Dec 302007

While suing a guy for illegal downloads, they also are trying to push that the CD’s he owns and ripped to MP3 for personal use are also illegal:

In legal documents in its federal case against a Scottsdale, Ariz., man who kept a collection of about 2,000 music recordings on his personal computer, the industry maintains that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer.

Dec 232007

It is a little counterintuitive to open the windows in order to warm the house up, but strange are the ways of living in a 100 year old house with no heat. It was very cool last night (not far from freezing I’d guess), but gorgeous today. The sun is out and the canyon is green and perfumed with sage. I couldn’t ask for a nicer 23rd of December.

Dec 182007

The CS Monitor has a great 3 part series on the explosive growth of the Pentecostal movement in Latin America. The first two parts, dealing mostly with Guatemala and Brazil are posted and have been quite interesting. I’m looking forward to the third.

As church lights dim across the US and Europe, Christian houses of worship are opening every day in Latin America. The majority of the new churches are Pentecostal, an expressive evangelical creed that emphasizes individual “gifts of the Holy Spirit.”

“Renewalists,” a term that includes those belonging to Pentecostal denominations and “charismatics,” who have adopted the expressive worship services of Pentecostals but belong to Catholic or mainline Protestant churches, now make up an estimated one quarter of the world’s Christians, according to the World Christian Database. That number was just 6 percent 30 years ago….

Pentecostals across the region, most of whom considered themselves Catholics before, say they converted in order to tackle their problems, for a sense of community, or simply because Pentecostalism offered something that the rituals of the Catholic mass did not. Most Pentecostal services today are rollicking events that include 10-piece bands, movie screens, and emotional testimonials – a reflection of society’s preferences. It’s what Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, calls “bringing the fiesta spirit to church.”

Pentecostals have been particularly skilled at reaching out to the region’s poor, providing answers to the overwhelming problems their poverty provokes each day. The Catholic answer, in the 1960s, came in the form of “liberation theology,” a Marxist-tinged approach to addressing the needs of the oppressed. It had enthusiastic supporters across Latin America, but soon got wrapped up in cold war politics. Religious scholars often quip: “Liberation theology opted for the poor, and the poor opted for Pentecostalism.”

I’d guess the growth has also been strong in parts of the USA. Walking around my neighborhood on a Saturday or Sunday night one will hear plenty of spanish voices and the upbeat hymn-pop that accompanies the movement.

Dec 172007

(part of my notes from a few weeks ago)

For my flight out of Williams Lake there is the same number of airport security people as there are passengers. Bored out of their minds, they took the opportunity to test out all of their new tools – swabbing, testing, and probing my backpack and laptop for explosives and explosives residue. We sit in a little windowed area watching kids running around outside where we would soon be walking to the plane. Good thing security is tight.

I’m at this little airport because it was the easiest way to get to my grandmother. My mom and aunts have been there for a while taking care of her – she has had lung cancer for the last few years, and is nearing the end of her fight. Even while she lies in pain she possesses the ability to make a room erupt in laugher. I’ve never met someone so charming, it is little wonder she ran a busy cafe for decades. There are constant callers, in person, and on the phone. She handles them all with ease. I can only hope to have half the grace when it is my time.

With a population of about 11,000, the city doesn’t seem to have changed a huge amount. A lot of the town along the highway is the same, but the big box stores seem to have hit downtown hard. I suspect the walmart coming next year will finish it off. The old stampede sign is missing, but the event is still a big deal. The large number of keep your car secure signs suggest WL hasn’t dropped off the top spots for car theft in Canada – I’ve got a story about that I’ll have to type up some time. Economically the city seems to be a mixed bag, but I supposed that’s the way it has always been.

Forestry, lumber and pulp, still dominate the town. My family has been working in forestry related industry for at least three generations, probably even more than that when you expand out of the area. The wilderness is viewed in equal parts reverence and business – The forest is beautiful, but I can’t feed my kids with pine needles. Consolidation between multinationals has hurt quite a bit. Worker protections have evaporated, and it is not infrequent to hear of closures wiping out a town. Everyone is worried about the stronger Canadian dollar, or rather, a weaker US dollar.

The other concern is mountain pine beetle. You can see vast swaths of brown and red from this bug, turning valleys into tinder boxes. As my uncle says “It used to be that you looked for the red, now you look for the green”. The larvae kill the trees and bring a blue mold that will kill them if the bugs fail to do the job. The winters used to be cold enough to control the bug, but that isn’t happening these days, and probably will never again. Eventually a defense or a predator will emerge, but by that time it could be too late with moving climate zones. Trees here are very tall and slender, each trying to outgrow its neighbor to get the most of the limited sun. With growth taking decades, the idea of large swings is pretty scary – a lot of things won’t be able to keep up.

In some ways this place is a paradox to me. Everything seems to mirror my earliest memories, yet fundamental changes are underway.

