Monday, July 9, 2012

Alice 1998-2012

Alice, Clara's sister and a cat, was diagnosed with cancer in her chest in April and I had her euthanized a week later. This may sound very similar to Clara's story, except it was a different kind of cancer (a tumor mass, rather than lots of floating or semi-attached cancerous cells, as I understand it). I wrote a list of "Things about Alice" as I did for Clara, but it's on a piece of paper so will have to get transcribed here someday. Or maybe it will never happen. I only found the time to write the list while I was pumping breastmilk in the Mother's room on my lunch break at work... I'm a bit busier these days than I used to be because, as you might surmise or know, I have a kid now. My post on Clara's carcinomatosis is by far the most read and commented-on page on my blog, presumably because of the lack of other information about carcinomatosis in cats elsewhere on the internet. It has also become a place for people to share their own stories about their wonderful cats who developed carcinomatosis. I get sad every time I get an email notifications that another person has commented on that post, because it means another cat is gone and another person or family is sad (though I do also very much appreciate that people take the time to comment). But I'm getting off topic here. Alice, I miss you and I am sorry that you had to compete with a baby for my affection in your last months.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Photography immersion

California poppies, and a crazy slow shutter/fast focusing technique I tried.

I haven't been very good about writing blog posts lately. I've been busy being mad at the unfairness of life (I know it's pointless, but I can't seem to stop) and doing more physical therapy exercises (I'm doing better physically due to the latter, thank you). I've also been learning more about photography and trying to pick up tips here and there. See, at the beginning of the year I failed to make resolutions per se, but I did decide that I would try to get better at photography this year. Photography makes me happy, and I could use more of that. It helped that a professor visiting our lab for the year from Scotland is also a keen photographer, so we often discuss photography. Since the digital camera era has made a lot of people interested in photography, I thought I'd share some of my favorite websites/podcasts/videocasts that have been helping me learn more about the technical side of photography in case it can help any of my readers--I know three of you (Genevieve, Kirsty, and Kim) are somewhat interested in photography and the other two (that's you, Ian and mom) aren't, but maybe someone else with an interest in photography will come across my mediocre blog in time!

A hallway on the campus where I work.

The thing I've been spending the most time on is listening to the old podcasts of TWIP (This Week In Photography) on my iPod Shuffle while running and eating lunch, trying to catch up to the current show (I have a way to go--they've been putting out ~1 hour podcasts once a week for over a year). I subscribed via iTunes so you can search for it there. They (the people of TWIP) also keep a blog that has additional information and also the show notes for the podcasts [UPDATE: try this blog (Photofocus) and this blog (TWIPlog) instead--they moved and diverged a bit]. The podcast is basically a round table discussion of photography news and tips, with the "panelists" being a group of respected photographers and digital perfecting/manipulation types. I am impressed by the breadth of experience of the panelists--I think they were well-chosen because they each have different specialties and thus as a group they have a wide spectrum of viewpoints. My favorite person on the show is one of the original two hosts (he seems to now have have been replaced as a host by one of the long-time panelists for the podcast, but still has a lot to do with the blog): Scott Bourne. As a host, he's pretty good at keeping things on track and I like his direct, practical attitude. Apparently, a number of people (listeners) have issues with him--they don't like the way he flaunts his wealth or his "hard-assedness" that he displays in managing the comments section of the blog etc. But whatever, it doesn't bother me and what's more, I like his voice. I am not alone in liking the TWIP podcast--it is apparently #1 for photography podcasts. The podcast does have quite a bit to do with raving about new technology but even though I don't have the paycheck to keep up with the Joneses in that regard, I find I learn interesting technical stuff when they start discussing the new products so that's okay.

Some bacterial colonies that I grew as part of my experiments. See, bacteria can be pretty!

In TWIP, they talk about Flickr a lot (TWIP runs competitions through Flickr and also has a critique forum etc. there), so I did try to give Flickr another chance by uploading more of my photos and trying to spend more time wandering through other people's photographs there, but I still am not a fan of the Flickr format. For those who don't know, I do the bulk of my photo displaying over on smugmug. Yes, I have to pay for it and Flickr is free, but I like smugmug better and it acts as backup storage for my photos. If you'd like to sign up for smugmug too, you can use my coupon code (on my smugmug page) and get a discount, and that will also earn me a discount on my renewal... and that would be the first money I'd ever get from photography ;-)

An unusual plant I encountered on a hike.

