"Well, that's just, like, your opinion, man."

Brittle failure

2019-01-24T06:07:58-05:00

I don't think one need be a sociologist, anthropologist, psychologist or even an historian to understand and appreciate the fragile nature of something as abstract, yet ubiquitous and essential, as civilization.

Civilization is a set of norms, customs, traditions and beliefs, codified into laws, treaties, protocols, regulations, principles and practices that permit people, organizations and nations to understand and make confident predictions regarding the behavior and conduct of other people, organizations and nations. In short, it's largely founded on trust, and a set of mechanisms in place to sustain it.

This network of trust and reliability, in turn, affords the actors within it, us, a cognitive and economic opportunity. Attention, thought and material resources don't need to be devoted to protection against an uncertain and unpredictable world, they can be instead directed to other attractive options, be they profit-making, or artistic, or academic pursuits.

This has been enormously beneficial for humanity, and despite notable and ignoble failures throughout, it has largely progressed, mostly unimpeded, since the time of the Enlightenment, accelerating greatly since the industrial revolution.

We can examine the instances where it has failed, at least temporarily, and understand why it did so and how it ultimately recovered, and draw what I think are some reasonable conclusions.

If we take WW II, for example, it's possible to over-simplify it, but not so much that it negates the premise that civilization is fragile and subject to brittle failure. For the purpose of what is intended to be a brief blog post, we're going to ignore the predicates of WW I and simply regard the behavior of Nazi Germany and its neighbor nations.

Elasticity is the property of a material to be deformed, yet retain its strength and durability, and it's observed in the capacity absorb stress and not break. Hitler's militaristic expansionist policies troubled Europe far more than its domestic ideological program, to include its program against its Jewish citizens. France and Britain, having experienced the Great War, had no wish to experience another one a generation later. British Prime Minister Chamberlain's "peace in our time," Munich agreement that legitimized Hitler's annexation of Czechoslovakia, is an example of how civilization attempts to respond to stress, by "elastically" bending to Hitler's aim, but not breaking. Hitler upset the norms of civilized international behavior, Britain attempted to reset those norms by obtaining a new agreement that ostensibly made Hitler's future conduct more "predictable" (i.e. within the range of ordinary norms for remaining nations). He failed.

Hitler perceived that Germany's neighbors were weak, and he believed he could safely ignore much of the fabric of civilization and use force to achieve his larger aims for Germany. He made a mutual non-aggression pact with Stalin and the Soviet Union in order to secure his eastern flank while he absorbed Poland and turned his attention to the west. But it was the invasion of Poland that made it clear to Britain and France that Hitler couldn't be constrained by the ordinary protocols of "civilized" nations; and that he would ignore those to achieve his vision for Germany at the expense of the rest of Europe. Britain and France went to war to constrain Germany.

A similar disregard for the norms of civilization was taking place in the Pacific, where Japan was following a program of imperialist expansion; and it wasn't until that program touched the United States directly at Pearl Harbor, that America decided that Japan had to be defeated. Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor was not an early, integral part of its plans for imperial expansion. In many ways, the U.S. goaded Japan into attacking in order to overcome America's strong isolationist sentiment preventing its entry into the European conflict.

The point is, we have two large, powerful nations, Germany and Japan, that chose to ignore the ordinary, largely accepted if often contested, principles of civilized international relations, because they believed it was to their advantage to do so. To the rest of the world, this unacceptable, unpredictable conduct was incompatible with, and intolerable to the larger framework of civilization. The result was a violent, industrial scale conflict around the globe that killed tens of millions of people, introduced atomic weapons, and reshuffled the international order.

One can argue whether this is a failure of civilization, or a feature of it, that it tends to be self-correcting. I will argue that it is a failure. Success would have been a history where Germany and Japan acted within the framework of civilization and conflict was avoided. Self-correction would have taken place in the actions following WW I, integrating the losing combatants into the international order, and promoting and strengthening reconciliation and trust. The fact that civilization recovered and endured following WW II is largely an accident of geography, not due to an inherent characteristic of civilization. Were it not for North America, and chiefly the United States, it's unclear what the results might have been, and what path the progress of civilization might have taken.

Were it not for the fact that North America was virtually untouched by the war, and the abundance of resources present in North America, civilization might have taken generations to recover.

Since WW II, civilization has largely progressed; recovering from the destruction and deprivation of global war and doing so mostly because of the enormous wealth and industrial capacity of the United States. The "arsenal of democracy" was able to rapidly, and profitably, beat its industrial swords into plowshares. America's economic surplus and military strength formed the umbrella that largely ensured and guarded the recovery of civilization. And we did see efforts to integrate the losing combatants into the international order, and to promote reconciliation and trust. The United Nations, the Marshall Plan, and so on. These were complicated and compromised somewhat by the aims of the Soviet Union and China, but I think in general it was successful. While there have been proxy wars within the period of the Cold War, we haven't observed a large scale breakdown in international order and violence on the same scale since.

Yet today we see actors throughout the world advancing their programs by engaging in conduct outside the expected norms of civilization. Indeed, technology, which has made the world a much smaller place, has introduced forms of international interactions that were heretofore unknown; or, at least so changed as to be nearly unrecognizable and therefore missed until their effects had made themselves known. I'm referring here to the use of social media by state actors, chiefly Russia, to promote division and discord within other nations, and facilitate the installation of leaders amicable to Russia's aims.