Dec 052007

This makes my blood boil: Bush to outline 5-year rate freeze plan

“…sources, who are familiar with details of the trade group’s pitch, said the plan envisions covering subprime loans taken out between January 1, 2005, through the end of this past July, with rates that are due to reset over the coming 2-1/2 years. An estimated 1.8 million U.S. homeowners who took out loans with low teaser rates face pricey loan resets next year alone, the Federal Reserve has said.”

A commenter on the story had this to say, and pretty much nailed my thoughts:

dear mr. president – i have been advised of a rent increase in my rental apartment – i can’t afford to pay the increase (and maintain my overextended lifestyle) but i wopuld like to stay anyway – do you think you could add a rider to your little mortgage rescue plan that saves my aprtment for me – thanks – oh and after that could you put a freeze on my cellphone bill – thats too high also.

I highly recommend reading Rich Toscano’s article at Voice of San Diego: The United States of Bailouts

The big news of late, however, is that Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson is putting together a plan in which some borrowers who took out adjustable-rate loans will have their rates frozen at the initial “teaser rate” so that they can continue to stay in the homes that, strictly speaking, they could never actually afford in the first place.

Will Paulson’s plan work? It might keep some people in their homes, but it doesn’t address the real long-term issue, which is that homes are still far too expensive in comparison to incomes. It also doesn’t address the real short-term issue, which is that there is a huge oversupply of houses for sale. For as long as homes are both unaffordable and in abundant supply, extending a teaser rate for five years won’t really have a big effect one way or the other. There is also a question of how many potentially defaulting borrowers will want to stay in their homes even if they can keep their teaser rates. They are still on the hook to pay the loan off eventually, after all — given that so many of them owe more than their homes are worth, it stands to reason that many borrowers will bail out of their loans whether they can scrape up the monthly payments or not.

…These policies punish the prudent, reward the reckless, and will in all likelihood cause more long-term problems than they solve. Similar efforts to fight off the effects of the stock market crash earlier in the decade were themselves a huge contributor to the housing bubble and, in turn, to the issues we now face. Policymakers have clearly not learned a single thing, and the most important thing they have not learned is that the systemic risk posed by a bubble can only be truly mitigated (rather than redirected somewhere else) before the bubble gets out of control, not after it has already burst.

Besides, most of these policies amount to an attempt to keep homes unaffordable. How exactly is that a good thing?

Dec 042007

Since the death of my Fuji F810, I’ve been looking at a way to get some decent underwater photos. Kitting out my Canon 350D/Rebel for underwater use would cost a huge stack of cash – $1200 for a housing, $400-700 for a wide angle lens, $200-400 for a wide angle port. The idea of a package that bulky didn’t sound great either. I’ve also been looking for a decent wide angle compact digital camera with plenty of manual options for a while now. The Sigma DP1 looks great, but has been missing in action – turns out they are reworking the design again. That leaves only one game in town, Ricoh’s GX100. This fall Sea & Sea brought out their version of the GX100 with a waterproof case and called it the DX-1G. I finally took the plunge.

At $1000 for the camera + underwater housing package, the price was a steeper than I was expecting. Sea & Sea seems to be engaged in a bit of profiteering, charging about $100 more for their version of the camera than Ricoh does. The camera badge is different of course, and they have added some underwater scene modes, but other than that, it seems to be an exact match. In fact, Sea & Sea kind of screwed up the firmware, it doesn’t seem to register its name properly in metadata, or that’s a bug in Adobe’s system.

The camera size is quite nice – just barely thin enough to fit in my jeans front pocket. The 24 mm lens is great for me; I really love the wider angle. Zoom isn’t super, but that’s to be expected on a lens this wide. The build quality is OK for a consumer camera, but there are slight wobbles and oddities that shouldn’t be there on a camera at this price point. The manual controls are good, once you get used to their function button. It lets you set up your own custom modes, which are a nice touch. Battery life seems good, but I wish the camera was able to charge via USB, that would be one less thing to bring. Fortunately, the charger is small, so it isn’t a big issue.

Quality wise, let’s get this out of the way, 10 MP is a joke. This sensor should be more like 6 or 8 MP. This would have meant smaller file sizes (with quicker write times), less noise and more clarity. Apparently they felt they needed to compete in the megapixel wars, even though I would assume this camera is only a viable purchase for someone that is aware MP numbers are misleading. That said, with enough manual attention, it can put out some decent shots. Not at the same quality as my SLR, but I don’t think anyone expects that. The small sensor means you can find noise at anything over 100 ISO. If you really pixel peep, you can even find noise at 100 and 80. However, the noise looks slight film grain, and isn’t unpleasing to me.

This certainly is not the camera to use in super low light conditions, but anti-shake and f2.5 let me do quite a bit with it. In fact, I think it will be rare for me to use the higher ISO modes, I can get away with much lower ISO numbers compared to my SLR. For example, with its smaller sensor and lens, the DX100/DX-1G (5.1 mm) has an infinite depth of field at 6 feet with f2.5. For similar depth of field on my 350D Rebel (17 mm), I would need f9. The DX100/DX-1G can get everything in focus at a much lower ISO than my 350D Rebel – up to 4 or 5 stops. This means a lot of my ISO criticisms don’t matter quite as much for that type of photography. However, the same depth of field effect goes the other way as well. I can no longer pick out a subject and get nice bokeh, other than close and macro shots. Considering the majority of my photos are wide angle and large DOF, this is a drawback I can handle.

