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What’s Old?
2010-2011

Whenever I update the What’s New? page, I delete entries that are no longer new (i.e., more than a year old) and move them to this archive. That keeps the What’s New? page to a reasonable size, while maintaining a complete history of this Web site for anyone who might be interested. I can’t imagine why anyone would actually be interested in such a thing, but here it is.

Since this archive goes back to 1999, some links and other things mentioned in old entries may have changed, moved, or disappeared. I’ve removed outdated links and annotated some entries to indicate where things have moved, but I’ve otherwise left the original text unchanged. I add the annotations when I archive the entries, so in time the annotations may themselves become outdated.

Newer Entries

20 December 2011

In response to an inquiry about a horizontal picture of Montezuma Castle National Monument in Arizona, I went through the archived raw files from my 2005 trip to Sedona, found a nice picture that filled the bill, and added it to the Indian Country page.

I have an improved version of a picture of the Point Vicente Lighthouse in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, that I originally took in 2005. I also have improved versions of Brick Tower, Spring Flowers in Palos Verdes, and Kitesurfers at Malaga Cove, all in Palos Verdes Estates.

Continuing the theme of the Palos Verdes Peninsula (a coastal suburb of Los Angeles), I have a much improved “performance” of the Sea King March, the “fight song” of Palos Verdes High School that I originally wrote for their marching band in 1975 when I was a student there. I’ve had a version of the march on that page since 2002, when I made a new arrangement for the school’s reopening. It’s a MIDI file that most computers can play through the music synthesizer built in to their sound hardware. The new version is an MP3 file, played by a “virtual pep band.” It’s still synthesized, but the high-quality instrument samples I used make a sound that comes close to a real 23-piece band. While this is mainly meant for students and alumni of Palos Verdes High, other visitors might also enjoy listening to it.

Finally, I’ve made some updates and corrections to my discussion of browsers and color management.

3 December 2011

In addition to being a popular destination for visitors to Southern California, Santa Monica is one of the very few places in the Los Angeles area where it’s practical to get around without driving. Like Downtown Los Angeles, it’s a fairly compact region, making it easy to avoid notoriously snarled traffic and costly parking by walking or riding a convenient bus. That’s just one of the reasons it’s a nice place to spend a short vacation, whether you have to travel 20 or 2,000 kilometers to get there.

I have two new Travel Photo Essays about Santa Monica. The first is about the landmark Santa Monica Pier. The second is about Bergamot Station and The Water Garden. Bergamot Station, a complex of abandoned warehouses repurposed as an art center, shares top billing with the Pier in guidebook listings of Santa Monica attractions. The Water Garden is a lushly landscaped office complex built around an artificial lake. It isn’t in any guidebook, even though it’s across the street from Bergamot Station. But it’s well worth a look.

I was also fortunate to capture an elusive Southern California sunset of travelogue quality. Beautiful sunsets are elusive because the ocean and mountains that create great coastal scenery also make “low clouds and fog” a frequently-occurring phrase in weather forecasts. At the beach, even a sunny day may dawn with a “marine layer” of gray overcast that eventually burns off, and then returns as sunset approaches. Low clouds may also lurk off the coast and swallow the setting sun, instantly turning a promising sunset dull gray. That’s what happened on two of my three evenings in Santa Monica.

Speaking of gray, I have a new version of Beach Footprints, a picture I originally took in Laguna Beach in 2005 and added (in color) to the Fine Art section in 2008. When I recently looked at it again, I decided it would have more impact in black and white.

Finally, rather than offering generic “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings,” I’ll specifically wish everyone (chronologically): Io Saturnalia, Happy Hanukkah, Blessed Winter Solstice, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, and/or Happy New Year!

29 October 2011

Happy Halloween, Samhain, All Saints’ Day, or Reformation Day, as appropriate! (While it’s not new, this pumpkin still life is seasonally appropriate. I took it in 2007 on Naples Island in Long Beach, California.)

I have finished the final Travel Photo Essay from my June visit to Downtown Los Angeles. This one is about the public art in the Financial District and Little Tokyo. The Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles (CRA/LA), whose funding has played a major role in revitalizing the once-decaying Downtown, has long required developers to dedicate at least 1% of their CRA/LA funding to public art. This requirement has produced many modern sculptures throughout Downtown, for the enjoyment of residents and visitors alike. The Travel Photo Essay includes 18 new pictures, one of which is the 1,500th picture on this Web site.

I have also made some updates to the Links and Reviews section. I’ve replaced a very outdated review of the Opera browser with a new discussion of three current browsers (including Opera) and how they handle color management and wide-gamut monitors.

I’ve removed the review of PocoMail, the excellent e-mail program I’ve used for nearly a decade. The developer has announced that he will stop selling it at the end of the year. And I’ve updated the discussion of text editors to include the freeware Notepad++. I explain why I recently switched to it after years of using UltraEdit.

Finally, as we head into the Holiday Season, please keep in mind that prints of my pictures make excellent gifts!

