Monday, June 24, 2013

Bye Bye Google Reader, Sniff


Google Reader has been in my stable of tools as long as I can recall for aggregating stories across a variety of blogs, about 170 at the moment. If you haven't been hiding under a rock you know that Google is retiring Google Reader and as of July 1st it will no longer be available. There has been a flurry of activity since the announcement by other providers to fill the gap. A couple of weekends ago I researched and tried a number of options and have now settled on a solution that meets my needs, for the moment.

My primary requirements are the ability to quickly read feeds on my iPhone and via a web browser. I've been using Reeder on my iPhone so any solutions that Reeder supports have an advantage. Google Reader's web interface is fantastic and replicating the experience of navigating using only a keyboard ranks high as well. I want a simple list of unread articles that I can quickly navigate through. I have no desire for magazine layouts such as you find with Flipboard. I do like Flipboard but not as a RSS reader.

After a bit of research I settled on the following options to further investigate:

A number of other options didn't make my final cut and these include:

Feed Wrangler

This is one of two services that don't have a trial so I had to pay for a subscription. I have no problem paying for a service that meets my needs and paying for a solution will hopefully allow it to be long lived. The cost of this service is $19 per year so the price is right. Feed Wrangler will also refund the subscription in the first 14 days if not satisfied.

Feed Wrangler has a very simple web interface and an iPhone application. The iPhone app was nice but I found the web interface was not as easy to use as I would have expected. It just didn't have the ease of navigating through articles that I wanted. I think Feed Wrangler is still a good contender and if the web navigation is improved I may revisit it again.


Feedly is free and has proven itself to be a great option. There is an iPhone app that works pretty well though not as easy to use as Reeder. The web interface supports Google Reader's keyboard shortcuts which is a huge plus. The only problem is that the behavior of navigating through stories causes the article to be marked as read even if you didn't open the article. This has been reported as a bug so hopefully this will be fixed.

I really like this solution and it almost made the cut for me.


Feedbin is also a paid service similar to Feed Wrangler. They have a yearly and monthly subscription plan. It is $2 monthly or $20 for a year. You can cancel at anytime and I went with the monthly subscription to try things out.

Feedbin has a web interface but no iPhone application. Not an issue since Reeder now supports Feedbin as a feed source. That rocks since Reeder is a fantastic reader application. There is also a beta Android application for Feedbin. The web interface is not 100% compatible with Google Reader but it is very close. Navigating through articles is done with arrow keys rather than n/p keys as found in Google Reader. But that is not an issue since the interface in the web view doesn't have the concept of opening and closing stories. As you move through the list the story is displayed in a panel. This has been an adjustment for me but it works well and I can quickly toggle a story between read/unread using the 'm' key.

My Choice (for the moment)

The kicker for me was support from Reeder which is what swayed me to stick with Feedbin. The web interface has grown on me and I've come to grips with the differences in how it operates. I like the web interface of Feedly better but the one navigation quirk and lack of Reeder support takes it out of the running for the moment.

I recently heard that Digg is about to roll out their own solution and I plan to take a look at it when it is available. Right now I plan to stick with Feedbin unless I see something more compelling.

Regardless of which solution you move to it is critical that you save your Google Reader subscriptions before Google Reader is shut off. You can get step by step directions to do so here.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

MINI JCW GP - Clicking For A Friend


Helping a friend in their quest to win a contest for a flipping awesome 2013 MINI John Cooper Works GP. You can help by clicking these three links. Pretty please?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

MINI GP Contest


My pal and MINI expert Waylon of Way Motor Works is in a heated battle for votes to win this contest. It takes just a moment and I would appreciate it if you could take a moment to help. Below are three links. Each will add a point to his score.

MINI GP wallpaper link
Making of the MINI GP carbon fiber wing
MINI GP wind tunnel tests

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Year of Photos


November 17, 2010 marked the beginning of a photographic journey that has forever changed how I see. It has been a year that improved my technical and composition skills as well as my ability to define a vision and execute it photographically.

In 2010, I was invited by Tim Stoklas to participate in a Photo 365 project. This was a birthday gift to himself but I feel he provided a greater gift to those he asked to participate. It has been a powerful experience for me and I am thankful I was given the opportunity to participate.

Photography has always been a strong interest of mine. From participating in a patched together photo club in high school to entertaining thoughts of being a professional photographer during my college years. Of course, life takes over and most of my photo endeavors disappeared until about 5 years ago where I reintroduced myself to a lost hobby. I've made a lot of progress in the last 5 years but the whirlwind of life always seems to limit time available to make progress. A Photo 365 project changes that. It creates focus along with a pressure to shoot every single day. And with very few exceptions I shot every single day throughout the Photo 365 project.

