Monthly Archives: June 2008

It was time to evolve…

Some of the films I have loved (Click for larger…)

I have nothing against film. I like film. I’ve been using it since I started photographing around 1990, when I appropriated my mom’s Pentax-mount Ricoh just before our trip to Yellowstone. (After getting my first real job I bought into the Nikon system and have never looked back.) My large format camera uses film, since I don’t have $6,500 to $22,000 to buy a digital scanning back. (It cracks me up when people ask me whether I use digital with it.)

But now I’m done using film for my small-format, day-to-day photography.

On our last few trips (to the Midwest, to DC, and to London) I’ve borrowed Lisa’s digital point-and-shoot camera a lot. I’ve also used it for almost all of my headstone photographs, too. Along the way — while I was still using my much loved Nikon F3-HP and FM-10N cameras — I started to notice two things:

  1. Film and developing are growing more and more expensive. Recently I spent $8 for a roll of film and $10 to get it developed. A bit pricey when you consider that a few years ago it cost less than $10 for both combined. For a while it also took about a week to get it back once I dropped it off.
  2. The whole workflow from exposure to publishing takes forever. (Expose. Wait to fill up the roll. Take the roll for developing. Wait. Take the film home. Wait until I have time to scan. Spend time to make the scanned image look like the film.) My film SLR camera does so many more tricks than the family point-and-shoot, but I found myself wanting to use an inferior camera so that I could get them on the web or in print faster.

Finally, after years of waiting for cameras in the middle of the price range to catch up with film, I bought myself a digital SLR. I feel a twinge of dishonesty when I refer to my camera as “mid-range;” it is by far the most expensive piece of photographic equipment I have ever bought. (And I’m not happy with the fact that, as digital technology improves, it’s necessary to buy a new camera to take advantage of it, rather than just buying a new kind of film. Oh well.)

Price notwithstanding, I am so very happy with it. Those Nikon engineers make wonderful cameras that are a joy to use.

But I have reservations. I’ve had hard drives crash and lost files, but I had the originals; so I just lost time. With my new camera, there’s no slide, no negative, no artifact. I’m working on this problem that many have solved so many different ways.

In the meantime, I promise pictures.

Posted in Fodder for Techno-weenies, Photography | Leave a comment

Sunil Gupta talks about Mr. Malhotra’s Party at Tate Modern

I haven’t done much with my perhaps overly ambitious project to examine contemporary Indian art photography. Last year on a short trip to the time-warp Iowa, I collected some notes on the many photographs I found on the web. And I did manage to make it to Harvard last month to attend a lecture with Sabeena Gadihoke and Homai Vyarawalla. Not exactly contemporary photography, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Unfortunately, I missed the earlier lecture with Ram Rahman and Sunil Gupta. They’re both very provocative and accomplished photographers still doing work. The few photographs from Rahman that I’ve seen concern cinema imagery and the influence of film on Indian visual culture. (Hint: It’s huge.) On a related note, I rather like Pushpamala N, and her quasi-cinematic work.

Sunil Gupta really intrigues me. Sotheby’s describes him as “an artist, curator, writer, and cultural activist [who] has made a significant contribution to contemporary art practice and discourse around the globe. Through his work he challenges stereotypes and questions beliefs, by exploring issues of race, gender, and sexuality, and related issues of access, place, and identity.” Like a number of other Indian photographers, such as Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, his work examines (in part) what it’s like to be an Indian in diaspora.

So I was quite happy to see a TateShots video show up in my iTunes podcast playlist earlier this week:

Click for larger

In the short video, Gupta discusses the context for a couple of images currently on display in the Tate Modern’s Street and Studio exhibit.

They were taken in 2007 and they are part of an ongoing series called Mr Malhotra’s Party and the name of the series comes from what gay nights in Delhi are referred to, which are held in commercial bars and clubs, but because it’s illegal there, they are deemed as private parties.

Part of the underlying motivation is to show to people, especially in Delhi itself, that gay people are very ordinary looking, and part of just the social scene, part of the family structures that people live in. . . .

