Thursday, November 29, 2012

Olympus VR 340

 I wrecked my Panasonic Lumix point and shoot when it fell out of my shirt pocket while bending over to do something, I'm pretty sure, for the dog, like changing water. Just as well, the lens was too soft for a $300+ point and shoot, and it was not a real German Zeiss lens anyway. I then started using my aging but excellent Sony DSC-V3 while I waited to get rich enough to buy whichever Olympus PEN micro four thirds system I'll end up with. The Sony is big and not pocketable, so I decided to buy an interim carry-all-the-time point and shoot camera, the Olympus VR-340, because it has a 24mm lens, the focal length I prefer, and it is dirt cheap.

Back when I shot film, I made 8x10 prints and hung them on my walls. And that was a lot of fun. But now my photos go on my blog if I want someone to be able to view a decent resolution image, and also on facebook, where a decent resolution image is an impossibility and irrelevant. So for those uses, how does a sub $200.00 point and shoot camera perform? The answer is really well.

Here are some examples of what I want in a camera like this, and how this one does in making those type of photos:

1. I want decent documentary photos, unmanipulated, right out of the camera. No adjusting exposure, contrast, any of that. This camera does that well most of the time, so I shoot a few pictures of each scene like this one to make sure I get a usable shot. No hardship there, storage is virtually infinite.

Shot on P, no post processing. Perfectly serviceable
image of a dog and her fans.

2. Ability to make a photo indoors without flash. Flash on point and shoot cameras ruins most indoor photos because of the very low guide number on most on-camera flash. So I don't use it on point and shoot cameras, except for fill light outside. I prefer to use available light indoors.

No flash, handheld by me.
Pushed the ISO to 1600 for this, but got a photo that
shows what I wanted to show. Sometimes the the technical
quality of the image is less important than actually
getting a usable image.

Then again, flash indoors can work, and this little Olympus actually shines in that department. It prefires the flash a lot, usually when it should, and it seems to quench it when it should, like in this photo which should have been ruined by flash, but somehow wasn't. Nice going Olympus.

3. The ability to trick the camera into doing what you want it to do instead of what it wants to do. My first great lens was on a $150.00 film point and shoot, a Yashica T4. with a brilliant real Zeiss Tessar fixed 35mm lens, but no manual control over anything. I learned a lot about tricking a full auto camera into the exposures I wanted with that T4. This Olympus is just as willing to be led by the nose if you know how.

Driving in Elk City. Olympus VR 340. Mis-using one of the 'scene' modes to good, or some, effect.

4. I want good enough raw material to do my 'art' photos. I always come back to the same general place, adding Orton-ish effects, blasting contrast up, and boosting color beyond where it is in the natural world. This Olympus delivers there as well, a function of producing documentary images with enough information that I can push around digitally.

Route 40, New Mexico

5. Nice to have, but I've never seen it work well on any camera, the gimmicky "Scene" settings on this camera actually do work sometimes. This is not something I need, but would not have got this sunset unless I used the "Sunset" scene mode. If I had manual control over shutter speed and ISO, I could have got this shot in a few seconds. Navigating to sunset mode took a lot longer, and I had to know that such a mode existed, but I got the shot as an exercise in seeing if it would work. It did. This camera is also good in the mode where it selects the scene automatically based on what it "sees", but this cannot be trusted is if you really have to get a usable image. You'd be shooting a pro rig if that were the case anyway.

Bottom line: This is a perfectly usable point and shoot, with a good wide 24mm lens. Not the sharpest lens, but still better than some that cost more. For blogs and other online uses the photos you can make with this camera are just fine. For carrying around in your pocket all the time this is a great little camera.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dogs and Language

Alexandra Horowitz writes in her excellent Inside a Dog:

"...despite their marvellous range and extent of communication, it is the very fact that they do not use language that makes me especially treasure dogs. Their silence can be one of their most endearing traits. Not muteness: absense of linguistic noise. There is no awkwardness in a shared silent moment with a dog: a gaze from the dog on the other side of the room; lying sleepily alongside each other. It is when language stops that we connect most fully."

Back when I used to pal around with Cabalists, one of them said to me "Language is a snare and a delusion. It's useful for explaining nothing." while not realizing the perfect irony of a Cabalist expressing that thought with those exact words, nothing being a pretty difficult and important concept for those guys to explain to the neophytes.
Inside a dog, it's too dark to read.
But there is real truth here, I think. I remember when we first started taking Phoebe to the dog park, it was very clear to me that dogs have a real language, understood among all of them, and that Phoebe needed to learn it if she was going to get along at the park (she did). But it's a non-verbal, symbolic language, which has some advantages over our human languages. First, a dog from one country can immediately communicate with a dog from another country  - erect ears, a tail held high (or low), or various postures are all symbols, and are language independent. The second advantage I see, is that I'm sure that the dogs that live in the Gaza strip, for example, feel no animosity toward the dogs in Israel, and vice-versa. They all see themselves as just dogs.

I constantly learn simple truths from this adventure with Phoebe.
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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Inside of a Dog, it's too Dark to Read

I'm reading Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz and it's just great. Refreshingly, it's a book of conclusions based on facts.