I think the biggest impact for me is that there are no excuses for not shooting. Prior to this project I often thought I had to "go" somewhere to take photos. This project forced me to see the wonder of everyday objects, things that are sitting right right in front of me which so often go unnoticed. I now have a much greater awareness of all things around me. From the windings of a guitar string to my wife's watercolor paint bucket, life is full of interest all around.

This project pushed my creativity as I didn't want to settle for just a picture. Certainly, out of 365 days, you will find what most of us would call a "picture" but more often than not I tried to push myself to do something just a little bit better. I pushed by trying different perspectives, trying new techniques, and going after shots I had always planned to do but just never got around to doing. Here are some of my favorites where I learned new technical skills.

This group has been so inspirational with great talent and a continuous stream of photographic ideas. The group's members often influenced my upcoming shots. I also found that I learned a lot from the group and it made me realize working with others creates a rich learning environment. If you can participate in something like this then please do. If that's not possible then pick up photo books from the greats and figure out what made their work excellent and learn from it. Continually learning and practicing new skills will create the foundation needed to find your own style and eye.

The journey has ended and I'm feeling a bit melancholy. There has been a sense of comradely and excitement born of the expectation of a shot each day, dialog within the group, and the excitement of seeing each others work which helped to keep the whirlwind at bay. I find that I'm not alone in that sentiment and our group has decided to take a small break and then start the Photo 365 project again next year. We will continue our journey starting January 1st and until then I'll take this time to reflect upon what was learned and prepare for the continued journey. In the meantime check out my shots from the year either on Flickr or Facebook (part1, part2) and this video which is a collage of my shots from this last year.

See you January 1st!!!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Suffocating - Our New Music Video


The band I'm in, Exit Strategy, is made of of three other great friends and we're going on 14+ years at this point. We've come a long way since performing covers to only original material. Well, with sufficient arm twisting we might pop out a cover or two.

The last few years we've tried to goal ourselves with producing at least one music video each year. We're slightly behind but we're close to meeting that goal with our most recent video that was released today.

I recommend viewing on YouTube in HD

Our last two videos which are Don't Ask Me What I Want for Christmas and Shore, were shot using DV cameras against a green screen. All of the footage was brought together using some combination of Premiere Pro and After Effects. Green screen using DV cameras will cause you to pull your hair out (I'm exhibit A for the results of pulling your hair out).

This latest video was a new step for us in a number of ways. I refused to do another green screen video and we wanted shoot in high definition. To accomplish this I used a Nikon D90 to record shots of us performing Suffocating in a studio setting. The studio is our practice location and is in the home of our bass player. I've been photographing with a DLSR for a long time. Shooting video footage with a DLSR was a new experience for me. I love being able to use the wide range of lenses available with my D90. It really opens up options in lighting and creativity. The ability to capture video footage in low light situations as seen in parts of this video is just wonderful. You may notice some exposure flickering during the video and I've now learned how to keep that from happening over on the forum. That's the thing about creating music videos, you're always learning and there will always be at least one thing you wish you had done differently :-)

I found the editing process with HD footage to be a breeze. Today's 64-bit operating systems with fast processors and large amounts of memory make this as easy as editing SD footage 5 years ago. This experience was so much fun that I'm looking forward to the next video. Gaining some comfort with DLSR video techniques opens up even more options for creativity in the future. Alright guys, we need to get that next song nailed down...

More information about our band can be found here.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Google Voice In Gmail


I knew that Google had made and update recently that integrated Google Voice with Gmail but I had not experienced this feature until last night. What a useful and wonderful surprise that was...

I was working in my office at home and had left my Droid upstairs. I started hearing a "ringing" sound that was unfamiliar and realized it was coming from my computer. This ringing sound made me recall that Google Voice had been updated with a new capability so I flipped over to my browser tab that Gmail was running inside. What greeted me was the following (well this is a screen grab and the number does not match what I saw...)

Okay... didn't expect to see that! I'm not sure what Screen does so I clicked Answer. It was not clear to me what Answer would do either :-)  Well, it picked up the call, I could hear the caller on my PC speakers, and the caller could hear me through the microphone on my webcam. Clear as a bell, as if they were in the same room. I finished the call and then "hung" up.

Nice work, Google!!! Love the integration and the clarity of the call. I later asked the caller what the quality sounded like on their end and they said it was like I was in the same room. If you use Google Voice and Gmail then I highly recommend turning this feature on inside Gmail.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Squeak, Rattle, and Silence...


Ever since I removed the center console side pillars and other items to put in my Craven shift well, I've noticed an increase in rattles in the cabin. I'm okay with that since I know that a sporty suspension is not necessarily a smooth ride. MINIHERO is rougher than some because of the lowering springs currently installed.

