That 2012 thang

I wish you…

I probably won’t be a roller derby photographer

rderby-rdam

Sometimes you study a thing for a while, and instead of finding out more about the thing, you find out more about yourself—and sometimes both.

I have been looking at lenses and digital photo cameras over the weekend. Have been reading up on reviews, have been comparing prices. The thing is, I wasn’t too happy with the photos I took during the Amsterdam Derby Dames roller derby scrimmage and bout in respectively Rotterdam and Essen, and wanted to see what gear I need for derby photography.

The Flickr group Roller Derby is a treasure trove of experience which allowed to me collect some data on the sort of equipment derby photographers use:

  • prosumer cameras
  • 70-200 mm, F 2.8 lenses
  • often a second camera fitted with a wide anglish fast (1.8 max) lens for portraits and group photos

This would have meant an approximate 2000 euro investment in gear. Back when I was poor, I saw every purchase through the pinhole of what I could afford. And though I am not exactly rich, I can afford to spend a little now and again on nice things. For 2000 euro I am going to shop around though, find the lowest price, consider mail order purchases, perhaps look at second hand gear.

And it was while looking for second hand lenses that I had my epiphany. There is this Amsterdam and Eindhoven based company called Pixto-F that provides “services for photographers”, i.e. lets equipment. For a full-frame camera and their nicest 70-200mm lens, they charge 75 euro per day. A quick back-of-the-brain calculation taught me that I probably would not have a real need for this set up on more than four occasions per year anyway.

So why should I spend more on purchasing camera gear than I would in all probability ever spend on renting it? What if I lost interest in either derby or photography in a couple of years? And would I really pay 75 euro in rental fees per bout visited? That suddenly seemed excessive even if it was cheaper than outright purchasing. I just do not have that much passion for either photography or roller derby. Or, to put it in another way, I suddenly found out how much passion I have for either.

Bummer.

Whither photography and derby photography? I’ll probably try and become a better photographer through osmosis than through a burning desire to improve myself, and I’ll have to improve my roller derby photos through other means than better gear. (Position is everything, and the 70-200mm lens is particularly important when shooting down the long side of the track. The cheap 50mm/1.8 lens I have is perfectly serviceable for action shots in the corners, or for photography from the centre of the track, assuming you have the head referee’s permission to be there.)

Looking at all that camera porn has really wet my appetite for a new body though, especially considering that the Canon EOS 600D has more than adequate video features that my ‘old‘ Canon EOS 1000D lacks entirely.

Afterword: left out of this somewhat money centred monologue is an epiphany that came only minutes earlier, namely that my current gear is largely sufficient, and that improving my derby photos is mostly a function of ‘simply’ becoming a better photographer. And the price of improving myself is free, gratis, zilch, nada.

Things I need to work on:

  • Learning to work with the continuous auto-focus feature. (Go outside and photograph passing cars.)
  • Get a steadier hand.
  • Learn to focus on the centre (lots of failed derby photos because the subject is not in the middle).
  • Become confident, visit lots of bouts and scrimmages, so that the technical side becomes natural, and I start focussing (pardon the pun) on the action and the characters and all the interesting little details.

The world’s best derby photographer is currently Axle Adams (derby name, his real name is Jules Doyle), and what springs out from his photos is not technical perfection (though the man knows is his trade), but the fact that they are interesting.

If I do get better, then will be the time to consider investing in material things.

Busy

‘Nuff said.

The dim-witted gamer

I have been playing Charlie II, the sequel to Charlie the Duck, for almost ten years now, on and off, mostly off. My own highscore only progressed slowly during that time, a thousand points here, a few hundred points there, until last week when I realized that I can chain the effects of power pills.

Sometimes I really am that slow a thinker.

(Chaining power pills is something that is as old as power pills, i.e. at least as old as Pac-Man. In Pac-Man it’s just not that useful. Note that the high-score shown here is of the shareware version, which only has 6 levels. The full version has 18 levels.)

Installing Caesar III on Windows 7 and Windows 10

A long time ago in a land far, far away I had a game called Caesar III installed on Windows 98 (or XP). Actually it wasn’t that long time ago, and it definitely was not far away. But I digress.