Rightheaded thinking from "Inside of a Dog":

"We and our dogs come closer to being a benign gang than a pack: a gang of two (or three or four or more).We are a family. We share habits, preferences, homes; we sleep together and rise together; we walk the same routes and stop to greet the same dogs. If we are a gang, we are a merrily navel-gazing gang, worshiping nothing but the maintenance of our gang itself. Our gang works by sharing fundamental premises of behavior. For instance, we agree to rules of conduct in our home. I agree with my family that under no circumstances is urination on the living room rug allowed. This is a tacit agreement, happily. A dog has to be taught this premise for habitation; no dog knows about the value of rugs. In fact, rugs might provide a nice feeling underfoot for some bladder release.

Trainers who espouse the pack metaphor extract the "hierarchy" component and ignore the social context from which it emerges. (They further ignore that we still have a lot to learn about wolf behavior in the wild, given the difficulty of following these animals closely.) A wolfcentric trainer may call the humans the pack leaders responsible for discipline and forcing submission by others. These trainers teach by punishing the dog after discovery of, say, the inevitable peed-upon rug. The punishment can be a yell, forcing the dog down, a sharp word or a jerk of the collar. Bringing the dog to the scene of the crime to enact the punishment is common - and is an especially misguided tactic.  

This approach is farther from what we know of the reality of wolf packs and closer to the timeworn fiction of the animal kingdom with humans at the pinnacle, exerting dominion over the rest. Wolves seem to learn from each other, not by punishing each other but by observing each other. Dog, too, are keen observers--of our reactions. Instead of a punishment happening to them, they'll learn best if you let them discover for themselves which behaviors are rewarded and which lead to naught.Your relationship with your dog is defined by what happens in those undesired moments -- as when you retun home to a puddle of urine on the floor. Punishing the dog for his misbehavior--the deed having been done maybe hours before--with dominance tactics is a quick way to make your relationship about bullying.If your trainer punishes the dog, the problem may temporarily abate, but the only relationship created is one between your trainer and your dog.The result will be a dog who becomes extra sensitive and possibly fearful, but not one who understands what you mean to impart.Instead, le the dog use his observation skills. Undesired behavior gets no attention, no food; nothing that the dog wants from you. Good behavior gets it all.That's an integral part of how a young child learns how to be a person. And that's how the dog-human gang coheres into a family." 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Home Defense, Again, Yawn Yawn

So, when you home invade me in New Mexico, you'll be met by a deadly fusilade of gunfire, and you will die immediately. Goodbye, you made a bad choice.

Less so here in stupid Massachussetts. Every firearm I own is fucking illegal in Massachussetts. Every single one. So I'm reduced to killing you with an edged weapon. I have a bunch of those, and as much as I hate the idea of actually using them, I will, I guess. How fucked up is this place. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Massachusetts, you suck.
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Friday, November 09, 2012

Small Stuff

Big Dog, Little Dog

I have a big dog - I like big dogs. I also like small things, miniature things. I drove a tiny sports car for years. Tiny things like that car or my mom's little dog are cool.

This gives an idea of how
tiny this amp is.
Big sound though.
As I learn to play the guitar, 15 minutes a day, every day, I'm surprised that in 15 minutes I make real progress at it. So as a reward for steadfastness and progress, like Dylan at Newport in 1965, I'm going electric. Albeit at a smaller scale.

The sound varies a bit depending on
where on the top you put the thing.
I'm sticking with my Yamaha F335 acoustic, a full size laminate top guitar that has a big, pure acoustic sound. I'm amazed at how good it sounds for it's price. To electrify, I'm using an Orange Micro Crush amp, which is so much better than the bunch of micro amps it competes with - the Marshal mini stack, the Mini Fender, and the Danelectro Honeytone, that it's not really in the same class. I like all those amps for what they are, but the Orange is the only real amp, because it gives nearly perfectly clean sound undriven, which is what I really want, and good crunch when driven. I care less about crunch, but I like it for fun. This is  a great little amp, head and shoulders above it's peers.

This Dean Markley piezzo pickup  is a gem too - wood covered so it looks vaguely like it belongs on my guitar, and it sounds great to me. 

This kit is a happy little compromise that appeals to my rarely seen sense of balance and underindulgence, and is great quality stuff that is a joy to handle and use.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Cape Cod?

Phoebe and I are spending some time on Cape Cod, where I grew up. I think living out west has changed me into someone who really can't stay here.

When I first got to Santa Fe, New Mexico, it felt like too small a place, and I wondered if I wouldn't like a bigger town like Albuquerque better. Not so. Santa Fe turns out to be plenty big, much bigger than the cape, culturally for sure.

The drabness and dreariness of Cape Cod in late fall is oppressive. No sun-dappled harbors; just pine trees, dead oak leaves, overcast, rain, and the sameness of the people.

The one upside - seafood. The best quahog chowder ever, better than you or I can make. Real fried clams. Real steamers. Striped bass.

But food doesn't make, or save, a place. This is not home. We are strangers in a strange land, and we both know it.