14 October 2011

I have added a new Travel Photo Essay on another Downtown Los Angeles architectural landmark: the very modern (and very opulent) Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

5 September 2011

To accommodate new pictures from my Downtown Los Angeles “staycation” in June, I have split the Historic Landmarks page. The new Victorian Landmarks page has nine new pictures of the Bradbury Building (used as a setting in Blade Runner and many other movies and television series) along with the Angels Flight funicular railway. The 1920s and 1930s Landmarks page has three new pictures of Los Angeles City Hall (also featured in movies and television), along with the Millennium Biltmore Hotel and Los Angeles Union Station. I have also made some updates to Some Pocket Instamatic and 126 Resources, the article on Adobe’s DNG format for raw image files, and the review of Paint Shop Pro.

Not long after I took my pictures inside the Bradbury Building, a wedding party behaved disruptively during a photo shoot there. The real estate development company that owns the building responded with an absolute and apparently permanent prohibition of all “personal photography” on the premises. Hollywood filmmakers with full liability insurance who pay a suitably lucrative location fee presumably can continue to shoot in the building. It’s unfortunate that the owner reacted to one incident of abuse by punishing everyone else, especially since they previously were very tolerant of photography in that unique and beautiful location. But it’s perhaps understandable that they’d choose a complete ban, as that’s the easiest policy to enforce. I was very fortunate to visit when I did.

6 August 2011

The kilometer and a half of Hollywood Boulevard between Highland Avenue and Vine Street is at the heart of the glamorous Tinseltown mythos created by the studios that once made movies in Hollywood. It’s on every Los Angeles guidebook’s “must see” list, and may actually be the city’s most popular visitor destination.

Despite being a Los Angeles native, I had never visited this “must see” place until last April. That’s not just because of the common phenomenon of ignoring local tourist destinations. I never found this one very appealing. I’m not a frequent moviegoer, and I rarely watch television. When I see the covers of People and Us magazines at the supermarket checkout, I draw a blank at the names of all the celebrities. Those popular publications might as well be written in Estonian or Basque.

But recently I’ve been enjoying visits to local destinations I can get to using mass transit. (That avoids the traffic that otherwise sucks all the pleasure out of exploring my fascinating home town.) Since the thoughtful planners of the Metro Rail Red Line subway built stations at both ends of the Walk of Fame, it seemed time to go there. As I lack a proper appreciation of Hollywood’s manufactured mystique, my new Travel Photo Essay offers a somewhat different perspective from what you’ll find in guidebooks.

15 July 2011

The first new Travel Photo Essay from my “staycation” in Downtown Los Angeles last month is about Little Tokyo, one of the three remaining “Japantowns” in the United States. Although most of Downtown’s historic Japanese community has succumbed to relentless modern redevelopment, enough remains to make the compact National Historic Landmark District well worth a visit. What also helps is that it’s a living center of Japanese culture, with Buddhist temples, restaurants, and shops frequented by members of the large Japanese-American community who live elsewhere in the Los Angeles area (and also by business travelers from Japan).

While anyone claiming that Little Tokyo offers “a trip to Japan without the jet lag” would be guilty of serious exaggeration, it does provide some reasonably authentic transplanted glimpses of Japan. That’s what I’ve tried to capture in my pictures.

I’ve added two new pictures of public art near the Bunker Hill Steps to the Downtown Superlatives page. Also on that page is a new picture of the Library Tower that I’m particularly pleased with. It’s an example of why it’s good to always carry a camera. I was walking back to my hotel after dinner, and the picture presented itself.

25 June 2011

I spent some “use it or lose it” vacation time earlier this month on a trip that began with a walk of about 100 meters down the street for a $2 one-hour bus ride to Downtown Los Angeles. No ancillary fees, no lost luggage, no waiting (without shoes) to be irradiated in a strip search machine and/or “intimately” patted down. I also avoided burning $4-a-gallon gas into greenhouse emission while going nowhere on a clotted freeway, on the way to a parking lot that charges $5 per half-hour.

Instead of the weekend day trips I’ve made before, I stayed at the historic Biltmore Hotel. I mention this because a friendly member of the hotel’s security staff showed me the Crystal Ballroom. The largest and fanciest of the Biltmore’s meeting rooms, it’s probably best known as the place where the charter members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences met for a luncheon in 1927 to plan an award ceremony. The ballroom is normally closed to the public. But this guy was so (understandably) proud of working for “such a beautiful hotel” that he went out of his way to unlock the door so I could see Giovanni Smeraldi’s “Italian renaissance revival” decoration and painted ceiling. I’ve added two pictures of the Crystal Ballroom to the Biltmore section of Downtown Los Angeles Historic Landmarks.

By the way, the Downtown hotels all charge between $35 and $50 per day for parking. Other parking options may cost even more than that. That’s another compelling advantage of buses or Metro Rail trains! Downtown may be the only place in Los Angeles where a car is an unnecessary burden.

One of the great things about a “staycation” is that it’s so easy to revisit places and take new pictures in better light. (OK, I’ll concede that’s probably the only thing about a “staycation” that even remotely qualifies as great.) I have replaced the old “establishing shots” of the Bonaventure and the Central Library with much better ones, taken just before sunset. I also added two new pictures of the Library at dusk, including a nice reflection in one of the pools in Maguire Gardens. There’s also one more new reflection, of City Hall in the glass exterior of Los Angeles Police headquarters. It’s temporarily in the Fine Art section until I create a permanent home for it, and for the other new pictures I took on this trip.

