Saturday, July 30, 2011

Gone Fishing - The Simon Men Have An Adventure

I'm tapping this message out from Holliday Lake State Park next to a roaring fire built by my brother David. My Dad is sitting next to me, cheering him on.

We're all a little exhausted, as we did a 10 mile hike today that included a number of stops to go fishing. I'm proud to say that I caught the most fish today, topping off at 4. Though they ranged in size from goldfish to large goldfish. David and Dad also caught fish, and theirs were a more respectable size.

It's been a while since I've been car camping, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect at the campground here. We've got a reasonable sized site, water and electricity just feet from our tent, the car right next to whole setup, firewood and ice for purchase, and clean bathrooms available to us 24x7. Compared to backpacking standards, this place is the Ritz.

The fishing has been OK. Nothing specactular, but then again, the main point is to sit around and be together not actually catch fish (which is good news for the fish). The hiking has been great too. We, we did manage to stop and fish near a wasp nest, and as a result, we all got a number of wasp stings (I think I got 4 myself). But, we survived, and were no worse for wear.

We did try to take the Trout Creek Trail from the park, which apparently has been overgrown and was unusable. But we got plenty of hiking in, so we're not too disappointed. Still, our guidebook recommended the hike - which you shouldn't plan to take, as the trail no longer exists.

The plan is to get up tomorrow and fish all day. I'll see if I can land anything larger than the betta fish we used to have.

The moths sure do love my laptop screen. I better call it a night. Here's to a quiet night in the woods.

P.S. - Surprisingly, T-mobile gets some signal out here in the woods, while Verizon doesn't. I don't think that's ever happened before. Go T-mobile!

Some photos of the weekend:

View Photos

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Debt Ceiling Argument That Makes My Head Hurt

While I would have probably said it different, I think Michele Bachmann is fundamentally correct when she says:

"It's Congress that does the spending. The president is prohibited to do that. If he had the power to do that he would effectively be a dictator," the Minnesota Congresswoman said Thursday on CNN's "American Morning." "There would be no reason for Congress to even come to Washington, D.C. He would be making the spending decisions … Clearly that's unconstitutional."

That is, if you respect the constitution, you respect that there are things that each branch of the Government can do. Obama's job is simply not to decide how money gets spent - that's done by congress. Period.

And the White House agrees:

Jacob Lew, WH Budget Director: “Our plan is for Congress to do its work and the President to sign into law legislation that will make it possible for the United States as it always has, to keep its obligations. We’ll be ready to deal with whatever happens. There is no plan other than meeting our obligations.
...

Which brings me to two points I can't wrap my head around:

First, how can folks like Palin criticize the President for not "prioritizing our spending?" Wouldn't that put him in the position of funding some legislation and not others? Effectively, aren't you forcing the president into the "Dictator" that Bachmann describes?

Second, Bachmman's statement from above is actually her evidence for why Obama can't use the 14th amendment to raise the debt ceiling.

In other words, if he forces a raise in the debt ceiling he's violating the constitution. If he doesn't force a raise in the debt ceiling, then as far as I can tell he's forced to decide what to fund and not to fund, and therefore, is violating the constitution.

Seems to me, like arbitrarily raising the debt ceiling would actually keep the integrity of the three branches of government, not remove it.

We sure did get ourselves into a pickle here, no?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What-I-Carry-Wednesday: Adventures in Car Camping Gear

I've got a car camping trip coming up, and I figured it was time to start building out a gear list. The good news about car camping is that you can pretty much bring the kitchen sink. The bad news is, it's easy to bring the kitchen sink and still forget essentials.

I love the simplicity of a backpacking gear list, where you're forced to whittle the items down to the bare essentials. With car camping, not so much.

Still, my trip is just a for a weekend, so I'm trying to keep the list as compact as possible. Though, I'm not going to give up the opportunity to bring along a book and a hammock, with the intention of doing some serious chillaxing.

Look it over - did I forget any essentials? Like, maybe a kitchen sink?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Review: I Wonder as I Wander

I admit it: I picked up I Wonder as I Wander: An Autobiographical Journey by Langston Hughes purely because the title sounded cool, and I recognized Hughes' name. Within a chapter or two though, I was hooked.