Okay, what else? A couple of people from Kelby Training recently started a videocast called D-Town TV of tips for Nikon cameras, so I've been watching that. The problem is that my camera is 5 years old and they only focus on the newer Nikon cameras. But, it's only about 10 minutes a week of my time to watch it and it's teaching me the cool things that newer cameras are capable of... downside to that is that it makes me want a newer camera! 

An awesome flower (in South Africa).

As for Kelby Training itself, I have watched the (free) introductory lessons to a few of their courses (you have to pay to watch the rest of the lessons for the courses). I haven't yet paid for them because you pay by the month for unlimited courses and I don't have enough time to squeeze in enough of the courses to make it worth it. Also, a lot of their classes are about using Photoshop and I don't care about that (since I don't have Photoshop). If at some point I find myself with lots of time, I will watch all the Joe McNally videos (mostly on artificial lighting--not something I use a lot, but I think it is interesting) and the Moose Peterson ones (wildlife and landscape--my favorite genre of photography is Nature). I was particularly impressed by the Joe McNally introductory lessons so I'm glad that he makes appearances on D-Town TV too.

By the way, if you're interested in flash (and especially off-camera) lighting, this is widely viewed as an excellent site for it: Strobist.

You might also want to read Thomas Hawk's tips for newer dSLR camera users.

A lizard on the campus where I work.

Before this year, I'd basically never edited a photo... I assumed that if I put in enough thought at the time of shooting, I'd never have to worry about editing. Well, now that everyone says you should take photos in RAW format (vs. jpeg), I gave that a try and realized my photos didn't look very good straight out of the camera anymore. My sister then informed me that if you shoot RAW, you basically have to run it through some software to get it to look good (when your camera processes the image to spit out a jpeg file, it does some behinds-the-scene stuff to the image to make it look "better"). So I went back to shooting jpegs while I did a bit of research on software. I'm not about to spend big bucks on Photoshop, and a couple of the guys on TWIP seem to use Aperture a lot, so I've downloaded the trial version of that to give it a try (other people on the show use Adobe's Lightroom, but I like Apple so am trying Aperture first. You can apparently also get a free trial of Lightroom). Both Aperture and Lightroom help you manage your photo collection (I'd been using Apple's iPhoto for that) and allow quite a bit of image adjustments, just not as much as Photoshop. To help me use Aperture, I've been watching the tutorial videos for it on the Apple site. Rumor has it that Aperture 3.0 may be coming out in the next couple of months, so I won't be buying a license for it until I hear more about that (it was a very sketchy rumor I heard second-hand, so if anyone finds this blog by searching for Aperture three-point-oh, you are in the wrong place to find out when it will be released).

I altered this photo with iPhoto! I changed the exposure and contrast, I think, and I like it better than the original. It's of Snoqualmie Falls in Washington state.

As the TWIP panel regularly mentions, writers become better writers by reading, and photographers become better photographers by looking at other people's photos. To help me with that, I subscribe to a couple of professional photographers' blogs: Phil Colla's Oceanlight, and Ron Niebrugge's Niebrugge Images. There are many others out there, and for many other genres. Many wedding photographers have their own blogs, so if that's what you're into, you could try those. 

Grass at Lake Murray, taken after sunset with my 50 mm f/1.8 lens! Amazing that it could let in so much light with a reasonable shutter speed.