The internet, social media, ubiquitous surveillance, big data, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, all the now well appreciated "disruptive" technologies, affect not just economies, but the conventions of civilization itself.

It's not just technology, though. In Asia, China is testing the elasticity of civilization in its expansionist efforts in the Pacific.

Taken by themselves, these would represent formidable challenges to the evolution of civilization. But there is another source of enormous and unrelenting stress beginning to make itself felt, and that is, of course, climate change.

One of the things that promotes trust, and is an essential element of it, is predictability. The Holocene, the era in Earth's history where humanity has become the dominant species on the planet, has been marked by a remarkably predictable climate. Yes, there are variations, occasional disasters and severe weather events; but for the most part, the climate has been stable, benign and predictable.

That era is over. We now inhabit the Anthropocene, the era when humanity has been the dominant force shaping the environment and the climate.

But we've been shaping it unintentionally, if knowingly for at least the last forty years or more, making it less stable, less predictable and less benign. Unlike technology, which is unevenly distributed, the climate affects everyone and everything at all points on the globe. There will be no part of the world that isn't touched, like North America was in WW II.

It was an untimely drought in Syria, occurring near the time of the Arab Spring, which the Syrian government was unable to effectively respond to, that helped prompt the Syrian civil war and a refugee crisis that, with the aid of the malicious use of social media by state actors, sparked the rise of right-wing nationalism in Europe.

We are just beginning to see what our future is going to look like.

The United States Department of Defense recognizes that climate change is a threat multiplier. Whatever extant strains, divisions, grievances and conflicts there may be, climate change exacerbates all of them. Developing nations are least well equipped to cope with unpredictable climate, crop failures, extreme weather events, and they are the nations least responsible for this destabilized climate, these rising sea levels. There are weak democracies in India and Pakistan with a long history of mistrust and enmity, and each is armed with nuclear weapons. America is ripping itself apart over a few thousand Central American migrants, what will it do when there are tens of millions of people on the move all over the globe, because food won't grow and there is nothing to eat?

At exactly the moment when the developed world, the United States, Europe, Japan, Australia should be working to improve relations with other nations, to strengthen foundations of trust and cooperation, our leaders are actively seeking to undermine them, and this effort is largely provoked and directed by state actors, chiefly Russia, for that specific purpose.

Civilization is at risk. Its benefits are largely unappreciated and taken for granted. In America, nearly all of us can go to a tap in our homes and be assured of safe, drinkable water. Electricity, which only came to rural America less than a century ago, is ubiquitous and taken for granted. Food is, if not necessarily healthful and adequately distributed, plentiful and cheap.These are the products of civilization, to live without them is to know darkness, deprivation and despair.

It's not too late. It's not hopeless, and we're not helpless.

But we simply have got to get our act together! We need to begin taking action now to reduce and quickly eliminate the emission of CO2 into the atmosphere. We must begin to prepare for unprecedented rates of sea level rise. We must strengthen international bonds of cooperation and trust, so that people in developing nations have some reason to hope and believe that we are all in this together and that no one will be abandoned. And that's just as important in the developed nations, so that citizens have confidence in the ability of government to marshal resources and respond effectively to the challenges and inevitable catastrophes that will confront us. If we can't believe in each other, then we're lost.

There is no uncertainty about this for anyone who has taken the time to think about it, this is the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced. And it's not one for some future generation, it has arrived.

Civilization is, in many ways, a gift — a very fragile gift. And now it is up to all of us to protect it.

Easily Distracted

2019-01-21T09:32:32-05:00

I recently read about the Warren Buffet method of success, these things always seem to come around at the end of one year and the beginning of another. The method is to write down your top 25 most important goals, and then rank them according to importance. The trick is to work on the top five and ignore the remaining twenty. It's somewhat more cleverly stated in the usual presentation where the unenlightened offers that he or she will work on the remaining twenty as they "have time," or words to that effect. No! You must kill your darlings! Only five! No more!

And no capes!

Which is remarkably similar to Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and the four quadrants.

I'm retired, so I have the luxury of choosing what I want to work on. People ask me what I do with all my time and I usually respond, "Whatever I want."

The problem with having too many desires is that none of them is adequately addressed. So I have been making an effort to focus more narrowly on a few activities. Some success to date, but it's limited. An early win was putting away the Wii U. Now I need to address social media. One thing I like about Twitter is the ability to aggregate certain accounts into "lists." I have a Climate list, a Local list, a State list, a Retro Computing list. I can jump into a list and get a quick update on topics I'm interested in. Local and State are in good shape, pretty high signal to noise. Climate is too large and I need to pare it down. I followed a bunch of people because I wanted to help raise their profile, but it becomes counter-productive after a while.

Facebook doesn't allow you to create lists. Your timeline is whatever "the algorithm" determines, though I've read that you can modify it somewhat. But I really think the next big gain in my retired "productivity" is to simply stop viewing Facebook. So I need to work on that. Maybe I'll confine it to a single window, or a couple of windows, and whatever I "miss" is just a reflection of the transient nature of all phenomena. I'll keep you posted.

