The Casual Blog

Tag: Photoshop

Resetting in retirement, new animal photos, new music, and reading The Uninhabitable Earth

A white-tailed deer at Lake Wheeler

My transition from a corporate schedule to a non-corporate one has been fairly undramatic.  I find myself smiling more and carrying around less stress. But it’s been sudden, and a little disorienting.  On Sunday night, I found myself starting to think about getting up early to get to the gym for the start of a new corporate work week, when there wasn’t going to be one.  Old habits die hard.

But I’m starting to develop some new routines that I like.  Instead of rushing out early to the gym, most days I’m starting with 20 minutes of mindfulness meditation.  Then I head out to one of our local forests and lakes with my camera and look about for animals and plants in the gentle early light.  After a couple of hours of looking, I head to the gym for various types of cardio activity, resistance training, core work, and stretching.  If it’s not a swimming day, I either read or listen to podcasts while I sweat.

Back home, I get a shower and make a green smoothie for a late breakfast.  Then I’ll download and process my latest photographs. I’m experimenting with various software tools, including especially Lightroom and Photoshop, and also Topaz, Nik, Aurora, and Helicon Focus.  

When my eyes and neck start to ache from photo processing, I usually practice the piano.  Currently on the workbench are Chopin’s first Impromptu and the Op. 27, No. 1 Nocturne, Liszt’s third Consolation, and Brahms’s Rhapsody Op. 79, No. 2.  

I’ve also been working on a couple of dozen jazz standards, like Misty, Stardust, and All the Things You Are.  I got reasonably proficient at playing some of the great American songbook before law school, but afterwards put that music it in storage for most of the last 30 years.  Now I’m getting the dust and cobwebs off and enjoying it again.

A gray squirrel with a hot dog at Lake Wheeler

Speaking of music, I finished reading the new biography of the Robert Schumann by Judith Chernaik, which I found worthwhile.  Schumann (1810-1849) was a great composer, who adored and married Clara Schumann, a great pianist, and had several children. He struggled with mental illness for much of his life, but left an enduring legacy.

I also finished reading Ian McEwan’s latest novel, Machines Like Me.  It’s a sometimes funny but ultimately serious book set in the recent past but with a futuristic premise:  the protagonist buys an expensive new home gadget, which is a completely realistic super intelligent humanoid robot.  There are various practical problems with having this device, and even more moral problems. I find the trajectory of advancing artificial intelligence fairly worrisome, and McEwan gave me some new grounds for worry. 

Although I finished The Uninhabitable Earth, by David Wallace-Wells, I immediately began re-reading it.   I would not recommend this book to anyone struggling with depression. The unvarnished accounting of the global-scale disasters that, to a high degree of probability, are coming our way are hard to process.  But I’m hoping there are many healthy people who will read it and be inspired to action. As much as Wallace-Wells makes vivid and real the possibility of cascading climate disasters, he also explains that, just as this is a situation that humans have created, it is one that humans have it in their power to address.

A great blue heron at Crabtree swamp

This week there was a good Ted Radio Hour podcast on this same subject.   It was inspiring to hear 16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg, and get some ideas about carbon capture, animal agricultural redirection, and addressing climate change denial.  I’d like to think the dire reality of our situation is starting to sink in to public consciousness, and we may be starting to pull out of our death spiral.

In E.O.Wilson’s recent book Half Earth, on preventing more species extinctions (which I’m also re-reading), he points out another possible name for the coming era.  Instead of the Anthropocene, which emphasizes a biological world existing “almost exclusively by, for, and of ourselves,” he suggests calling it “the Eremocene, the Age of Loneliness.”   On our current trajectory, the earth will have fewer and fewer non-human species. This is, of course, disastrous for non-domesticated animals and plants, but also tragic for the humans who remain.

Carolina wren at Yates Mill Pond

It’s always seemed to me a simple thing to enjoy being outside in nature, but it’s starting to seem less common and more worthy of attention.  Now that I have more time to get out to our local parks, I’m spending more time with our still common animal neighbors, like deer, squirrels, and birds.  The ones here are from the past week. The deer at Lake Wheeler seemed shy but interested in having a good look at me. The squirrels there were having an after-picnic picnic.  The great blue heron at Crabtree swamp spent a long time hunting, standing still for periods, moving slowly, and striking quickly. It had several little fish for breakfast.

Dodging the hurricane, music therapy, and photo processing

A tiny lizard last week at Durant Park

Hurricane Florence got our full attention in Raleigh this week.  I usually take storm warnings with a large grain of salt, since there’s usually a lot of media hype in a feedback loop with people’s tendency to exaggerate certain kinds of danger.  But early projections showed a storm big enough to cover North Carolina with powerful winds and massive amounts of water, with the eye headed right towards here. We got extra food, charged our batteries, and filled the bathtub with water.  Sally’s sister Ann, who lives in Wilmington, heeded the official calls to evacuate, and came to stay with us.

The storm hit Wilmington hard, but then turned south and west, dumping record amounts of rain and causing widespread flooding.  In Raleigh, we got rain, but not in dramatic quantities. We had time to talk and do indoorsy things.

Like playing the piano — some Chopin, Liszt, Debussy, and Bartok.  Why I enjoy this isn’t so clear.  There’s close to zero chance that making music will improve my economic or social status.  And there are negatives — periods of social isolation, time lost for other things, and possibly annoying the neighbors.

