Category Archives: Uncategorized

Fleet Week and the USS Carl Vinson

It was Fleet Week in San Francisco recently, and the USS Carl Vinson came into town.  The Carl Vinson gained a bit of notoriety recently as the ship that carried Osama Bin Laden to his burial at sea.

My wife’s friend from undergrad at Cal is currently serving in the JAG Corp on the Carl Vinson, so we were extremely fortunate to have a personal tour of the aircraft carrier.  We got amazing access to the ship and really got an intimate look at what life is like on a carrier.  It was also an honor to meet all of the servicemen and women.

My wife’s friend graduated from Columbia law school and probably could have worked for any big law firm but instead chose to  join the Navy, sacrificing a high paying job, friends and family, and many of the comforts that we normally take for granted.

Even with the rank of a Lt. Commander, she shares a small state room, essentially the size of a dorm room, where she gets the top bunk.  Some officers have to share four people to a room.  The enlisted are much more cramped than the officers.  Keep in mind that this is on a carrier, the largest ship in the fleet.  The heads (bathrooms on a ship) are much like bathrooms in college dorms, just more cramped and dark if you can imagine.

Despite the sacrifices that she’s had to make, she’s still not ready to leave the Navy.  Even after 10 years of serving her country, where work days average 12 hours or more and not being able to see the sun for days, she continues to enjoy her job.

I’m ashamed but very grateful that I have such a comfortable life.  It’s always good to be reminded of this.

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NYC 10th Anniversary of 9/11

I was very fortunate to be able to return to NYC on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.  I was living in NYC when the 9/11 attack occurred.  My office was about 1.5 miles north of the WTC.  I can’t believe that it’s been 10 years already.  After all this time, I still don’t like to look at any photographs or watch video footage regarding that day.  It’s hard to truly describe what NYC was like right after 9/11.  The streets were empty like a ghost town – no cars, no people.  If you’ve ever lived in NYC, you’ll appreciate how crazy that sounds.  Ten years later, NYC is as vibrant as ever.  I really miss “the city” sometimes.  Regardless of how NYC has recovered since 9/11, the families who lost loved ones 10 years ago probably continue to suffer in one way or another.  I hope we never forget the sacrifices that were shared on 9/11 and continue to be made to this day.

500px – The Next Flickr?

As I mentioned previously, I believe Flickr needs a makeover and adopt new features.  Otherwise, Flickr risks becoming the next Myspace.  The photo-sharing space is evolving with services like Instagram, Color, etc.  Is 500px a viable alternative to Flickr?  In time, it just might be.

500px just raised $525K in venture capital, and the number of users has spiked recently.

The site is relatively new, so there isn’t as much content as there is on Flickr.  I did a search for “San Francisco” and got 139 hits.  The same search on Flickr resulted in almost 7 million hits.  The quality of the photos on 500px, however, is absolutely amazing.

Unfortunately, there are features that are missing from 500px: no geotagging, no face detection, no groups.  I’m sure this will eventually improve, especially now that the company has more cash.

Flickr Needs a Makeover

I really like Flickr, but I feel the site has become somewhat dated.  There’s so much amazing content on Flickr, but the interface is so clunky.  Scrolling through pages of small thumbnails is archaic.  I’ve tried Cooliris, a plugin that definitely improves the photo browsing experience, but I still think the interface can further be improved.  For example, rollover magnification, similar to that seen on the Apple launch dock, is a nice feature that makes a lot of sense when applied to photo browsing.  Thumbnails should automatically magnify if you scroll over them.

To be fair, it’s not just Flickr that needs a makeover; Picasa, Smugmug, Lightroom, etc. can all improve their interfaces.  My friend at Douzen is developing fast, dynamic user interfaces that incorporate such features into websites, as well as mobile devices.

