Fast Camera

I am experimenting with a new iPhone photography app called Fast Camera.  It’s fun little app that starts firing away in rapid-fire mode the moment you launch the app.  You can change the settings so you have to push the button manually, but what fun is that?

I love the idea of being able to capture rapidly moving objects (such as Tisen) before they stop doing the thing that I wanted to take a picture of in the first place.

This is a constant struggle with smart camera apps.  By the time I get the app started, get the thing focused and click the button, whatever I was hoping to capture has often already gone on it’s merry way or turned its back to me.

However, I find I am struggling with this app a bit.  The first problem is it starts taking photos as I am raising it into position, so I end up with 24 shots that look like this: 

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I am not fond of my feet.  Certainly not fond enough of them to want two dozen pictures of my toes.  And I’d much rather have Tisen’s entire face in the frame than just his nose.   (I really didn’t mean for that to rhyme.)  That said, it is easy to delete all the extraneous misfires, so that’s not a huge problem.

I also like that the app does not automatically save all the images to my camera roll–that would fill up my photostream with a bunch of crap I would rather never see again.

However, the down side of it not saving images to my camera roll is that I end up with a collection of photos inside the app that I forget all about and then discover again weeks later when I next use it.  For example, I had 62 images that looked pretty much identical to this:

IMG_2574

I cannot come up with where this image was taken or whose foot that could possibly be.  Perhaps I should have a “who can identify this photo” contest?  I can only imagine that I accidentally launched the app and didn’t even realize it was shooting away.

Yesterday, I chose this app over the more familiar apps I use to catch Tisen trotting down the hall in his happy mode.  This means he was picking his feet up, wagging his tail, and holding Lamb Chop (the newest addition to his family) high.

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In spite of the speed of the app, Tisen stopped his happy mode trot as soon as I stepped out in front of him and held up my phone.  The other problem was that all 45 images were just as out of focus as the 2 I’m posting.  When I just now opened the app to check the settings, I ended up with 12 images of my computer before I could hit the “stop” button.  But, I did switch it to autofocus mode so next time I launch it, the focus will hopefully be improved.

Perhaps the only problem is that the app is faster than I am?

IMG_2576

It’s Raining

It has been raining.  Perhaps I mentioned that before?  If I am repeating myself, forgive me, but the weather has been repeating itself as well.  We had a break in the rain, which is a darn good thing or we would have been trying to buy a kayak to get to the grocery store.  But it’s started again and the forecast is not looking like we’re going to dry out soon.

A few days ago, they closed off a portion of the park we walk in because a good bit of it was under water.  Tisen and I walked down to the riverfront where it was open and I snapped a couple quick iPhone images of the water level.

While I was standing there, I ended up in conversations with 3 separate neighbors who have lived here many years.  They were all amazed by the water level–none of them remembered seeing it that high before.

I took some time going through old photos to find some comparison shots.  So, here is my photographic evidence that the river is really high:

  1. Shot taken 2 days ago under the Market St Bridge–note the water is up to the grass in the image:IMG_2570
  2. Shot taken in the spring showing the launch ramp that’s supposed to be in the same spot under the Market St Bridge, but it’s completely under water in the above photo.IMG_1997
  3. Shot from 2 days ago looking downstream–the top of a Mimosa tree is visible (although dark).  It looks like a tiny peninsula in the upper right quadrant of the image.IMG_2573
  4. Shot from last year of the same bank showing the same Mimosa tree as it normally appears–not submerged.05 Better lit by the sun

Dog Dependence Day

This is how I found Tisen, Twiggy and Pat once firecrackers started going off

This is how I found Tisen, Twiggy and Pat once firecrackers started going off

For about a week before the 4th of July this year, I saw admonishments to keep dogs indoors during fireworks from at least a half-dozen places.  The pet supply store where we buy Tisen’s food had signs up and posted regularly on Facebook.  McKamey Animal Shelter, the place from whence Tisen came also posted regularly on Facebook.  And beyond that, at least 3 or 4 friends were posting articles about the importance of keeping dogs inside and the increase of dogs who run away on the 4th because the fireworks are so terrifying to dogs.