But what I like about India is that the street is like a theatre. So as you can see, tons of stuff happens around. So although the main subject and I are fixed and static, there is all this business, like it’s changing every second, what’s happening around the person. It’s like, it’s very lively. So I’m quite drawn to something that’s quite solid-looking, you know, compositionally.

Check it out.

Posted in India, OPP, Photography, Worthy Feeds | 1 Comment

My Spring of 100 Mistakes – Part 3

Spring is officially over, but I’m continuing to make mistakes with my large format camera. Not a lot of mistakes. Not major mistakes, just little mistakes. But I’m really glad that I’ve been learning close to home so that I can make changes before our big trip. (Next Monday we start a four week jaunt around the West, starting in Denver and making a sweeping northward arc before turning around in Portland, Oregon.)

I’m at the point now where many of my mistakes could be solved — or at least ameliorated — through the judicious use of instant film for proofing. Sadly, Polaroid is discontinuing instant film by the end of the summer. The silver lining is that Fujifilm makes instant pull-apart film. The yet-more bad news, though, is that I would have to buy another $125 film holder. (Photography as a hobby is akin to heroin use — or golf; you always have the opportunity to buy something more.)

Nevertheless, I have good news to share. Last weekend I took my camera with me to Winchester and made a couple of exposures before viewing the juried show at the Griffin. (More on that later.) One of my photographs was unpleasantly dark; but the one that I spent about fifteen minutes setting up turned out quite nicely, if just a tad underexposed. It was quite gratifying to be able to use all of the features of a view camera to make an image I couldn’t really do with my SLR.

As for mistakes and lessons learned. . .

Eight: Those little numbers on the lens and the incident light-meter matter. I think the reason that one of my photographs was so underexposed was that I didn’t exercise sufficient care in setting the f/stop. It’s also possible that the shutter on my lens needs a 1/3 – 1/2 stop correction factor. But there’s not a lot of distance on these lenses between correctly set and wildly wrong. I must exercise more caution.

Plus the off-camera meter specifies exposure down to 1/10 of a stop. f/45 plus 0.7 is not equivalent to f/64. If using a large format camera has taught me anything, it’s that you pay dearly for the smallest bit of laziness.

Nine: Always take another exposure reading before tripping the shutter. Light changes slightly even on a mostly sunny day.

Ten: Focusing is pretty tricky, even though the ground glass is enormous (four-by-five inches, fer-goodness-sake). You see, I’m what you might call very nearsighted. So I wear glasses, but when I look at things very close to my nose while wearing my glasses, everything is blurry. What to do?

Fancy-pants photographers buy expensive loupes with rubber edges so they can place them right on the ground glass. I use an inexpensive plastic magnifying glass. It has two magnification levels, seems to do the job very well, and doesn’t take up much space in my bag.

Eleven: It gets pretty hot under the focusing cloth. Wear cool clothes on a hot day . . . or at least ones that won’t show how much you sweat.

Twelve: Use that graduated neutral-density filter to equalize sky and foreground exposure. I mean, I own a pair of them; I might as well avail myself of their awesomeness. (It’s been too long since I’ve been on top of my game.)

Thirteen: My film scanner doesn’t support 4×5 film after all. To “scan” the picture below, I had to take a photograph of it with my digital camera. It’s not a great likeness. How ghetto.

Spare yourself, and don’t click for larger

Posted in Fodder for Techno-weenies, Large Format Camera, Life Lessons, Photography | 1 Comment

From the Yellow Notepad: Project Management - Effective Project Management As promised before, here are some more notes from the classes that I’ve taken as part of my soon-to-be-completed Master of Software Engineering degree. This time: (software) project management. Most of this information comes from Effective Project Management by Robert K. Wysocki.

FYI, this was one of the few classes where most of my in-class notes weren’t about the course material at all but were reflections about how we do project management where I work. Once I discovered that I was a project manager, I realized that I had best become better at doing it. Funny how obvious that seems in retrospect.


Project = “A sequence of unique, complex, and connected activities having one goal or purpose and that must be completed by a specific time, within budget, and according to specification.” (Wysocki, 4)

Program = A collection of projects with multiple goals.

Most “interesting” software projects involve some degree of unclear requirements or unknown solution. These projects should ALWAYS use an adaptive/agile or iterative approach.