Part of the answer was suggested in a podcast I heard a while back about music therapy, which was being used in hospices to help dying people.  Most days just by playing I give myself some music therapy, relieving stress and anxiety, finding comfort and peace. But at the same time it’s challenging and energizing. Also, at times there are new discoveries, leaps across space and time, engaging with great musical minds of times past.  

Lately I’ve also been learning to play by ear.  This was not a part of my early musical training, and with so much else to learn about the written language of music and technique, I just didn’t get around to it.  But it turns out to be fun. There are large quantities of children’s songs, hymns, and assorted pop tunes rattling around in my head, and it’s entertaining to try them in different keys and styles.  I’m looking forward to sharing the songs of my childhood with my future grandchildren.

Because of the rain this weekend, I did not get outside with my camera, but I spent some time looking at and refining recent images.  These last few weeks I’ve been getting help from D.A. Wagner, a/k/a The Lightroom Guy, in getting my digital photo files organized and improving my Lightroom and Photoshop processing skills.   My processing typically involves cropping and experimenting with small variations in exposure, tone, and color in different parts of the image.  D.A. recently gave me some helpful ways to approach spot removal and similar edits, some of which I used with these pictures.  

 

Ice, dark matter, Photoshop, AlphaGo, and Haydn

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The forecast on Friday called for major snow, but in downtown Raleigh we only got a couple of inches.  Still, the roads got very icy and temperatures went down into the teens.  We stayed home, cozy and warm, and caught up on backlogged magazines and Netflix.  

One of the New Year’s thoughts I saw recently was a tough one:  a wish for lots of failure in 2017.  The idea is, if you’re operating outside your comfort zone and trying new things, you’ll be doing some stumbling and falling.  Failure doesn’t usually feel good, but it can be a sign that you’re going somewhere.  On the other hand, if you aren’t having any failures, either you’re the luckiest human in history or you’re stuck.  

One way to assure a level of failure is to try keeping up with contemporary physics.  I’d thought it was reasonably well settled that a quarter or so of the universe was made up of so-far undetected dark matter.  But the BBC  reported last week that after recent failures of big experiments to verify the theory, some reputable scientists are reconsidering.    It sometimes seems that there is so much human knowledge you could never get to the bottom of it, but there is still so much we do not understand.  

Anyhow, I’m looking forward to plenty of failures in the coming year.  In photography, I’ve been struggling to get a thorough working knowledge of the relevant tools in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.  They’re wonderful, but far from intuitive, and at times intensely frustrating.

This week I made up my mind to get a level of competence at using Photoshop layers to combine images.  Being iced in gave me a chance to practice, and I discovered many methods that do not work before getting on the right path.

As one of my colleagues recently noted, if you need to know something, you should always try asking Google.  Whatever you need to know, there’s usually already a video or a blog post with an answer on the internet.  This is certainly generally true for Lightroom and Photoshop, though it took several tries to find the necessary guide post for my layers problem.

Speaking of Google, a word of congratulations to the AI researchers at its DeepMind unit for the latest advances of AlphaGo. Go, which is more complex than chess, was until recently well beyond the reach of artificial intelligence.  No more.  AlphaGo, which beat a famous Go master a few months ago, last week took on the world’s top player and other distinguished masters and beat them all, 60 games to nil.   

In the Wall Street Journal’s reportthe vanquished masters seemed stunned by the unconventional and varied style of AlphaGo.  It seemed to have absorbed all existing human Go experience and wisdom, and gone far beyond.  This is exciting, but also scary.  The singularity may be closer than we thought.  

To stay calm and balanced, I recommend listening to some Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809).  Perhaps because of so many unsettling current events, I’ve been spending time with his piano trios and string quartets, of which there are many.  This is really charming classical music, which tends to get overshadowed by Mozart.  There are many fine recordings easily available on Spotify.

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In Antelope Canyon

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Each week for the Casual Blog I try to make some new photographs that I like well enough to share. This forces me to get outside and explore, which is fun. To avoid the obvious and keep from repeating myself, I have to keep experimenting and learning. It’s challenging, and also sort of a virtuous cycle. At any rate, I enjoy it, and feel like I'm getting better.
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But I’m departing from custom this week. I’ve been sorting through photos from my photo workshop trip to Utah and Arizona (described in my last post), and post processing some of them.
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The ones here are from lower Antelope Canyon. It’s a narrow slot canyon with red sandstone cliffs of flowing serpentine shapes. The location is in the Navaho Nation, near Page, Arizona. You may have seen a popular Windows screen saver that depicts one of the areas we passed. There were so many amazing spots.
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Our group was privileged to be led by local Navaho guys who knew the terrain well and understood the needs of photographers. We were working with tripods and taking long exposures, which required patience of both us and other visitors.
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In places the passage was only wide enough for one person. There were stairs that were almost ladders. Getting ourselves and gear along was challenging, particularly with other visitors coming in the opposite direction. But by golly, we did it!
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During the Southwestern workshop, leaders Scott and Phil helped me up the learning curve in photo processing with Lightroom and Photoshop. In Lightroom, my RAW images are getting more vivid and closer to my impressions and intentions. I still find Photoshop daunting in its complexity, but I’ve got a better understanding of the key photography tools, and am getting proficient in doing some kinds of repairs. I’m looking forward to learning more.