I can only imagine what fireworks must be like for a dog.  Some estimate a dog’s hearing to be 4x that of a human’s plus dogs hear a much broader range of sound than human’s can.  According to one website, the reason dogs bark at vacuum cleaners is because of the very annoying high-pitched noises they make that humans cannot hear.

Tisen was pretty calm on the bottom of the puppy pile

Tisen was pretty calm on the bottom of the puppy pile

One of the many dogs we took in over the years came to us following the 4th of July fireworks.  We actually found her about a week after the fireworks were over.  She was wandering alone in the wooded ravine we lived in, an adorable Boxer lost and extremely happy to meet new friends.  Especially new friends with food.

She came home with us with an exuberance few breeds can duplicate–boxers have endless enthusiasm.  She had a tag that indicated she was microchipped, but when we called the number, they were closed for the weekend.  When my husband was able to reach them on Monday, they could only provide the name and number for the vet where the tag was issued.  It was a vet in Pennsylvania.  When my husband reached the vet’s office, it turned out it was one of the vet’s dogs who was living in Columbus with his son who was attending the Ohio State University.

We were able to reunite the energetic boxer (who we had taken to calling Roxy, although that didn’t turn out to be her name) with her family about a week and a half after she had escaped from a fenced yard during the fireworks.  Her owners were so happy they brought us a plate of cookies.

I’m pretty sure that kid never left a dog outside alone during fireworks again.

First attempt to capture fog rising from Lookout Mountain with iPhone

First attempt to capture fog rising from Lookout Mountain with iPhone

Since Twiggy’s parents were attending a BBQ early in the evening on the 4th and we were going to a party later that evening, we did a dog sitting trade.  Twiggy hung out with us for a couple of hours while her mom and dad were socializing and Tisen hung out with Twiggy’s family for quite a few more hours while we did the same.  The dogs piled on Pat when the first firecrackers went off.

As a general rule, I don’t share photos from private parties, but I did attempt to capture the fog rolling off Lookout Mountain in the background.  Unfortunately, it was a bit too dark for the iPhone.

Second attempt--the ridge in front of the fog kept getting clipped

Second attempt–the ridge in front of the fog kept getting clipped

Sunset and the iPhone

The strong blue streak going skyward on the left side is what initially caught my eye

The strong blue streak going skyward on the left side is what initially caught my eye

I have been shooting with my iPhone much more often since being asked for tips on how to take better photos with the iPhone.  One of the areas that I have not been particularly satisfied is low-light images.  They get extremely grainy and the dynamic range is quite limited.

However, when I happened to see the sky do something cool the other day, I had a choice.  I could run inside, grab my DSLR and tripod, run back out and hope I hadn’t missed it.  Or, I could pull my iPhone out of my pocket and do the best I could.  Call me lazy, but I went for the second option.

In the few moments between shots, the streak started to spread

In the few moments between shots, the streak started to spread

I used the Camera! app rather than the default Camera app (the only difference in the name is the “!”, but there are many feature differences).  If I would have had a panoramic view from where I was standing, I might have tried the standard Camera app’s panoramic capability, but what was worth shooting fit into the frame, so shooting panoramic seemed unnecessary.

I chose the Camera! app because of its ability to separate the focusing point from the exposure point.  You can tap the screen to select where you want to focus and then use a second figure to select a different area that you want to expose for.  It’s slightly helpful in scenes like this with strong contrasts.  However, slightly is the operative word.  Using the dark areas for exposure blows out the sky.  Using the sky clips the foreground.  By picking something halfway in between, you can sometimes get something better, but in this case, I allowed the darker areas to be underexposed–they weren’t very interesting anyway.