  • Examples: Evolutionary waterfall (for low risk/easy projects), SCRUM, Rational-Unified Process (RUP), Dynamic Systems Development Method.
  • These methods separate high-level and detailed planning. Each must be done, but the detailed planning is not done all “up-front.”
  • (These are not iterative approaches: Pure Waterfall, Rapid/Parallel Development, Staged Delivery.)

Continuous quality managment and process quality improvements appear as keys to successful projects.

What every project should have . . . to some extent or another

Linear/waterfall, iterative/agile/adaptive, and extreme project management techniques all have the same phases, they just appear in different ways. They are:

  • Define the project: Take the problem, proposed solution, and objectives and make a project charter and scope document
  • Develop detailed plan(s) — preferably iteratively and just-in-time
  • Launch the plan(s)
  • Monitor and control project progress: Reporting, change control, problem escalation, revising plans
  • Close out the project — Acceptance, installation, party! Seriously, you must party.

Risk Management

The major responsibility of the project manager is to manage risk in the project.

  • Identify risks:
    • Quality and performance with respect to technology
    • Resource allocation
    • Planning process
    • Organizational support
    • Changing legal and regulatory requirements/availability
    • Suppliers and contractors
  • Assess risks:
    • Separate risk, magnitude, and probability
    • Exposure = Probability of loss times cost of loss
    • Consider using a risk matrix (high-medium-low cost v. high-medium-low probability) to track exposure
    • Consider whether solution costs more than the loss
    • Assess risks at each project phase/iteration
  • Respond to risks:
    • Accept — Do nothing
    • Avoid — Don’t do that part of the project
    • Contingency planning — Reframe the plan to deal with risk
    • Mitigate — Reduce the probability and/or the magnitude of loss
    • Transfer — Outsource the risky part to someone more capable of handling it
  • Monitor and control risks:
    • Make a risk log.
    • Review risks at status meetings.
    • Add triggers to risks so that countermeasures are taken at the appropriate time.

Project estimation

The average worker efficiency in IT is 50-65%. That’s the amount of time actually devoted to project work. That doesn’t include ad hoc interruptions, which takes another 33% of so of the workday. And there’s a lot of variation in duration for the same task, since everyone works at different capacities. So . . . It’s best to think in terms of task size and not the time that it takes to complete a particular time.

Methods for estimating task size:

  • Similarity to other activities already done — Usually a very good predictor
  • Historical data — Usually very objective and concrete
  • Expert advice — Be weary of using just this
  • Delphi technique — Iterative planning poker. Result is the average of the third round (or consensus)
  • Three point technique — E = (Optimistic + 4*Most Likely + Pessimistic) / 6 for however you define those three terms
  • Wide-band Delphi — Delphi technique with three point computation instead of a simple average

You can (and should) determine duration from the effort values and from that cost.

Project task management

Having a work breakdown structure (WBS) does not mean that the project must be managed like a waterfall, with all of the tasks defined to a fine precision before implementation can start (though some tools make this more likely).

Parts of the WBS can (and should) be high-level at the start. The plan gets more detailed with each iteration. Instead, treat a WBS as a represention of the functional/modular breakdown of the system. It’s useful for visually thinking about the project, designing the architecture, planning and estimating, and reporting status.

The network diagram is more useful in actually planning the project than a Gantt Chart, which is good because Gantt Charts suck. Then network diagram contains sequencing information, and you can use it to find the critical path of tasks that define the full project duration.

Random thoughts

This stuff — plus copious amounts of Hindi and Arabic scribbling — filled the spaces between my notes from reading Wysocki.

  • If I had a time machine and could redo parts of a project, when would I go to add more value or lower costs?
  • Lucky + smug = ?
  • Consider keeping a historical journal for estimation: size of project, time, resources, technology.
  • Engineers are creative, problem-solving people. Rule-following is not a creative act and implies a solved problem. If software engineers are going to do project management, the project management techniques must not get in the way of actually solving the project’s problems or it just won’t happen.
  • I am the very model of a modern major general.
  • How well does agile planning and development scale? Can you do critical path analysis with it? Is it even worth trying to do that?
  • Measure quality, productivity, maintenance work v. feature work, time to market. Measure when starting, when passing milestones, when encountering defects.
  • I like postage stamps.
  • Iterative development should have deliverables that can actually be met at the end of each iteration. The iterations should be tied to deliverables. Milestones shouldn’t just be mile markers; that’s what a calendar is for.
  • Do risk management at every stage of the project.
  • Use a pull system for features with insertion for bugs and technical support assistance. Translate “do interruptions now” to “do next.” Finish up what’s in progress if it’s worth doing.
  • Product != Project != Program != Product
Posted in From the Yellow Notepad, Life Lessons, Software Engineering | 4 Comments

