New Camera Lens

For my birthday this year Tammy surprised me with a new lens for my camera. She got me the Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM ultra-wide zoom lens. I’ve wanted an ultra-wide lens for a while because I find wide, landscape photography to be so much fun.

Here is an example shot with both lenses. Note the toaster is in the center of both shots. The one of the left is taken with my EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens. (Click on the image to see a larger picture.)

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You can see how much wider the shot is right away. There is some distortion on the corners of the shot which is unavoidable with such a wide lens.

I can’t wait to give this a shot on some outdoor photography in the summer.

Roof Replacement

About three months ago I decided to have a new roof put on our house. We are in the process of putting solar heat on our house and our shingles needed replacement before we put the panels up. I contacted a couple of contractors and ultimately decided to go with Minnesota Statewide Roofing & Remodeling. Their estimator was prompt to come out and give an estimate, and they provided a good price. I told them the timeline I was looking at and that I needed to coordinate the installation with some other work. Everything was fine.

They were scheduled to start the job on Thursday, November 10th. I took the day off so that I could be at home when they got started, and to be there for a couple of other contractors that were visiting for some smaller projects. I expected a roofing crew to show up early and get going on the roof. Statewide had told me the job should take a full day with a half-day for finishing work.

At around 9am a vehicle pulled up. I was working with one of the other contractors who was on time and saw that one person got out of the vehicle and looked around. After I got done showing the other contractor in, the vehicle that I thought was the roofing crew, was gone. At 10am, with nobody here still, I tried to contact Statewide.

This started the most frustrating part of my entire interaction with Statewide. They were simply impossible to reach. I had cellular numbers for everyone but they never answered their phones. I would leave several messages and would be lucky to get a call back from them. This frustrated me beyond belief. In retrospect, I think if they would have simply been reachable, attentive to my calls and honest with me, I wouldn’t have been so frustrated.

Back to the installation. They never showed up on Thursday but Statewide assured me that they would be their first thing on Friday, November 11th. I didn’t stay home that day but called home at 10am and nobody had shown up yet. I left messages for Statewide but got no call. At noon nobody had shown up still and I placed more calls into Statewide. Finally in the early afternoon Statewide called me and told me a crew was driving to my house to begin the job. I went home early that day so I could be there and they never showed.

At this point I felt I was simply being lied to, flat out. How could someone be driving to my house and never show up. It just didn’t make any sense. I was infuriated and still unable to reach anyone at Statewide. That night they contacted me and said that they would be there tomorrow. I just couldn’t believe how poorly they seemed to be running this engagement.

That Saturday, November 12th at 11:00am a roofing crew finally showed up at my house. It was clear that rain was coming soon. They got on the roof and ripped off a bunch of shingles, and then left after 3 hours when it started to rain. I have no idea why they even felt like starting. They put down some tarps and left. That night a huge windstorm came in blew all the tarps off of the house.

To Statewide’s credit, they did get over to my house on that Sunday and nailed down the tarps and then 5 days passed before they started working on the roof again. In the meantime nothing was done. On the next weekend they came out, starting at 10am everyday and finished the job. If they would have started earlier they could have finished a day earlier, and the job took 3 and 1/2 days, more than twice the time they told me it would take. However, their materials and dumpster were at our house for nearly 3 weeks.

After the job was finished I was so frustrated I didn’t even want to talk to them. They never called to see how the job finished. We saw Statewide at our house one day looking at the roof but they never even bothered to speak to us or ask if everything was okay. Over a month later they finally sent a bill however the roof hadn’t passed inspection. I told them I wouldn’t pay until it did, and they promptly resolved the inspection.

I’m sure many have had worse roofing projects. Our roof did get done after all. However, the lack of prompt communication and professional service should be noted. I chose to write this note so others would have a reference. They had several reference letters about how great they are, and it should be balanced with other experiences. I’ve filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau as well.

Link: Minnesota Statewide Roofing & Contracting

Yum Kitchen and Bakery

Continuing my trend of mentioning new restaurants that we really like I would be remiss without highlighting Yum Kitchen and Bakery [mentioned at The Rake]. Before you go looking for a website, it seems they do not have one yet. They are very new, but it”s a bit shocking to me that they do not have a website. Luckily though they have great food.

We tried it out today and it was very good. It’s a very interesting deli/bakery kind of setup. The inside is designed in an interesting way — you order food in one place, get beverages in another, pay in another. Now that I think of it, kind of like a cafeteria. Don”t let that worry you though!