Within 5 minutes, the effect had pretty much disappeared--good thing I didn't run for my DSLR

Within 5 minutes, the effect had pretty much disappeared–good thing I didn’t run for my DSLR

The images right out of the camera didn’t have the brilliance of the actual scene.  I was able to increase the saturation slightly to get it closer to reality, but the blue of the sky started to move to cyan.  One of the challenges with iPhone photography (especially in low light) is that it needs post-processing, but because of the lower resolution, jpeg format, and graininess in low-light situations, adjustments can only be minimal before noise, pixellation, and general ickiness set it.  Less is more.

That said, I’m still happy I pulled out my iPhone because the interesting streaks shooting skyward disappeared pretty quickly–I would still have been unzipping my tripod bag had I tried to run for the DSLR.

When I went back in to sit down and blog, I had a little trouble finding a place on the sofa.  Tisen was occupying 50% of an 6’ long couch.  Pat and I compressed ourselves into the other 3 feet.  This isn’t a great shot (another iPhone grab), but you can just see my shoulder next to Pat who is leaning over Tisen in order to create enough room for me to type.  We just couldn’t stand to wake Tisen to get him to make room–he was snoring quiet contentedly.

Trying to fit on the sofa to blog without waking Tisen

Trying to fit on the sofa to blog without waking Tisen

Bridge and Heron

Not nearly as exciting as when the bridge was fully open

Not nearly as exciting as when the bridge was fully open

About a week or so ago, I was out walking both Tisen and Twiggy when I missed a once-a-year shot.  Walking Tisen and Twiggy together gets a little tricky at times.  Twiggy likes to lead.  Not just Tisen, but me, too.  She likes to decide where we’re going and when we’re going there.  When we disagree with where she wants to go, her claws extend much like a cat’s, except that she possesses some superpower that allows her to drive them into concrete.  She then leans with her body at what is often a 45 degree angle against her harness and demands that everyone goes the direction she wants to go.

Tisen is somewhat oblivious to her demands.  If he catches a scent in the opposite direction, he goes towards it without regard for me, Twiggy, or the fact that he’s got a collar pulling against his neck.  I sometimes worry that he would strangle himself before he would realize he was the one causing it.

The gap is no longer even visible

The gap is no longer even visible

When Twiggy goes one way and Tisen goes another, the human who happens to be in the middle ends up doing what could be called the “Scarecrow,” but with very straight arms.  On days when both dogs are particularly adamant about the direction they want to go, it’s more like being on a medieval rack.

I have been working with the dogs to try to prevent this problem.  I’ve gotten Tisen to return to me when I make a certain sound and Twiggy to understand that we’re going to turn when I want to turn unless there’s something particularly tempting in the direction she’s determined to go.

But on this particular morning, as we made our way through the park, I suddenly got a view of the Market Street bridge and realized it was fully open.  It’s a rare type of draw bridge that’s opened and closed by a counter-weight system.  I don’t recall what it’s called, but it’s pretty cool.  It’s opened about once a year for inspection, but this was the first time I’d ever seen it fully open.

Shooting with my iPhone doesn't allow for close-ups, but you can see the Heron just right of 12 o'clock at the top of the tree

Shooting with my iPhone doesn’t allow for close-ups, but you can see the Heron just right of 12 o’clock at the top of the tree

Unfortunately, as I wrestled my iPhone out of my pocket and juggled it and two leashes to get my password entered, Twiggy spotted another dog in a different direction.  At the same time, Tisen spotted the same dog and decided he wanted to stay bolted to the spot he was currently standing on.

I cajoled and whistled and made my “come to me” noise to no avail.  Finally, the other dog moved far enough away that Twiggy and Tisen would listen to me again.  I got them down the path to where I could get a decent shot (although not all the way to my destination) just in time to catch the last few feet of the bridge closing.

I was not a happy dog walker.  When I turned, a Great Blue Heron was perched at the very top of a nearby tree.  I’m certain he was laughing at me.

Look carefully--you can see the heron laughing at me

Look carefully–you can see the heron laughing at me

Good Eating

The moon over Nice as we entered the restaurant for dinner

The moon over Nice as we entered the restaurant for dinner

After the first long day of the conference in Monaco, a group of us made our way back to Nice for the evening. One of our group was familiar with a restaurant in Nice where he had had his anniversary dinner a few weeks earlier.