Bibliography of Early National Period and Western History

I just realized I have this biggish, vaguely-annotated bibliography of almost 400 works on early American and Western American history. It’s neither current nor authoritative and only goes through 2002, but it’s free and might have a hidden gem or two.

You can download the bibliography in EndNote 4 format. (Hey, it’s been a while since I used it.) Or you can browse it online. Some of the entries have additional notes not shown in the HTML.

Posted in History | Leave a comment

Worcester v. Georgia, or what I read on the beach in the Bahamas

It’s time for me to own up to something: I possess a much larger than average collection of books and notes about the Indian Removal Act, the Early National Period, and the Nullification Crisis. Like Louis P. Masur, I think 1831 was one of the most interesting years in American history. Through a variety of contemporaneous events, we can start to see a nation moving beyond its revolutionary zeal, becoming something like the America we know today while also sowing the seeds (in the Nullification Crisis) of extralegal struggles over state rights and eventually war.

(And I guess it’s time for me to admit that when I sat on a Bahamian beach soaking up the warm winter sun in December 1999, I was reading a 1924 copy of Benjamin H. Hibbard’s A History of the Public Land Policies. Yep, it was a strange time for me.)

One of the things I love about studying American history is seeing the evolution of the “American Character” — which I believe actually exists, for better or worse (mostly for the better) — or at least the expression of various recurring aspects of an ever-changing character. It’s something I can’t satisfactorily explain even to myself as I stare dimly across the unbridgeable void to the past; but at times I feel like it wouldn’t be much harder to relate to a Midwesterner of the early 19th century than one from today.

Yet, despite being a Westerner who knew militia folks and who thought for a while that federal laws made by D.C. bureaucrats and Northeastern elites were at best advisory when applied to a wild place like Wyoming, I still have trouble grasping the fire and passion in the mid-18th century over states’ rights conflicts, abolition, and Indian Removal. I can understand but not feel the ardor of the Second Great Awakening, which helped inspire the latter two. (For that matter, I can barely understand 1968 and am pretty sure I would have been a conservative square.)

Anyway, let’s bring this rambling reminiscence to a halt and get to the point. In 2000 I wrote a paper that examined Andrew Jackson’s differing reactions to the Marshall Court’s 1832 ruling in Worcester v. Georgia (in which he nullified the Supreme Court’s decision to exert Federal supremacy over states’ right regarding so-called “Indian removal”) and the Nullification Crisis (when he was ready to send federal troops to South Carolina to enforce an act of Congress.)

I never got around to revising it when I applied to grad schools in 2002, opting instead to go with a paper I was writing at the time about the western journeys of Major Stephen H. Long. (Perhaps I would have had better results if I had.) But if you can stand a few rough edges, you might be interested in reading To Raise Up an Interesting Commonwealth: Jackson’s Reaction to Worcester and Nullification.

Posted in History, This is who we are, Travel | Leave a comment

Photography + Terrorism = Poppycock

I was talking with someone the other day about photography and terrorism plots. I’ve written about this before. And now that I’m using a large format camera, it seems even more ridiculous that someone in plain-view with a camera should be worthy of suspicion.

Except that it’s nonsense. The 9/11 terrorists didn’t photograph anything. Nor did the London transport bombers, the Madrid subway bombers, or the liquid bombers arrested in 2006. Timothy McVeigh didn’t photograph the Oklahoma City Federal Building. The Unabomber didn’t photograph anything; neither did shoe-bomber Richard Reid. Photographs aren’t being found amongst the papers of Palestinian suicide bombers. The IRA wasn’t known for its photography. Even those manufactured terrorist plots that the US government likes to talk about — the Ft. Dix terrorists, the JFK airport bombers, the Miami 7, the Lackawanna 6 — no photography.”