We had the chicken chili and it was very good. I also have been on some odd trip to find really good macaroni and cheese. I”m pleased to say, theirs is very good. Last but not least, the desert counter is pretty amazing. Definitely worth a visit!

Canon 12×36 IS II Binoculars

12x36isii_586x225I recently got my after-Christmas Christmas present. What’s that? Well, if I had something on my list and I didn’t happen to get it, I thought I should clean up that list. We don’t want to have things sitting on their forever now right?!

A few weeks ago I decided I wanted to get a pair of binoculars. The primary use is for looking at wildlife around our house, and checking out birds. I’m sure that every time I mention bird watching I lose 10% of the audience to this website. Anyway, it is fun. The last use is for astronomical viewing. When out with the telescope, it’s nice to have a pair of binoculars to do some viewing.

The binoc’s you want for birding are completely different than those you want for astronomy, so I compromised with more emphasis on wildlife. I decided to get the Canon 12×36 IS II, mainly for the image stabilization. I got them a few days ago and it is very impressive.

The image stabilization works wonders. I was testing them and I could easily read text on objects far away with the image stabilization engaged. Without it, it was just too jumpy. I also find that I don’t get queezy when looking through them as I often do with binoc’s.

They are small, compact, lightweight, have a great grippy feel. I’m very pleased thus far. They run on a pair of AA batteries.

The Earth Is Enough

1635199I recently decided that I needed to re-read this book as well. Similar to A Walk in the Woods, I’d been reminiscing about what a great book this was when I read it a few years ago, and then found myself reading all the Harry Middleton books that there were. His style of writing is unique, and has a pace that some would find frustrating, but I found relaxing and broadly enjoyable. In many ways he reminds me of Norman MacLean, and that is a pretty big compliment.

Earth is Enough is a book about living life simply. It is the recounting of Middleton’s boyhood years living with his uncles in the mountains. It brings out the beauty in the simple, and the wonderment of the basic qualities of life. The cast of characters in the book are larger than life, and all have a lessen to tell.

This is a truly wonderful read, as are the other books in the series (Bright Country, On the Spine of Time). I think this is one that you get more out of every time you read it. And please remember to slow down and enjoy it.

Sudoku

Solved SudokuHave you played Sudoku (Wikipedia: Sudoku) yet? My mother turned me onto it. She figured I would like it in part because I like math. Turns out there really isn’t any math to Sudoku, but there are a lot of numbers and that can be fun. Sudoku reminds me a lot of Minesweeper, but it’s a lot more fun, and you get several “A-ha” moments while playing.

I would play it more, but it just burns time in a big way (hint: great for flights!) and I’ve already got a huge backlog of stuff I need/want to do.

Desktop Blogging

I may be in a minority of people running a web site and still creating content by typing into a web page. I’ve decided to get “with it” and try a desktop blogging client. I’m giving BlogJet and Post2Blog a run. They have some wonderful features, one of the key selling points being the ability for me to easily attach images and other binary objects and have it automatically uploaded to another hosting provider. The other big win is that I can write things offline and upload them later. We’ll see if I think it’s worth the (low) cost, but so far so good.

I also looked at w.bloggar, but it’s just not as slick as either of these two tools.

Birthdays and Setpoints

Happy BirthdayTomorrow is my birthday, or more appropriately, in about an hour it”ll be my birthday. I”m turning 34 this year and there will be grand festivities for sure. I’m taking the day off of work and spending it with my wonderful wife and daughter. I never made that much of birthdays until I met Tammy. She really considers it a big deal, and likes to go all out for the day. If it”s your birthday, it is your day without exception.

This birthday has me thinking of the concept of setpoints. Not familiar? A setpoint is just a position that objects or systems target. You can nudge it, and it will swing back and forth, but eventually it will return to it”s setpoint. Your thermostat in your house is always working to achieve a setpoint. I think, that in a unique way, people have an age setpoint.

You see, I”ve always felt older than I was, at least once I got to a “real” age (i.e., past being a teenager). Throughout my 20s I looked upon every birthday as a marker to get to where I felt I should be. I”ve never looked back, always eager to move forward. I think I”m slowly approaching my “setpoint”, somewhere in the late 30s. I”m just a little less eager to see the this birthday click by than the past. Perhaps we can start to slow down a bit now.