Read a post at 3 Quarks Daily this morning about the utility of writing at a typewriter as a distraction-free environment. I can see how that might work, but I'm writing this in Tinderbox, and I have all my other apps hidden. I recently cleaned my Desktop to a plain beige background and three folders, so it's a pretty benign writing environment. I have a couple of links, in this paragraph at least, that I'll have to go back into Safari after I finish "writing" to grab the URLs to incorporate into the post; but I can press on for the moment until I figure I'm "done."

The author of the piece also suggested that the mechanical nature of the typewriter, and the inability to edit oneself easily, makes the writing progress more efficiently. Maybe. I go back and edit myself as I go along, but I don't feel as though it's slowing me down. Sometimes I'll be working my way through a point I'm trying to make and realize I've painted myself into a corner, which is a big part of why I write blog posts anyway, so I'm happy to just delete all that faulty reasoning and start over. Sometimes I don't even delete it, I just don't publish it. I move it up into a "Drafts" topic that doesn't get exported. I used to have one called "The Cooler" where things would go that I wrote in the heat of the moment.

One thing that always surprises me is the number of typographic errors, or mis-writing. I'll finish a post, read it in Tinderbox, export it to an HTML file, then view a preview of that in another app and find errors I didn't see in Tinderbox. Interesting. Even then, they sometimes elude me and I don't notice them until they're "live." It's a pretty straightforward process to just switch from Safari to Tinderbox, edit the post, export the document, then drag the updated files to the server in the FTP app. It'd probably be easier to just edit in the browser as Tim Berners Lee intended, but then I'd have to learn another platform, like Dave Winer's Fargo, and I'm not up for the cognitive load. This is pretty easy, although Tinderbox is like a CNC-machine for text, and a bit of overkill for static HTML pages. It works for me.

Mitzi and I watched Solo on Netflix the other night. Wasn't as bad as I'd feared. I didn't recall that Ron Howard had directed, which may account for it not sucking too much. My favorite character was the L3 droid. Han was okay, but it just felt like young Jim Kirk in the Star Trek reboot. ("Now with more lens flare!") Anyway, good light space opera entertainment. Don't get bogged down in canon.

We also watched A.I. the other night. I'd never seen it before, though I've owned a copy from iTunes for years. It was interesting. Not a profoundly moving motion picture, which is a bit surprising since Spielberg did it. But maybe I've just grown too accustomed to human-like androids with Battlestar Galactica, Westworld, and the like. I suppose it was perhaps more thought provoking in its time.

Watched the playoffs yesterday. The Saints were robbed. I didn't really have a favorite, but I was hoping to see Drew Brees go up against Brady. I normally detest the Patriots, but I have a petty reason for wanting the Chiefs to lose, and I'm happy they did. But the Super Bowl holds no drama for me. I expect the Patriots will win, but I won't care if they lose. I think the officiating in the NFL is horrible, but such is the absurdity of life. Our president is a failed game show host, how can you expect the refs to call pass interference?

Saw the kerfuffle about the high school boys from Kentucky in our nation's capital. A failure of adult leadership if you ask me. High school boys in unsupervised groups are a disaster waiting to happen. Surprise! And yeah, the kid was smirking, and he was an ass. The whole thing would never have occurred if any adult responsible for those children had done what they were there to do, but that's probably asking too much. Like refs calling pass interference. Or the president keeping the government running.

On that cheery note, I suppose I've achieved whatever it was I set out to achieve here. I'm going to devote some attention to some other projects I have underway.

Let's hope we have a decent week.

Keeping up appearances

2019-01-18T08:02:03-05:00

Figured I'd better pop in here and write something if I'm going to develop any sort of a practice.

The E-M1 Mk2 and M.Zuiko 12-40mm/f2.8 PRO arrived safely on Wednesday. Early testing suggests everything is functional.

First impressions are very good, which is always nice if you want to avoid buyer's remorse. I bought the original E-M1 upon release, so there weren't any reports of using it "in the wild," everything was from camera sites and promotional literature. I bought it mainly on the strength of my experience with the E-M5, which I had bought a year earlier. The key feature for me was the improved auto-focus with Four-Thirds Zuiko lenses, the main one of which I was interested in was my 50-200mm zoom, which I normally mounted on an Oly E-30, a 12-MP DSLR. The E-30 was probably one of the best values in DSLRs in its time, and I enjoyed shooting with it. The second most relevant new feature was 5-axis image stabilization.

I like the E-M1 very much. I can't say I ever "loved" it or enjoyed shooting with it as much as I did the E-30. That's because the E-M1, although in a DSLR form-factor, was a diminutive body. Hanging the 50-200mm zoom off of it made for an ungainly apparatus, and it didn't fit in the hand like it should. The battery grip add-on improved things somewhat, but I didn't really care for it.

I'd since purchased the M.Zuiko 40-150mm/f2.8 PRO zoom, and the MC-14 1.4x teleconverter (gives me 56-210mm focal length, 112-420mm 35mm effective focal length), and I eventually sold all of my Four Thirds lenses. The 40-150mm PRO was much more comfortable on the E-M1 than the 50-200mm ever was.

