Midnight in the garden of good and evil

Remember when I said earlier this month that I was still learning how to use my camera despite having it for three years?  Well, the photos below were taken last night after I learned yet another new trick that my scene-capturing Canon is capable of: taking photos in the dark without the flash, all while letting me control precisely how much light it will snare for the photograph by manually setting the shutter speed.  This was the first time I’d intentionally used this particular setting.  You might remember I’d played with it before when taking the fourth picture shown in this post, although that experiment was more accidental than intentional—and I never went back to determine precisely how I did what I did, at least until now.

Using this particular mode and changing the shutter speed, I’m able to capture movement in bright light (for instance, catching a natural-light setting with a still background centered on flowing water) or stillness in low light.  After rediscovering the setting yesterday evening, I tinkered with it for about an hour as I experimented both inside and outside.  I found the mode far more versatile than the automated “natural light” mode that allows the camera to attempt the best shutter and aperture values for the environment.  That setting works great under certain circumstances, but the other setting gives me more control and let’s me take photos that the automated setting would royally screw up.

The images below are of the tree right outside my patio.  It’s illuminated by a security light approximately 100 feet away (give or take; my sense of distance is as messed up as the rest of me at the moment).  The first one is a bit blurry due to me coughing in the middle of it.  With the shutter speed set at its lowest, any movement is translated into the picture.  Oh well.

The trunks of the tree outside my patio photographed in natural light in the dark (161_6167)

The second photo was taken from a slightly different angle.  Also, it lacks the cough element.

The trunks of the tree outside my patio photographed in natural light in the dark (161_6165)

As I’ve said before, I’m learning all over again how much I love my camera.  It’s amazing how much enjoyment I get out of it… especially after reading the manual for the first time, albeit three years later, and learning what it’s capable of and how it can be used to capture all sorts of things I’d never considered before.  I’ll never be a professional photographer and have no intention of even trying, but I do love taking pictures and rather enjoy the versatility it offers.  The one thing it can’t do is connect to my telescope, so eventually I have to buy a new one anyway, but in the meantime this one serves me well and will be kept as long as it’s functioning.  Even if it’s not the most powerful one on the planet, and even if it can’t hook up for astronomy photos, it’s small, easy to handle, full of versatile functions, and powerful enough for everyday use.

Finally, as for the title of this post, if you’ve never seen the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, I can’t recommend it enough.  It’s a most excellent film.  With both John Cusack and Kevin Spacey, two of my favorite actors, I would have watched it no matter what it was about, but this movie is breathtakingly enticing.  It’s a fantastic story of southern decadence, high society, crime, and secrets in Savannah, Georgia (I’ve been there and loved the place, and this movie made me feel like I was back there again).  Don’t expect action and adventure.  It’s a slow drama that unfolds meticulously and beautifully.  Again, if you’ve not seen it, rent it today.

Changes to photo posts

Over the last few months I’ve received several e-mails regarding photos posted to this site.  Each of the missives voiced concern regarding the size of inline pictures (those shown directly in the post rather than the hi-res versions linked to from within said post).  By size, I mean both the display size and the file (download) size.  This is an issue I have considered before.  The problem is twofold.

One: Inline images are generally in the 640×480 (pixels) range for display size.  I began using that as my standard guideline for these images because of the resolutions I use on my own computers: 1280×1024 pixels (on my desktop) and 1680×1050 pixels (on my laptop).  Also, I assumed most people used resolutions of 1024×768 or higher since computers long ago jumped to SVGA, XGA, and other advanced display systems.  It seemed unlikely to me that anyone would be using 800×600 or lower, or that 1024×768 or higher would have difficulty with the size of the inline images.  My assumption, however, was incorrect for a great many reasons.  Not everyone maximizes their browser window and not everyone uses the entire browser window for pages (e.g., some keep the history or bookmarks sidebars open at all times).  Those are just two examples of the infinite number of reasons an assumed minimum screen resolution does not equal available browser real estate.  Anyone viewing the site in a manner that reduces the main column width to below 700 pixels or so will find images pushed under the sidebar content—and smaller column widths can push the images completely outside the main blog window (into the gutters on one or both sides of the page).  Several of the people who have contacted me specifically mentioned this issue.