My wife says her “setpoint” was 27. If I surveyed my friends I”m sure I would get a variety of responses from people that are still waiting to get to theirs and those that past it a dozen years ago. It”s not bad to be past this, but I think it is a life marker of some sort. I suppose you could just jumble this rambling in wife my Fractional Life theory.

Perhaps it”s just my first birthday as a father, which in odd ways that I cannot describe, is different. Happy Birthday to Me!

The Year of RAW

I have decided that as of 2006, I’m going to officially make the transition to shooting all digital photos in RAW instead of JPEG[1]. I’ve been thinking about making this transition for a long while now, but I’ve always had reasons not to. I’ve decided I just need to “bite the bullet” and deal with the workflow, conversion and storage issues as they arise (and, boy do they arise fast!)

If you are asking yourself what is RAW, let me give you a two second overview. 99.9% of people shoot digital photos in JPEG. Think of JPEG as a developed photograph, and RAW as a negative. In practical terms, the majority of people with digital cameras are walking around with a digital equivalent of Polaroids. While Polaroids were fun in their time, they had limitations, and many of these limitations apply to JPEG files as well[2]. With a RAW file you get an undeveloped version of the photo, that requires further processing on your computer. The upside of this is that you can make image corrections native in the photo. If the picture is underexposed, you can compensate. If white balance is off, you can fix it. The advantages are huge, but there are challenges.

It takes, using most programs, 80-90 seconds to convert just one RAW image to a JPEG or TIFF file. If you take a bunch of photos in a day, you can easily have your computer working for an hour or more to convert them. Additionally, with more knobs comes the opportunity to make your photo look worse. It takes good software and skill to make a great photo (this is similar to the chemical process used in the film world). Of course we have the storage problem, which will now start becoming worse, but I can play governmental politics and let a future administration deal with that. :-)

So why go through the hassle? A number of reasons. Out of every 50 or so shots, I get a picture I really love. And a lot of times, unfortunately, the exposure or some other variable is just slightly off. Without the RAW file, I cannot deal with this easily. Additionally, there is a whole new breed of software being developed to do amazing things with RAW files. For example, software that simulates the effects of different specialty negatives. You have nearly limitless future potential. I particularly like the fact that I will be able to hand down to future generations not just a box of polaroids, but a box of perfectly kept negatives.

I’m now trying to find a good software solution for RAW processing. I’ve been a BreezeBrowser Pro user for years, and love it. It deals with RAW files well, but I think there are better options. I’m playing with RawShooter, CaptureOne and Bibble right now. If you know of others that should be investigated let me know. I’ve also made some hardware upgrades as a result of this. I’m moving to a FireWire based compact flash card reader (Lexar CompactFlash Firewire)and I’ve finally gotten an accelerated 2G CF card (Sandisk Extreme III 2G).

[1] The one exception to this will be the pocket-sized Canon S500, which is not capable of shooting a RAW file.
[2] The biggest problem with Polaroids does not impact JPEGs though, since you can make copies without loss of quality.

Open Letter to Hopkins School Board

We recently were notified by the Hopkins School Board that our school district finished the year in statutory operating debt. I’m not sure if it is as bad as the newsletter made it seem, but I felt compelled to send them a letter on the proposal.

Hopkins School Board,

Last week we received the 2006-07 Proposed Budget newsletter. I will keep my comments brief and to-the-point.

Your communication portrayed an environment without adequate financial controls, and a lack of transparency and accountability. I appreciate the complexity of funding for a school makes this a complicated task. However, as a taxpayer, I think that I can appropriately expect that our dollars are being used knowingly.

I encourage you to remedy these problems and make sure that the appropriate controls exist. However, I’m concerned by a budget proposal that shows significant cuts in teachers, programs and other activities for students, and increased investment in information systems, audit and other administrative tasks. Let us not forget the critical role and mission that our schools provide to our children and our community!

As the father of a young daughter, and hoping for more in the future, the quality of public education in my community is of critical concern. I live where I live in part because of the quality of the schools, and the national renown that the Hopkins School District has maintained. I finished your newsletter concerned that the quality of education was being lessened in a meaningful way.

I realize that it’s not “something for nothing”, but please do everything in your power to make sure that our schools do not sacrifice the quality of education provided.

It stuns me that funding education properly, and fully, is a controversial topic. It is the single most important thing that we can do for our country, society and the well-being of our children.