I'd read that the grip on the E-M1 Mk2 was beefier than on the first version, and it is. It's slightly taller, which gives your little finger a bit of purchase instead of resting on the bottom plate of the camera, and the grip is deeper and bit thicker and the camera feels much more comfortable and secure in the hand.

It's interesting how this tactile sort of experience can influence your whole relationship with the camera. The E-30 was BIG (compared to mirrorless, small compared to full frame DSLRs of the day), but it fit your hand like it was an extension of it. I bought the E-M5 with the battery grip, which was a two-piece affair and you could remove the lower battery/portrait shutter release portion of it. The remaining part added a grip and shutter release/dial in a more forward position from the camera body. That was the configuration I used it in most often, with the 14-150mm/f4-5.6 mZuiko superzoom hanging off of it. I absolutely loved the feel of that combination in my hand. It was perfectly balanced, the shutter release/exposure compensation dial was in just the right position. I'd go to walk Bodhi and I'd grab the E-M5 and carry it on a sling strap and walk him and shoot whatever came to my eye. The E-M1 never matched that experience, mostly because of the grip. The Mk.2 remedies that to a great extent. My little finger rests on the body now, but just barely. I suppose as I get used to it, it'll feel better; but it's not bad now and it's certainly an improvement over the E-M1.

If I may digress a bit, and it's my blog so I may, I also bought the E-M10 Mk2 a couple of years ago (as a refurb at a significant mark-down, it was a tremendous bargain), along with its own external (non-battery) grip. I was hoping to replicate the feel of the E-M5, which I had sold. The problem was the E-M10 was not considered a top-tier body, so the body didn't include contacts in the bottom plate for a battery grip/portrait shutter release. Consequently, the ordinary grip couldn't include a shutter release. The result was a better grip for handling longer lenses, but your finger had to move back to the shutter button, it didn't fall naturally on it. I love the E-M10 Mk.2, but it couldn't replicate the tactile experience of the E-M5 and that was a bit of a disappointment; but I hasten to add I do love the camera and with a small prime or compact zoom on it, it's a jewel that hangs comfortably from your wrist. And the OLED electronic viewfinder is usable wearing sunglasses, which is a more useful feature than I'd anticipated.

Back the E-M1 Mk2... One thing that surprised me was the sound of the shutter. It's much, I don't know, softer than I'd expected. Of course, you can shoot all-electronic shutter, and that's silent. This camera has some ungodly high-speed frame rate in mechanical, which I haven't tested yet, so I suppose it makes sense that the shutter leaves might have less mass, making for a softer sounding action. That's another camera feature that contributes to the overall experience. My first DSLRs, the Oly E-520 and later the E-30 were exciting because they were my first single lens reflex cameras since I had a 35mm Canon AE1 way back in the early mists of time. The shutter sound was loud and mechanical with the mirror slap and then the shutter activating. It was almost an industrial sound, you felt like you weren't just taking pictures, you were making pictures. You could feel all that action in your hand. The E-M5 was different. There was no mirror slap, all you could hear and feel was the shutter itself. And it was this kind of smoothly modulated, soft but authoritative snick! It was very cool. Nothing I've had since then has exactly replicated it, but the E-M1 Mk2 comes closest. The E-M1 is almost intrusive. You can feel the E-M1's shutter much more than the Mk2's, and that's what leads me to conclude that the mass of the mechanism is significantly less. (OBTW, I mentioned the other day that the E-M1's shutter was supposedly rated for 100K activations, I've since read that it's rated at 150K. I'm wondering if the 5-axis image stabilization voice coils would last that long. They're running every time you half-press the shutter release.)

The Mk2 has an articulated LCD screen. For some reason that I fail to grasp, this is considered the preferred configuration. Some people maintain it's useful for portrait shooting, or for videography. I don't do much of either, so perhaps that accounts for my reaction. I much prefer the ordinary tilting LCD screen, so you can comfortably shoot from waste level or you can shoot from low levels to get unusual perspectives. You can do that with an articulating screen, but it's sticking out from the side of the camera body and there just doesn't seem to be any way to comfortable hold the camera. I blame hipsters.

One good thing about the articulating screen (which Oly had included on its E-3 and E-5 DSLRs back in the day, but they were tiny things), is that you can flip the screen around against the body and protect it. Which is good, because the glass screen protectors I'm accustomed to using on my Olys seem to prevent the screen from being folded back against the body completely. Well, having said that, I guess it's either one or the other, a glass protector and the screen can't fold back, or no protector and I fold the screen back for protection. My PEN-F is the same way and I just fold the screen back when I'm not using the camera.

I've done some shooting with the Mk2 and I haven't come to any strong opinions about the images. I've seen plenty of examples of E-M1 Mk2 files on the internet and so I don't anticipate any unpleasant surprises. It's a Sony sensor, and Oly makes good use of them so I don't think there's much to report here. Back in the early days, Oly used Kodak sensors, which people waxed rhapsodically about. I bought an E-1 to see for myself, and agree they had a certain special quality about them. That was also a great body in the hand. But 5MP, while plenty for most purposes, doesn't afford a great deal of latitude to crop when you're shooting birds, planes or the moon (or Superman, I suppose), and the tech is ancient in the way that things 15 years old are ancient today. The Panasonic sensors Oly used in its early PEN cameras and the E-30 and E-5 were not universally well regarded, having somewhat limited dynamic range, but they offered a kind of interesting look, and I keep a number of PENs on hand just because I like that 12MP sensor.

