Idle Life

Enjoying a nice fire

When the power goes out we enjoy a quiet evening with the old-time comfort of a nice fire…

Finney enjoying a fire

And the glow of our phones as we check Facebook, play games and watch videos. I guess it’s not so old-time after all.


He likes it! Hey Finney!

We bought Finney a stylish new dog bed for the den…


… he didn’t come upstairs for two days. I think that’s a sign of approval.


Playing with MSR Cliplets

Cliplets is nifty, free tool from MSR that allows you to take a video and turn it into what appears to be a still photo. If you have the right scene, it results can be surprising and delightful.

Here’s my first go, say hi to Finney.


The picture above looks like a still photo, but then Finney pricks up his ear. It’s not a video, it’s an animated gif created with Cliplets.

About a year ago Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg made a splash by hand stitching images together to create moving still photos they called “cinemagraphs”. For an example of this technique done really well, check out a blog post from the Washington Post: Cinemagraphs: What it looks like when a photo moves.

Creating their cinemagraphs probably took Beck and Burg many hours of painstaking work in Photoshop. I don’t have that kind of time or patience. Fortunately, Microsoft Research Cliplets makes creating one of these still images quite simple. The UI is fairly intuitive, but there are a few things that need a little explaining. The best way to learn the features is to watch the short tutorials on the Cliplets page.

It’s worth noting, in order to produce a quality image you really do need good source material. The video I used for the picture of Finney was shot on my cellphone camera. The camera does shoot in 720p, but even so, the dark areas are grainy and parts of the video were blurry and couldn’t be used.

You know all those times you mistakenly had your camera set to video instead of picture? Time to go back and have some fun with those pictures.


Sometimes things just work out

My phone’s camera has a mode where it takes a 3×3 or 2×2 grid of images by snapping pictures in series. Press the shutter button and it starts going. There’s the typical camera phone lag to get started and then it takes pictures on its own schedule. I tried it on Finney and here’s what I got:

Autopilot for picture taking ain’t too bad. It just reinforces the same old “take lots of pictures, you’ll get something you like.”


Sneaking your dog into the office and other reasons to use speech recognition

Today is one of those rare days that I have no meetings.  And also happens to be a day that Paula needs to spend time getting ready for a house guest.  Finney is a good dog but he can be kind of needy.  To free up Paula I brought Finney into the office

For one complication was sneaking Finney into the office, however, is that when he is in new situations he gets nervous and whines a lot.  Now, sneaking a dog into the office doesn’t work very well if the dog is making a lot of noise.  The way to keep a nervous Finney quiet is to continuously pet him.  While petting him keeps him quiet, my hands are unable to do any typing.  Sounds like a good reason to try out speech recognition.

It may be my microphone, or it may just be that I need to do more training of the speech recognition, but my initial use has been slow going.  I’ve been using speech recognition to type this blog post, and I find that it is taking me three times as long as it would take if I were typing.  I can touch type and and fairly accustomed to putting my thoughts down directly from brain to fingers.  Part of the delay, I am finding, is expressing my thoughts in this new manner.  If I stare at the screen waiting for my words to appear, I’m brain just freezes.  There is a significant delay between voicing a word and having it appear on the screen.  For the touch typist who is used to seeing the output immediately on the screen it is distracting to have to pause ones stream of consciousness while waiting for the computer to interpret your words.

I also find if I speak too quickly the computer will run my words together to form similar sounding words.  This is usually frustrating as it requires frequent editing of the sentence is high and have just dictated.  Most commonly the errors are in the form of incorrect words but it gets even more frustrating when the dictation is incorrectly interpreted as commands to the program (it has tried several times to close this blog post prematurely).  It does, however, provide some amount of amusement when it makes errors like taking ” down directly” and turning it into ” downed rectally.”

As I struggle through, however, I find that through a combination of training the speech recognition engine and training Reeves, I am getting better at am using text to speech.  I wonder if I’ll ever get to the point where I can speak naturally to the computer and have it be acceptably accurate.


My current favorite picture

Because I’ve become “one of those people” I’ve been taking a ton of pictures of Finney. When you take lots of pictures you often end up with something you didn’t quite anticipate.


I took this while he was in the middle of playing with a rope toy. I’ve decided he doesn’t look angry, just mildly insane… and that pleases me.


What’s entertainment for a greyhound? Paula took a little video to give you a fairly clear picture:


Quick and dirty white balance correction with Photoshop

If you’re shooting in RAW format you have the luxury of tweaking white balance as you open your images. This can allow you to adjust for camera inaccuracies or even for artistic effect. If, however, your image is a JPEG you’re not out of luck.