I have also written a review of Topaz InFocus, a plug-in for Photoshop that “deblurs” images. It’s invaluable not only for the advertised use of restoring details to slightly unsharp pictures, but for routine “capture sharpening” of raw digital camera files and film scans. For some years I have been using an older “deblurring” plug-in called Focus Magic for those purposes (I also have a review of it). But its developer has yet to release a version that either works with 64-bit Photoshop or installs reliably under 64-bit Windows 7. When I switched to 64-bit Photoshop, I had to abandon Focus Magic in favor of InFocus. My review of InFocus also compares the two plug-ins.

21 May 2011

I have completely rewritten my Travel Photo Essay on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The new edition includes greatly improved versions of the 11 pictures I originally prepared in 1999, along with 12 new pictures.

18 April 2011

Ted Marcus’ Virtual Light Table has been on the Web for twelve years. It’s exciting to look through the log summaries each week and see so many people from all over the world visiting my site, along with the astonishing variety of search queries that lead them to its pages. It’s even more exciting when some of those visitors order prints or image licenses!

I have overhauled one of the oldest parts of this Web site. “Grand Teton and Yellowstone” was one of the four Travel Photo Essays I uploaded to to the “personal Web space” of my dial-up Internet account on 18 April 1999. I added a few pictures in 2002, and removed the handful of Yellowstone pictures when I created a new Travel Photo Essay on that park in 2007. But otherwise it remained much as it appeared in 1999, including the versions of the pictures I prepared using a Hewlett-Packard Photosmart scanner, its crippled native software, and Paint Shop Pro version 5.

The new versions of the pictures are significant improvements over the ones I made in 1999 and 2002, with much more vibrant color. I also rewrote the text, and added five new pictures. (This page shows how my film-scanning tools and techniques have improved over the years.)

I have added a new special version of Verdant Hillside - Paso Robles, California to the collection of higher-resolution images available for free download as “wallpaper.” I use this picture as the “wallpaper” on my own computer desktop. It’s formatted for wide-screen LCD monitors in 1440x900 and 1680x1050 sizes. The “wallpaper” editions of two Grand Teton pictures, Teton Window and Mount Moran in Autumn, have been updated with the new versions.

I’ve updated several of the Commentary pages, notably Some Pocket Instamatic and 126 Resources. And finally, I have given the site a minor face lift. Commentary pages (like this one) have a new font that I hope will be easier to read. The home page also has a new logo and some formatting improvements.

12 March 2011

My latest Travel Photo Essay is about two well-known Los Angeles attractions, the La Brea Tar Pits and the Farmers Market. It includes 15 new pictures. Both places are within a kilometer of each other, and owe their existence to the oil fields under the Los Angeles Basin.

Although I rode the Metro Rail light rail system on my recent “staycation” trips to Downtown Los Angeles, this time I had to drive. Metro Rail doesn’t go anywhere near that area, which straddles the Wilshire Boulevard “Miracle Mile” and the Fairfax district. And according to the Metro Trip Planner Web site, going by bus would take three hours— and as many different buses— each way. This is a typical example of why guidebooks advise visitors to Los Angeles against relying on mass transit.

19 February 2011

I spent several sunny weekends over the past few months walking around (and photographing) Downtown Los Angeles. I’ve had a great time discovering this proverbial “treasure in my own backyard,” almost none of which I had visited before, despite having lived in Southern California my entire life. One of the reasons I had not spent much time there is the notoriously snarled traffic and costly parking. But Downtown is one of the few places in Southern California to which the Metro Rail system provides extensive and convenient service. Using Metro Rail avoids the traffic and parking hassles— except for the 25-minute drive to the nearest station— and makes exploring Downtown an easy and very enjoyable way to spend a day.

I have six new Travel Photo Essays: El Pueblo de Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Central Library, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Chinatown, Historic Landmarks [later split into Victorian Landmarks and 1920s and 1930s Landmarks], and Downtown Los Angeles Superlatives.

That adds up to 103 new pictures. I took all of them with my Canon Powershot S90, a shirt-pocket camera with a professional-grade lens. It’s particularly well suited for walking around Downtown Los Angeles, as it’s easy to carry and small enough to avoid attracting the attention of security guards notorious for their antipathy toward photography.

Some of my favorite Downtown Los Angeles images: Walt Disney Concert Hall With Tree; Reflection and Lanterns and Lanterns and Windows in Chinatown’s Central Plaza; 425 North Los Angeles Street and the Garnier Building in El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Park; Framed Library Tower and Tower and Cloud; the science-fictiony Bonaventure and Reflection; and Bunker Hill Trees.

24 November 2010

I spent one of the two non-overcast, non-rainy days of my “staycation” last month visiting the RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach. Once one of the world’s fastest ocean liners, the Queen Mary could cross the Atlantic in a mere four days. Rendered obsolete by jet airplanes, it arrived in Long Beach in 1967 for conversion to a museum, hotel, and venue for meetings and banquets. Since then, nine successive concessionaires have operated it under a lease with the city, without much success.

