend some time focusing on three dimensional edible foodstuffs. That’s right, it was time to try my hand again at making fresh homemade bread. I used a different recipe (sorry, “formula”) from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, my guiding tome. Lesson learned from the first go-around: Don’t be so knead-y.

Here’s how that panned out.

Pictured: Measured ingredients for making a couple loaves of bread

Ingredients: Assemble!

I started at six thirty in the morning on the last day of my vacation, the day after the DST change no less, because I had a movie I wanted to see shortly after noon. A madman I may be, but I’ve always worked best to a deadline.

Last time, my inaugural breadmaking foray, I over-kneaded the dough and it was a bit dry besides, so the final product came out a bit on the dense side. I did not make that mistake again, though I overbalanced a bit and ended up with too sticky of dough for a while. Luckily when I added some flour to fix the consistency I didn’t go overboard.

Pictured: A bowl containing a blob of dough.

Arise, my doughy mass, arise!

One nice thing about this hobby is that a large percentage of the time spent making bread involves waiting for proofing (rising) stages to complete. This meant that I could read, goof off a bit, and take care of other chores.

Pictured, blurrily: Two loaves' worth of dough in their baking pans

One of the minor miracles of this project? I managed to get a nearly even split of the dough into two loaves.

That (somewhat blurry) photo above shows another of the problems with this attempt: The instructions call for spraying oil lightly atop the loaves, but all I had available was a silicone brush so there’s a fair bit more oil on those things than actually intended. Whoops.

Pictured: Two damned fine loaves of bread if I do say so myself, which I do.

Two plain loaves of boring white bread, but they’re MY plain loaves of boring white bread. I did that!

I can’t complain about the results, though. Not one bit.

Lessons learned from this go-around: Get an oil misting bottle instead of using a brush, and have a small amount of flour and water on hand during kneading in case things get too sticky or too dry, respectively. Other than that? All’s well that ends deliciously.

Pet Shop Boys – Hotspot

And someone said, “It’s fabulous you’re still around today / you’ve both made such a little go a very long way” — “Yesterday, When I Was Mad”, Pet Shop Boys, Very

With Hotspot hitting stores earlier this year, the Pet Shop Boys have now released fourteen entire full studio records, on top of the never-mind-how-many compilations, EPs, remix albums, singles and so on that comprise their full discography. (Discography is in fact the name of one of their compilation releases. Because of course it is.) This record is billed as completing a trilogy of albums, with 2013’s Electric and 2016’s Super preceding it. So, how does this one fare?

PSB songs tend to fall into one or more standard categories: Dance tracks, sappy downtempo pieces, biting satire, and weird experiments. All of the biting satire was siphoned off for last year’s delightful Agenda EP which is worth the price of admission for “On social media” alone, with an honorary mention for “What are we going to do about the rich?”. What remains for this album are several solid dance numbers, one weird experimental bit (“Wedding In Berlin”) at the tail end, and a mixed bag of downtempo pieces. The boys are in solid form here, make no mistake. It’s just that their sappier numbers tend not to work for me, so what I’m really getting out of this are the dance songs.

Which isn’t a bad thing, because the three best ones here are “Will-o-the-wisp” right at the start, “Dreamland” (with guest vocals) a few tracks on, and “Monkey business” just past the halfway mark. I can’t decide which of the three I like best, and believe me I’ve listened to them frequently enough this past week-or-so that I should’ve been able to by now. They’re all really, really good, let’s just leave it at that.

Is Hotspot worth your money? That depends on if you like other Pet Shop Boys music and want more of it. There’s no mistaking this for anything but a PSB record, with just enough new twists and variations to assure the listener that Tennant and Lowe haven’t entirely submitted to the ravages of time. As a fan since almost the beginning, I give it a solid stamp of approval.

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