Exposure and focus are sort of a mixed bag. Underwater macro focus can be slow, but a full press quick focus usually works quite well above or under action shots. The camera seems to over expose by +.5 to +1.3 stops. This means I usually have it set to -1 EV in bright sun, and sometimes -1.3 underwater. Shutter speed can be an issue in bright light if you want to use f2.5. I’ve found that if the total shutter speed for the exposure with -1 EV included is greater than the camera’s shutter speed limit of 2000, it tends to just shoot at 0 EV, rather than try the quickest speed available. This is annoying, the camera would have probably benefited from ISO 50.

What is harder to handle is the RAW write time, which runs about 4 seconds. The DNG raw files are about 14 MB, and it writes a 2 MB JPG at the same time. This camera is screaming for a decent memory buffer. Memory is cheap; I don’t know why they didn’t add it. RAW files themselves are great, and hold lot of detail in the files that is wiped out by the JPG conversion. The RAW files are also essential for shooting underwater – the deeper you go, the more you lose red and other colors. Though the white balance actually isn’t too bad, adding some tint or doing custom white points in the RAW file really help to work around the effects of a screwy color space.

Sea & Sea’s DX-1G housing seems to be well made, though the back screen window does seem to scratch a bit easy for my tastes. Layout and operation is all pretty decent, and I enjoy using it underwater. I’m not sure who thought it was a good idea to make the case a dark colored; I would think it would heat up in the sun and promote fogging when you hit the cold water. Though I have yet to have that happen to me – I’ve been using old desiccants, and the housing still hasn’t fogged up on me. The size is nice, small enough to stuff in a large BC pocket if I don’t want to have it in my hands when I start the dive.

The internal flash is pretty pitiful for underwater use; I’d say a strobe is a necessary purchase for anything at significant depth, in lower light, or if 100% true colors are required. In low light you would also probably benefit from a focus light as well. I have no intention to run out a drop a bunch of money on a strobe & arm kit, so I’m tempted to rig up a LED flashlight as a ghetto focus/constant light for deeper use. Something sort of like ULCS’s tray with a spotting light adapter. That way I could use my alternate light source as a focus/video light. Not really sure if that would actually get decent results, but it is worth a try considering the cost and bulk of strobes.

Long story short, the camera has draw backs, but I still like using it.


Galleries with photos taken by my Sea & Sea DX-1G (aka Ricoh GX100):
2007.10.25-29 New Orleans
2007.10.23 San Diego fires
2007.10.21 Ocean Beach surf and smoke
2007.11.02-03 Two Harbors, Catalina Island

Underwater photos:
2007.11.02-04 Scuba diving and snorkeling Catalina Island
2007.11.24 Scuba diving Islas Coronado
2008.02.02-14 Big island underwater
2008.04.11-13 Two Harbors, Catalina

Nov 262007

sea lions wreck sea lion
Photos of Scuba diving Islas Coronado, Baja

I had a great time scuba diving at the Lobster Shack on Islas Coronado on Saturday. The Coronado Islands are a group of four islands in the municipality of Tijuana. An hour boat ride from San Diego, they are a popular dive spot. There is usually a bit of heart break regarding gill nets and over harvesting of certain species, but the islands are resilient, and still attract birds, fish, and sea mammals. It was chilly, but the visibility was over 40 feet, and there was a ton of California Sea Lions that wanted to play. We were the first off the boat, and immediately swarmed by about 30 playful sea lions. Some just bit and wrestled with each other near us, others came to play in our bubbles, or blow bubbles in our face while zooming by. One was curious enough to try chewing on Mani’s hood and mask. We explored the wreck, the rocks, and algae, always accompanied by at least two sea lions. It was a fantastic dive.

Nov 262007

The Guardian has good news on the fascinating Untergunther group in Paris:

Four members of an underground “cultural guerrilla” movement known as the Untergunther, whose purpose is to restore France’s cultural heritage, were cleared on Friday of breaking into the 18th-century monument…

For a year from September 2005, under the nose of the Panthéon’s unsuspecting security officials, a group of intrepid “illegal restorers” set up a secret workshop and lounge in a cavity under the building’s famous dome. Under the supervision of group member Jean-Baptiste Viot, a professional clockmaker, they pieced apart and repaired the antique clock that had been left to rust in the building since the 1960s. Only when their clandestine revamp of the elaborate timepiece had been completed did they reveal themselves.

Since the 1990s they have restored crypts, staged readings and plays in monuments at night, and organised rock concerts in quarries. The network was unknown to the authorities until 2004, when the police discovered an underground cinema, complete with bar and restaurant, under the Seine. They have tried to track them down ever since.

But the UX, the name of Untergunther’s parent organisation, is a finely tuned organisation. It has around 150 members and is divided into separate groups, which specialise in different activities ranging from getting into buildings after dark to setting up cultural events. Untergunther is the restoration cell of the network.