And lo, I bought a new PC which ran on Windows 7, and forgot all about Caesar III. Until I cleaned out a cupboard and the found the game again. Long story short, Caesar III refused to install. It would prepare for running Installshield, and then do nothing.

I scoured the internet for solutions, but nothing gave. Most people apparently happily installed their third Caesars on Vista and 7.

So here’s the trick I used: I just waited a long time. Apparently Installshield needed that. After a minute of five or ten, out of the blue Installshield started running.

(Note that you need to run set-up in compatibility mode.)

Update 31 December 2016:

The Windows 7 PC has been replaced by a Windows 10 PC a couple of months back and I decided to dust off ye olde Caesar III again.

And lo, the same problem occurred during installation. The setup.exe just sat there and it looked like I would have to wait a bit again. But being slightly less patient this time around, I decided to do some random prodding of the system.

After cranking up the priority of the setup process (which frankly didn’t seem to do anything), I started clicking around in the Resource Monitor to see if setup was stuck on a particular resource. That’s when I stumbled on a very promising menu called “Analyze Wait Chain…”. So I clicked it, and the resulting dialog said that setup was waiting for another program, one I wasn’t even aware was running – it did not show in the task bar, for one thing. I terminated the process that was holding up setup.exe and the latter immediately went to work on installing the game.

I don’t know why a crashed program (I imagine that is what it was) would hold up the installation of ancient software, but there you have it. Nor do I know why waiting helps – I guess Windows does some sort of garbage collection?

So if you want to repeat the process, simply type Resource Monitor in the Windows 10 search, start the program, look up setup.exe, right click, choose Analyse Wait Chain and see if there are other programs listed in the resulting dialog. If you know what you are doing (and feel safe in doing it), you can click the checkbox next to the offending program and then click the End Process button.

Note that if you do this, precious work may be lost. That would be on you. Don’t terminate processes you don’t know.

Here’s a mockup of a screenshot of the resource monitor to get you going:

[Screen shot with edits of the Windows 10 Resource Monitor]

Something similar may work with Windows 7, but since I no longer use Windows 7, I cannot say for sure.

Idea: plenoptic assist for traditional DSLRs

This is cool: a company called Lytro is taking orders for its plenoptic (or ‘light field’) consumer photo camera, which it expects to ship in 2012.

A plenoptic camera swaps spatial (2D) information for distance information. See it as a grid of thousands of miniscule-resolution cameras all pointing straight ahead, with software combining the miniature photos back into a single exposure. (You used to have something similar in analog called a Lomo camera, but since that lacked the sophisticated software required to make something of the extra information it recorded, it was basically something only used for the cool effects.)

The extra information can be used to focus on a specific plane or object, to remove objects or visual artefacts, to create stereo images and many, many things more.

As they say, a grainy, shaky Youtube video with an idiot acting the straight man can say more than a thousand words:

(See also this for a demonstration of more applications.)

But because you’re swapping different types of information, you also lose a lot of information. I read somewhere for instance that the Lytro uses a 20 megapixel light sensitive chip to get to a 1 megapixel image. The result is that this type of camera will be mostly useful for photography where you cannot or will not control the setting. The Lytro will be used for snap shots, where otherwise you would use a regular (read: slow) pocket camera and miss the funny face your toddler pulls. Other uses of similar cameras would be surveillance (where beforehand you don’t know which details are important), or medical imaging where you want to separate planes of say tissues or cells.

All other types of photography have great use for the extra information plenoptic photography has to offer, but cannot afford to give up all that spatial information (i.e. resolution).

So I was thinking: what if you put both a regular sensor and a micro lens array with a dedicated sensor in the same camera? Now, you would not want them to occupy the same space, but as it happens the ‘camera’ (Latin for room) has plenty of space, and many professional cameras use a mirror to reflect the incoming light to a viewfinder. If you’re building a mirror camera using an electronic finder, you could put the micro lens array in front of the viewfinder’s light sensitive chip.

This method does of course also have its draw backs in the form of trade-offs. You could not use this for video for instance, or anything else involving most forms of motion. What my idea solves is mostly an engineering problem. It transforms a problem of unknown variables to one of mostly known variables, which means throwing a lot less cash at the designing the camera and allowing a manufacturer to be early to market.

Maximum speed for bicyclists

Now and then somebody mentions on bicycle activism blogs that there is no speed limit in the Netherlands for cyclists.