Two: Based both on the display size and the quality of the inline photos, the download (file) size of the pictures can be quite large.  I post all my personal pictures as JPEGs.  Since this graphics format is universally viewable, I standardized on it, but it also uses lossy compression meaning it loses resolution and quality as the file size goes down (i.e., as the compression goes up).  In general, I use a compression factor of 1 for all high-quality photos and a compression factor of 15 for lower quality or link photos (i.e., those that link to hi-res versions).  When I post inline photos with a compression factor of 1, the size is generally large.  That is acceptable for hi-res versions, but some of those who have contacted me made clear the difficulty of viewing the site via dial-up and slower broadband connections due to the inline photos taking so long to download.

To address both concerns, I’m making changes to the way I post photographs.  These changes are being implemented immediately.  That said, I am grandfathering all previous entries with pictures since (a) there are so many, and (b) I have no intention of going through the more than 3,000 posts to locate all pictures so they can be modified and uploaded again.

What changes am I making?  Here’s the scoop.

All inline photos—those visible within the posts themselves—will now be posted in a resolution of 480×360 pixels and with a compression factor of 15.  Additionally, these photos will be linked to larger versions even if I’m not posting the hi-res versions.  For instance, hi-res pictures are posted at a maximum size of 1152×864 pixels with a compression factor of 1; this maintains the quality of the original photos.  When I’m not posting the hi-res version, however, I will link the inline version to a 640×480 version.  Some of those 640×480 pics will have a compression factor of 15, and some will vary from 1 to 20.  The difference will be based solely on the quality of the photo and how much it degrades with higher compression.  Most of them, though, will be at 15 on average so they are not quite as large and more globally available regardless of connection speeds.

Despite all photos being linked to larger versions moving forward, I will still notate with “[click for hi-res version]” those images which link to the high-quality, low compression, large files.  This should serve as a warning to those on slower connections that the linked photo is not small and easily handled under such conditions.  I hope that will help clarify which photo links should be avoided by those surfing in that manner.

Again, all previous photos are being grandfathered—left just the way they are.  This change only impacts future posts.

My hope is that this resolves issues being experienced by those who lack high-speed internet access or who use slower computers that must work harder to process the more complicated and sizable graphic files.  Also, it will greatly diminish (if not outright resolve completely) screen resolution hiccups for those who don’t utilize all of their screen real estate for browser sessions.

Obviously, I’m open to feedback on this change both now and in the future.  If it’s helpful, let me know.  If you hate it, let me know.  I’m trying to keep the inline images as appealing as possible while increasing the site’s availability.  What I don’t want to do is diminish its enjoyability.  Hopefully I’ve stumbled upon a happy middle ground.  We shall see.

Free association

I’m still recovering from The Bug.  You know, it’s What’s Going Around.  I’m sure it’s called by other names as well, things like The Creeping Crud, Manifest Misery, The Plague, and This Damned Cold.  Since yesterday was the first day my condition did not decline as compared to the day before, at least since I started feeling sick on Monday, I felt certain I had bottomed out and would begin making a speedy recovery.  Or at least I hoped it would be speedy.  When I awoke this morning, however, I did not feel improved—but I didn’t feel worse either.  I’m still pretty miserable and feel like roadkill thrice run over, what with the nose that hurts when touched from all the blowing and running and sneezing, the throat that has been coughed and ached into raw sensitivity, the dry, burning eyes, the malaise and soreness that permeate every fiber of my being, and the general feeling of unmitigated ickiness.

But it could be worse, I suppose, considering my condition might well have deteriorated since yesterday.  When one already believes one has reached the limits of one’s tolerance for being ill, escalating the effects of said sickness tends to diminish one’s hope for a brighter future—or at least feeling better.  Since I didn’t improve but likewise didn’t deteriorate, there’s still hope.  I think.

So I said all that here because I’m sure The Bug will influence my answers to this week’s free association.  It’s hard for me to focus and think at present because I’m still in a fog punctuated only by the sound of my own moaning and groaning—not to mention the ringing and constant pressure changes in my ears.  Keep that in mind.  I promise not to write “I’m dying!” all the way through the list, but I’ll tell you now that’s precisely how I feel.