I attempted to eliminate these rattles and I can report success in silencing them. The area I worked on is in the following photo.

I knew that there were gaps between components in the center stack as well as between the side pillars (those ride side items) and down at the console level. I wanted to find something that was pliable but firm enough that I could shove it into these gaps. Shove it might not be the best term but that is what I ended up doing...

I thought about some type of felt material but knew that would be too soft to get into those tight spaces. I happened to go into Howard Brother's Hardware store in Duluth, GA and just started to roam around to see what I could find. I ended up asking for assistance and was directed to a roll of gasket material. It looked to be a perfect fit. It was rigid enough to push into tight places but had some give which would dampen rattles.

It worked perfectly. It can easily be cut with scissors and folded into appropriate thicknesses. Some of the gaps were only wide enough for a single layer of gasket but some areas needed 3 or 4 layers. For thicker areas I just folded it up until I got what was needed. I put this material into any gap I could find.

My first test drive proved that this solved the problem and there is now an eerie silence in the front of the cabin, well, aside from that wonderful whine of the supercharger :)

So, if you are experiencing rattles then you might want to try this technique. I do expect some of this material will wiggle out over time but I'll just continue to "repair" those pieces as needed. That small roll should last me a lifetime.

Click this link for an example of the material I purchased. I'm sure you can find it at most any auto parts store.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Let Me Count The Waste - Burning Tax Dollars


Wow, how impressed I am that the US Census Bureau would take the time to send me a letter to alert me that I will be receiving a census form from them in the next week. I will be watching the mailbox for the next 7 days with great anticipation. This may indeed be the pinnacle of 2010. The census arrives!

Had they not sent me this letter, shown below. I'm sure I would have carelessly tossed the census. That could have resulted in disaster, my family and household would not have been counted, would not have had a voice in the important decisions made as a result of the census.

I'm so glad that a caring person at the census decided to spend our bountiful tax dollars to send this letter to every household in the United States. Just doing some rough calculations here.... there are approximately 106 million households and with the cost of the envelope, letter, printing, postage, oh and the probable hours spent drafting this letter we come to a cost of around $91,160,000.00. Yep, $91 million buckaroos. Money well spent?

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Lighting MINI Parts


I've had a recent photography project where I've been taking shots of parts. I thought it would be a fairly boring set of photos to take but I was wrong. First off, how do you make parts look good? Not too many options and for me, interesting lighting was the best approach. Below is an example of one shot.

The final image is show below and is a set of replacement side lamp covers for a MINI Cooper. These items are all "chrome" which can create a challenging shot.

I shot this using two Nikon strobes, a SB-600 and a very old SB-24. Each are manually set and I used inexpensive Cactus triggers. When the camera fires, it sends a signal to the remote triggers which fire the flash. The parts are sitting on white foamcore with a piece of plexiglass on top. This provides for a nice white surface and the plexi provides the reflection. The back is just another piece of foamcore. The main light is being shot through an umbrella to camera left. I have another strobe being bounced against another piece of foamcore to camera right.

For shots that have items that are not so reflective I use the umbrella and then a gridded flash to provide highlights. This does not work well with chrome since you get hot spots which is why I bounced into foamcore. This creates a much larger light source and reduces the possibility of hot spots.

My first shot had a problem where the smooth chrome on the left side ended up being totally black. It was reflecting from the room and because of the fast shutter speed the "reflection" was darkness. That made it look like the piece had a black spot there. See the photo below to see what I mean.

I ended up taking another piece of white foamcore and as I prepared to shoot with one hand, I used the other hand to position the foamcore so that it reflected back into that area of the part. That caused that "black" area to come out white as seen in the first photo. I've placed a photo to help with the setup.

Looking at this photo I positioned the camera between the umbrella and the other flash. I held the foamcore above and to the right of the camera to kill the black reflection.

I never really thought about the scenarios encountered photographing something simple like parts... I've learned a lot and found it to be more challenging than expected.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Call Me Windows, Call Me Nuts!


Let me first state that I'm impressed and generally satisfied with my Windows 7 64-bit experience. It is indeed a much better operating system than we've seen from Microsoft since DOS....

Now that the honeymoon is over, I see some of the same unstable behaviors of Windows past. I'm convinced Windows has multiple personality disorder. Has the constant inbreeding finally caught up? (All in good fun, folks)!

