Wednesday, December 24, 2008


High tidings to all:

If you possess the capability to read this message, then I suppose you are of sufficient means to enjoy this holiday. I hope your fortunes have been half of mine in this quickly failing year.

Since peace on earth and goodwill toward man is a bit much to ask, I simply beg for some improvement in the year that is yet to come.

I shall now drink Scotch. Happy Christmas to all, and to all, a good night.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Happy whatever

You people know who you are. Happy Christmas, merry new year. For my domestic friends, I hope the economy has spared you this year and will do so again in that which is to come. For overseas readers, I hope you, too, are avoiding tanking economies and other disasters both natural and man-made*.

Nikon D90, crappy kit 18-105VR: ISO 200, f:7.1, 1/60sec, popup flash -2⅓EV. Picture control landscape with max saturation, shade white balance.

(After two requests, a larger-sized copy of the above image is available at:

* Why is it that all people-made disasters seem to be man-made?

Lens beating

Everyone worries about their lenses not being up to the task. Unless you're shooting architecture or test charts and are a pro, even Nikon's least lenses are up to the task. I'm more interested in how fast a lens is (lower f numbers are better), how good autofocus is, and whether or not it has VR (Vibration Reduction, called Image Stablization in Canon parlance and anti-shake in many mags) than I am in distortion and that sort of thing.

Even the best lenses can be pushed a little too hard. In between ryes tonight, I thought I might see how much abuse my best glass could handle. I was surprised. Our test subject is a Nikon Zoom-Nikkor 17-35mm f:2.8 IF-ED, which is capable of taking better photos than the D90 can capture (and frequently better than I can compose) and doubles as a self defense tool, it's so bloody heavy.

Ouch! Here we've got a terrible shot: that bright light in the photo makes a ghost, the green blob to the left of the bulb. It's caused by being an idiot: shooting with a large aperture into bright light. Here, we're at f:2.8, wide open. Let's see what happens when we blotto overexpose?

Yuck! Short of hitting someone over the head with it, you couldn't abuse this lens much worse. You'll also note I've performed some pretty heavy post-processing here, dumping the exposure EV -3, boosting the shadows and adding heavy sharpening. The ghost is huge!

Ghosts are caused by intense light bouncing around between the various pieces of glass (elements) inside the lens. Modern lenses are multicoated to help minimize this. This lens also has ED glass, or extremely low dispersion. The ED elements reduce ghosts and glare even more. But this is just too challenging a shot for even the 17-35.

But I was still shocked when I pulled this image up in Photoshop. Have a look:

This is an enlargement of the ghost-blob-from-hell, rotated 180°. You can read parts of the ghost of the super-blotto-overexposed lightbulb itself and the lamp shroud. Whoa!

Even pushed way past its design tolerances, the 17-35 continues to surprise.

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Should we enact an indoor smoking ban?

(From the 11 Dec. 2008 Thermopolis Independent Record:)
The health and safety nannies are back!

A statewide (Wyoming) anti-smoking ban looks to have a real shot in the next Legislative session. It would ban smoking in most indoor settings outside of your car and home.

In September, Rep. Elaine Harvey (R-Lovell) laid out three reasons she supports such a ban in an interview with the Lovell Chronicle. Briefly, she thinks such a ban would save the state money, support the health of non-smokers and “(change) the culture.”

Color me skeptical. Financially, well, we should thank smokers. The sin-taxes smokers pay generate loads of income for the state. According to the Department of Revenue, smokers paid about $25 million in fiscal year 2007.

Harvey told the Chronicle smoking costs Wyoming nearly $300 million a year, split about evenly between lost productivity and healthcare costs, according to the Department of Health.

Well, lost productivity costs will only increase if you make everyone, everywhere, step out to burn one. And how many businesses have you been in lately that allow smoking, besides a few restaurants, and bars?

I’m not sure how the Department of Health came up with their healthcare numbers. Way back in 1997 the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that concluded healthcare costs would go up if everyone quit smoking.

The authors wrote, “If people stopped smoking, there would be a savings in healthcare costs, but only in the short term. Eventually, smoking cessation would lead to increased healthcare costs.” Whoops.

(Why is that? Smokers do generate more healthcare costs while we’re alive. But we die a lot sooner, minimizing our withdrawals from Social Security, Medicare and private insurance.)

Let’s talk about the health of non-smokers. Would a comprehensive ban on indoor smoking in public places make a difference? Absolutely. But how much of a difference, and at what cost?

Harvey said “we already regulate the air we breathe,” referring to coal power plants and vehicle emissions. Yep. And so do the many, many business owners who don’t allow smoking in their buildings.

With the lowest unemployment rate in the country, finding work isn’t difficult in Wyoming. Look around Thermopolis. Some businesses can’t find people to hire. If you don’t want to be in a smoky atmosphere, look for a job in a non-smoking environment.

We already accept all sorts of compromises and restrictions at work. Coming into work drunk isn’t a good idea, generally. Drug tests are becoming more common. Some places offer only decaffeinated coffee. But if it’s too much of a burden, well, we can seek other employment.

For the folks who are serious about reducing smoking, here’s an idea. Instead of plowing sin-tax revenues into an advertising campaign that would leave Joe Camel green with envy, subsidize the patch.

We have all kinds of cultural issues to address. Sexism, running up debt like the score against Glenn’s Cowboys, eating too much. A worthwhile cultural shift would be a more honest discussion about consequences.

Smokers are some of the best informed about the impacts of our decision. How can we not be, what with all the propaganda demonizing us like axe murders? I hope we’re as good at explaining the impacts of our economic actions to our children, who will pay our tab.

What of the libertarian bent of this state? Republicans voting to strip autonomy from business owners? That doesn’t sound like Wyoming. But I should have known better.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have a smoke. Outside, because my boss says this is a nonsmoking building. It’s his call, and I can live with that.