The big test for the E-M1 Mk2, for me, will be when there are some birds in flight to shoot. Right now, for whatever reason, none of them good I suppose, we seem to be having a shortage of birds around the neighborhood. Hopefully that'll improve as we approach spring. Until then, I'll keep shooting to familiarize myself with the new features. The button layout is nearly identical to the E-M1, so there's little to re-learn there. But there have been some menu changes, and the layout of the Super Control Panel has some additions that I'm still becoming familiar with.

The M.Zuiko 12-40mm/f2.8 PRO is looking like everything it is cracked up to be, but more about that another day I suppose. Place to go, things to do and all that. Until then, osmosis amoebas!

GAS* Attack

2019-01-13T10:08:19-05:00

I suppose, in some ways, it may have been inevitable.

When I broke my Call of Duty habit, a certain amount of the recovered hours of the day have been spent revisiting cameras and photography. Aperture had been my preferred application to manage my collections of images, and my editor of choice. But Apple's abandonment has begun to manifest itself in flakey performance issues.

So I've decided to embrace a kind of belt and suspenders approach to library management. I'm going to use Photos and iCloud, along with Finder and an external HD in case Apple ever abandons iCloud like they did iDisk. I upgraded my iCloud storage to the top tier 2TB level, which should be plenty of storage for probably the remainder of my life. I'm also a Flickr "Pro" and so most of my jpegs from my cameras (not my iPhone) are automatically uploaded to Flickr when I import them into Finder. I really need to think about how to dispose of all this digital imagery upon my death. But not today.

I haven't quite nailed down the workflow yet. At the moment, I'm using Image Capture to grab the images from the camera and storing them in the external drive in a folder system broken down by year and camera at the moment. I use the new Gallery view in Mojave to do the initial review/culling. Then I'll select the best candidates and drag them into Photos. The RAWs won't go into Photos because of the size, but I am using the full rez jpegs now, so 12-16-20MP, which is why the 2TB should be useful. Apple's use of the High Efficiency Image Format for storing smaller versions in the System Library makes this feasible on a 750GB SSD. My MacBook Pro is going on six years old now, so I don't really know when I might begin to expect problems with the SSD. I still have a reported 268GB of "free" space, but that number is somewhat elastic the way the OS accounts for storage these days. I think I'll probably need a new machine in a year or so.

So I've enjoyed a few days of mucking about in the Photos library, getting rid of a lot of junk that shouldn't be in there, (Screenshots of things I wanted to remember, pictures of issues I wanted to report, etc.), and enjoying some happy memories and accidental art. I need to impose some additional structure on the library. What I have is kind of an artifact of what I imported from the Aperture libraries, and Apple's own structure. It's mostly a mess right now.

As far as editing goes, I've had Affinity Photo since about the time it was released. It's probably a deeper editor than Aperture ever was, so there's a lot to learn. I bought their book to kind of help me figure everything out. I do really enjoy their panorama feature, and I managed to figure that out without any trouble. One of the things that surprised me about Affinity Photo is that they seem to use their own RAW engine, or they've tweaked Apple's somewhat. I have a compact Olympus XZ-10 that shoots RAW images. It's a tiny 1/2.3" sensor, but it's a small body with a good lens and a nice zoom range, so I like to stick it in my pocket from time to time. But Apple's RAW engine was never updated to interpret the XZ-10's RAW format. Now, Olympus likely uses very similar RAW formats for all their processors, and it's probably just the header data that changes, and if you could change the header data to another Oly body Apple's RAW engine did support, it'd probably support it just fine. I don't know if Affinity wrote their own engine or tweaked Apple's to ignore some of the meta data, but XZ-10 RAWs open just fine in Affinity Photo. So, cool!

I also bought RAW Power from the App Store. The developer was formerly a member of the Aperture team at Apple, and it's just a modern interface to Apple's RAW engine that resembles Aperture's. I like it because it's familiar, and it wasn't expensive. But it is limited to whatever Apple's RAW engine supports. But if you liked Aperture, it's $29.00 well spent, I think.

I've also been reflecting on my experience in Ireland and trying to shoot with primes in that environment, and my ultimate capitulation to just using the kit zoom to reduce the physical and cognitive workload. I currently don't have a good "normal" zoom. I sold my Zuiko 14-54mm f2.8-3.5 last year. It was built for Oly's original four-thirds system, and it was a wonderful lens, but it was a little large for micro-four thirds. I have the plastic 14-42mm f3.5-5.6, and also the electronic zoom that has the same specs, but collapses into a pancake form factor when off. Both are adequately sharp. They won't make your eyes bleed, but they won't embarrass anyone either. If anything, almost any lens is too sharp these days to shoot flattering portraits without a lot of post-processing. But they're not very bright, and you're more limited in your ability to achieve subject isolation by controlling depth of field.