  • A little over a week ago after a reboot forced by an OS update, my media card reader went belly up. The infamous error 43. Though it is well discussed in forum after forum, I was unable to solve this problem. I spent over two hours working through solutions found on forums and Microsoft's support site. No joy. I had accepted the fact that the 7 media card reader built into my PC had been rendered useless and that I would have to purchase an external reader and burn another USB port. Hold on this this thought...
  • About 3 or 4 weeks ago my system experienced grey screens of death. Nothing on the screen but a dark grey color and no response from the system. The only solution was a hard off and reboot. This problem only happened twice during a week period.
  • About 3 or 4 weeks ago I started experiencing a problem where my network connections would fail after about 3 days of uptime. Disabling or diagnosing the network adapter would not revive connections. Even command line updates to the connections were of no use. A reboot was always required to clear up the problem. 
  • This morning the network connection issue occurred and I restarted Windows. Well, I tried to restart - it hung shutting down. I was patient, waited 10 minutes, then did a hard kill. Here is the crazy part.... while it was booting Windows now decided "hey, you have a media reader. let me install device drivers for that"! So after almost 2 weeks of having a disabled media reader Windows has decided that it might be a device that was important to me. I plugged in a media card and, holy cow, it worked!
The media card issue is puzzling since it had been working for months in Windows 7. I can't say it was a MS problem but the USB device stopped working after a recent Windows update. During the time it was disabled, I've booted 6 or 7 times but it was not until this morning during a failed shutdown, hard kill, and reboot that Windows 7 decided to reinstall drivers.

If I acted this way around friends, family, and colleagues they would have me locked up for being nuts and rightly so. As a developer, I understand the complexity of the systems we work on but these behaviors puzzle me. Especially the inconsistency of it all. Again, I'm relatively happy with Windows 7. The types of applications I run are wonderful under a 64-bit OS.

When you're around nuts it is best to grin, bear it, and enjoy the ride.

(photo by Pink Sherbet Photography)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Droid and iTunes


Just watched this video and learned a few things about copying iTunes music over to the Droid. Watch the video for more details but here are some things I learned:

  • Add the "Kind" column to a view to quickly determine what in your library is protected by DRM. If you see Protected AAC then you know it will not play on the Droid. Note: There are illegal ways to unprotect but another is shown below.
  • Once you connect your Droid to your computer, you can drag songs directly from iTunes into the music directory on your Droid. Didn't know about that one...
  • iTunes has an option for removing DRM from music you purchased from iTunes. If you click iTunes Store, then on the top right click iTunes Plus, that will open up a page that will provide you with the cost for iTunes to remove DRM. I knew you could purchase non-protected music but I was not aware you could purchase an option to remove protection from an existing collection.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

How My Droid Does


A number of friends that are considering buying a Droid have been asking me about the applications that I use and would recommend. To save myself some time I thought I would just create a blog post on what I'm using rather than repeat the discussion over and over. How's that for efficient collaboration!


I spent some time with weather widgets/applications from both The Weather Channel and Weather Bug and I've gone with WeatherBug. I think WeatherBug has the best UI of the bunch and the widget is awesome. It is free and more information can be found here.

Blog Reading (RSS)

I use Google Reader for all my blog aggregation and though Google Reader works perfectly in the Android browser I found one particular UI issue to be troubling. You can read about that experience in my earlier blog post "Uh Oh, Bad UI Design?"

I found an Android application that provides blog aggregation and does so by hooking into your existing Google Reader account. Perfect! It provides an Android tuned UI while interacting while keeping Google Reader in sync. It is called NewsRob and is free.


Again, the built in Facebook application is fine for most but it is lacking in some areas. It seems that most people are very happy with an application called Bloo and I gave it a whirl. It is working very well for me and I'm amazed at how frequently the application is updated. Especially being that this is also a free application.


There are a number of good twitter applications such as twidroid and the new Android application from Seesmic. I tried twidroid first and gave Seesmic a try but my personal tastes lean toward twidroid and I'm very happy with it as an application. It also provides a fast pace of updates including new features and fixes.

Those are my list of go to applications and are used most frequently. Others that I use and would recommend include:
  • TripIt - if you have a TripIt account this is a very nice application for travelers.
  • Google Sky - a lot of fun for the wow factor!
  • Quickpedia - An application that provides wikipedia in a more Android friendly format.
  • ShopSavvy - too cool! Just scan a bar code of something you are thinking about purchasing and it will provide you a listing of best prices either locally or on the internet. For local finds you can then use Google Navigation to take you there :-)
  • Places Directory - uses your location to help you find places such as coffee shops, banks, places to eat, etc.
  • Pandora - for those of you that use Pandora for music listening this will hook you up on the Android.
  • WiFi Buddy - to manage your WiFi connections
  • PhoneFlicks - manager your Netflix queue on the Android

I'll update this over time and provide more details on some of those other applications.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Uh Oh, Bad UI Design?