All the above has improved my knowledge, but has it improved my photography? Probably not a lot yet, because I haven't been taking enough photos lately! I do think my photography has improved in the last year though, but it happened before I got so into reading/listening to all the above things. First, for my trip to South Africa last year, I stopped using the "Auto" setting on my camera after reading my camera's manual and discovering all the things the "program" settings (like "landscape," "portrait," "action" etc) do. Earlier this year, I took my camera to lab a couple days and went and took photos of whatever during my lunch break, but had my camera set to "Manual"--took me back to the days of using my manual film camera and reminded me of all the things I'd forgotten! On Manual mode, you have to adjust the aperture and shutter speed and ISO settings until the exposure is good--takes a lot of fiddling, and makes you pay attention to your camera settings. Then, the first day that I went to see the desert wildflowers this year, I focused on aperture settings (the aperture in my lens, not the software)... I put my camera on aperture priority (what most pros seem to use for most of their shooting) and then watched what happened to my photos when I changed the aperture. That was a very good experience--helped me get a better feel for what changing the aperture accomplishes besides letting in more light. The next time I was out in the desert, I focused on focus (hee hee). I realized from the aperture day that blurry images just aren't good ;-) So, I recommend reading your camera manual and not using the Auto setting, if you still do that.

A ladybird on a flower that I took a photo of on the day I was focusing on focus.

By now, you're probably thinking I'm getting paid to plug certain products or productions :-) If only... then maybe I could afford some of the photography gear on my ever-growing wish list! 

I have a blog?

Oh, yeah, it looks like I do! Oh oh... it's been a while since I wrote anything! Hmmn. Will have to think of something to write about. In the meantime, here's a photo of how I feel:

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Photo diary of the last few days

I'm going to work backwards, since that's the order my photos loaded in :-)

I made a knitted kitty, inspired by an ex-roommate of mine, Jodi, and with a pattern from another person's blog (if you don't like swearing, don't go there).

To take the photos of the kitty last night, I decided I should practice using my fancy flash off-camera (my camera can remotely control the flash). I couldn't remember how to do it, so I got out my camera manual, my flash manual, and did a google search and finally got it, as this test shot (while sitting at my computer) shows. You can also see the manuals in the background.
Yesterday afternoon, Jesse and I went over to a coworker's house to watch a football game. For those of you who know me and Jesse, you'll know we are not the football-watching types. But, we decided it would be fun to give it a try. As I'm working backwards here, I'll start with after the game--"our" team, the San Diego Chargers, lost, but we sat on my coworker's deck and enjoyed the sunset and city lights.
I made yellow and blue cupcakes with blue or yellow frosting. My advisor's daughter (my advisor's significant other (and father of the kid) was at the party, though my advisor was not) took quite a liking to the cupcake frosting... she licked the frosting off of four cupcakes, and only then took a nibble of one of the cupcakes (but never ate the rest of any of them). Here she is licking, and you can see another licked one on the table. 
Here are the cupcakes I took to the football watching party.

Before we left for the football party, I had a little photo shoot with Alice as she sat in some autumn-colored leaves I collected on Friday (more on that towards the end).

And here are the leaves, that I photographed separately on Saturday:

Okay, now we're at Friday, the day I collected the leaves... I sat outside when I ate my lunch because it was such a lovely day (sorry to everyone who lives somewhere that wouldn't be a possibility in January). The leaves are finally starting to turn colors and fall off trees here (took some getting used to when I moved here!). I ended up picking up a whole bunch of the leaves since I thought they were so pretty, and when I got back into lab, I tied a rubber band around them to keep them as a bunch. I happened to have my camera in lab, so one of my coworkers and I had a bit of fun. Here I am throwing my bouquet:
This photo was actually taken as a test shot as I was showing my coworker something, but I am putting it in so y'all can see where I work... my desk is at the very back on the right (you can see my desk chair pushed back) and my bench, where I keep my reagents and equipment and set up some of my experiments is in front of that, where my stool with my gray jacket is. Lab's are cluttered-looking places.
My coworker took a self portrait, and I really like how you can see another of my coworkers in the back.
Me posing with the coworker you could see in the back of the previous photo.
I put the leaves on our light box to get a back-lit shot through one of the leaves.
Here's my bouquet on the over-turned lid of my ice bucket (we put ice into them to keep reagents cold on our benches, when necessary).
And there you have it.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Vegetarian "French" Onion Soup (with apologies to the French)

Vegetarian "French" Onion Soup

Ingredients (this is already a double recipe... I like leftovers)
1 stick butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 lbs onions (was 5 large ones for me)
1.5 l vegetable stock (that's 6 cups... original recipe called for 1.9 l, but I like my soups a bit thicker. Though it was almost a bit *too* thick this time... just add more water at the end to get it to the consistency you want)
1 cup sherry (very dry) or white wine
Salt, pepper

And if you want to be good,
1 loaf French bread
gruyere cheese
maybe some parmesan

1. Put on your onion goggles. Take a self portrait.
Onion goggles, to prevent you from tearing up. No joke.

2. Peel onions. Cut in half then slice thinly in food processor
3. Heat butter and oil in large pot over medium heat and add onions
The onions at the start. These photos don't do the large size of this pot justice. For scale, my hands fit in those handles on the sides.