I Wonder as I Wander takes you along with Hughes as he travels the globe as a young man in the 1930's. From touring the Southern United States, to distant villages in Soviet Asia, he covers an amazing amount of ground. He does it while almost always broke (of course, this is the Great Depression - everyone is broke) and with great determination.

But, perhaps what I like most about the book is Hughes' casual tone. There's no boasting. No, "wow, look at me!" He's just the kind of friend you'd want to sit with and have them tell you story after story as he risked life and limb in exotic locations.

Along with the excitement, is a perspective on history that's truly invaluable. To see Jim Crow laws through the eye of Black man, or communism through the eye of a sympathizer (though, he claims he wasn't a communist - communists don't do Jazz, and that was a deal breaker for him) was powerful. Heck, I barely knew there was a Spanish Civil War, and now I feel like I've been to the front.

In the end, this was an eye opening, educational and just plain fun read. As travel stories and biographies go, I don't think you can ask for anything more than that.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Our Adventure Comes to a Close - Our Foster Placement Graduates

Yesterday, our little guy "graduated" from our home and moved into his permanent family. The adventure that started 561 days ago, has come to a close.

As you can imagine, I've got mixed feelings on all of this. On one hand, I'm overjoyed that he's joined such a wonderful family, where I expect he'll grow up to be a happy and healthy young man. And I know Shira and I can look back and know we did a good thing. Perhaps the best thing anyone can do, help a child in need.

On the other hand, there's the letting go part. Yeah, that part isn't so great. Good gosh I'm going to miss that guy. His smile. The way every day was a fresh start. The way he would learn or do something new every day. The absolute miracle of child development - where he went from a baby to an actual person right before my eyes. The early mornings. The late nights. The way he could crawl into my arms and give me a huge when he scared. Being a daddy. I'm going to miss it all.

But letting go is part of the gig.

No matter how I add it up, the good of this situation has outweighed any bad. I'd do it all over again in a minute. And while it hurts, I know this has actually been a success story.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Reston Zoo: The Little Zoo That Could

A while back, Shira had taken our little guy to the Reston Zoo, and came back with a glowing report. This Sunday, however, I got to see the place in person.

As promised, it was on the smaller side. But as a kid friendly place, it can't be beat. For one thing, there are plenty of animals to feed and interact with. Our little guy is going to appreciate a goat he can feed far more than an exotic elephant he can just look at. The petting area also provides plenty of shade, and the small size in general is a win because little ones won't get as tired out from walking.

The price, especially compared to the free National Zoo, was on the steep side. But, I suppose, if you want a zoo in your backyard, it can't exactly be free. We spent about an hour there before we decided, on behalf of our little guy, that he'd had enough.

Another win is that the zoo opens at 9am on Sunday - which is late for parents who may have a child who's up at 5:45am.

All in all, it's an excellent little attraction, and for the right age group should be a home run.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Our Special Harbor Sprayground - The perfect heatwave activity

Pop quiz: Weather.com is reporting a feels-like temperature of 120°F and the car dashboard thermometer is reading 107°F. What activity can you do outside with your very activity 23 month old? Not much, right?

Luckily, our friend and gifted photographer had the perfect idea: hit the Our Special Harbor sprayground.

And her suggestion couldn't have been more perfect. It's bigger than the Arlington Spraygrounds, but isn't overwhelming. There's plenty of gushing water to entertain kids (and adults) of all ages. Oh, and it's free to the public.

It was truly the perfect way to beat the heat, and another awesome local find.

Phone Friday: Morse Code Keyboard - Fun and Useful?

Learning More Code continues to be on my TODO list. Every once in a while, I like to poke around appbrain and see what folks are doing with Morse Code on the Android platform. I suppose my hope is that it willmy butt into gear with learning it.

Today I discovered Morse Code Keyboard, which, as you might imagine installs a keyboard which is Morse code based.

As you can see, there's not a heck of a lot to the keyboard - a big o'l dot button, a dash button, and a few other keys (space, delete, etc.).