I'll admit to being a Google fan boy but a recent experience with the Google Reader UI on my Droid has my scratching my head. First off, for those of you not using Google Reader... why not? Just do it. I currently have over 150 blogs in my read list and none of this would be possible without a RSS feedreader and Google Reader is my reader of choice. It can be used on most any device and I use it on any desktop PC, my BlackBerry, and my Droid. The navigation using the keyboard is super convenient and allows you to quickly churn through your items.

Now, on to my complaint. On an Android device, maybe an issue on others but I can't speak to those, the Refresh button is perilously close to the "Mark all as read" link. The Refresh button is used to refresh the items in your view. I have my reader set up so that only unread items appear. Any item that has been read will disappear from the view when you hit Refresh, it will also bring into the view any new items. If you click the "Mark all as read" link it will cause every item in the list to be marked as read which means they will disappear from the view....

Yep, since the button and link are so close together when I went to refresh the view my "shot" was a bit off and my finger hit the "Mark all as read" link. Every item that I had not yet read disappeared from view. Bad design especially when you learn there is no undo with that action :-(  Below is a screen shot of the opportunity.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

MINI Clock


The fun factor of the MINI brand is the best. I never tire of the fun things they come up with either from their YouTube channel or on the MINI USA site. They just came out with a MINI clock that will reside on your computer's desktop. Looks like the speedometer but instead of speed it represents the face of a clock. Some cool items:

  • At the stroke of each hour a small MINI comes out of a "garage" and depending upon the hour does a variety of interesting things. I won't spoil it for you. Get the clock and behold.
  • Once it starts to get dark the "dash" lights up. Just wonderful attention to detail.
You can get the MINI Clock here and below is a quick shot of it on my desktop.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

My Next MINI, Who Will NOT Get My Money


This is a tale of two MINI dealers and differences in attitude that can make or break an organization. In the new world created by Web 2.0 technologies, a world where the customers are in control it would be wise to remember the importance of customer service. Those that do not will be left wondering where all the people have gone...

A recent experience triggered this post and brought back memories of a prior experience that did not go well. Back in 2005 my wife and I ordered a MINI Cooper from Global Imports in Atlanta for our daughter. It was our desire that this arrive in time for her birthday. For that to happen, we ordered the car nine months prior to her birthday. It was confirmed by the sales manager that this would be no problem, no problem at all.

Spin forward to a week before her birthday in April of 2006. The sales person contacted us to let us know that the car would arrive about six weeks after her birthday. Okay, nine months.... nine months ago it was ordered with a promise that this car would arrive in time. Now, one week before delivery.... it's not coming for another six weeks? This sales manager acted as though this were no big deal even though he knew from the start that arriving in time for her birthday was important to us. Unsatisfied with the way this was handled we asked for a deposit refund and looked elsewhere. Luckily, we found a one year old, better equipped MINI the next day. A deal was struck and we were able to give it to our daughter on her birthday.

Move forward 3 1/2 years to last week. Our daughter's MINI failed an emissions test and it was determined by our trusted shop, Way Motor Works, that the O2 sensor had failed. It also turns out that we had received a letter from MINI about a O2 sensor recall and that MINI would replace it free of charge. So, daughter scheduled a visit to the dealer to have it repaired.... uh, oh. Guess what dealer she picked? Yep, the dealer that fumbled the car order 3 1/2 years ago. Guess how this worked out?

With great confidence, they determined the sensor was not faulty and when confronted by the report from Way at Way Motor Works, they indicated he didn't know what he was talking about. But.... they did have a expensive list of repairs needed to resolve the issue. My daughter called me and I asked that she take leave of Global Imports MINI and get to MINI of South Atlanta (MOSA).

Why MOSA? Because of my experiences with MOSA and my MINI. They have been top notch in all respects I always felt they were looking out for me, the customer. I have no doubt they want to create happy and loyal customers - loyal as in long term customers. So, today she visited MOSA. Well, what the heck, the O2 sensor is faulty!!! Imagine that? There was no argument, no push for additional repairs, no resistance at all. MOSA stepped in and did what was right for the customer. They didn't try to take advantage of my daughter and suggest other more expensive repairs. They got right to correcting the problem reported by the customer and did it quickly. Don't forget that they did this for a customer that has not purchased a MINI from them --- yet. Guess who just got my loyalty?

This is what having a customer focus means for MOSA. We are over the top MINI fans. We have two MINIS in the family and will eventually have three since my wife wants one. As much as it pains me to say this, MINIHERO (my MINI) will one day be replaced. That makes two MINI sales in the future. Oh, our daughter will do the same one day so let's take that to three MINI sales.

Where will I take my business? To a dealer that ignores the needs of their customers? A dealer that puts profits above customer loyalty? A dealer that tries to take advantage of customers?