(Via (Notes on) Politics, Theory & Photography)

Posted in Photography, This is who we are | 1 Comment

MATLAB Performance Tricks #1

Avoid str2double and str2num. Use sscanf instead.

For scalars, you’ll see a modest improvement.

>> str = '0009';
>> tic; for p=1:1000, str2num(str); end; toc
Elapsed time is 0.126388 seconds.
>> tic; for p=1:1000, sscanf(str, '%d'); end; toc
Elapsed time is 0.022299 seconds.
>> str = '3.14159265';
>> tic; for p=1:1000, str2double(str); end; toc
Elapsed time is 0.056466 seconds.
>> tic; for p=1:1000, sscanf(str, '%f'); end; toc
Elapsed time is 0.017805 seconds.

For vectors, you’ll see a more hefty speed up.

>> str = '0009 3.14159265';
>> tic; for p=1:1000, str2double(str); end; toc
Elapsed time is 0.480512 seconds.
>> tic; for p=1:1000, sscanf(str, '%f'); end; toc
Elapsed time is 0.027449 seconds.

Also favor sprintf instead of num2str.

>> tic; for p=1:1000, num2str(p); end; toc
Elapsed time is 0.101599 seconds.
>> tic; for p=1:1000, sprintf('%d', p); end; toc
Elapsed time is 0.018325 seconds.
Posted in Computing, Life Lessons, MATLAB | Leave a comment

My Spring of 100 Mistakes – Part 2

It’s still spring — even though it was 96ºF outside today and 92º in the house — and I’m still making mistakes. If you missed it, you can still read about the first batch of mistakes I made with my newish 4×5 large format camera.

The first go-round assumed that I was doing things right to get light onto the film. An assumption that I wasn’t immediately able to test.

Mistake Five: Have a post-exposure plan. After I made some test black-and-white exposures in March, I didn’t consider what I would do with the film after tripping the shutter and putting the dark slide back into the film holder. (The dark slide is the thing that blocks light from striking the film while it’s in the holder and which is pulled out before tripping the shutter.) I don’t have any developing equipment. Nor do I have a lightproof box to hold the film until I can get it to the lab. So I still have a film holder loaded with two sheets of exposed film. Hmm. . . .

The B&W sheets are just for practice, since I plan on doing most of my work in color. Fortunately, I have a Fuji QuickLoad holder, which really simplifies things for certain color films. QuickLoad wraps the film in an envelope that does double duty as the dark slide and a convenient light-tight container before and after exposure. (“Naked” B&W film is about five times cheaper per sheet, though.)

Click for larger

So I took a few sheets of Fuji Velvia 100F QuickLoad film with me when we went to Marblehead on Memorial Day. On Saturday I took the three sheets of film to Newtonville Camera and dropped them off with the same peace of mind that I would 35mm film.

Click for larger

Six: Be sure to set the ISO dial correctly on the handheld lightmeter. Large format cameras don’t have a TTL exposure meter. (Actually, large format cameras don’t have much of anything that other “modern” cameras do.) So you have to use some kind of off-camera meter. I use a Sekonic incident/reflective meter, but I forgot to set the film dial to ISO 100 when I switched from shooting Tri-X film, which is ISO 320. (The bigger the ISO number the more sensitive the film and the less light that it needs for a “correct” exposure.)

When I returned home from Newtonville today with my newly developed film, I discovered — as you might expect — that all three of my exposures were about one-and-a-half stops underexposed:

Click for larger

Seven: If you don’t read the camera manual, you won’t know that the camera has a front swing mechanism. I didn’t read the manual.

Posted in Large Format Camera, Life Lessons, Photography | 2 Comments

Scientific American article on digital fakery

Here’s a follow-up to my dispatch from January about Hany Farid’s presentation at Electronic Imaging on detecting digital manipulation of images. Dr. Farid has written an article on digital forensics in this month’s issue of Scientific American.

(Thanks to Steve on Image Processing for the link.)

Posted in Color and Vision, Computing, Fodder for Techno-weenies, Photography | Leave a comment