The ship is definitely worth a visit, particularly if you spend the night in one of the former first-class staterooms. But the experience is less than it ought to be, mainly because Long Beach officials and the concessionaires have failed to either appreciate or properly exploit the ship’s historic potential. The Queen Mary promises a glimpse into the age of luxury ocean liners. But at best it offers that historical view through a glass, darkly. There’s still much to see— and to photograph.

The new Travel Photo Essay includes 21 new pictures. I took them all with my new Canon Powershot S90, which continues to amaze me with the versatility and image quality it stuffs into a 198-gram package that fits in a shirt pocket. I have also added two new pictures to the Palos Verdes Estates page (Paseo del Mar Sunset View and Trees and Surf at Sunset), and replaced a 2003 picture of Resort Point with a much better new one. These were also taken with the S90, on a clear evening after a rainy day.

Finally, rather than offering generic “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings,” I’ll specifically wish everyone (chronologically): Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Hanukkah, Io Saturnalia, Blessed Winter Solstice, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, and/or Happy New Year. And remember that prints of my pictures make excellent gifts!

30 October 2010

Happy Halloween, Samhain, All Saints’ Day, or Reformation Day, as appropriate! There’s nothing spooky about my Legacy Technology and Scanning 110-Format Film (and Kodachrome) articles. But I’ve updated them with some recent interesting developments concerning 110 (Pocket Instamatic) cameras and film.

(While it’s not new, this pumpkin still life is seasonally appropriate. I took it on Naples Island in Long Beach, California in 2007.)

23 October 2010

I first visited Rancho Los Alamitos three years ago. It’s a historic ranch house and garden in Long Beach, California. Most of the site was closed that day due to high winds, but the part that was open is probably the most interesting from a photographic perspective.

I went back there earlier this month, and got to see what had been closed last time. I have added eight new pictures to the Travel Photo Essay I originally wrote in 2007. Three of them were taken with my my new Canon S90 (see the previous entry).

19 October 2010

The California coast is overcast and foggy more often than brochure writers are willing to admit. But you’ll usually find sunny weather in September and October. Not this year! I had planned a trip to Monterey earlier this month, but canceled it after a (correct) forecast of heavy overcast for nearly the entire time I had scheduled. Dull sky makes dull pictures— and a depressing vacation, especially if you’re alone. I know of no Photoshop technique that can adequately compensate for either problem.

I normally don’t have much confidence in long-term weather forecasts. But this one was credible. Except for a few days of record-breaking heat in September, June Gloom persisted through the summer months into autumn. Is this the result of the climate change that doesn’t exist, at least according to some politicians whose donors find the truth too inconvenient? Or is it an Apocalyptic Sign exhorting us to Repent Now (and to return those overdue library books)?

I did get a few sunny days of “staycation,” in between the predicted overcast (and rain) and the return of the newfangled October Gloom. The time I spent at home was an opportunity to reflect on future travel plans and photographic needs. I had been considering replacing my Canon Rebel XT (350D), which at five and a half years old is a true senior citizen among digital cameras. But as it continues to serve me well, I decided that supplementing it with a smaller camera would make more sense.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there are now several “prosumer” compact cameras that offer much of the power of a full-sized DSLR. I chose the Canon Powershot S90. About the size of a deck of playing cards, it fits in a shirt pocket and weighs 198 grams. It has an amazingly sharp, fast (f/2 at the short end) stabilized zoom lens with a very useful range, equivalent to 28-105mm on a 35mm camera (a lens with that range worked very well in Provence). It provides complete exposure control, with a choice of metering modes including full manual, and adjustable flash output. Its sensor has only 10 megapixels, which significantly reduces the noise inherent in tiny sensors. All that, and raw files too. (The S90 doubles as a fully automatic point-and-shoot, with face detection, a collection of gimmicky “shooting modes,” and video to make it appealing to a wider market.)

The S90 doesn’t replace a DSLR. Its lens lacks the wide end of my Tokina 12-24, the long end of my Canon 28-135, and the ability to use a polarizer. (There is an adapter that allows the use of filters, but that seems to defeat the whole purpose of a shirt-pocket camera.) Though the sensor has noticeably less noise than most compact digicams, it’s still noisier than a DSLR. It also seems to have less headroom for bright highlights than my Rebel XT. I find the S90’s 1.33:1 aspect ratio (standard for non-SLR digicams) less pleasing for composition than the 35mm/DSLR 1.5:1 format. And such a small camera necessitates ergonomic compromises that I’m still getting used to.

But the S90 certainly is fun to use, and much easier to carry than even a small DSLR like my Rebel XT (and its camera bag). It’s said that the best camera is the one you have with you, and I think I’m more likely to take my S90 to more places than the Rebel XT (and its camera bag). I won’t write a review of the S90, since it’s been extensively discussed in many other places. It’s also last year’s model, now replaced with the incrementally-improved S95. But Adobe doesn’t (yet) support the S95’s raw files, and I got a very good price on the S90.