I will choose to go to the dealer that is customer focused, that undertands that a customer relationship is at play, and that represents the spirit that is MINI. Yep, MINI of South Atlanta, you got my back and you'll get my business.

Companies must remember that the power of the crowds has and continues to create a new world order. Ignore it at your peril.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My Photography Site


After much prodding from Cher, I've finally made a commitment to my photography hobby and now have a photography website. Check out my site which is

Though I've been posting lots of photos through the years on my Flickr site, this feels different and is begging to make me be a bit more serious about this hobby. On top of that, for the first time ever, I'm showing some of my photography at an internal company sponsored art event. That's really got me a bit nervous but I'm learning a lot and in addition to slicing my finger open, I've learned how to matte and frame photographs! Of course, being married to a wonderful and successful artist has made that journey a bit easier.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tilting and Shifting


I've been intrigued by the look of a tilt shift lens and though I don't have one, it is possible to recreate it effect using Photoshop. Or at least approximate the effect. There are a number of sites that provide instructions on how to do this and I'll provide links below. In my case, as a rabid member of the AtlantaMINIS club I've been wanting to take a photo of our gatherings from afar. Last Sunday we had an event that ended up at Brasstown Bald which is the highest peak in Georgia. I decided to get a shot from the observation tower to try this effect. Unfortunately, I could have used another 100 mm reach on my lens but had to make do with the 200 mm I had at my disposal.

The steps I took are:

  1. After doing my "normal thing" in Lightroom I brought the image into Photoshop - note I cropped a bit in Lightroom as required by my lack of reach with my 200 mm lens.
  2. At this point I duplicated the layer - always protecting myself from frequent disaster.
  3. On the duplicated layer I created a mask by clicking the create mask icon at the bottom of the layers palette:

  4.  Next click the Quick Mask icon at the bottom of the Tools palette so you can see your masking:

  5. Now you will paint in a mask which will be used to limit the areas that a lens blur will be used. I created a gradient that has white where the blur will occur and black where the blur will be blocked. The gradient I created looks like this in the gradient editor dialog:

  6. With the quick mask turned on and the gradient selected you will drag across the image making sure the "red" mask is in alignment with the portion of your image you want to be in focus. I tried this numerous times until I got the right look. Important: Make sure the mask is selected and not the image. You'll know because there will be a little white outline around the mask in your layer. See below.

    Mask is selected

  7. Click the Quick Mask button again to turn off quick mask mode. You'll now see the "marching ants" around the selected areas.
  8. Use the Lens Blur filter and play around with the settings until you get a look you like. For the MINI image I used Radius: 39, Brightness: 6, Threshold: 237. Mix to taste.
  9. If I didn't like the "blur" when I had the lens blur filter dialog up, I would escape and then redo steps 6 and 7 until I got a look I like. If you redrag a gradient in quick mask mode then the one you had created is just replaced.

  10. To complete the look put in a curves adjustment layer and increase the contrast. You can go the, um, cheap route and just use a contrast adjustment layer and bump up the contrast to around 30. You lose fine tuning if you do that rather than a curves adjustment.
  11. Top it all off with a saturation adjustment and bump up the saturation. I went up to about 40 on this image. These last two steps start to give the image that "plastic" look.
  12. The final result for this test image:

For more examples go to these sites:

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Jason's Glass Blowing


Our son, Jason, is following in mom's footsteps and has started down a path of creating art. After just a few glass blowing lessons he is creating some wonderful work. Just a couple of examples below. I expect this to be just the tip of the iceberg!


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

MINIHERO - The Disappearing Bonnet


Played around with a technique last night where you can "see" through the bonnet, that would be hood for the non-MINI crowd, into the engine bay. You take an exposure with the bonnet closed, another with the bonnet open, and then do a bit of work in Photoshop to get this effect.

Easy to do as long as you know how to do masking. I just put the bonnet down version on top, created a mask, painted in black on the mask where I wanted to see through the bonnet. Best to use a soft edged brush with the opacity and flow set in the 30% - 40% range. I also used a mask to hide the surrounding garage area.

This was a quick test and I'm not 100% happy with the lighting or the environment. As a test it accomplished my goal. For lighting, I used a Nikon SB-600 shot through a 45" umbrella. Next time I'll probably do something similar but control the light a little better. It was a challenge keeping specular highlights from blowing out.


Saturday, September 26, 2009



We had a short gig last night at Smith's Olde Bar for a fund raising event for Morningside Elementary School. It is always a blast for us as performers and as audience members. The night is filled with a large number of bands playing 30 minute sets. It is cool to see how quickly some of these bands have come together as many of them were created from parents just for this event. It truly shows you how much talent is out there.

