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Morning rays, CaƱon de Chelly

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Another day at the office

Kestrel

My photographer buddy Ken bought the Nikkor 200-500mm zoom lens yesterday. We decided to take it on a shakedown cruise up at the San Jacinto Wildlife Area today. It was a gorgeous day, not too hot, nice breeze, no bugs and lots of birds of all feathers everywhere. Absolutely delightful.

I am not sure how Ken did but it was a pretty crummy day for me, photographically speaking. Great day of living and walking, bad day shooting. Very few keepers.

I fought my equipment all day. It is okay, have had enough good days to not totally sweat the bad ones but I would like to figure out what is going on.

I shot the Nikkor 400mm f 2.8 off my Nikon D810. Shot it with the 1:2 crop between DX and FX.

It seems to be front focussing and I had a lot of soft images. I had it in sport mode on the vr instead of the normal middle #1 position but don't think that would cause my problems.

Hope I don't have to send the lens in for maintenance, can't afford it right now.


I did shoot pretty wide open, that could contribute some softness. I am going to fine tune the lens as soon as I have time.

Next Tuesday I will try again at Lindo Lake and probably go back to using this lens on my d7200, which has a larger buffer and longer reach.

We did see a lot of nice birds today, two immature bald eagles, many kestrels, red shouldered, red tailed hawks, a ferruginous hawk, harriers, shrikes, ibis, willets, avocets, white faced ibis, shovelheads, mallards, coots, egrets, mergansers, a red duck I am yet to identify.

I am happy Ken bought the lens, finally, he has spent a fortune renting them in the past and now I will have my friend and mentor to go on more bird shoots. Hopefully back to the Bosque del Apache one day.

Butcher bird


Did get a picture of a defecating duck, think it's a personal first.


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Private Thoughts

Sensei? No thanks.

Logan - taken with Nikon D810 and Nikkor 55mm 1.2 lens, all manual

I got word the other day that Adobe is rolling out its new Auto sensei program:

Using an advanced neural network powered by Adobe Sensei, our artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning platform, the new Auto Settings creates a better photo by analyzing your photo and comparing to tens of thousands of professionally edited photos to create a beautiful, pleasing image.

Is this not ridiculous? Now your photography can be adjusted, tortured and over processed to the group mean. In short, it can now look just as awful and mediocre as everybody else's work. Just let the cloud tell you what looks good. Point it and shoot it, we will do the rest...

My advice to every photographer out there is to forget about automatic settings, auto contrast, auto color, auto white balance, automatic exposure and auto focus. And for god sakes, forget about the cloud and utilizing artificial intelligence. Resist the urge to relinquish a single iota of your own personal creativity and control.

Put the camera back on manual and learn how to shoot pictures. Shoot wide open on occasion and focus manually and discover the actual width of the focal plane and the depth of field. Very simple equation, aperture, shutter speed and sensor or film setting. Blow some shots, make some mistakes but gain some control of your image and workflow.

You will soon discover that not everything can be averaged by a chip and that your eye is actually a better judge of what is good than a stupid algorithm or a consensus from the cloud. Fight the robots and artificial intelligence!  Make your own decisions.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Are Friends Electric?

Welcome to the machine

This week ex Facebook honcho Chamath Palihapitiya was the latest cybermogul to sound the clarion call about the potential darker side of social media.

He said that social media is “eroding the core foundations of how people behave” and that he feels “tremendous guilt” about creating tools that are “ripping apart the social fabric.”

Oh, and by the way you are being programmed.

“You don’t realize it, but you are being programmed … but now you got to decide how much you’re willing to give up, how much of your intellectual independence,” he warned the audience. He said he didn’t want to be programmed himself, emphasizing he “doesn’t use this shit” and his kids are not allowed to use “this shit” either—also recommending that everyone take a “hard break” from social media.
“The things that you rely on, the short-term dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created, are destroying how society works: no civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth,” he said. 
This follows a recent similar warning by Sean Parker, Facebook's founding President.
"I don't know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying, because [of] the unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or 2 billion people and ... it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other ... It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it's doing to our children's brains."
"The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, ... was all about: 'How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?'"
"And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that's going to get you to contribute more content, and that's going to get you ... more likes and comments."
"It's a social-validation feedback loop ... exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you're exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology."
"The inventors, creators — it's me, it's Mark [Zuckerberg], it's Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it's all of these people — understood this consciously. And we did it anyway."
I wrote about dopamine feedback loops very recently and actually also mentioned the pernicious little buggers several years ago when we were talking about game design, complulsion loops and intermittent rewards.