I’m still working on the pictures and Travel Photo Essay updates from those few days when the persistent overcast took a vacation. And of course I hope to take my S90 to some interesting places in the future. But to start with, I’ve added three new pictures to the South Bay Piers Travel Photo Essay, which I’ve also slightly revised. On the (rainy) day I got the S90, I went to the Redondo Beach Pier to try it out. The rain had ended by late afternoon, leaving the possibility of a nice sunset. The sunset proved unspectacular, but the lingering clouds offered interesting images of the Redondo Pier sign and an old-fashioned street light.

22 August 2010

In March 2002, I wrote the first version of a commentary article about the reasons to avoid flying. I have been updating it periodically ever since, to reflect the unfortunate evolution of the TSA’s “security theatre” hassles and the equally unfortunate deterioration of airline service.

Last May, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report on their audit of the TSA’s SPOT program (PDF). SPOT is a “behavior detection” system that supposedly trains officers to recognize the distinctive signs of terrorists. The report presented the first cost-benefit analysis I have seen for any aspect of TSA operations.

The authors must have struggled to avoid explicitly declaring the SPOT program a useless waste of over $200 million per year, lacking evidence of either scientific validity or effectiveness. But that’s what they concluded, though in far more tactful language. The report also includes the official response from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the TSA’s parent bureaucracy. That response unintentionally summarizes everything that’s wrong with both the DHS and the TSA.

When I started to update the old article to include this audit, I realized that it had become a ponderous collection of patches (rather like TSA screening). It also expressed several hopeful ideas that now seem naive and outdated. I had hoped that the new Obama administration would reform the TSA. But as with too many of Mr. Obama’s policies, his approach to the TSA seems indistinguishable from that of his predecessor.

I had also believed that if enough people refused to fly, the airlines and the TSA would be forced to make improvements. But the airlines’ response to the economic meltdown in 2008 rendered this notion irrelevant. If fewer people fly, the airlines merely shrink their routes, planes, and work force to fit the reduced demand. And I had concluded some time ago that simply refusing to fly was impractical for most people, including myself.

So I replaced the old article with an entirely new one about why flying won’t get any better. I explain why I have concluded that the TSA is impervious to reform: Even if it provides no actual security, it is nonetheless useful. I discuss why I believe the “War on Terror” is counterproductive. And I suggest an approach to flying that might be more practical than avoiding it entirely. I won’t deny the outrage and cynicism, which I think is justified. I particularly hope to make you look at these issues in ways you might not have considered.

For now I will continue to avoid flying, and look forward to enjoyable road trips (I have one planned for the autumn). But I suspect that I’ll eventually be flying again— and trying very hard to follow my own advice.

7 July 2010

The calendar on my wall says it’s July. But whoever is in charge of the weather here in supposedly-sunny Southern California seems to have forgotten to turn the page on their calendar. With June Gloom and its persistent leaden sky making local photography less than appealing, I’ve continued to make improved versions of my earliest digital images with Photoshop CS5. (As a solo traveler I prefer to avoid the summer crowds and premium prices, so I’ll wait until autumn for a possible road trip.) The more I use the new Photoshop, the more I like it.

This time it’s some places near Sedona, including Slide Rock Park, Jerome, and the Sinagua ruins section of the “Indian Country” page. Again, since I did a rather thorough job of selecting the pictures back in 2005, I didn’t find any overlooked gems to add. But the new versions really do look a lot better. And I have a new vertical variation on Winter Trees and Mountains taken at the Getty Center in January.

26 June 2010

Earlier this month I upgraded to Photoshop CS5, the latest (and greatest?) version of Adobe’s industry-standard photo and graphics software. I had shirked my obligation to Adobe by skipping the previous version (CS4) because it didn’t seem compelling enough to justify the price of the upgrade. But CS5 looked to have enough improvements to be worthwhile.

A Photoshop upgrade would normally inspire me to go out and take a batch of new pictures to test it. But the notorious June Gloom overcast has made this a less than inspiring time for photography here in Southern California. So took out the collection of raw files I brought back from Sedona five years ago, sorted through them in Bridge (Photoshop’s companion program for viewing and sorting image files), and made new versions of some of them.

Adobe claims that the new Camera Raw raw converter provides improved reds and yellows, so pictures of red rock country seemed appropriate. Sedona was also the first place I visited with my then-new Canon Digital Rebel XT. I originally processed these pictures with the RawShooter Essentials raw converter and Paint Shop Pro 8. At the time I was disappointed at the inability to adequately reproduce the intense colors I saw in Sedona.

The new versions are much better impressions of the vibrant red rock desert. But the ability to work in color spaces with a wider gamut (range of colors) than I had five years ago may have contributed as much as the new raw converter. The improvement is particularly noticeable in the pictures of a late-afternoon visit to the Chapel of the Holy Cross, where the combination of sunset light and the natural red rocks was probably too saturated for the tools I had in 2005. I did a rather thorough job of winnowing the pictures originally, so I didn’t find many overlooked gems when I went through them this time. But there was one nice “new” picture from one of my walks on the Bell Rock Pathway. Aside from Sedona, I’ve also added a “new” picture of ferns and flowers that I wasn’t able to process satisfactorily when I took it in 2006.

