hosting upgrade was successful

I upgraded my hosting package at 1and1.com. I doubled my disk allowance, got a ton of databases, more free domains (I have several), more bandwidth, more, more, more. All for about $1 a month extra. It will be about $2-$3 more later, but the package was pretty good.

Before I upgraded, I backed everything up to a local disk and did a SQL dump of my database. The upgrade went as smoothly as it could, though. The 1and1.com website said the upgrade could take up to 6 hours but mine was done within 2 hours. Everything was good except my wordpress permalinks were not working on ericholsinger.com. I managed to fix that quickly, though. The netrailhead.com site was fine.

the campsite: a stop motion animation short

I just created my first stop motion animation short using my Canon EOS 10D as remote capture device and Monkey Jam to build the movie file.

I created “the campsite“, a stop motion animation short using my Canon EOS 10D camera and Monkey Jam. I have been reading about and watching brickfilms and some stop motion animation films online. I had the crazy idea that it would be fun to blow my sons mind by making a short film of some of his toys. It turns out that it’s a lot of work.

Casting Call

First, I had to raid my sons toy collection. I picked a couple of figures from an adventure sport/camping play set. They had chairs and tables and a bunch of coleman gear that was already their size. I figured this would be the easier way to create a “set” without using Legos.

the campsite, still frame, by eric holsinger

Set Construction and Lighting

I cleared an area on one of my computer desks and put an old checkerboard down for the set area. The background is a large piece of graph paper stuck to a LCD monitor.

It took a while to arrange the scene for a sense of depth. I experimented a lot with the shrubbery.

I put my camera on the tripod and connected the remote capture cable, a USB cable, to my laptop. My Canon EOS 10D has Remote Capture abilitiy. So I can shoot the camera from my laptop. I used my EOS 550 EX flash with a Stofen Bounce Flash to even out the light.

Then I experimented with the exposure and depth-of-field. I ended up focusing on the firepit at f/8.

Here is the setup:

the campsite, by eric holsinger; set construction and camera angle

Production

I shot 27 frames of animation. Then I used Monkey Jam to make the movie. At 15 frames per second, it looks a bit jerky. At a faster fps, the motion looks smoother, but obviously doesn’t last as long.

Lessons Learned

I discovered that it’s really hard to keep the set in place. I knew enough to stick the shrubs and firepit to the checkerboard. I also stuck the checkerboard to the desk. But the chairs weren’t stuck and neither were the table and cooler in the background. When the figures got close to those items, I bumped them and you can see the jump in the animation.

Also, it’s really difficult to get the “actors” to behave. I used plasti-tak to hold their feet to the checkboard, but the plasti-tak stretched and stuck to the checkerboard more than it did to their feet.

Looking to the Future

The next thing to do will be to actually create a little script and then add some sound effects.

You can view the animation by downloading from

Paint Shop Pro X: RAW power

Corel Paint Shop Pro X, with RAW support, may be the best workflow improvement I’ve experienced since I bought my digital camera.

I finally upgraded to the latest version of Corel Paint Shop Pro X. It may be the best workflow improvement I’ve experienced since I bought my digital camera.

Corel Paint Shop Pro

I have to admit that I was very reluctant to even try Paint Shop Pro X after being disappointed with the trial version of Corel Paint Shop Pro 9. Paint Shop Pro X has many changes to the user interface and some of the tools I used most in JASC Paint Shop Pro 8 are completely different in PSP X. But, PSP X starts much faster than PSP 9 and the RAW support alone may be worth it.

Workflow (more work than flow)

So, I have a Canon 10D. It’s getting a bit dated, now, and only shoots at a mere 6.3 Megapixels. But, it has an option to shoot in Canon RAW format. Since I didn’t have RAW support in PSP 8, I would use Canon ZoomBrowser EX and File Viewer Utility to do some processing on the RAW image and then convert it to JPG.

Canon ZoomBrowser EX is the main tool for managing and manipulating images from my Canon 10D. From this tool you can copy images from your camera, or memory card, and store them on your drive.

Canon ZoomBrowser EX

You can use the ZoomBrowser to “zoom” into directories and convert images for preview. The “zoom” is an animation of the directory getting larger until it fills the viewing area. It’s cute but I could do without it if the tool was faster.

From ZoomBrowser, you can open the Canon File Viewer Utililty which will allow you to manipulate the exposure and do some processing of the image.

Canon File Viewer Utiltiy

In File Viewer Utility, you can adjust the contrast, color, sharpness, exposure, etc.

Then I open the converted JPG in JASC Paint Shop Pro 8 for further manipulation.

Jasc Paint Shop Pro 8

In Paint Shop Pro 8, I would usually do some saturation or contrast adjustments and then resize and run Unsharp Mask. Sometimes I would just run One Step Photo Fix.

The pair of ZoomBrowser EX and File Viewer Utility is pretty slow; so it’s a pain to do a lot of images. Most of the time I would just convert the RAW files to JPG with a bulk adjustment. But, what is the point of wasting time doing a sloppy RAW conversion if the camera can do a good job of it on the spot at capture time? It was easier to just work with a JPG file in PSP 8 than to work with a RAW file in ZoomBrowser EX and File Viewer Utility.