I will try and keep this short. We are being reprogrammed by the machinery and it is not just in the arena of social media. We are changing our patterns of behavior, often solely for the benefit of the machine. Walk past or linger too hard in the doorway of a restaurant or establishment and you will be instantly asked by your phone to submit a critique to so and so evaluating your experience. For the good of the team. Do you ever find yourself online reviewing out of some misdirected sense of guilt?

Text somebody and watch your phone suggest specific language in which you might respond to the person you are communicating with. And sometimes you take the bait because it is so much easier than using your own brain. Have you ever found yourself altering sentence structure for brevity because of a Google or Siri suggestion? Do you think it is okay or appropriate to have an artificial intelligence modify your speech or communication patterns? Or expect continual feedback?

Doesn't it seem weird when your Calendar or Linked In asks you to send birthday greetings to a person you have absolutely no personal relationship with? When the machine starts coercing you into unsought or requested relationships?

Mention a far off land in an email or god forbid, phone conversation with a friend and watch as you suddenly get flooded online with travel brochures and hotel deals from the remote archipelago. Because the pipeline operators know everything about you, when, why, who with and how often? Your life is being strained, digital bit by bit. What are the great benefits of this enormous privacy intrusion again? So corporations can sell you stuff? 

I can't leave my office without getting a prompt from Google Maps telling me exactly how far it is to my home doorstep. Thirty eight years, I know. Thanks.

Exactly who needs this shit?

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We live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups. I ask, in my writing, 'What is real?' Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms.
Philip K. Dick
I don't Facebook or Tweet but I am one of the last remaining dinosaurs still actively blogging. How quaint. I put a lot of photography on Google +. My dopamine drive is probably coursing stronger than most of my peers. I am plainly a whore for hits. Look at my pictures, listen to my music, read my crap.

As any lonely artist will tell you, there is nothing like an audience. Hits and likes are like a drug. Digital heroin. But who says that any of my happy accomplices are actually qualified to critique? How many social media contacts do you ever really get to know, at least in the old sense of the word?

Why am I investing so much time sharing with these people? Is cyber popularity a vacuous charade, does it have a larger utility that I am somehow missing, beyond sheer numbers, the 20 million people that Google says I have interacted with, on some tertiary level, before they pulled the plug on the metric anyway? Is this really the proper forum to get personal affirmation and validation?

Plato and Socrates came up with a term called Thumos or Thymos. Google it. It really has no exact translation in English but is roughly akin to "Spiritedness." It signifies human passion. It is also attributed in the study of human psychology to the human need for recognition. Thumos was one of the twin horses, along with Eros, that drives the chariot of the human psyche around. And Fukuyama coined a term for thymos at its worst, Megalothymia. As in, "stoopid" and excessive need for recognition.

With the immense universe of available social media, shouldn't we consider the downside of these exhaustive feedback loops? Is the Cyberworld taking over your tangible universe, your relations with real flesh and blood?

We need to be careful, be ready to jettison the new toolset before it totally rewires our own limbic systems.


I was listening to some programmers talk the other day and the subject of free sites and content came up. And one of the talking heads mentioned an axiom that was so profound and accurate. If it (the content) is free, than it is invariably the end-user (you) that is actually being sold.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Lazy waters



Beautiful vocals by the late Skip Battin (1934-2003)

Four from me

Ruth Asawa, upside down
Donnie's shell 
Turkey tails, San Juan Island.
Gingko leaves

Tennessee Woman

Careful with that periodic table, Excitable Boy

After fifty years of searching, the scientists have finally proven the existence of excitonium! A little late, I'd say.

Friday, December 8, 2017

To Tell the Truth - Paul Butterfield

Life giving you lemons, make lemonade!