At first I thought it might be a fun little way to force me to try to learn Morse code. But, playing around with it, it actually seems like it may be useful. That's because the dot and dash buttons are so huge - it's actually the first on screen keyboard I've ever used that feels like I really don't need to put any effort into hitting the right key.

Sure, Swype is an engineering marvel. But, for tapping out messages without looking at the screen, or doing so only every once in a while, it seems like the Morse keyboard could be a much more workable solution.

I've printed out the Morse Code alphabet, taped it to an old (1998 Coke Card - what was the heck?) loyalty card, and I should be good to go for some in field training.

Here's my new setup:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sleep Karma

Yesterday, in an off handed way, I snarkly responded to a friend's Facebook feed where she mentioned that she was doing sleep training for her baby. I wasn't being snarky to her, more so to all the rah-rah parents who seemed to be kinda pushing a philosophy I'm not really behind. Anyway, it was a harmless remark, certainly not intended to hurt anybody. I'm not even sure I had an opinion on the subject.

Karma, apparently, didn't think it was so harmless.

For the last few weeks (dare I say months?) our little guy has almost effortlessly gone to bed at 7pm. Like clockwork. But last night, we got into a new game:

  1. Put child in crib
  2. Child lies down
  3. Adult leaves the room
  4. Child effortlessly hops out of his crib
  5. Adult re-enters the room and explains to said 23 month old that it is in fact bed time, not play time.
  6. Child requests to be put back into his crib so he can go to sleep.
  7. Goto Step 1

After an hour and a half of this wonderful game, our little guy finally hit the sack. At no point was he upset during this little event. He's more than happy to quietly explore his room.

Anyway, I knew that my comment was wrong and I was sorry.

Apparently, Karma wasn't done with me yet.

This morning at 5:15am, our little guy not only woke up, but again, effortlessly hopped out of his crib to start the new day.

Man, that'll teach me to comment on someone else's adventures with sleeping children. Whew. Lesson. Learned.

Kids Today. Maybe There's Hope.

Yesterday, I was hanging out at a video studio, when one of the people I was filming with mentioned her child was interested in the field.

The folks who were about 10 years or so older than my self all recounted that their first exposure to the world of video (especially editing) was in college.

Thinking back, I realized mine was in high school (Goooooo Morning Show!).

This kid was not only shooting and editing his own video, but had even purchased his own camera with his savings.

Here's the kicker: said kid is 8.

Think about that: when I was 8 years old, I was probably goofing around with G.I. Joe, not shooting a stop action lego film like this kid is.

And here's another example. I recently picked up a Syma S107 RC Helicopter to goof around with teach our little guy about the physics of flight. While surfing YouTube, I found this comprehensive review.

I can't quit tell how old video creator is, but it certainly sounds like a young kid to me.

This just boggles my mind: not only is this kid using a fair amount of technology to get this done, but he's dispensing useful advice to strangers around the world.

It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that kids today are inherently lazy, or being turned into texting zombies.

Like most things in life, it's just not that black and white. As I suppose we all knew, kids can do amazing things.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Lights, Camera, Action!

I think one of the most underappreciated jobs in the world is that of TV/movie actor. Sure, they make it look easy, but put me in front of a camera and I lose my ability to speak intelligently. Poof. It's gone.

It's with that understanding in mind that I jumped into the adventure of the day: filming a short (10 or so minute) video to help give my story about Head Start.

Our little guy has thrived in and because of Early Head Start. So, I'm a fan. I bit the bullet and agreed to participate in the video.

All in all, it went OK. A few things that surprised me:

  • They didn't record the practice sessions. What the heck? My first shtick was perfect during practice. What, tape is so expensive? I'm sure they've got a good reason for this. Though, I don't know what it is.
  • They got what they wanted in one take. I guess that means that I was either hopeless, or did fine.
  • The filming was the short part of the adventure. Waiting, getting situated, etc. took the majority of time.

All in all, it had a similar feeling to getting my hernia repaired: people were buzzing around me, doing stuff, yet trying to keep me calm. In both experiences I was clueless as to what was actually going on. Oh, and both were painless.

I didn't have the courage to watch the single take the got. Heck, I'm not excited to ever watch it. But, if given the chance, I'll share it here.

