Forgive me for saying so, but I know a thing or two about enhancing photographs. I’ve put some time in as a satellite and aerial imagery analyst, and as a hobby photographer I make no apologies about Photoshop. I grok histogram response curves, level shifting,  global  and local contrast, interpolation, headroom, falloff, edge detection, hue isolation and saturation expansion. I know you almost always zoom out (!) to see a pattern, but if you want to get into pixel-peeping, I know a little about decomposing a pixel into constituent spectral signatures, k-means clustering and machine-learning classification, and all the lovely supervised and unsupervised pixel binning techniques. If I give myself an hour to study up, I can even keep the Minimum Noise Transformation straight in my head for 15 minutes. And the N-Dimensional Visualizer speaks for itself.

There is an enormous amount you can do to make a shape or pattern or shade of interest stand out in a image, by tweaking the colour or contrast response, or exploiting extra parts of the light spectrum to help the computer find hidden colours. You can fuzz together noisy patterns to see the shapes behind them, or bin together multiple pixels to lighten up the darkness. Just about the only thing you can’t do is create detail where there wasn’t any to begin with.

So I get grumpy every time I watch a movie with an image analysis scene, and the one and only thing they always always do is the one damn thing you can’t.

dunk3d made a montage:

Two they left out:

Bladerunner (the original?)

and of course Super Troopers

…(although it’s true that imagery analysts wear state trooper uniforms to operate their computer terminals.)

On the Bridge to a Cool Climate

high five climate bridge 640

From Sunday.

Your Computer Screen May Need To Be Colour Calibrated

Your computer screen may need to be colour calibrated. Mine sure did. I bought a new laptop which seems to have a nice enough screen, but I could tell by looking that it suffered from a blue cast. It’s specifically a Dell XPS 13 (yes, a Dell, forgive me), but blue-ishness seems to be a common characterisitic of laptop screens. I’ve noticed it on several, and I recall photography spaz Ken Rockwell had the same problem. It’s not an issue if you aren’t doing photography or graphic design, but if you are it is. Not knowing the actual colour of the image you’re making is a real pain if you’re planning on printing it or showing it on somebody else’s screen.

Calibrating a screen has a hard part and an easy part and a hard part. The hard part is swallowing the idea of paying non-trivial sums of money for an obscure hardware thing that will sit briefly on your monitor before being forgotten in a desk for months or years. The easy part is actually running the procedure once you’ve installed the associated software and have plugged the device into your computer. The hard part is knowing what to do with the calibration profile file that procedure will produce. The calibrator I use installs a little program that loads up with Windows and automatically applies the profile file when the system boots, which seems easy. But I notice that program sometimes fails, so I have to override it and use the built-in Windows color management controls anyway. It’s less of pain in Vista than it was in XP, but it’s still a pain. Mac and linux may have better systems, I’m not sure. In any case it means digging through control panels and pondering what will happen when you plug multiple differnent monitors into your computer, if you’re into that sort of thing.

A litte Q&A:

What is a colour calibrator? What is a colour profile? A calibrator is a little USB puck that has a basic spectrometer built into it. The associated software produces an image on your screen that cycles through some colours. The spectrometer puck precisley records what colour your screen is actually generating. The software then compares those output values to what it was feeding into the screen and makes a little file with numbers the operating system can use to correct the difference. With that correction applied the result should be a nuetral colour response.

Why don’t screen manufacturers test their screens and give out profiles? I don’t know. My old external monitor actually did come with a factory-made profile, but I only discovered it by accident while digging around the utilities cd. Maybe because every screen coming off the production line will have slightly different colour response and they can’t be bothered testing each screen individually. Maybe because they figure it’s too much to expect owners to know how to apply the profile file within their particular operating system. Maybe because they figure nobody cares. Maybe nobody does.

Is there any such thing as truly nuetral colour response? Yes. But if you start to think too much about that it gets complicated.

If everybody’s screen is blue-ish, shouldn’t you keep yours blue-ish so you’ll know what your photos will look like on theirs? That’s depressing, next question.

Shouldn’t you do this for your printer too? Yes. But that gets complicated. And expensive.

Will the printer at the photo store you send your prints to have a nuetral colour response? Maybe, but they will hopefully have it calibrated if it doesn’t. But that gets complicated. For now, just worry about your screen.

Electricity and Water Flow

These images were created by Hiroshi Sugimoto by applying an electrical charge from a 400 000 volt Van Der Graaf generator to photographic film:


(via kottke)

They remind me of the output of models of surface water flow in the southwest I used for my thesis research:

9-15-2009 12-42-05 PM

Shabu of the Dead Nostalgia

pile-on in the ross bay cemetary

Oil Sands In-Bound

Two direct flights leave Vancouver for Fort McMurray every day, and I’m on one of them. Back in Creston, my stalwart former comrades are finishing up the last few days of the summer planting season. I’ve been offered a spot on a reclamation crew working in the tar sands for a few weeks, and hungry for more of the money that can be made during the summer labour season, I’ve left planting a little early and signed on to the oil patch. This won’t be the first time I’ve worked in the Fort Mac area, starting in 1999 I worked for three summers planting trees from remote camps run by Coast Range. This will be the first time I’ve worked directly in the oil industry, either in the Fort McMurray oil patch or anywhere else (unless you count pumping gas at the Squamish Chevron for 2 months).