4. Cook onions for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally
5. In that 45 minutes, there are many things you can get done. I...
- fed Alice some canned food
- made myself a sparkling cranberry drink
I had leftover cranberry concentrate from Thanksgiving and leftover Club Soda from a silly bet I made and lost (long story). I poured about 1/6th of a glass of cranberry concentrate then filled with Club Soda. Yummy! I had seconds.

- folded a load of laundry and moved another load into the dryer
- unpacked the dishwasher
- opened my long-awaited Kiss My Face package... I needed face wash and lotion and they sent my an email saying that everything on their site was 50% off! I've been using hand soap to wash my face...
I'm *so* excited! The box smelled lovely when I opened it.

- checked email
- cleaned up the onion peels
- put away my CSA vegetables
Just don't forget to stir those onions occasionally!
The onions at 20 minutes... there's lots of liquid, but the onions have wilted a bit.

The onions at 30 minutes... less liquid.

The onions at 1 hour. Yes, I did say 45 minutes (and you can't cheat and make it shorter than that... you need the onions to caramelize slowly), but mine didn't look quite ready at 45 minutes... I think the heat was on too low at the beginning.

6. When onions have turned a lovely shade of golden, add broth, sherry, salt and pepper. At this point, I realized I had only about 1/4 cup sherry in the cupboard, so I used Marsala for the rest. It's not the same, but when else am I going to use that Marsala (like the Sherry, I bought it for cooking, but no recipes seem to ever call for it now that I have it!)?
Yummy soup goodness simmering away.

7. If you're being good, you'd slice up that bread now, top the slices with cheese, and broil them til the cheese looks extra yummy. Then you'd put a piece in the bottom of each person's bowl. If you're bad like me, just heat up whatever bread you find in your freezer first (in was Nan/Naan for me! Way to mix ethnicities!) and maybe smear some butter on it or something. 'Cos if you're like me, you don't just have gruyere lying around. And you would have decided to make this recipe when you got home a bit early one night and thus hadn't planned for it.
8. After about 30 minutes (or 10, if you're like me and just want to eat while watching The Tenant of Windfell Hall, episode 3 (of 3) on Netflix Instant Viewing and don't really care), scoop some soup up and pour it into the bowl over the piece of bread with gruyere. The bread should float to the top, but get soft enough to eat with a spoon. Serve.

Okay, so I hope at this point you understand that while this is a perfectly yummy recipe, I didn't really post it for the recipe itself... I just wanted to show off my new onion goggles (Christmas present from Santa--thanks mom and dad!). Did they work? You bet they did!!! My eyes didn't water at all. But, the onions made me sneeze and my nostrils weren't too happy--haven't ever noticed that effect of onions before, but I'm guessing that because my eyes weren't watering, I stuck it out in the kitchen longer than I normally would have, so that meant my nose got it worse than usual. Or, they could have been particularly potent onions... please don't call animal cruelty on me, but this is what Alice looked like when I went to check on her:

Is that the saddest thing? I immediately went and opened the door to our deck, even though it was cool outside, and got Alice to come sit in the fresh air by playing with her. Her eyes got better in no time, thankfully! I didn't remove my goggles until the onions had been cooking for 30 minutes. Do they make cat-size onion goggles, I wonder.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

December 1995 South Africa trip, take 2

Um, so this is a bit embarrassing... turns out I also had written a journal entry (in prose) in the same book for my 1995 trip. What I typed up earlier was just my bullet-points list. So I'm going to try again.