So I was thinking about perhaps getting the Olympus Pro 12-40 f2.8 lens. It gets stellar marks, covers a more useful range than the 14-42, is weather-sealed and has a great close-focusing ability. It's also f2.8 throughout the zoom range, so you get decent depth of field control (for this format), and you can keep the ISO down or the shutter speed up in more challenging shooting situations than you can with the kit lens.

The only problem was the price. It's a premium lens, and Oly charges a premium. Even used, I wasn't seeing prices much south of $600.00. I think I paid about $400.00 for the 14-54 new, back in the day. It'd be a bit of a stretch for a guy living on a fixed income.

Or would it?

I'm going to be 62 this year, and I intend to begin collecting Social Security at my first opportunity. I did the math and I have to live to be 78 or 79 (I did the math, I just forgot the exact result) before I start coming out dollars ahead if I wait until my "full" retirement age of 66.5 years. If you don't already have a defined benefit pension that you can live on, it's wiser probably to wait. But in my case, I can make good use of the opportunities the reduced benefit affords me now, and not significantly adversely affect my hoped-for future longevity.

Mitzi reminded me that I have to apply in advance if I want to begin receiving SS as soon as I'm eligible. So I went to the web site, which seems unaffected by the shutdown, thankfully. I learned have a couple of months before I can apply, and I also checked on my expected benefit. Hmmm... Income perhaps not so "fixed?"

As it turns out, Olympus is launching a new flagship DSLR, the E-M1X, on January 24th. So their current flagship, the E-M1 Mk2 is being being bundled with some lenses at a nice discount to help shift some inventory. I have the first version of the E-M1, and bought it new at release back in 2013. I checked my shutter count this morning and I have just over 40,000 activations. As a "pro" level body, it's supposedly rated at 100K activations and people have reported getting upwards of 200K before replacing their shutter. So mine is in its early middle age, and it's performing well. The back rubber grip has come off, but I have a replacement that I haven't been bothered to install. The one thing I don't like about my E-M1 is focusing, chiefly continuous auto-focus on birds in flight, dragonflies in flight, and Blue Angel F-18s in flight. The E-M1 was supposed to be better in auto focus than the E-M5, because it incorporated phase-detect pixels in the sensor. And, truthfully, it was better. But they weren't "cross-type" phase detect sensors. So, for some targets, particularly things like birds, dragonflies and planes, you were more likely to attain and hold focus if you shot in portrait mode than landscape, which isn't ideal for many reasons. There was also no focus-limiting feature, either on the 40-150mm lens, or in the body, so when it lost focus, it would often rack through the entire focus range. The 40-150mm Pro has the manual focus clutch, and that's useful many times, but I couldn't manage to master it for action shots. I'm not sure anyone has. The MK 2 changes that by incorporating more phase detect pixels at both orientations, and a focus limiting setting in the camera, so if you're shooting planes miles away, or bugs yards away, you can help the lens figure out where to start.

When it was released, the Mk 2 was priced at $2K, which was too rich for me. But now that it's been out for a couple of years, and is about to be supplanted as the top-tier body by the M1X, the price has been reduced to a somewhat more reasonable $1700. You can find it cheaper on the gray market. But you can buy it bundled with the 12-40mm Pro lens for $1999. That's pretty close to better than I could do buying both used.

So, I've rationalized buying myself an early birthday present. I've ordered a bundle that should be here Wednesday. Not in time for a photo walk with my friend at the Jacksonville Arboretum, but in plenty of time for me to become intimately familiar with it before we head up to the Finger Lakes this summer. I'll pay it off with my first SS check, and then be more responsible going forward. Unless that 300mm/f4 looks too enticing. But let's not go there yet.

Anyway, I realize there's something irrational about all this. I don't shoot birds, or dragonflies or F-18s in flight often, so how much of an improvement is it? But the 12-40mm is a sound choice, and it gets me a nice discount on a better body that may inspire me to get out there more and shoot birds and bugs and planes, and maybe surfers too.

Time will tell, and I'll let you know how it turns out.

|*GAS: Gear Acquisition Syndrome

Habits

2019-01-10T09:26:26-05:00

I get a daily email summary from carbonbrief.org about climate change in the news. I'll often share one of those links on Facebook. In fact, I just did so. It's become a habit.

And then I recalled that doing so was exactly what I used to do, first in Time's Shadow and later in Groundhog Day.

And it's what I hope to get back to doing here. Which is where refactoring the structure of this blog comes in. I need to figure out some automation to help me make quick link posts in Tinderbox, and also some automation to generate the html export and upload to the server.

Until then, I can do it "manually." (Uphill, in the snow, both ways.)

Facebook gives a nice preview of the link, which I don't think is essential for my purposes. But there's a brief article about how some conservative Republicans, especially those who work in or enjoy the "outdoors," understand we have a problem. In my Facebook post, I mentioned that, inevitably we are all going to be in this fight. The environment, climate, physics, are reality for everyone, regardless of party affiliation. And reality has a way of getting one's attention. Sooner or later.

It'd be better for all of us if it was sooner.

Click here for the story.