And here's proof that this happened - a photo of me after my makeup was applied. Turns out the advice I was given was dead on: if someone offers you make up, always, always, always accept it. I've been waiting for years to practice that advice, and today I got to do just that.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Politics: You can't always get what you want. Accept it.

I really like this presentation Obama gave to some college students. Give it a watch:

(watch the video)

His view that principled compromise is what allows our government to function, is one of those dirty little secrets that politicians would rather not discuss. It's much easier to do nothing on the grounds that you held fast to your principles, than it is, to compromise and take responsibility for your actions.

If you're inching forward through compromise, you're still moving forward.

Via: Obama's Last Lecture.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Phone Friday: GMarks - Tracking Blog Ideas On The Go

My bookmarking strategy has been working well for me lately: I use Xmarks to track organized bookmarks, and Google Bookmarks to hold onto blog topics and other random information that I just want to note, but not bother to organize.

Between the Google Bookmarks' bookmarklet, and the chronological view, I can quickly grab and track random sites.

I hadn't bothered to try to replicate this setup on my Android phone. For a while, I had Xmark's mobile app installed, but I found I didn't use it. I when I checked a while back, I hadn't found a good Google Bookmarks app either.

That was, until a few days, when I discovered GMarks. GMarks is a simple app that allows you to maintain your Google Bookmarks on an Android phone.

It took a few minutes to slurp down my 1,271 bookmarks. But, once it did, it was fast to use. And most importantly, it gives me the chronological view that I find so useful on my desktop.

It has the standard "Share" integration with my G2 browser. Which is to say, if I'm browsing a page of interest on my G2, I can trivially share with GMarks and have it be in my heap of ideas for later consideration.

All this means that while Shira's trying on clothes at the mall, I can be reading content and adding to my I should-blog-this-later list.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Weekend Project: Build Your Own Predator Drone

OK, not exactly. But, the recipe in this YouTube video does show you a clever way to attach a video camera to a remote controlled helicopter. You might not be able to shoot stuff, but you can at least gather intelligence.

(Play Video)

I took a quick poke around and found that recommended camera is only $12.00 on eBay, and the helicopter is around $40.00. Though, to do the project right, you do need a handful of tools and a scale.

All in all, it looks like a fun weekend project.

If you're looking for other fun projects, you should check out Kipkay's videos - he's giving you instructions for making stuff that blow up.

Happy Hacking!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What-I-Carry-Wednesday: A Day Hike Kit

I sure do like to hike. And when I do, my Boy Scouts instincts kick in, and I feel most comfortable being prepared. Essentially, I want to be able to spend a night or two outdoors if I'm lost or injured.

Most of the places I end up hiking around are quite populated, and the most important survival kit item is probably a good 'ol whistle. Still, got to be prepared.

Resources I found useful when compiling these items, include: my weekend backpacking list, Field and Stream's Altoid Tins Survival Kit, United States Rescue & Special Operations Group's gear list, This wiki, and Doug Ritter's survival kits.

All right, onto the gear:

  • A cheap LED - this is a backup, as I always carry a Photo X-light with me.
  • A compass. Again, a backup to the one I carry every day.
  • A roll of dental floss. Yes, dental floss.
  • A package of Portable Auqua water purification tables. Including the very handy neutralizer tablets which make the water taste, well, like water.
  • A safety pin
  • A FireSteel for matchless fire creation
  • A Scripto Micro Lighter
  • Hand sanitizer (useful for cleaning up, as well as a fire stater)
  • A heap of Toilet Paper. Probably the most useful item in the kit.
  • A Lightload Towel
  • About 3 square feet of heavy duty tin foil
  • An Adventure Medical Kits Heatsheet - more durable and usable than a classic mylar blanket
  • Blister treatment
  • Benadryl
  • Ben's Bug Spray Towelette
  • Some bandaids
  • A large black garbage bag
  • An oven bag. This one was new to me: it's a durable, yet lightweight, way to carry water if you don't have a canteen handy.
  • Somewhere around 20-30 feet of paracord
  • A travel "purse"

(My wallet is next to the packed bag to show scale)

Like I said, I assume I've got my usual stuff, which includes a knife, whistle, and other critical items.