So far, CS5 indeed looks like a worthwhile improvement over CS3. The new “content-aware” spot healing and patch tools can magically remove objects and leave behind an astonishingly natural background interpolated from surrounding pixels, just as Adobe claims. But not always— those tools produce stunningly inept results often enough to serve as a reminder that the “awareness” is merely an algorithm that’s sophisticated but ultimately imperfect. Changing the tool width, or perhaps moving the brush in a slightly different pattern, might suffice to restore the magic when that happens. Adobe Camera Raw is getting ever closer to becoming “Photoshop Lite” that can produce “final” images without the need for the rest of Photoshop. Also welcome are numerous large and small usability improvements to Photoshop and Bridge that make using this complex software much more pleasant.

The only real annoyance is that Bridge insists on automatically opening the 64-bit version of Photoshop. On 64-bit Vista and Windows 7 systems, the installer installs both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions. The 64-bit version is preferable in theory: It can access more memory, promises a bit more speed, and is the Way of the Future. But it’s incompatible with the 32-bit plug-ins I use. Eventually I’ll have the opportunity to buy new 64-bit versions of the plug-ins, but for most of them the developers are still “investigating that possibility.” So I use the 32-bit Photoshop, and that’s what I want Bridge to open when I click on a thumbnail. The only workaround I’ve found is to open 32-bit Photoshop before starting Bridge.

15 May 2010

I’ve completely rewritten the Travel Photo Essay on Joshua Tree National Park, California. Along with new and improved versions of all the images in the previous edition, I added five new pictures.

I’ve also made new versions other pictures, as part of a continuing effort to replace the scans I did in the early days of this Web site. These notably include Mountain Aspens on the Scenery page; and Meditation Garden on the Fine Art page, to which I’ve also added a new “abstract” detail of a tree with very colorful bark.

And finally, I’ve updated A Bestiary of File Formats to reflect the current status of JPEG 2000 (support is now included in Photoshop CS5) and Microsoft’s JPEG XR (which doesn’t seem to be gaining any traction after three years of “evangelism”).

18 April 2010

Ted Marcus’ Virtual Light Table has been on the Web for eleven years. It’s exciting to look through the log summaries each week and see so many people from all over the world visiting my site, along with the astonishing variety of search queries that lead them to its pages. It’s even more exciting when some of those visitors order prints or image licenses!

I’ve reworked the Travel Photo Essay on the “most Hawaiian island” of Molokai. The pictures are all new scans of the negatives (on Fuji Superia 400 film), significant improvements over the ones I originally made in 1999 and 2001. To go with the rewritten text, I added three new pictures. This is the latest installment of my ongoing project to update the oldest scans on this Web site. You can get an idea of the difference that makes on the updated Then and Now page. I also changed the picture on the home page representing the Scenery gallery to the newly-scanned version of Ojai Orchard.

I recently replaced my five-year-old computer. It’s been quite a project inventorying and reviewing all the software I’ve collected— some of which was developed or installed on my first PC, a 12 MHz 286 machine I got in 1990— and then reinstalling everything I decided to keep. I also had to find replacements for software that won’t run in 64-bit Windows. Although I’m still getting used to Windows 7, I think it represents a genuine improvement in the “user experience” (as Microsoft puts it) over XP— but with one notable exception. The user interface is attractive, modern, and “neat,” in a way that XP definitely was not. My Macophile friend Roger says it’s “getting more Mac-like,” which I suppose is a compliment.

Many things are just different enough to be annoying, presumably until I’m fully used to them. One intentionally persistent annoyance is “User Account Control” (UAC). It’s a security measure that debuted in Vista, to protect Windows from malware. Anything that threatens to “make changes to this computer”— essentially anything that modifies files in the “Program Files” or “Windows” directories, or updates certain sections of the Registry— requires administrator approval. UAC interrupts whatever you’re doing, beeps, darkens the screen, and pops up an ominous dialogue box asking for the authorization, which involves entering a password. Installing software is the most common reason for provoking a UAC alarm. But some seemingly innocuous things, like running a program that measures the CPU temperature or even changing the screen refresh rate, can also set it off. (Windows 7 seems to automatically set a 59 Hz refresh rate for LCD monitors, at least for the two I’ve set up. It wasn’t noticeable, but LCD monitors work best at their native resolution and refresh rate. I manually reset them to 60 Hz, over the objection of UAC.)

UAC probably can provide useful protection, at least in theory. If it interrupts you when you’re not installing software or doing anything unusual, you might be able to stop a virus from doing damage by refusing to authorize it. But in practice it’s like so many “security” measures in this Age of Terror, which significantly burden every legitimate user but are a comparatively minor impediment to the bad guys. The TSA’s so-called “airport security” might be the worst example of this unfortunate phenomenon. You can disable UAC, although the process for doing so is accompanied with horrific warnings about the devastating consequences. I can only wonder how many people decide that the risk of those devastating consequences is more acceptable than the continuing annoyance of UAC.