That struck me as a bit odd, so I decided to find out if this is true.

And yes it is, by and large.

The Dutch rules of the road (RVV 1990) only mention speed limits a couple of times, notably in articles 20 through 22, which regulate the maximum speed for motorized vehicles.

There are a bunch of snags and exceptions though.

The most obvious one is the speed limit on woonerfs. Woonerfs are a type of proto-Shared Space, an area where all road users mix. To protect the weakest of these—children playing—the maximum speed for all road users on woonerfs is defined in article 45 as stapvoets, the speed of a walking horse. Since this is technically too slow for both car drivers (the engine would stall) and bicyclists (they would keel over), the Dutch supreme court has decided that stapvoets should be interpreted as 15 kph.

According to article 63, traffic signs overrule traffic rules (that makes sense, as signs can be used to indicate exceptions to the rules). Article 62 says that all road users are required to obey signs that either prohibit or command something. That means that signs regulating the maximum speed also apply to bicyclists.

Generally bicyclists will not encounter speed limit signs, with one exception. The signs that indicate the start of a built-up area are often accompanied by a speed limit sign. As article 22 of the Dutch rules of the road already orders operators of motor vehicles to limit their speed to 50 kph in built-up areas, this is an extraneous sign. My guess is they are put there to remind motorists to lower their speed. But since signs apply to all road users, they also apply to cyclists. Signs only apply for the wegvakken (road segments) immediately following them, that is until the very first side-road or crossing.

Finally, there are two catch-all articles in both the Dutch rules of the road and the traffic code, one regulating reckless speeding, and the other regulating all reckless behaviour. Article 19 of the RVV (the rules) says that “bestuurders [‘operators of vehicles’] must be capable of bringing the vehicle to a stop within the distance of which they are capable of seeing the road, and of which it is free”.

And article 5 of the Dutch traffic code states that all road users are prohibited from behaving in such a way that this causes danger or hinders other road users.

By the way, if you want to read the rules for yourself, the following definitions may be useful:

  • Weggebruiker: road user
  • Bestuurder (‘operator of a vehicle’): all road users except pedestrians
  • Wegvak (‘road segment’): the stretch of road from one (side)road to another

(I am not a lawyer. The above is not legal advice.)

In which Rice Rocket takes a Slay ride

My friend and co-blogger (over at 24 Oranges) Natasha has taken up roller derby, an all-women’s full contact roller skating sport. I have come along to a couple of games, and I am here to tell you that roller derby rocks.

The basic game is simple. Two teams of five women skate around a smallish oval. One woman on each team is the designated scorer, the so-called ‘jammer’; the other four are blockers. (The blockers of both teams combined are called the pack.) The designated scorer must overtake the pack to score points. The blockers of the opposing team must prevent this. (The pack must stay together.)

To make things easier for everybody involved, the jammer wears a big star on her helmet. In the video below you see a blocker called Beyonslay successfully stop a jammer called Rice Rocket

Ah, yes, that is another aspect of roller derby, it is also about show. The contestants wear kinky outfits (not always noticeable among the safety gear), wear fightin’ make-up, and have cool names (which are officially registered to avoid duplicates). I definitely encourage you to check out a scrimmage (unofficial match) or a bout (official match) if you have the opportunity.

The following video I shot myself during a bout between the Essen Devil Dolls (red) and the Amsterdam Derby Dames (black). In the first ‘jam’ you see Amsterdam jammer Monstah Megs start alone, because the opponents’ jammer is on the bench for a foul.

How to photograph rain

Here are six greyer than grey photos for your perusal casu quo amusement, and as a “memo to self”.

Other than that they are less remarkable than a timid question on weekdays and more commonplace than a question.

Tv-mode, 1/50, F10:

Tv-mode, 1/125, F7.1:

Tv-mode, 1/320, F4.0:

100 % crops of the previous series:

As you can see (and as I should try to remember), shutter speed matters—use the M or Tv setting to go slower than 1/200 for that stripey effect.

Apparently there is more to say about the subject. And more. Here’s one I prepared earlier.

What I have been up to, part 2

OK, so the previous WIHBUT wasn’t, and this one ain’t either. Just a grab bag of pictures I took over the summer.

Most of the ones you see here were taken during a walk to Amstelpark and back.