Great job to the organizers, great job by my band members, and a special call out to our drummer, Mack Brown, as he performed with grueling pain from a kidney stone.

Rock on!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The MINI Dirty Butt Problem


If you happen to own a MINI Cooper then you are certainly aware of what I call the "MINI dirty butt problem".

The aerodynamics of our favorite little car are such that it scoops everything it can find off the road and dumps it onto the back of the car. My goodness, how frustrating it is to get MINIHERO all shined up and on the way out of the neighborhood find that someone's grass clippings have been deposited onto the back of my car....

There is one particular component of the car that also acts as a shelf where road material just stacks up. That would be the rear window wiper. Many people find the rear window wiper to be of great value, I don't. That little wiper collects road trash like moths to a light. If you've ever pulled back a wiper on a MINI that is over 3 years old, you'll find that it, and the collected grit, act like sandpaper. There is probably a set of nice "scratches" on the glass underneath. That wiper also results in doom to the stickers I have on the back window. All of this leads me to the decision to remove the wiper.

Simple procedure, just remove the nut and soak the wiper connection in WD40, and soak, and soak, and soak. If the wiper has been on for any amount of time then it is almost fused and it will take a few days of soaking before you will be able to pull it off. Next step is to removed the wiper motor which requires removing the inside panel from the boot. To remove the panel, just remove the screws and forcefully pull off. There are clips that hold the panel on and you will certainly feel that you are pulling too hard - you are not.

The motor is held on with 3 bolts, just remove, unplug the wiring harness, washer supply line, and slide the motor out. Make sure to plug the washer supply line or you'll have a bit of dripping... You now have a small hole that needs to be plugged. You can order a special plug for this purpose but an article on NAMM noted that a bicycle headset cap can be used to plug the hole.

What's cool about a headset cap is how many different styles and colors exist. You are sure to find something to add that special "bling" to your MINI. You can get these at a local bicycle shop, though choices may be limited. Do a Google search and you will find many choices such as here.

I found one at a local shop that is of the carbon fiber line which looked very cool on MINIHERO as noted in the photo. So, there you go, another "mod" to MINIHERO. Though some would question the removal of the rear wiper, I find it much easier to keep the trash off the rear and I like the cleaner lines.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Social Media Changing Our World


See what you think.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Lightroom Love


Bless those Lightroom developers and product managers!!! Just discovered a behavior in Lightroom that surprised and delighted me. I use a collection for all of the images we put on my wife's art site. We've decided to create a "current work" page and an "archived work" page since the number of images had gotten to be so high. I made a copy of the collection of images which will represent current work and the original set for archived work.

We went through the current work and removed all of the images that should be archived. The next task was to go find and remove from the archive collection all of the images that are in the current collection. One would think you would flip back and forth between the sets until the deed was done and it would be a visual activity. Here's where the fun begins.

I'm in the current set. I click on an image. When I move to the archive set, the image I had selected in the current set is already highlighted in the archive set!!! All I have to do is delete the highlighted item from the archived list. Brilliant, what a time saver.

Lightroom's behavior is designed so that any image selected in a collection will be automatically selected in another collection if present. I did not expect this but it was most helpful for this particular task.

Sunday, August 02, 2009



I've noticed a lot of folks that participate in car shows create auto show signs for their car. Since I usually enter MINIHERO into show events I decided it was bad form for MINIHERO to not have a sign as well. So, firing up Photoshop and Lightroom, I dug through some of my shots of MINIHERO and put one together. I designed it for 11 x 17 and have not had a chance to print it out but here is a scaled down version. My plan is to print it when I have a chance and then see about having it laminated.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Upcoming Class Reunion


It has been 30 years since I graduated from high school. Seems a lifetime ago, well, I guess it has been. I'm pretty excited about seeing classmates and seeing the journeys our lives have taken.

My graduating class was very small with only 18 seniors. That should give you an indication of how small our private school was. The whole student body, from kindergarten to 12th grade, was somewhere around 200 people. When I note that to my colleagues and friends in Atlanta, they just shake their heads. Most of them had more students in their graduating class than we had in our whole school.

I'm looking forward to seeing everyone and catching up, though a quick reunion will never allow us to recapture the time that has passed.

Here's to you, classmates of 1979, see you in September!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

MINI Tow Hook


I've purchased a number of products for my MINI from and have been very happy with their prices, speed of delivery and quality of products. One exception is the red anodized tow hook. Apparently there seems to be a wide variance in quality with anodized tow hooks. After about 60 days my red tow hook turned an interesting shade of pink. Now, I'm not scared of pink.... I just wanted red on MINIHERO.

I spoke with the owner of at MOTD 2009 and though he was happy to swap out the tow hook he did indicate that there had been issues with the red, well, staying red.