The new computer is a custom-built system from J&N Computer Service. They built my previous two computers (in 2001 and 2004); and I’ve found them consistently honest, knowledgeable, and reliable. If you’re baffled or bored by numbers and technical specifications, you’d really be better off with a major brand like Dell, HP, or Toshiba. J&N is an excellent place to buy a computer if you have enough technical interest and knowledge to make informed (if not obsessive) choices about specific components, but you don’t want the hassles of assembling the hardware and installing Windows yourself. They provide knowledgeable and accessible technical support, and their sales people can actually offer useful advice about choosing components and configurations.

The major applications I run are Photoshop and Finale (Finale does for music notation what Microsoft Word does for text). Those programs will ravenously devour as much processor power and memory as you can feed them, and then scream for more. But their use of 3-D graphics is trifling compared with the games for which today’s video cards are designed. I don’t play computer games at all. So I chose an Intel Core i7-860 quad-core processor— my first Intel CPU, after 20 years with AMD and Cyrix— which meets the “need for speed” without breaking the bank, and 8 gigabytes of RAM (thus the 64-bit operating system). But I got the basic version of the Asus P7P55D-E motherboard, rather than the more popular “Deluxe,” “Pro,” or “EVO” versions that support multiple fast video cards and overclocking for high-performance gaming.

I also scrimped on the video card. When it comes to gaming performance, the nVidia 9500GT is like totally lame, dude. But it’s just fine for Photoshop’s graphical acceleration and Windows 7’s slick “Aero” user interface. And just about any video card will provide similarly sufficient performance for the 2-D graphics required for photography. (I actually ordered an even more anemic 9400GT, but the fine folks at J&N took pity on me— or, more likely, they were out of 9400GTs— and gave me a free upgrade. That’s apparently not unusual. Their Web page describing the Asus A8V Deluxe motherboard I chose for my 2004 system mentioned built-in wireless networking. This originally was a feature of that motherboard, but I was well aware that Asus had inexplicably removed the Wi-Fi by the time I ordered it. After the computer arrived, I sent J&N an e-mail suggesting that they update the Web page. They responded by sending me a Netgear Wi-Fi card.)

A brand-name computer with a Core i7-860 will invariably include a high-performance video card, since most people who buy it want the high-end processor for gaming, or perhaps for high-definition video. Such a machine would be overkill and a waste of money for the usual Web surfing and office applications, which actually aren’t very demanding of processor power. It will also have an assortment of “crapware”— trial versions of Microsoft Office, the Norton or McAfee virus/malware suite, and a lot of other stuff that’s far less useful. That’s there mainly to provide extra revenue for the computer manufacturer through “partnering” agreements, though it may coincidentally be convenient for people who would buy the software anyway. But if you prefer other software— such as the free OpenOffice.org and Avast! anti-virus— it just wastes disk space and causes annoyance when it periodically nags you to buy it.

Conversely, J&N simply installs the version of Windows you chose, with the latest available drivers for the motherboard and video card you chose, and then thoroughly tests everything before shipping it. They can also handle special requests, such as dividing the hard drive into multiple partitions of specific sizes to simplify management and backup. That’s just not possible when you buy a brand-name computer at retail. If that’s the sort of thing you’re looking for, J&N can provide it. And by the way, I have no connection, financial or otherwise, with J&N Computer Service. But as a satisfied repeat customer, I can highly recommend them.

20 March 2010

Spring arrives today in the northern hemisphere. In Japan, cherry trees blooming with “clouds” of flowers are synonymous with the season. Japanese flowering cherry trees have spread around the world, along with the Japanese springtime tradition of celebrating the blossoms.

The trees bloom for only a few weeks, which is why Buddhism regards the flowers as symbols of the transience of life. So when I drove past the South Coast Botanic Garden (on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, southwest of Los Angeles) last week and saw the sign announcing “CHERRY BLOSSOMS NOW,” I had to go there with my camera. The result is a new Travel Photo Essay on cherry blossoms at the South Coast Botanic Garden, with six new pictures.

28 February 2010

I’ve reworked my review of Paint Shop Pro (PSP), the image editing software I used until 2005. I no longer use PSP, for the reasons I discuss in some detail, but I try to keep the review up to date because it gets quite few visitors. Last month Corel updated PSP to version “X3” and renamed it Paint Shop Photo Pro. I also corrected some minor errors in the Getty Center Travel Photo Essay.

The Toyota soap opera (affecting my 2009 Corolla) continues. They’re talking about yet another recall, this time for power steering problems. I have been reading occasional complaints in automotive forums about “wandering” and hard-to-control steering at high speeds, but I’ve never noticed any problem. The Corolla has a new electric power steering system with a somewhat unusual feel that takes some getting used to, which may be a factor in the complaints.

More troubling is the head of Toyota’s North American operations testifying to Congress that he can’t be sure the current recall fixes will solve the acceleration problem. It also appears that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, which regulates the auto industry, lacks the technical ability to investigate problems with electronic accelerators, even when it’s willing to investigate (as it apparently was not during the Bush years).

And then there’s Akio Toyoda reciting an apology straight from the heart (of his committee of lawyers), admitting with suitably feigned sincerity that an emphasis on growth had “confused” the company’s priorities. It’s an impressive circus of political grandstanding that does nothing to answer the question of what the risk actually might be. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who had earlier stated that Toyota owners should stop driving their cars before immediately retracting the statement, told the Congressional committee that the cars were not safe, before immediately retracting that statement. Very helpful.