Flickr designer, Timoni West, recently posted a nice critique of Flickr’s user interface.  I really hope Flickr can quickly adapt to the rapidly changing online photography ecosystem.  If not, Flickr may become the next Friendster, Myspace, etc.  I guess being owned by Yahoo! is probably dragging down Flickr.

Photos in the Cloud with SugarSync and Dropbox

A good friend of mine started working at SugarSync a little while ago and suggested that I check the cloud storage service out.  SugarSync is similar to Dropbox; both services allow you to save files online or “in the cloud” and share them.  How are SugarSync and Dropbox different from Flickr and Picasa, which also allow you to upload photos and share them?

First, SugarSync and Dropbox don’t limit you to just photos.  You can store any type of files online, including music.  Second, the storage limits are much greater for users with free SugarSync and Dropbox accounts.  SugarSync gives users 5 Gb and Dropbox gives you 2 Gb of free online storage.  Compare that to Picasa, which only gives users 1 Gb of storage for free.  Flickr only lets you see your most recent 200 photos.  Lastly, SugarSync and Dropbox are geared towards sharing your photo (or files) with a small number of people (e.g. family and close friends), similar to Path.  While Flickr and Picasa are much more socially driven.

Will SugarSync and Dropbox eventually replace Flickr and Picasa?  Maybe in the future, but I don’t think so for now.  The services really address different functions.  Actually, I think the new cloud services really complement Flickr and Picasa.  For example, you can sync some of your photos with Flickr or Facebook and share them with the world, while keeping the remaining ones on Dropbox for personal use.  For a better comparison of the different services see Fairhead Creative.

Reduce Noise with Neat Image

Sometimes you have to turn up the ISO in low light situations.  Unfortunately at high ISOs, noise often becomes a problem.  Commercial photography-editing software packages, such as Adobe’s Lightroom or Apple’s iPhoto, are capable of reducing noise.  But if you can’t afford commercial software, consider downloading Neat Image.  Neat Image is a plug-in for Photoshop, but a stand-alone application is also available.  The demo version of the stand-alone application is free to use but has some limitations (e.g. save in JPG only).

I used Neat Image to reduce the high ISO noise on the following picture of our dinner at Quince Restaurant.  As with many restaurants, the mood lighting made it hard to take a decent photo with with my wife’s Canon S95.  The resulting image after noise reduction is still flawed.  As one might expect, reducing noise also reduces detail.  Nonetheless, the photo is still a little better than without noise reduction.  Neat Image is relatively easy and quick to use and you can’t beat the price.

Before Neat Image
After Neat Image

Adobe Lightroom (vs. Picasa)

After finally upgrading my desktop PC, I’ve decided to revisit Adobe Lightroom. When I first tried Lightroom on my old PC, it was way too slow. So, I’m hoping that my new PC will resolve the performance issues.

As you may already know, I like using Picasa; it’s fast, simple, and free. I wanted to see how much better Lightroom is for post-processing vs. Picasa. I realize that comparing Lightroom to Picasa is akin to comparing a Porche 911 to a Volkswagen Beetle. That being said, Picasa is a reference point for me.

I used Picasa’s “I’m Feeling Lucky” button on the photo of Angkor Wat below (left). Then, I used Lightroom to adjust the same photo (right). Not surprisingly, the Lightroom photo looks better; there’s a lot more detail in the sky and in the shadows of the temple. Having control of Exposure, Recovery, Fill Light, Brightness, Contrast, etc. in Lightroom really makes a difference. You can adjust Fill Light, Highlights, Shadows, and Color Temperature in Picasa, but Lightroom gives you much more control, and its clipping indicators are very helpful. Unfortunately, it takes a lot more time to make adjustments to photos with Lightroom. A number of YouTube videos that teach you how to use Lightroom are available.  AdobeTV and KelbyTV also have several tutorial videos online.

I know I’m just scratching the surface of Lightroom. I’m scared to think how much time it will take to learn all of the features and how to use them. Nonetheless, it’s hard to argue that the end result isn’t worth it.

Lightroom
Picasa