My old D100 still takes decent pictures but it certainly ain’t fast. If I shoot RAW it literally takes eight to ten seconds to write an image to memory. When trying to take rapid fire pictures of a running greyhound this doesn’t cut the mustard (though one could argue the merits of mustard cutting). Yesterday I was taking pictures of Finney romping in the snow and found the morning light plus snow combo had confused the heck out of my poor, senior citizen of a digi-cam. Everything came out with a blue wash. Fortunately my buddy Rob showed me this common and easy technique.

Pick an area that has both black and white areas (or areas that should be white) and zoom in. You’ll be using an eyedropper tool, so zooming in will allow you to pick the right spot more easily.

From Photoshop’s Image menu choose Adjustments > Levels. This will bring up the levels window with a histogram. First thing you’ll do is grab the little white tab on the right side of the histogram and start dragging it to the left.

As you drag you’ll see the image becomes more and more washed out. The goal is to emphasize the blackest of the areas on the picture. Once you’ve identified the blackest of the areas on your image you’ll use the Set The Black Point dropper (the black dropper from the levels window) to sample your new “black”. Once you take the sample the image will go back to looking more normal.

Next repeat the steps by grabbing the black slider to the right. This will darken the image to allow you to identify the whitest of the white areas in the image.

As with picking the black areas, you’ll need to play with the slider to get the right contrast, then use the dropper to pick the location you’d like to define as white. Once you use the dropper the image will once again snap back to “normal”. After picking the white level, however, the color issues should be largely fixed in your image. Here’s a before/after comparison of the picture with the as-shot on the left and the corrected on the right.

But hey, right next to the Levels menu item is an Auto Levels item. Why not just use that? Actually, there’s no reason not to try it out. It will often correct the color just about as well as this manual technique and take a fraction of the time. The auto levels correction, however, is not quite as accurate and I find the results from the manual method give me an image that looks much more the way I remember the scene in my mind’s eye. I do, however, often just blast through a bunch of pictures using auto level when I’m trying to speed through a big batch.

I owe two thanks to Rob for the above. 1. Thanks for showing me how to do this. 2. Thanks for taking such awesome pet pictures and inspiring me to point my camera at Finney and try to capture some of his personality.

If you live in the bay area and would like to get pictures taken of your pet, your first (and only) stop should be Murphy Dog Studios. Rob is a wonderfully talented photographer and he loves pets (his business is named after his late lab, Murphy). Don’t worry, if you don’t have a dog, or even a pet, Rob can shoot just about anything. Check out his amazing sports photography too.


This is going to take some practice…

… and a faster shutter speed.

I made my first attempt to take pictures of Finney playing in the yard today, but most of the results were blurry. In retrospect I should have set the camera to shutter priority before getting him worked up (I just used full auto for my first try to see what came of it). When trying to chase a dog who can go over 40 Mph it’s just not going to cut it if your shutter speed is 1/90. Um duh. Oh, also, if you’re chasing a fast dog with a camera, you better not be worried about looking like an idiot.

When he’s not romping, Finney’s preferred place is Velcroed to my thigh.

Another photographic note for myself: If I want a keeper picture, don’t wear an old sweatshirt with frayed sleeves. 🙂


Finney settling in

It’s been a while since we had a dog and this past summer Paula and I started researching greyhounds. It took us a while to be ready to get a new dog, but this past weekend Paula and I adopted an ex racer from from a local greyhound rescue organization.

Ex-racers are very used to competing with other dogs for human attention, so they tend to be very attentive. They do, however, need some time to get used to being a member of a family and living in a new environment. So right now, he just sleeps most of the time. 

Our new family member has a number of Irish ancestors, and since we had been in Ireland for a while we decided on an Irish name for him. Finian (pronounced fin-yan) is Irish for “white haired”.


I’m talking to you… you little girly-dog


What type of dog is this?  Nope.  No, not that either.  Want to call a friend?

This is a picture of Wendy, she’s a whippet so I’m sure she can run faster than you as well as kick your butt when she catches you.  But, while she looks like a pit bull on the juice, apparently she’s a sweetheart.


Big Wendy the muscular whippet

Rare genetic mutation increases muscles, weight of sleek breed

People mistake her for a pitbull with a pinhead, but Wendy the whippet is one rare breed.

So rare that the Central Saanich dog recently graced the New York Times. She also had several of her photos shown on The Today Show, all because of a rare genetic mutation that has led to her being the Incredible Hulk of dogs.


Read the full story from the Victoria Times Colonist.