At that point I decided to take the thing apart, sand it down, and paint it myself. Turned out great and as it gets nicks I'll just take it off and repeat the process. So, if any of you are having trouble with the color of your anodized tow hook then think about painting it.

There are a couple of steps to remove the part you would paint.

  1. Take a hex wrench and unscrew the hex bolt from each end, the end that the hook swings on.
  2. Take a very small hex wrench and loosen the hex nut that holds the center piece in.
  3. Slide out the center piece and the two hook will then just fall off.
  4. I used a coat hanger and built a "stand" from which to paint the hook.
  5. Prior to painting I cleaned and then sanded the tow hook.
  6. I put about 5 coats of caliper paint. Any red paint will do, I just happen to have a can of caliper paint on the shelf.
  7. Once dried just reverse the process. Take the hook and put in place and slide the center piece back in.
  8. Make sure the center piece is centered and then tighten the small hex nut.
  9. Put the large hex nuts back into the ends and tighten.
  10. Enjoy your new shiny tow hook!

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Gene Pool Cleansing


I almost fell out of my car on my way to band practice tonight. While stopped at a light during rush hour at a major Atlanta intersection I saw a grown man turning onto North Druid Hills Rd. from the I-85 off-ramp on a pocket bike. This guy had to have a death wish. He was at the head of traffic and he started oscillating from side to side as he entered the road. He almost slammed into the curb and had to stop to regain control.

It was the most ridiculous thing I've seen in a long time and I wish I had thought to grab my camera phone and take a shot.

At least he was wearing a helment...

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Ableton Live


Downloaded a demo version of Ableton's Live product. What a very cool product. Much more powerful than Sony's ACID Pro (at least to this untrained music wanna be). I went through the included demo and then tried my hand at creating a short song using the included samples.

That was fun!

Then I decided to record the acoustic guitar part of a song that T. Mack Brown and I wrote and use Live to add the other instruments. One of the cool features of this product is that when a new sound file is imported you set up the bpm for the original recording. Live does a fairly good job of doing this when a clip is first imported but I had to do some tweaking for the guitar parts I recorded. Also, since Live can loop a clip for the desired length of the piece on the timeline I did not have to record the full song. I just recorded each phrase that I'll need.

After getting my clips in and setting the default bpm I set my set's bmp (set is what Live calls a song or whatever you're building). This is where the fun part comes in. I first wanted to add drums so I looked for an existing drum beat that closely fit the rhythm of the song. Once I did that I dragged the clip to the timeline and the "painted" for the duration needed. Now the clip was orignally recorded at a bpm that is different than my song. This is where the bpm mapping becomes important. Live will remap the clip to match the bpm for the set. This means that once the drums where dropped into my set the beat was remapped to match my song. This was really cool!

Then I went about the business of adding a bass line. In addition to the bpm remapping you can change the "key" of a clip. I found a bass line that fit rhythmically and once I dropped it in I changed the note for the base line to match the phrase it was dropped into. For each chord change I just dropped in a copy of the bass line and changed the tuning to fit the chord at that point. Once I had a full phrase completed I just selected all of the blocks and copied the block of clips to each phrase in the song that needed that bass line.

I did the same thing for a synthesizer line that was violin like and a heavily distorted guitar droning guitar part in the chorus.

Since I recorded my own "clips" on acoustic guitar I learned that you may have to edit the clip's wav file to make sure you have a smooth transition from clip to clip or end to start of each clip. I had a clip that had a small thunk that did not fit well when it was being looped back to the front of the clip. I just cut the thunk down using a wav editor and bringing the db of the thunk down very, very low.

This is a great product and will be on my short list for purchase as soon as I can free up the greenbacks.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

What A Washer


Our Kenmore bit the dust and after determining Sears service could not come out for 3 days I decided to roll up my sleeves and fix it myself. The good news is there are a lot of sites out there with detailed information on how to service/repair washers. A few of the best are:

Between these sites and the parts schematic I was able to determine that a coupler was broken. A $20 part found locally. After replacing this part and patting myself on the back.. the moment of truth -- turned washer on and it began working. Pow!!!! A very large and sickening sound and I immediately turned the washer off.

Not good, I now see dark black oil oozing from the transmission case (didn't know washers had transmissions...did you?). I was able to remove the transmission case, the one with the large fracture. After disassembling the transmission I found the gear used to drive the agitator had broken. This is what caused the coupler to break in the first place. I was still hopeful but the transmission case is cast iron and the price is around $150. I also still had to buy the agitator gear.

If I had just known there was something wrong in the transmission case I could have spent another $20 on the agitator gear and been home free. Well, I couldn't see investing more time and money into a 5 year old washer. Next step, research and purchase a new washer...