Monthly Archive: January 2009



Originally uploaded by kaiyen

I have finally gotten around to a semi-regular schedule of hiking, having gone 3 of the last 4 weekends. I would go this weekend as well except I have a wedding.

Obviously, hiking gives me a good chance to not only photograph, but also work on seeing scenes that in all honesty look otherwise rather basic and wondering whether there is a photo there or not. Things like noticing the light, the shadows, and perhaps considering how a bit more contrast might make a difference.

This is very much the case in this photo. In color, this is a fairly bland photo. The sky is all white and blown out, the trees diminished by the expanse of grass in the foreground, and only a small bit of visible shadows. But the play of light was interesting, if not dramatic, in person.

My hope was that by converting to black and white and then increasing contrast, I could make the shadows really jump out, and silhouetting that tree on the left would really change the mood.

In this case, I was very much “seeing” in black and white, and while I used the computer to add contrast, this isn’t any different than what I might have done in a traditional darkroom.

When the government spends $700 billion, you’ve just increased demand by $700 billion

The other day, my macro-economics professor stated something similar to the title of this post in class. While government spending and demand creation is not directly linear, an interesting point is made.

When the government actually spends, say, $700 billion on roads, bridges, green energy, etc, it injects that money directly into the actual economy. Construction crews, engineers, architects, etc all get hired back on to build things, researchers are brought back into the fold to work on new energy efficient materials and processing methods, etc. Those people now have salaries and will spend at least some of it on “stuff” which will help create jobs at the companies that make “stuff” and so on and so on. Yes, many of these people with new jobs will also save a lot rather than spend but overall you will get new jobs plus more spending which leads to even more jobs.

However, when you give tax cuts, there doesn’t have nearly the demand-creation yield rate (a term I just coined…) as direct injection of money. This is because if, say, 50% of people in this current economic environment will save rather than spend, and 40% of a $700 billion stimulus plan is actually in the form of tax cuts, then we get:

$420 billion directly injected
$140 billion spent from tax cuts

And while $560 billion is a lot of money, the other $140 billion is, too.

My, how far IBM has come

IBM seen remaining steady with earnings report – MarketWatch

Between IBM being the “slow, plodding behemoth” from a decade (and a half?) ago and its significant transition from a product company to a service one, this is a pretty impressive sign.  It’s still a “bellwether” for the overall tech economy, and its transition to a service company has made it better able to withstand the current economic situation.

Team of Rivals…

I have had this thought in the back of my head for a while now and it’s now formed into something that I want to articulate into something here.

Another comparison that has been made constantly is that Obama has followed Lincoln’s precedent and created a cabinet that is a “Team of Rivals.”  Also the title of a great book by Doris Kearns Goodwin, the reference is to how Lincoln’s cabinet included many of his biggest rivals in the Republican party, including William Seward, the favorite going into the convention, as Secretary of State and Salmon Chase, who had an undying and almost heartless pursuit of the presidency even for the 1864 election, as Secretary of the Treasury.

However, if you take even a slight look at things, Obama’s cabinet isn’t a team of rivals.  You can’t even create a team of rivals today.  Seward and Chase were major players to be nominated for the Republican ticket.  The process was of course extremely different than today – there isn’t a big campaigning process that lasts for a year and covers the entire country.  But at the convention, via the means utilized at the time, they were really #1 and #2, with Lincoln eventually taking advantage of the split to get the nomination.  They were true rivals.  

Who played those roles for Obama?  Well, he had a major rival, sure – Hillary Clinton.  No question there, and she is going to be the Secretary of State, as was Seward.  But can you really call Joe Biden or Bill Richardson, both of whom put their names in the ring for the 2008 nomination but dropped out very, very early, “rivals?”  Is he really building a cabinet in a way that is different than past presidents – getting the right people around with the right skills?  (The Panetta nomination is still about Obama picking someone with the skills that he feels are right for the CIA, whether everyone else agrees or not).  

One thing that is definitely similar but the timing is way off – Lincoln helped create the Republican party in the several years before 1860, and his cabinet helped solidify its leadership.  Seward hadn’t even moved from the Whig to Republican party until relatively late in the game.  

In a sense, Obama’s campaign was the culmination of the rebuilding of the Democratic party.  At the least, after Gore lost in 2000, things were pretty much in disarray.

first among many

first among many

Originally uploaded by kaiyen

This is from my second batch of tests to find a “holy grail” of b&w film and developer. This was taken just last weekend while hiking through Alamaden-Quicksilver Park in San Jose. It’s a great park in that it has a lot of different trails, several grades for variety, and the sun moves in and out for the most part. I took a slightly different route this last time and will be doing a review of that route soon.

As for the photography…one of the great benefits of 35mm film is that the cameras are small and portable. The downside is that with a relatively small negative size you need excellent sharpness to stand up to enlargement. And with sharpness comes grain.

My goal has been to find a film and developer combination that will control grain yet give me good sharpness. Certain developers (in this case, Perceptol) are very fine grain, dissolving it, but at the expense of sharpness. When you dilute such developers, you increase sharpness. My hope was that using such a fine grain developer, diluted, would give me a sharp, fine grain developer.