Jeff Jacoby
When I want to get into the belly of the beast of the conservative mind I read Townhall. It is possibly the least nuanced and most rabidly right wing site this side of Breitbart. Boston Globe writer Jeff Jacoby recently wrote the most ignorant column I have read in some time on its pages, touting the supposed benefits of global warming. It is titled The Blessings of  Climate Change.

With sea level rise overtaking many locales around the world, a rapidly acidifying ocean, record ice melt and a dry as tinder California losing its native redwood trees to drought and going up in flames as we speak, we now get a correspondent who wants to talk about the positive side of the story. After years of denying the incontrovertible phenomenon, they have switched to justifying it for all the good it is going to do us.
The New York Times reported Sunday that Quintillion, a global communications company, is taking advantage of melting sea ice to build a faster digital link between Europe and Asia by positioning high-speed internet cables beneath the Arctic Ocean. Until recently, cable-laying ships couldn't get too far north, but climate change has meant less ice north of the Bering Strait. Consequently, Point Hope is now a stop on Quintillion's shipping route, and the company is supplying the town with broadband service. That means a better life for residents of one of the nation's most isolated communities. But the truth — the inconvenient truth, to coin a phrase — is that while climate change brings negatives, it brings positives too. Polar melting may cause dislocation for those who live in low-lying coastal areas, but it will also lead to safe commercial shipping in formerly inhospitable northern seas, and to economic opportunity for high-latitude residents in places like Point Hope.
Shifts in climate are like shifts in the economy: They invariably spell good news for some and bad news for others. 
Point Hope notwithstanding, this is a load of crap. Pollyanna Jeff stepped into a big pile of it and is now looking around for his pony. Spare me. The tertiary effects of global warming will dwarf any possible benefits, new north sea shipping routes notwithstanding. We are in a headlong rush to undue 4.54 billion years of homeostatic earth function. I don't trust us not to muck up the job. Not one bit.

Lilac Fire

As many of you are aware, the last twenty four hours in Fallbrook have been pretty scary.

A fire broke out near the Lilac Bridge yesterday morning. Due to incredibly powerful Santa Ana winds and practically zero humidity, the blaze spread quickly and engulfed a large area. Another conflagration started up north of us in Murrieta.

The Bonsall fire is now moving west into Oceanside and is about 10% contained. The wind has abated some and is becoming more onshore, which can send the fire back and also cause it to do weird things. Hopefully not travel north. Tomorrow it is scheduled to get powerful again. We will stay alert and ready.

I talked to a high level man from North County Fire this morning. 182 structures lost, many horses dead, some people hurt with burns. We donated some lead ropes and long lines to the horse rescue effort last night. Some anonymous person saved my horse in the 2007 fire. Wish I could have done more, unfortunately we no longer have a truck or horse trailer.

At least one couple who lost their home are friends and Blast readers. Hard to get accurate information right now. Our hearts go out to all the victims, lot of pain spread around after something like this.

Many people in my town have been evacuated, many are without power and communication. I hope that things get under control quickly. Leslie and I are fine, the wind was moving south, southwest. Thank you for your concern. We dodged a bullet this time, many of our friends and fellow citizens were not so lucky. Thanks for your good thoughts and prayers.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Big Mama Thornton - Gonna Leave You

12-7

Cabbage pickers, Salinas

Vlad called and asked me if the blast was now going to be all birds all the time? He depends on the help of the Blast for making sense of the current goings on and all that.

It is a good question. Truth be told, I am sick of responding to the daily outrage, in fact I have pretty much lost the capacity for being further outraged. I want to say that I don't think we can sink much lower but of course there is a quick karmic penalty for saying that, things can always get worse and often do but tend to also eventually get better. In time.

Nationally I shudder at the double standard of the current majority party, well the party that owns all three branches of government and won the electoral vote anyway. Can you imagine how the dems would be pilloried for:

emoluments, self dealing, nepotism, phony attorney client privilege, obstruction, Logan Act violations, adding to the National debt and deficit, treason, supporting third world dictators, gutting the State Department, giving away National Monuments, phony executive privilege shenanigans, endorsing a pedophile, etc.?