Now that I’ve bored you with tales of woe from the xenogere household, or at least its lead proprietor, let’s get the show started…

  1. Resolution ::
  2. Happy ::
  3. Bubbly ::
  4. Kiss ::
  5. Leather ::
  6. Fancy ::
  7. Pages ::
  8. Stupid ::
  9. Apologize ::
  10. Secrets ::

Continue reading

Bottomed out

I think my cold has finally plateaued, although that word infers a level of height when no such thing is true.  Perhaps it would be best to say I’ve bottomed out.

Beginning Monday when I awoke feeling not quite right, each day this week has been progressively worse than the one before it.  Today is the first day I don’t feel sicker than I did yesterday.  That’s sort of a mixed blessing since I don’t feel better either, and I spent yesterday being so miserable that I wanted to OD on tranquilizers to see if I could sleep through the whole event.  Not having such drugs in the house, I of course wasn’t able to test that hypothesis.

So today is another misery day.  I’m glad it’s not more miserable than yesterday.  Still, I’d be happy if I felt a bit better, a bit more alive and functional.  All in due time…

My fear is this cold will interfere with my New Year’s Eve plans.  It already has made clear I won’t be doing any drinking to celebrate the holiday (the idea of drinking turns my stomach right now, and add to that knowing alcohol would only make me feel worse and extend my suffering by dehydrating me).  Unless I magically get much better between now and tomorrow, however, I suspect I will enjoy the holiday from the confines of home.

But at least I have a wee bit of new hope that I’m getting better—or at least not getting worse.  Last night I slept a solid nine hours before waking this morning.  I’d not slept more than a few hours at a time since Sunday night.  That’s a promising sign, right?

And the feelings of disorientation and disconnectedness are not amplified a hundredfold today.  Each morning this week has seen that kind of increase in all the ickiness currently plaguing me—headache, cough, runny nose, aches and pains, sneezing, sore throat, fever, chills, malaise, fatigue, and on and on the symptom list goes.

The worse part of it, though, has been the general feeling of floating between consciousness and unconsciousness, that bizarre, decongestant-induced, drugged-up-beyond-words sensation caused by major colds and the flu.  In fact, I’ve not driven anywhere in two days because I wasn’t sure I could drive.  And yes, that means I hadn’t had my Starbucks in two days, although the thought of it has done little for me until this morning when I finally made my way the one block to the coffee shop to get my morning dose.  I couldn’t taste it or smell it, and the five minute trip wore me out such that I felt I’d just completed a triathlon.  But progress is progress.

I do feel at least semi-functional today and do not have the excessive fever I’ve had since Tuesday.  That’s fine by me.  I have a load of laundry going but won’t push my luck in that regard.  If I get that one done and feel like doing another, I’ll give it a try.  I actually caught up on my blog reading today (I’ve ignored them since Thursday morning because I couldn’t focus on the computer screen or keep my attention from wandering aimlessly), hence not posting about Friday Ark until Saturday.  That’s also why it took me so long to post anything yesterday, and even that—sitting in front of the computer for an hour trying to get a few things tossed up here—sapped every bit of strength I had.  Afterward, I crawled back into bed and curled up with several of the cats while I moaned and groaned and wished for death’s skeletal hand to end my anguish.

At least today didn’t go downhill from there.  If it had, I probably would have tried to gouge out my heart with a plastic spoon in hopes doing so would mean I didn’t have to feel bad anymore.  As these things go, days like today generally mean the turning point, the watershed demarcating a decline into endlessly tormented affliction and the slow climb up from the abyssal depths of sickness toward normal life.  I hope that’s where I am—turning the corner.

It ain’t gonna be pretty

Loki wants some attention.  Daddy wants Loki to work for it.  That can be very dangerous with him.

Loki says: “Don’t make me have to come up there and get that hand.  It ain’t gonna be pretty if I do.  When you pull back a bloody stub…”

Loki looking up at my hand wanting me to pet him (102_0290)
Loki looking up at my hand with an irritated look on his face because he wants me to pet him (102_0292)