He was an interesting guy.  An American fluent in several languages in and of itself makes him an anomaly.  Reminds me of the old joke:  What do you call someone who speaks 3 languages?  Trilingual.  What do you call someone who speaks 2 languages?  Bilingual.  What do you call someone who speaks 1 language?  American.

He was living in Europe for about the third or fourth time and moved from groups of people from Italy to groups of people from Germany to groups of people from France with an ease that I envied.  Going to dinner with him was an experience.  He was able to understand food in another language.

An old church just outside the restaurant in Nice

An old church just outside the restaurant in Nice

Translating a menu is one of life’s biggest challenges.  Unless the exact same dish exists in one’s native country and the person who translates knows the correct name in both languages, most translation is lost.

Even when I hadn’t forgotten 90% of the French I once knew, I couldn’t understand a French menu.  I knew if it was fish or chicken or beef, but not what they did to it.  When I started learning Italian, I didn’t even get far enough to determine whether I was ordering tomato soup or tomato sauce (that led to some interesting surprises).

Sitting with someone who could actually understand and describe what a dish was was quite refreshing.  Although, in the end, after much discussion about the menu, we decided to order a 5-course chef’s pick dinner.

Waiting on the train the next morning in Nice Ville train station

Waiting on the train the next morning in Nice Ville train station

This turned out to be a great decision.  If I were a food critic, I could probably describe the meal in terms that would make your mouth water.  Since I am only a food enjoyer, I can only say that each course seemed to get better.  However, 5 courses is a lot, even in France (where the portions are smaller than in the US).  By the time we were done eating, I felt like the easiest way back to my hotel would have been to have someone tip over my chair so I could just roll my way down the street.

As it turned out, I might have been right.  There were no taxis to be had and we had 4 people going to 3 different destinations.  In the end, the two colleagues going to the same place were driven by the owner of the restaurant while the 3rd colleague walked me back to my hotel where a taxi had been ordered to meet him when available.  We sat in the lobby a long time waiting for that taxi–it was after 1AM by the time it came.

I was very happy I’d planned to take the train to Monaco the next morning–it gave me 2 extra hours of sleep.

The sun setting behind office buildings at the end of the day in Monaco

The sun setting behind office buildings at the end of the day in Monaco

 

Nice to Monaco

Street scene between Monaco train station and the conference

Street scene between Monaco train station and the conference

One of the challenges of having a conference in Monaco is getting there.  While the conference was relatively small–less than 2000 people–there wasn’t sufficient housing (at least not within most corporate budgets) for everyone to stay in Monaco.  As a result, those of us who booked late had hotels in Nice.

The solution was to send large tour buses to the hotels in Nice to pick up those who were staying there and then drive everyone over to Monaco.  In the morning rush hour traffic, the drive took a good hour and a half.  The bus had little A/C and most of us were feeling like we needed a second shower by the time we arrived at the conference site.

Lovely view while stuck in traffic on the bus

Lovely view while stuck in traffic on the bus

The really sad part of the bus ride was that we didn’t take the coastal road, so we didn’t get to see some of the best views.  At one point, we were stuck in traffic for a good 15 minutes while overlooking a lot that looked like it was used for industrial waste.  Not exactly the kind of thing you hope to get to see when you go to the French Riviera.

We did get an occasional glimpse of the sea, but it was infrequent.

Looking for things to take pictures of through tinted bus windows resulted in creating some really strong vignetting in the images.  I don’t know how much more pronounced this effect was due to the camera being an iPhone vs using a DSLR, but all of the images through the bus windows were the same.

A quick glimpse of the sea from the bus

A quick glimpse of the sea from the bus

When at long last we reached the conference site, we got to experience modern office buildings butted up against the rising hills of the landscape.  There is not much about Monaco that makes you think there should be office buildings there.  It created a surprise effect.