The above is a pretty basic kit, but I think I've got my bases covered:

  • Fire: lighter, firesteel, rope (for a bow and drill).
  • Shelter: garbage bag, heatsheet, rope, dental floss.
  • Signaling: whistle, towel, notepad, cell phone, Photon X-light and fire.
  • Food/water: tin foil, oven bag, fire, heatsheet (useful for "rock boiling water and chow in a hole in the ground").
  • First Aid: band aids, blister treatment, Benadryl, Lightload Towel, Hand sanitizer, paracord, dental floss.
  • Towel: yes.

As a bonus, I've been keeping the kit in one of our cars. It means that I'm already half-way packed for a hike (grab some food, water, maybe a sweater, and a pack to throw this all into) and I'm also more prepared if I get stuck on the side of the road.

What's in your day hike kit?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Tactical Quick-Release Sonic Defense System

I don't carry much when I run, but as a nod to preparedness, I usually carry a whistle. It's super lightweight and useful for getting people's attention. If it was good enough for the Met Police, it's good enough for me.

But, what's the best way to secure it during a jog? It's tempting to just tie it in my drawstring, next to key, and be done with it.

But, what if I need to grab it and make some noise? Expecting that I'll have the wherewithal to untie my waist draw string, remove the whistle, not lose my house key, and blow it, seems downright silly. I'm just not that coordinated.

After a few minutes of though, I arrived at what I believe to be the ideal solution: the rubber band. It holds it securely, yet one strong tug, and the whistle is in hand.

It's simple, cheap, and gave me the perfect excuse to use the word "Tactical" in a blog post entry.

Here's what the setup looks like:

Guest Blogger Maryn - Who's Behind The Great Spork Shortage?

Guest Blogger Maryn writes:

I have had a question burning in my mind for months. I can't seem to find the answer and no matter where I look, it seems like I'll never figure it out.

What happened to the spork?

I remember in elementary school, sporks were incredibly handy for an array of food items either packed from home or purchased from the school cafeteria. Say it was spaghetti day and you also wanted a cup of sherbet for dessert. Ordinarily, you'd need a fork and a spoon to devour both tasty treats, but when the spork arrived on the scene, it became a time saver, a trash saver, and let's be honest- using a spork was a good ol' time. Fast food restaurants started supplying sporks and they were sold in grocery stores.

What happened? Did a law pass that outlawed spork usage? Did some utensil extremist group decide sporks were going against basic human values? I miss the days of carefree eating when you knew you were prepared for life's edible choices. I implore anyone with knowledge of what happened to sporks to share with the rest of the world because I am certain (hopeful?) that millions of American citizens have been wondering about this issue for years.

Editor's Note: the spork is alive and well in my backpacking gear - but not at the restaurants I frequent. Hmm....who's to blame?!

If you've got a story you'd like to contribute to Ben's Journal - then by all means, send it my way. I'll do the best I can to publish it.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Prince William Forest - A DC Hike Worth Taking

The adventure for this last weekend was a hike through Prince William Forest, a mere 30 minute* drive from our house. Being so close to DC, I wasn't expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised.

The hike was around 7 miles (though, Shira's GPS claimed 9 - not sure what's up with that), and covered a nice range of terrain. Much of the hike is along a picturesque creek, which means that water wasn't ever too far away should we need it.

There was also plenty of canopy cover, which meant that while it was a humid hike, it wasn't a scorcher. In fact, I accidentally left my sun hat a home, and even though we hiked for 7 miles, never actually needed it.

The hike was relatively kid friendly. Our little guy did the vast majority of it in our Kelty backpack. I was appreciative of the fact that while there were some steep uphills, none of them were long enough to bother me. And for the first time, our little one actually did some real hiking. We were passed by a bunch of trail runners, so he thought that was actually what he should be doing. Watching him emulate the runners as he made his way long the trail was absolutely precious.

It's true that there was no breath taking view, or awe inspiring waterfall. But, between the proximity to DC and how completely tucked away one feels, I'd say it was a winner.