13 February 2010

I’ve added a new Travel Photo Essay on the Getty Center in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. It’s one of the twin museums operated by the J. Paul Getty Trust. But “museum” really isn’t an adequate description of either one of them. The architecture of the Getty Center’s campus is its own work of art, complementing the collection of paintings, sculpture, and furniture. But there’s also a garden that’s a piece of “installation art,” along with an amazing view of the entire Los Angeles basin and the surrounding mountains and ocean (at least on on one of those extremely rare days when smog or foggy haze doesn’t shroud everything). The other Getty twin is the the Getty Villa, a reproduction of a first-century CE Roman villa in Herculaneum that appropriately houses a collection of Roman, Greek, and Etruscan antiquities. In both places, the surroundings are as fascinating (and artistic) as the collection.

I visited the Getty Center early in January, on an exceptionally clear day. (You’re most likely to have such days in Southern California during the winter, just after a storm all too briefly sweeps the air clean of both smog and the foggy “marine layer.”) The buildings and the Central Garden are, of course, fascinating to photograph. The new Travel Photo Essay includes 25 pictures, which I believe is more than on any other page on this Web site. Winnowing the images down to even that number was quite a challenge. (And contrary to the impression you might get from the article, I did spend time in the art galleries, most notably the temporary exhibition of drawings by Rembrandt and his students and the complementary exhibit of paintings by Rembrandt and his contemporaries. I just didn’t find compelling photographic opportunities inside the crowded pavilions.)

So now it’s time to start planning and looking forward to this year’s solo road trips....

Except that the 2009 Corolla I bought just over a year ago, with that purpose in mind, is one of the millions of Toyotas recalled for a problem with “unintended acceleration”— the engine inexplicably racing even when the driver’s foot isn’t on the accelerator pedal. My car has been to the dealer for the official repair, a piece of metal inserted behind a spring in the accelerator pedal. That’s supposed to prevent two plastic parts from binding and jamming the pedal. It’s certainly an easy and expeditious fix, but does it really correct the problem? I don’t know.

Some engineers doubt that a sticky pedal is the real cause. The cars use a “drive-by-wire” system: Rather than the pedal mechanically operating the throttle, it signals its position to a computer that sends commands to the throttle. So there are potentially limitless possibilities for glitches: Interference with the signal from the pedal to the computer or from the computer to the throttle, or perhaps bugs in the computer’s software. Is the problem such an unusual combination of circumstances that Toyota’s engineers haven’t been able to duplicate it? Or do Toyota’s executives know all about it, but they’ve chosen to cover it up instead of acknowledging and correcting the problem? I don’t know.

I do know that Toyota’s slow, conflicting, and prevaricating response to the growing concern has severely tarnished, if not irreparably destroyed, their formerly sterling reputation for quality and reliability. Having owned Toyota cars for over 23 years, I’m beginning to feel like they’ve abused my loyalty and betrayed my trust. Toyota’s executives now seem to have become infected with the American affliction that makes them abandon customer loyalty, quality, and integrity in favor of arrogance, growth, and greed. That adds plausibility to the theory that they know exactly what the problem is, but they chose to “deny and lie” after calculating that defending the occasional lawsuit would be more “cost-effective” than fixing millions of cars. Again, I just don’t know.

The most frustrating thing is that I have no way of assessing the risk. My best guess is that whatever the risk actually is, it’s probably insignificant compared to, say, drunk or cellphone-gabbing drivers. But without any facts, I just don’t know.

Until I heard about the the recall, I was entirely satisfied with the performance, comfort, and quality of my car. Yes, it’s probably still safe and reliable, but there is now enough doubt to demolish my former confidence and satisfaction. Especially since the car had been recalled once before, to fix a faulty air intake that could affect the power brakes. The solution would be simple if I were sufficiently wealthy: Dump the dodgy Toyota and buy a new Honda or Hyundai. But I can’t afford to do that. Or maybe I can’t afford not to do that. I just don’t know.

20 January 2010

Happy new year!

I’ve added a new Travel Photo Essay on the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine, one of Los Angeles’ lesser-known gems. Tucked away near the west end of Sunset Boulevard in Pacific Palisades, just north of Santa Monica, it’s a little lake that the yogi Paramahansa Yogananda dedicated in 1950 as a place for people of all religions to meditate and find tranquility. Even if you’re not religious or interested in meditation or spirituality, it’s worth a visit. It’s a pleasantly restful (and very photogenic) escape from quotidian stresses.

I also replaced the Windmill Reflection on the home page— which had been there since I started this Web site in 1999— with a colorful picture of Flag Reflections. That windmill is at the Lake Shrine, and I took the picture during my first visit there in December 1995. Because the weather turned dull and gray soon after I arrived, I didn’t have enough pictures for a Travel Photo Essay. So I put the windmill on the Fine Art page. When I went back to the Lake Shrine last month, there was abundant sunshine. (Southern California has about an equal chance of being warm and sunny or wet and cloudy at the end of December.) Now that I have a proper home for the reflected windmill (along with 16 new pictures), it was time for another picture to represent the “Fine Art” link on the home page.

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