In the end, what i learned from the bus ride was to take the train.  The next day, I slept in instead of getting up extra early to catch the 7:15AM bus.  I caught a train much later–a 10 minute walk from my hotel.  I rode in comfort along the coastal tracks, enjoying views of the sea the entire way (except when we went through the many tunnels).  It cost 3.70 Euro to ride the train.  The entire train trip took 20 minutes.  And, I happened to sit next to 2 other people attending the same conference who knew how to get there from the train station, so I made it there on time without getting lost.

Office buildings in Monaco

Office buildings in Monaco

Nice Dinner

Almost a view of the beach from a cafe in the afternoon

Almost a view of the beach from a cafe in the afternoon

Are you tired of my Nice-as-in-pleasant vs Nice-as-in-France puns yet?  I’ve got a few more up my sleeve . . . 🙂

My first day in Nice, the name of the game was to stay awake.  Unfortunately, on my walk around town in the afternoon sun, I got hot.  This led to stopping in a sea-side cafe and having a beer.  Even more unfortunately, the only food I could get mid-afternoon was a bowl of olives.  While beer and olives are actually tasty together, olives are not very filling.

City street - lots of pedestrians

City street – lots of pedestrians

I sipped my no-longer-cold-beer for nearly an hour as I slumped gradually lower and lower in my cafe-style chair.  Eventually, I decided I needed to walk or I would be sound asleep on the cafe floor.  But once I started walking, I didn’t know where to go.  I decided it was a good time to return to my hotel room to check email now that the US was getting into work.

Courtyard on way back to hotel

Courtyard on way back to hotel

I sat down on my bed, logged in, and made it through the emails that had arrived.  The next thing I knew, I was startled awake by a sunbeam that had found its way through a crack in the curtains.  The sunbeam had managed to make its way into my eyes in part because the sun was now low in the sky.  I discovered I’d nodded off for a couple unexpected hours.

Views as the sun sets

Views as the sun sets

Concerned I wouldn’t be able to sleep through the night if I didn’t get up and get some dinner, I splashed some water on my face and made my way back down to the seaside.  With the wind blowing across the French Riviera, the evening called for outdoor dining.

Back at the seaside area, I stopped and read menus at each restaurant across from the beach, hoping to find something appealing, but even more, hoping to run into one of my colleagues so I wouldn’t have to eat dinner alone.

Courtyard at sunset

Courtyard at sunset

In the US, I don’t mind eating dinner alone.  If I want company, I sit at the bar and usually end up in conversations with interesting people before the meal is over.  If I want to be alone, I sit at a table.  In Spain, France, and Italy, there don’t seem to be restaurant bars to eat at.  Eating alone at a table seems to be the equivalent of painting a sign on your face that says something like, “I am lonely and desperate and will be amazingly receptive to even the tiniest bit of attention.”  (To put it in G-rated terms.)

Dramatic dinner preparation at a nearby table

Dramatic dinner preparation at a nearby table

On this evening, it was my waiter who was overly attentive.  He was actually quite sweet, but it got awkward when I wanted to leave and he kept delaying bringing me my check.  Once I was safely on my way, I was glad I’d made it out regardless–it was a lovely night to be out walking and I did sleep through the night.

Night lights.  Notice the purple glowing man on top of the pole

Night lights. Notice the purple glowing man on top of the pole

Nice Views

The lovely "beach" in Nice

The lovely “beach” in Nice

If yesterday I attempted to make you feel sorry for me for having to travel to Nice and Monaco, today I might make you jealous.

I arrived in Nice around 9AM on Monday morning.  When I arrived at my hotel, my room wasn’t ready yet, but after only a few minutes in the lobby, I was given a key and sent upstairs.  This was a good thing because having not slept a wink on the flight over, I was about to nod off in the lobby.

Interesting building on my round-about way to the shore.  Using HDR created ghost of a pedestrian in my shot.

Interesting building on my round-about way to the shore. Using HDR created ghost of a pedestrian in my shot.

I climbed into bed and set my alarm so that I’d get in a nice 2 hour nap.  Or should I say a Nice  2 hour nap?  In either case, I have found that it’s best not to sleep more than 2 hours when I arrive in a new time zone, especially when traveling in an Eastward direction.