13 December 1995
7:42 pm Seattle time [written while in an airplane]

Well, here I am on my way to a new continent: S. America! São Paulo, Brazil, to be exact. I am $400 richer, have a $14 airport meal in my stomach, but am losing at least 15 hours of precious time with friends and relatives in South Africa. 

My story of the last 48 hours is enough to write a short story on. I will start 48 hours ago: I was in Seattle, in my apartment, recovering from my Microbiology final exam and thinking about getting down to studying for my Physics final. The rest of the night was fairly uneventful. My roommate, Jason, brought a few (female) friends over, and Genevieve and I ended up keeping two of them company while Jason flirted and had chocolate syrup fights in his room with the third young woman. [G and I shared a 3-bedroom apartment with Jason, who I think we had met in the dorms the previous year, for two quarters. Then G moved out and joined a sorority for half a day, but that's a different story, and maybe G should tell it :-) ]

On the morning of the 12th of December, at 8:30 am, I started writing my Physics final. At 10:30 am, I was done. I went and accepted gifts from my work colleagues and shared a grad. student's birthday cake with the lab. By 12:30 pm, I was on the Ave depositing a paycheck and finally, after literally months of looking, buying myself a new pair of athletic shoes and they were on sale [note to Samantha of the past... you should have spent more on athletic shoes, and you should have bought new ones more often... those shoes wound up causing you a lot of foot problems when you took up running a couple of years later].

At 2:30 pm when I returned to me apartment with the rain and wind just starting ahead of the major wind storm, the fire alarms had just started to go off. We all evacuated the building; Genevieve had been in the shower when the alarms went off, and so had to walk outside with conditioner still in her hair. [G, do you remember that? I didn't.]

Eventually, that was over too. At 3 pm, my dad was supposed to pick us up to take us down to Olympia. At 4 pm he still hadn't arrived but we got a phone call from my mother: my dad had been in a car accident. His car had been hit from behind and he hit the person in front of him, who hit the person in front of him, who hit the person in front of him-->5 cars! [hmmn, this sounds familiar. Didn't I just write that?] My dad's car was the only one with major damage. He has a large triangular dent in the back of his car, so his boot (trunk) doesn't close and his back bumper is now held on with bungie cords [I totally forgot about the damage to the boot... I think he managed to "fix" that and get the boot closed by drilling holes in the back of the car, attaching a piece of wood or something from behind it with screws, then attaching that to a rope attached to my mother's car... then he drove my mother's car slowly forward to pull the bent metal on his car out... clever dad! Another problems was that the back driver's side door was a bit tight... and he fixed that my adjusting the hinge. Good as new! Except for the accordian-like scrunched metal under the carpet in the boot.] His front bumper is slighted damaged. He was jolted hard enough that he broke his seat and his neck was hurting him. However, he tied up the car and came to pick us up at 5 pm [I'm impressed!].

When we got to Olympia, we found that the power at my parents' house had been out since 3 pm that afternoon. Luckily, we had a little propane car-camping stove, so we had warm canned corn, some rice, and spinach for supper. Then I remembered--I had 2.5 weeks' worth of dirty laundry that I wanted to do so I could take some clean clothes and underwear to South Africa with me. But, there was no power. So, by the light of a propane lantern, I packed my dirty clothes into a suitcase. Our water heater was well enough insulated that there was warm water for a shower [thank goodness! Imagine starting a holiday with a suitcase of dirty clothes AND no shower!].

After waking at 5 am this morning (Wednesday of finals week), we headed off to SeaTac. There was a lot of tree debris in the road from the windstorm, but luckily nothing to prevent us from getting to SeaTac. Our plane left only 30 minutes late, and we had a pleasant surprise when we found our assigned seats in the business section--yes! There was SO much leg room! The flight to New York was about 4.5 hours and was uneventful. We could see the Cascades as we flew over them and they were beautiful!

We arrived at JFK airport in New York at 1:55 pm Seattle time. Our next plane was supposed to take off at 3:20 pm Seattle time, so we didn't have long. Genevieve and I ran to catch a shuttle bus to our terminal in 29 degree icy New York weather. We got to the South African Airways (SAA) counter at about 2:20 pm, Seattle time. They told us they were still processing seats so we would have to wait. (Dude, fly American Airways--they give you the whole can of whatever you are drinking--TWA only gave us a cupful! [Well, the mention of TWA (that we took for the Seattle-NY leg) dates this a bit, doesn't it! And I've since discovered that getting the whole can is a hit-and-miss thing in general]). So, wait we did... with about 50 other people. Now is a good time to mention that we booked our tickets from New York to Johannesburg 8 months ago. Two months ago, we confirmed the tickets and my South African grandmother paid for them in full [sweet Ouma].