Pretty as a picture

2019-01-10T07:09:35-05:00

Before Mitzi and I went to Ireland last spring, I bought an Olympus PEN-F, their top-tier PEN-style camera. (You can read about the original PEN series here. Very innovative in its day.) Before the PEN-F, I owned and used their E-PM1, E-PM2 and E-PL7, and I still do have and use each of those bodies. These designations may seem confusing, but the "M" denotes "mini," the "L" denotes "light." The mini Pens had fixed LCD displays and few controls. They were intended as an intro-level interchangeable lens camera. The light PENs had tilt-LCDs and an additional dial and buttons for easier control for those who liked to change settings quickly while shooting. Few had a built-in flash, the first two iterations, E-PL1 and E-PL2, and the latest E-PL9, but not the 3,5,6,7 or 8 (4 is supposedly unlucky in Japan), and none had a built-in electronic viewfinder, though an external one could be mounted on all but the latest E-PL9.

More than you cared to know, but I'm a completist in some ways.

Anyway, the PEN series is a compact, or range-finder style body, which is to say it lacks an optical viewfinder "hump" at the top, and a large grip at the side. The top-tier PENs all embraced a kind of retro appearance, the lower tiers did so less at the beginning, embracing it more and more as the models progressed. The E-PL8 is the body I was looking at yesterday that's available for $249.00 on eBay, and it's as pretty a camera as you'd ever see. Beauty in the eye of the beholder of course. I don't need an E-PL8, my E-PL7 has nearly the same features, and my E-M10.2 has more. But it sure looks nice.

The PEN-F is a super-PEN, the first to include an electronic viewfinder. It is also built to emphasize design, which I suppose we all appreciate today. Unfortunately, some of their choices might be a bit questionable. It's nice that the bottom of the body doesn't feature any screws. It's not so nice that it's painted plastic that's meant to look, and mostly does, like metal. But I like it. And it includes a 20MP sensor from Sony, the first in a PEN series camera, 5-axis image stabilization and the ability to take super high resolution images by means of shifting the sensor around as the camera takes a series of shots. It was pricey, but I was probably only going to go to Ireland once, and it had features none of my other cameras had, so I bought it.

I decided I was going to be, I don't know, committed, I suppose, by bringing along only three prime lenses, 12mm, 20mm and 45mm. All three lenses are bright, compact and very sharp. They covered a wide, normal and telephoto perspective and with a 20MP sensor, I'd have a great deal of latitude to crop.

In theory, this was a very nice little setup that fit in a compact camera bag, and kept the camera itself small and light enough to be carried comfortably by a wrist strap.

Reality was somewhat different.

Mitzi brought along her E-P5, the predecessor to the PEN-F. A 16MP sensor with 5-axis image stabilization, a very nice camera. She had the 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 kit zoom, and a 17mm/f2.8 pancake prime.

At some point during the trip, I asked to borrow her kit zoom and mounted that on the PEN-F, effectively "slumming it."

The problems were these. First, it's hard to be a tourist and a photographer. Two totally different mindsets, and it's difficult, for me anyway, to shift in and out of them easily, and fatiguing. Second, we were on a self-guided tour, so I was doing a lot of driving, which is stressful and fatiguing. On long drive days, we'd get to our destination, have a meal and I'd be in bed. And much of our attention was focused on logistical issues like time-distance, and choosing what to see. These are separate from the basic tourist mindset, which I think of as seeing things for the first time and exerting cognitive effort to place them in some context. The point is, when it came time to "think" about a shot, I was too damn tired and often in a hurry.

I couldn't shoot like a "photographer," about the most I could manage was being a tourist. And for that, the 14-42 kit lens was sufficient. As would have been any of my other camera bodies, particularly the E-PL7.

I came home with probably over a thousand shots. "Spray and pray" seemed the order of the day. Going through them proved to be a depressing ordeal. I didn't like any of them. With some distance, now, I can look at them and perhaps appreciate them as snapshots. But my perspective is always colored by my intention to capture photographs of my trip to Ireland. Alas, it was not to be.

And that pretty much sapped much of my enthusiasm for photography for the rest of the year. We later went to the Finger Lakes in New York in late spring, and I did some shooting there with the PEN-F and the E-M1.1, but it wasn't the same. In some ways, many of the same issues were at play. We were only there for a few days, so much of the time was spent figuring out what we'd do next, and next, and next.

So, from about June, when we returned, until October, when I went to San Diego to Mitzi's daughter's wedding, I didn't shoot much. Occasionally I'd bring along a camera on a walk in the morning to Publix, but mostly I relied on the phone when I saw something "as pretty as a picture."

At the wedding, I had a little more enthusiasm. I decided to just mount my mZuiko 14-42mm EZ (electronic zoom) kit lens. When the camera's off, it collapses into a form no larger than a pancake lens. I wasn't going to do "art," I was just going to shoot for fun. Because the 14-42 is a "slow" lens, if you want to freeze motion in low light you have to use a flash or higher ISO. A flash is intrusive in many ways, so it was going to be high ISO, which has the effect of revealing noise in the image. Modern sensors are better at high ISO, and the noise appears a lot like film grain, which is very retro and hip. The PEN-F even has a dedicated black and white mode designed to replicate that. So that's what I used, with a kit zoom. I had a good time (beer helps) and got some nice shots. Some may even approach "art." Some. And "approach."