We used Hiking Virginia by Bill Burnham, and found it did an impressive job of marking out the trail. Given that the book is a few years old now, it's amazing how well all the details matched up with what's there. And for the few differences present in the trail, there are enough additional details to more than make up for it.

As fun hikes in DC goes, this is one you should take.

*That's 30 minutes at 7am on a Sunday - nearly any other day or time, and with traffic you're talking a 45 minute to hour trip easily.

Vegan Baking Hack

Quick: you've got a couple of very ripe bananas, the urge to bake banana bread, and no eggs in the house. What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO?

Shira had an especially clever solution for this one: she Google'd Vegan Banana Bread and arrived at this one.

Because it's vegan, it doesn't call for eggs. And thankfully, Trader Joe's has vegan chocolate chips, so we were able to add those in and keep the bread parve.

Oh, and besides being totally delicious, it was also low fat.

I'd include a photo of how it turned out, but we made it two days ago and it's since long gone.

You'll just have to use your imagination.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

If I Truly Loved My Wife...

...I'd convince Bono to bring me up on stage, and sing All I Want Is You with U2.

That's what Adam did. Oh, and Adam is blind, too.

Babe, if I could, I would.

Watch the Video.

And, in case you're not familar with the song, here it is:

I better get working on my guitar skills!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Basketball Awesomeness

I'm not even sure I understand the thesis of this video. Doesn't matter. I just know that between the footage, music and pure awesomeness involved, I couldn't help but watch and enjoy.

Goooooooooo basketball!

Watch the video

See what I mean?

Via: Kottke.org.

Obama's Town Hall - Two More Questions I'd Ask

The Obama's Twitter Town Hall went actually pretty well today. Sure, most of it was the usual questions, with the president answering the question he wanted and not the one asked. But, it did seem to have a lively feel to it.

Two question's I wanted to blurt out at my computer today were:

  1. The President mentioned:
    It’s estimated that we have about $2 trillion worth of infrastructure that needs to be rebuilt. Roads, bridges, sewer lines, water mains; our air traffic control system doesn’t make sense. We don’t have the kind of electric grid that’s smart, meaning it doesn’t waste a lot of energy in transmission. Our broadband system is slower than a lot of other countries.

    For us to move forward on a major infrastructure initiative where we’re putting people to work right now -- including construction workers who were disproportionately unemployed when the housing bubble went bust -- to put them to work rebuilding America at a time when interest rates are very low, contractors are looking for work, and the need is there, that is something that could make a huge, positive impact on the economy overall. And it’s an example of making an investment now that ends up having huge payoffs down the road.
    My question: I thought infrastructure was a key goal of the original stimulus? Did the original stimulus end up not impacting infrastructure, was it a drop in the bucket, or what? From the sound of things, it appears like we're still waiting to get started on improving our infrastructure.
  2. The final'ish question was:
    James: “I’d cut costs by cutting some welfare programs. People will never try harder when they are handed everything.”
    The president did a eloquent job of explaining why welfare is a good thing. Though, I would love to see some hard numbers on this. How often are folks staying on welfare? What is being "handed" to these people? (From my experience, not a whole heck of a lot - so implying that they are getting *everything* is off base). In other words, rather than make this question about "are people leeching the system" vs. "should we invest in our citizens" - I'd love to actually know whether this argument has any weight to it.

Like I said, it was an entertaining little shtick and I thought, in many ways, it actually worked.

Now, the GOP Twitter Debate, where they'll be debating in 140 character blocks, sounds like a nightmare to me. But hey, maybe it'll make for entertaining responses. We'll just have to wait and see.

Santorum on Education - This can't be for real

There's a clip making the rounds where Rick Santorum is chatting it up with a bunch of students. In the segment, he starts off with this reasonable lead in:

We don’t even know our own history. There was a report that just came out last week that the worst subject of children in American schools is — not math and science — its history. It’s the worst subject. How can we be a free people. How can we be a people that fight for America if we don’t know who America is or what we’re all about.

Fair enough. Then he makes a left turn into crazyville with this:

This is, in my opinion, a conscious effort on the part of the left who has a huge influence on our curriculum, to desensitize America to what American values are so they are more pliable to the new values that they would like to impose on America.