The story behind our wait started to emerge: the plane sitting at the gate was smaller than they had expected it would be, so there wasn't enough room on the plane for all of us [I now wonder if that was really true, or if they had simply overbooked]. They were taking us in order of check in and handing out boarding passes. Our pack of milling, angry, frustrated and frazzled people thinned down with time: at 3:30 pm Seattle time, there were 16 of us left. Sixteen people who had bought tickets, but for whom there was no space on the plane.

We were told that we were each going to be compensated $400 and they had got us onto the next-quickest set of plane flights to Johannesburg. We were each given a free phone card--we used the 3 minutes of international calls on one to phone our friend in South Africa who was supposed to pick us up at the airport, and the 12 minutes of domestic calls on the other to phone my mom, as we had promised. Anyway, so at 7 pm Seattle time, we were told there was a flight to São Paulo, Brazil, and after a 5 hour layover there, a flight to Johannesburg. Total extra time: 15 hours. 

In May of this year, when I was registering for my fall classes, I registered for an 8:30 am Physics class that messed up my day by meaning I had to insert work [as an assistant in a research lab... I worked ~20 hours a week during the quarter there, and full time in the summers I didn't take classes] between classes, just so that I would finish my exams two days earlier so we could get on the Wednesday flight to Johannesburg. And then, I didn't even get the flight. But, look on the bright side: $400 compensation (the whole trip, 6 flights, cost $2300 each [YIKES! I didn't remember that it was that much. My flights this year, also 6, cost $1600. So much for flying getting more expensive]). I get to see South America for the first time, albeit from an airport window (if I leave, I would have to go through customs). They also gave us a voucher worth $15 at a deli down the hallway. You don't get change for what you don't use, so I got a $6 sandwich (you wouldn't have known by looking at it), two $1.50 bottles of mineral water, a $2 pecan roll, a banana (I don't know the price) and a $1.50 apple/cranberry drink--just short of $15! [Is it just me, or do those prices sound like they're not that much less than what you'd pay now?]. We also found out how rude and unhelpful New Yorkers (at least those working at the airport) are.

Now, here I sit on the plane to Brazil, in economy class but with a seat free next to me, and a window to sleep against when I need it. Genevieve has the same (she was assigned the seat next to me, but there were two seats two rows back that were open, and the nice steward invited her to move there).

So anyway, I have one less night in South Africa now, and another 5 hour (PS turned out to be 7) wait in an airport coming up tomorrow morning (and even more airline food--yuck!). Oh! And on this flight, they gave us a toothbrush, a little bit of toothpaste, a hair comb AND the movie is going to be "A walk in the clouds", which I have wanted to see for a while (edit: it was "Free Willy" [and "A walk in the clouds," which I must have seen some other time was pretty silly anyway]). AND I get to listen to a lot of Portugese being spoken. Ooh--turbulence.

Signing off, Sam, 8:40 pm Seattle time.

[Strange... I think I write essentially the same now as I did then.]

Egg substitutes

Another piece of paper I found in the pile:

Substitute for 1 egg when baking:

1/2 of a very ripe banana

1/2 tsp ground/milled flaxseed in 1/4 cup warm water, stirred until gooey (it really does start seeming like egg whites, and this provides omega-3 fatty acids without needing to eat fish)

1/4 cup applesauce

I've never tried the banana, but I do use the other two options with great success, especially applesauce in sweet breads, such as banana, zucchini or cranberry-apple, that I make entirely vegan (the applesauce helps make and keep them moist) and flaxseed as a partial egg substitute in brownies (I just cut back the number of eggs and substitute flaxseed for the missing ones). I wouldn't try them in cookies or pumpkin pie filling... just don't think they'd do as well in those. But, please let me know if they work for you in other things.