I woke up before my alarm went off.  I jumped out of bed feeling panicked that perhaps I had missed a meeting.  I logged in immediately to see what emails I’d gotten since falling asleep.  Given that it was only 7AM back in the Eastern US, I hadn’t received much of anything.

The fake peninsula (created by shooting panoramic with iPhone default camera app)

The fake peninsula (created by shooting panoramic with iPhone default camera app)

After convincing myself I hadn’t missed anything, I jumped in the shower to discover it was one of those weird adaptations of a tub with a curtain on hooks shooting out from the post the shower head was installed on like a star.  I pulled the curtain around me, but it only went about ½ way around.  I did my best not to spray the entire bathroom.  This might explain why the toilet (and toilet paper) were in another room–it could be the only way they stay dry when someone showers.

Fake inlet (also created by shooting panoramic with default iPhone camera app)

Fake inlet (also created by shooting panoramic with default iPhone camera app)

Feeling wide awake and fresh, I threw on some casual clothes and went out to take a walk along the shore.  Unfortunately, I was somewhat disoriented and walked the wrong direction.  By the time I found the shore, I wasn’t feeling so fresh anymore.

But, the beach was lovely.  The wind was blowing and the air was fresh.  What more could an American on a business trip ask for?

A plaza along the way to the beach

A plaza along the way to the beach

I experimented with panoramic shots on the shore with my iPhone.  I ended up creating a peninsula out of the rocks I was standing on and turning the shoreline into an inlet because of the effect of shooting panoramic.  It was kind of fun.

A more realistic view of the beach

A more realistic view of the beach

Nice Hotel

My view

My view

My recent business trip took me to Nice, France and Monte Carlo, Monaco.  I know it’s hard to feel bad for someone who just went to the French Riviera, but I’d like to point out a few facts that make me sympathy worthy:

  1. I arrived Monday morning and departed Thursday morning after 2 hard days of work,
  2. I stayed in Nice, but the conference was in Monaco, resulting in a 1 ½ hour bus ride from hell during rush hour traffic on Tuesday morning,
  3. Pat couldn’t come with me
  4. Tisen couldn’t come with me
  5. I spent 40 hours traveling in exchange for 72 hours on the French Riviera.
OK, so it's a King-sized bed, but check out the carpet

OK, so it’s a King-sized bed, but check out the carpet

If that’s not enough, let’s talk about my hotel room.  First, I had a sense of deja-vu when I arrived at my hotel.  I didn’t remember where I stayed the last time I was in Nice (in May of 2006), but when I walked into the lobby, I was pretty sure it was the same hotel with an updated decor.

These chairs were "updated" with orange slip covers looking like they're in desperate need of a cleaning

These chairs were “updated” with orange slip covers looking like they’re in desperate need of a cleaning

Unfortunately, the updated decor stopped at the lobby.  I had to chuckle at the orange shag carpet and matching accessories in my room.  I did not, however, chuckle at the tiny little room with a toilet, and only a toilet, in it.  Fortunately, I discovered a bath tub and sink in a separate room opposite the toilet room.

I tried hard to remember whether the toilet was separate from the bath and sink the last time I was in France.  I never did manage to come up with that memory, but everyone I talked to had the same arrangement no matter what hotel they were in, so I guess it’s a French thing.

Now I understand why some people call it a "water closet"

Now I understand why some people call it a “water closet”

The view from my room left something to be desired.  From the window, I could see the back of 3 surrounding buildings and the shed for the trash bins for my hotel.  This is not the kind of view one hopes for when staying on the French Riviera.  Especially not when one read that the hotel in question was a 4-star hotel.  I suspect the person who awarded the 4 stars was the owner’s mother.

I don’t mean to complain.  After all, it was a trip to the French Riviera that I didn’t have to pay for.  But no matter how glamorous it sounds to say “I’m going to the French Riviera,” the reality was far from glamorous.

One last look at the view from my window

One last look at the view from my window