I'm merely scratching the surface of course. I am tired about hearing about rookie mistakes, giving the President a pass because he is new at this, that sort of thing. He is a bomb thrower and the GOP has weaponized everything, from a tax bill tailor made to hurt Blue States to an economic advisor who freely admits that it was constructed as a Death to Democrats gambit.

You have to tip your hat to the GOP for their shameless hypocrisy, after kaiboshing Merrick Garland's Supreme Court nomination, they are appointing conservatives to life long positions at a record clip. And their policies are going to affect America for a long time, for better or for worse.

But you know how these things work; nothing lasts forever. The dems might even get a majority back one day. And I hope they remember vividly how they have been not only shut out but played by the majority. And how all of a sudden the rules didn't matter anymore.

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I support Israel but I detest the current leader over there and think he and his compatriots have been quite duplicitous both in their settlement policies and once supposed acceptance of a two state scenario. I got into it with a pro Trump/Netanyahu Israeli last week. "Let them have Jordan," he says. That is not going to happen. I think you have to respect all of the people's connection to the soil there, including the many Palestinians whose families have lived there for centuries. Give them a contiguous West Bank state they can be proud of. Or fight forever.

Who gives a shit if the Capitol is in Jerusalem or not? It already physically is, why create a needless provocation? We got our asses kicked and the temples were destroyed long ago, not like god did us any favors or created a special real estate disposition. If he did it really didn't work out so good.

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I have been getting some pretty nasty anonymous comments. And someone sent a weird anti semitic trope. Have to tell you, might do away with anonymous comments, tough people should have the courage to sign their name. This blog is becoming less fun.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Goodbye Pork Pie Hat

Ducks and geese

A friend in Fallbrook who is lucky enough to have a five acre lake in his back yard called me this morning.

He wanted to give me a heads up that he had unexpected visitors in the lake, Canadian Geese, who don't normally stop much around these parts.

He suggested that I come down and click off some shots.

I have a whole lot of stuff to do, am frankly so behind, but I want to get similar calls in the future so I threw my gear in the van and drove over and took a couple pictures.

They were there all right. A whole bunch of them.

Unfortunately the birds had pretty much moved out of lens range by the time I got down there but those things happen. Often. You roll with the punches. Lucky to get a decent shot per session.

I settled for wigeons this morning.

Felt good to be outside and good to have a camera in my hand. Almost forgot how to use it. Made a few bonehead mistakes. Maybe better luck next time.

Lopsy Lu

Blast reader's photos - 2017

Larry Moskovitz - La Jolla Sunset from Children's Pool

Ted Fleming - Glass Beach blowhole with Milky Way, Kauai
As always, we celebrate the end of the year with your favorite submissions. Will continue to post new pictures throughout the month. Please continue to send them, even you lurkers or occasionals out there.

Pat Campbell - Woman at Green Man Festival, Brecon Beacons

Mike Reardon - Hanalei Pier sunset
Helen Mchargue - April 2017. Balinese women having a wonderful time together at a ceremony.
Ron Holder - Aztec

Jonathan Hill - Abstract
Jeff Barney - After the Lilac fire

Lena Leichtling - City of Refuge

Steve Saylor - Mesa Verde
Bill Warmboe - Gingko leaves, Burlingame
Ricardo Neuman - Plaa

Max Hall


Michael Loughlin - Cupcake
Kerry Brown - Plant in terracotta pot

Michael Evans - Silver Vet, Silver People


D.N. Evans - self portrait, 1973

Shawn Mayes - Thai Sky
Jeff Myers - Chickaloon, Alaska
Bill Olson -Rainy morning in January 

Noreen Ring - Year of the Asshole

Kathleen Morgan - sunset taken by my son Grant
Kerry Johnson - Nothing, AZ

Cam Wilde - Too many Irish coffees
Kent Borsch and Heidi Minga
Ken Seals - veteran

Lou Nidorf - Hand

Kip Peterson
Jon Harwood - Bonsall Bridge







James O'Donnell - Reflection
Brett Stokes - Canyon de Chelly

Jack Fisher