Huh? Where does one begin to unpack a statement like this. Has he actually met real teachers? Has he heard of the Texas Board of Education? What about No-Child-Left-Behind? What what values, exactly, do liberals want to impose?

One thing I will say is, I wasn't able to find the entire clip. So, it's quite possible this is taken out of context. We've certainly been fooled before, as you can edit a YouTube video to say anything you want. But man, this one seems pretty clear cut whacky.

Here's the clip - does it seem real to you?

View the clip

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Shameless Plug: GDLStudio.com - Art, Photography and all things Greg

My buddy, Greg Lavine, recently launched GDLStudio.com - a place where you can read about and see the latest art/photography projects he's tackling.

Greg's one of those people who seems to just find the right angle, the right perspective, the right something, to turn a regular photo into something beautiful. You can see it in his photostream. Between a trip to Belize and Key West, I must have dozens of pictures of roosters - yet Greg's just have that wow quality to them that mine lack.

For a while now, Greg has been collecting photos of letters. Which doesn't really sound like that exciting a past time, until you see the clever ways he can use them. Heck, the way he uses them on his site alone is impressive.

If you're looking for a gift for that person who has everything, I've got to think something from The Studio would fit the bill nicely.

Anyway, Greg is a friend - so check out his site, and if he gives you any problems, let me know. I'll give him a stern talking to. Much more likely, you'll walk away a happy and informed customer.

Taming 17,297 Photos

If there's one thing I got, it's photos our little one. They are everywhere - from random laptops and cell phones, to stray memory cards. Shira informed it was time to get my act together and organize them so she could actually do the difficult work of sorting through them and picking out the best ones.

Here's the script / strategy I came up with. In the end, it helped me reorganize and rename 17,297 photos. A task that would be dang near impossible to do by hand.

The main tools I used were Cygwin and ImageMagick. I didn't write these scripts with the intention of having others use them - so if they are helpful, great. But don't expect them to run without some coaching on your end.

Step 1: Build up an image library

The trickiest part of the process was to find all the devices and locations photos our little guy could be found. I had a fairly large external drive lying around, so I carved out a space in e:\Incoming to store all the files I found. Within the incoming directory, I had a directory for the device name, and then I copied in the hodgepodge of files.

Step 2: Build up a primary index

The code below was run at the command line. It craws through the incoming folder and attempts to extract the date the photo was shot for every file it finds. Junk in the folders, such as a non-image files, are more or less ignored.

cd e:/incoming
find -type f | 
 while read x 
  do identify.exe -format '%d/%f@@%[exif:DateTimeDigitized]' "$x" 
done | tee /cygdrive/c/Users/foo/Desktop/photos.index

Step 3: Generate a copying script

Next up, I took the index, photos.index, and ran it through an awk program to create a new shell script. The awk script below takes care of parsing the index, choosing a sane and consistent name for each file, and arranging for it to be copied to that file.

#!/usr/bin/awk                 
BEGIN {                        
  FS = "@@";                   
}                              
$2 == "" { next; }             

/.picasa/ { next; }            

{                              
  split($2, timestamp, "[ :]");
  dir = timestamp[1] "-" timestamp[2];
  file = timestamp[1] "." timestamp[2] "." timestamp[3] "-" timestamp[4] "." timestamp[5] "."  timestamp[6] ".jpg";
  printf("mkdir -p $OUTGOING_ROOT/%s\n", dir);
  printf("cp \"$INCOMING_ROOT/%s\" $OUTGOING_ROOT/%s/%s\n", $1, dir, file);
}

The above script was run as:

  awk -f mkscript.awk photos.index > photos.sh

Step 4: Run the copy script

All that was left to do was to run the script generated in step 3. For the script to run, I needed to set various environment variables. The following took care of this:

  $ export OUTGOING_ROOT=e:/outgoing
  $ export INCOMING_ROOT=e:/incoming
  $ sh -x photos.sh

After a couple hours, I had a cleanly organized directory, where each file was named by the date and time it was created. Photos from different cameras at the same event were neatly placed right next to each other.

With that out of the way, Shira just needs to look through the 17,000 photos and decide which ones to print. Too bad there's no command line utility to take care of that task.

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