Well. Guess not. Sharpness is good – excellent perhaps – but the grain is still more than I had hoped. I will try this with some slower, finer-grain film (this film isn’t fine grain to begin with – I was hoping to tame it) but will also move onto other developers.

It was a beautiful hike regardless.

Obama won’t be Lincoln (or FDR) for quite some time

I have been extremely loath to write any post about the upcoming inauguration, mostly because I feel like there are far too many people that know so much more than me – and not just the analysts and journalists, but also even some of my classmates in school, friends from college – that I’ll just look like an idiot.  

As a history major, I have never subscribed to the idea that any event at a particular time is unique, and that past lessons are largely irrelevant.  I say “largely” because I can’t imagine any historian not agreeing with the whole “those that don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it” mantra.  At some point history is relevant.  But I have run into some through my intellectual travels (ie – dinner with friends) where the point has been made that the circumstances surrounding one event in history make it so unique that it is not applicable to current events (or other events in the timeline of history).  So Waterloo happens just once and is not relevant other than as a concept.

A lot has been made about President-elect Obama’s incoming administration and the comparison to Abraham Lincoln’s 150 years ago.  The “Team of Rivals” where Obama and Lincoln both built cabinets composed of his biggest political rivals, the national crises each has/had to face while entering office, and of course even the fact that both are from Illinois.

However, while these are not only already over exaggerated and hyped up at least for the sake of media and today’s tagline-hungry population (myself included to an extent – I certainly read the headers on my RSS feeder a lot, even when I think the article looks good), the differences are, in my opinion, so different that it merits consideration as a unique situation, where one cannot even compare the tremendous challenge facing Lincoln fairly.


foggy pier

foggy pier

Originally uploaded by kaiyen

My wife and I went on a cruise to Alaska back in late August, 2008. We took many, many, many photos the whole way through. I used a digital SLR with three or four lenses I brought. She used that, too, but also a Panasonic Lumix TZ3, which is a point-and-shoot with a big 10x zoom on it. Very handy and great to have around, but in all honesty you aren’t going to confuse images from the two cameras often.

On the very last day, we docked in Seward and left the boat. It was a foggy, grey, and rather unpleasant early morning. However, because the TZ3 was just in her pocket, my wife pulled it out and took this great photo of the pier where we docked. It looks a lot better in black and white because it was rather dim and the lighting was 10 different colors, but it says a lot about just having a camera handy. Better than no camera at all or the one all zipped up in the backpack. I love the feel of this photo.

Messing with an ecosystem is rarely good

Removing cats to protect birds backfires on island

In Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse, one of the case studies he examines is the introduction of, I believe, rabbits to Australia.  They were brought in for game hunting, and actually the first attempt failed so people tried again.  However, they soon bred out of control and now the ecosystem there is devestated. 

This is kind of the opposite – feral cats were identified as having a deleterious impact on the environment, so they got rid of them, but now some other “immigrant” species is running amok. 

I think it says a lot about how sensitive ecosystems are, especially ones that have been largely isolated for so long such as those around New Zealand and even Australia.

sunset at Morro Bay

sunset at Morro Bay

Originally uploaded by kaiyen

This is right next to “Morro Rock” in Morro Bay, CA. I believe I have the map information in the flickr photo. Morro Rock is this giant granite formation that is visible from quite a long distance and possibly larger than the town itself. Much of it was cut up to create the small marina/harbor and even parts of the town. Yet it’s still quite large. The entire rock wall in the image was created from it.

Morro Rock is now a protected area, as many Peregrine Falcons nest there.

My wife and I were very lucky that the clouds worked with us to create this spectacular sunset. I had my camera on a tripod and took, I believe, the equivalent of 45 photos of the sunset. It was just so stunning for such a long time.

The reason why I say “equivalent” is because this was the first time I used a method known as “HDR” or High Dynamic Range, first introduced in Photoshop CS2. Essentially, digital cameras can capture a certain range of tones, from detailed shadow to detailed highlights. HDR allows you to take a series of photos – from ones set to get maximum detail from the shadows to ones that constrain the highlights – and then merge them all together into a photo that is not otherwise possible.

A look on flickr for HDR can show you some of the results, many of which, honestly, are not pleasing because they are unrealistic, in my opinion, and overdone.

I tried to go for a more natural look. I was also trying to compare against what I can do “in camera” without digital manipulation, using the tools that were available before Photoshop came along. The primary method was to use what are called “graduated neutral density filters.”

These filters essentially allow you to decrease the amount of light coming in from one area (in this case, the sky) while getting “normal” exposure in other areas (the beach). I had 4 “stops” (quantities of light, where each stop is 2x the amount of light as the previous one) of filtration. The HDR image was created from 5 exposures (so 5 stops).

I will try later with a 4 stop HDR image, but there is a noticeable difference in the detail in the beach with the HDR image vs. the one made in-camera, with just filtration. I thought that was pretty interesting. That even with that much effort, with that much filtration, I still couldn’t get it the same as with digital manipulation.