YVR radar and outbuilding.

Working for questionable industries is a re-occuring theme in my life. Despite self-identifying as an ecologist and enviromentalist, I’ve been involved with 2 different oil multinationals, the U.S. military and countless logging companies, either working for contractors hired by those dubious entities, or working on grant money from them, or working on their property, or all of the above. This will be the closest I’ve come to directly supporting the damaging operations of an industry I dislike — usually I’ve been taking grant money to do environmental projects on their behalf, and at least with treeplanting I could take some solace that I was planting trees rather than cutting them. This time I will be preventing erosion on the dam walls of the mining tailing ponds of what I assume is the single largest source of carbon-altering emissions in the world. I guess I can still claim that I’m preventing run-off instead of directly extracting oil, but I think the excuses are getting a little thin here. I will be directly labouring on the infrastructure of the Alberta tar sands.

I’m doing it for the money. Since I graduated I’ve been freelancing, doing what I have decided to call “community and ecosystem informatics”, which has mostly meant web development and a little cartography for socially and environmentally oriented clients. I like the freelance life, I like tracking down jobs and taking on unexpected tasks for interesting people and I’m optimistic about the direction that work is going. But summer manual labour has the benefit of being consistent and, in some cases, well paid. A friend of mine who I know from the treeplanting community emailed me to ask if was interested in joining this erosion control crew, and somehow I overcame my ethical objections in the amount of time it took me to operate my calculator and my calendar. So here I am with the rockies floating by below me, bound for Fort McMurray.

Western Albertan oil leases under the wing.

I have to admit, I’m also curious to see Fort Mac again. Not that we’ll be seeing much of town, I’ll be living an hour north in one of the satellite industrial lodges which I’m told collectively house as many as 10 000 men and a dozen women. Fort McMurray has always had something of a trainwreck fascination for me. I’m curious for a glimpse of the changes in 8 years of oil industry acceleration, and curious what it’s like to live in an industrial lodge. It will be a switch from my be-porched and be-gardened small-town lifestyle in Creston, that’s for sure. I won’t even get to cook for myself. What am I going to do in the evening?

Highway 63 north towards the tar sands.

I’m told it’s a good company to work for, and they’re making it too easy for me, paying my flight and rental car and all accomodation and expeneses. This is considered normal in the oil industry, and it’s much different than the co-op culture of treeplanting, where most people pay daily camp-costs for the privilege of pitching a tent. Whatever it’s like, it will come and go quickly enough, I’m told there will be between 15 and 25 days of work. And then I’ll be back on the coast, and can enjoy some summer and get back into the freelancing lifestyle.

No High-Lead After All

I’m feeling a little sheepish after posting dramatically about that steep clearcut, and then not actually getting sent there the next day. So I thought I would defend my honour by pointing out that last spring we worked a near-vertical high-lead block that was frankly worse than the one currently in play. Here is proof:

lining into the elevator shaft

Instead of the high-lead block, I ended the shift on a little crew tasked with some fill planting. It was good fill: a 10 year old plantation with big trees and clear sandy substrate in between, which makes for some of my favourite work; swooping from spot to spot, lining up likely microsites while you work through the maze of existing trees, heads-up spatially-aware cardiovascular planting. We were also getting $0.25 a tree, which is pretty damn good. I will stoop for quarters.

Our spring trees are all planted, and we’re currently prorogued, waiting for the summer trees the mill has on order to get going again. Something tells me some of those trees may yet be going into that big steep block.

Sunset at Clover Point

sunset at clover point from ross bay

Being on the south-east tip of Vancouver Island, the Big City of Victoria looks across the 20 odd kilometers of the Strait of Juan de Fuca at the northern end of the Olympic Peninsula. That’s a shame in a way, because it puts the lie to my claim of living “on the Pacific Ocean”. It’s salt water, sure, and they probably claim to be oceaners even further east in Vancouver, but I’m not sure it’s really accurate to say it’s the actual ocean.

On the plus side, it means that you get to look across the oceanic strait at the snow-capped little Olympic Mountains all day, which do neat tricks like fading in and out of the clouds, or suddenly becoming remarkably clear or remarkably pink. And it’s fun to see the lights come on in Port Angeles every night, a nice little town in a whole different country.

This photo doesn’t actually show much of any of that, but maybe that’s what some of the people in the cars are thinking about.

More Mt. Wells

jane sune and tree on mt. wells

I’ve Moved to Ross Bay

ross bay in the morning

160 Memorial Crescent, #1. Come visit. We have an ocean.

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