So maybe it was the wedding, or maybe it's the necessity to walk Schotzie a couple times a day, but I've been enjoying "playing" with my cameras again. I live in beautiful surroundings, and I often can't resist taking a picture, but it does become repetitive. Next week I'm going to go on a photo-walk with a friend at the Jacksonville Arboretum, if the weather cooperates.

We're planning on spending a month in the Finger Lakes next summer. That'll give me some time to be a bit more deliberate, I think. And I'll lower my expectations a bit as well. In the fall, Mitzi's looking to arrange a trip to South Africa and go on a little safari. Depending on how it all sorts out, whether we're doing a packaged tour, or doing it on our own, I at least have some idea of how to manage my photographic expectations.

Anyway, peaks and valleys, strikes and gutters.

The Dude abides.

Another try

2019-01-09T15:09:28-05:00

Well, it's after three o'clock, and I'd meant to be doing this about nine hours ago. Unfortunately, I've been away so long I couldn't get the damn program working. All is well now.

I've been writing online, but most of it has been in Facebook. I even changed the privacy settings to many of the posts to "Public." But I don't like FB as a writing environment, and I like it even less as a reading environment. I won't bore you with my ongoing struggle whether to leave or not, suffice to say that while there are many, many excellent reasons for leaving, there are some compelling ones to remain as well.

But I am going to get back to the Marmot.

I've got a notion to once again refactor the whole blog. Not really sure where that's going to go, but I'm not happy with the way things are at the moment. More to follow, I hope.

There's been some online discussion about the nature of blogging and what we used to do, and how we experienced community a couple of decades ago. A lot has been lost with the rise of social media, and I'm not certain we could ever get it back. But I think there is value in kind of observing and maintaining the old practices, which I think I've mostly done here. I think that's worthwhile, and where I've found my own writing most rewarding.

On Twitter or Facebook, one has the sense or impression of a crowded, busy city street, with a lot of traffic flowing by. You write a post on FB or Twitter, and maybe a couple of people notice it and you get a reaction, a "like" or a "share," maybe a comment or two; but a lot of what you do just seems to vanish. Which is fine, I suppose. It's not supposed to be deathless prose. Or, at least it can't be on those platforms. But it leaves me feeling like I'm just kind of talking to myself in a crowd, as though I were mentally ill.

It makes much more sense to talk to oneself in the privacy of one's own home. Well, if not "sense," then at least you don't have to worry about people thinking that you look crazy! Which is why the Marmot is nice. I don't have any page counters. I have no way of knowing if anyone's read anything here or not, and I kind of gauge my expectations accordingly.

So, enough navel gazing about this particular issue. What else is going on?

Part of the reason for my lengthy absence has been my efforts in the political realm, such as they may be. That effort is ongoing and I'll report on it from time to time here. But another reason has been my seeming addiction to Call of Duty! I have a Wii U, and over a year ago I (re)started playing online. I enjoyed playing Team Deathmatch, and these games are all very well designed to keep you coming back for more dopamine.

To make a long story short, I had a goal to reach a certain ranking and I kept moving it up as I achieved each level. I was spending two to three hours every day online, and you don't get much else accomplished when you're doing that. So, having achieved my most recent goal, I unplugged the Wii U and stashed it away. And now I have a big portion of my waking day back again. So was my playing an addiction, or just a bad habit? Probably the latter. I haven't felt compelled to pull the Wii U out of the drawer, nor do I find myself in any sort of distress over not playing it. But while it was available, it was simply too easy to turn it on and watch two or three hours disappear.

With the opportunity to do something else, I've been reading more. Both books, and online web sites. I'm trying to enforce a new discipline in my reading: Finish one book before starting another. Right now I'm kind of wrestling with how committed I should be to a book I'm not certain I'm enjoying. I'm reading one now that seems worthwhile from the subject and the background of the author, but his writing is just so dense that it's laborious. I struggle with the question of whether I've lost a few cognitive steps over the years, or if this guy is just incapable of not writing a convoluted sentence? I suspect it may be a little of both. So I struggle on, hoping to limber up a few brain cells in the process.

I've also been visiting DPReview, the camera and photography web site. They have a large, active Olympus and Micro Four Thirds forum. Before I stopped visiting, I'd learned that there was really little to be gained by visiting the forum. Very low signal to noise; and the very high risk of contracting Gear Acquisition Syndrome, or GAS. That risk is still very real, so I've had to be very careful. I found myself today on eBay looking at some very attractive pricing on a certain Olympus body for which I have no need whatsoever, but nevertheless find myself trying to rationalize purchasing it. It's almost as if buying, owning and "collecting" cameras is more fun that taking pictures. And it is, for a very short term buzz. And then you're left with no place to put the damn thing and a hole in your wallet that never seems to get filled.

So far, I'm holding up.

That said, I am starting to play with my cameras again. This morning I watched a video by Rob Trek on using the multiple exposure feature in the Olympus TruPic image processor to create the "Orton effect" in camera. I tried it out quickly and it does yield some interesting results. I'll share some later when I have some I think are worth sharing.

Anyway, that's probably enough for now. I think I'll be back more often. A couple of times a day, I hope.