Shooting in RAW gives you some artistic options in the digital darkroom that are harder to achieve with JPG. Once the image goes to JPG, the color range is clipped. For snapshots, this isn’t a big deal. But when you are trying to get a really good photograph, and you use your tripod, you use your shutter release, you set the exposure adjustment and you take a long exposure at ISO 100, it makes sense to work the image using all your digital tools before converting it.

An evolution occurred in my workflow when the free download of Pixmantec Raw Essentials became available.

Pixmantec Raw Essentials 2006

Pixmantec Raw Essentials allows me to browse files and manipulate them more quickly. Raw Essentials does a low resolution rendering and replaces it will a higher resolution. Technically, the image probably doesn’t display any faster, but it’s more tolerable. The best feature is probably the JPG conversion. Pixmantec Raw Essentials takes advantage of background processing to convert the images while you are doing something else. So, you don’t have to wait for the image to finish. You can just keep working.

Less work, more flow

Paint Shop Pro now has RAW support for Canon CRW files. Now I can browse and manipulate RAW files in one tool. An image browser opens by default showing thumbnails of all the RAW images. When I open an image, I am given the dialog for Smart Photo Fix. This is good because a RAW file, by definition, has only had very minimal processing in the camera and needs to be processed to get the most out of the image.

Corel Paint Shop Pro X

A little rough around the edges

There are some problems with Paint Shop Pro X that I hope are fixed soon. One big problem is the Image Browser seems to get confused somehow and starts throwing up “illegal argument” error messages that never seem to end.

Paint Shop Pro X - Invalid Argument in Browser

I’ve had to kill PSP X from Task Manager several times. I can reproduce it by resizing the Browser panel. That just throws it into a death spiral for some reason.

Another problem with the Browser is speed. It seems to render the whole image instead of just doing a rough render, followed by a better quality replacement. That would really make the Browser nicer. A large directory can take a long time just to render the image you want so you can select it for editing.

Paint Shop Pro: One Step Photo Fix…

Paint Shop Pro, formerly from JASC and more recently from Corel, has a nifty One Step Photo Fix command for automatically adjusting color balance, contrast, clarity, saturation, smooth edges, and sharpening an image. It command works pretty well as it is but I found that by tweaking the script behind it, I could more often get images that I liked better than the default output.

Paint Shop Pro 8 from JASC (more recent version is Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo XI) has a nifty One Step Photo Fix command for automatically adjusting color balance, contrast, clarity, saturation, smooth edges, and sharpening an image. The Paint Shop Pro One Step Photo Fix command works pretty well as it is but I found that by tweaking the script behind it, I could more often get images that I liked better than the default output. I will give some examples and show how I modified my script for Paint Shop Pro 8.

First, here is a photo of my beautiful and tolerant wife enjoying the presence of my Canon 10D in our campsite after backpacking a couple miles into Maine’s Cutler Coast. This photo is 20% of the original size, before any other editing.

Cutler Coast Campsite, Maine - original

The photo itself is not perfect by any measure; the focus is soft. But, this photo is pretty good for my photo album as-is. I might even be tempted to just have it printed with no adjustments.

When I run the Paint Shop Pro One Step Photo Fix command on the image above, this is the output:

Cutler Coast Campsite, Maine - After the Paint Shop Pro One Step Photo Fix command

After running the Paint Shop Pro One Step Photo Fix command, the colors are more accurate, and the image is clearer and sharper. But, I think the contrast is too high. More specifically, I think it makes things look too washed out; especially in the skin tone.

Unhappy with the One Step Photo Fix command, I went looking for the script that is run when you click the One Step Photo Fix button. I found it in C:\Program Files\Jasc Software Inc\Paint Shop Pro 8\Scripts-Restricted\OneStepPhotoFix.PspScript. (Note: C:\Program Files\Jasc Software Inc\Paint Shop Pro 8 is where I installed Paint Shop Pro 8. Your installation may be elsewhere.) The script is a Python script that Paint Shop Pro reads and executes when you click the button. It’s just a text file and you can read it with Notepad or Wordpad. Be careful to not modify the original file, though. We are going to copy it first to another directory.

You may not even know it, but when you install Paint Shop Pro, it creates directories in your My Documents directory. We want to place a copy of the OneStepPhotoFix.PspScript into the My Documents\My PSP8 Files\Scripts-Restricted directory.

Here is a picture showing where the Paint Shop Pro 8 Scripts-Restricted directory is:

PSP 8 user directory

If you did that, you now have two copies of the script, the default installation version and one you can edit for your own needs. The new copy will appear in the script drop down on the menu bar, as shown on the left in the image below (you may have to select it from the drop down list after restarting Paint Shop Pro 8):

Paint Shop Pro scipt menu bar

I opened OneStepPhotoFix.PspScript with Notepad and I changed the copy to skip the contrast enhancement step by adding #’s before the lines. This is called “commenting-out” in computer programmer jargon. Here is what the modified contrast section looks like:

# Enhance the contrast

#   App.Do( Environment, 'AutoContrastEnhancement', {
#           'Appearance': App.Constants.Appearance.Natural,
#           'Bias': App.Constants.ContrastBias.Neutral,
#           'Strength': App.Constants.ContrastStrength.Normal,
#           'GeneralSettings': {
#               'ExecutionMode': App.Constants.ExecutionMode.Silent,
#               'AutoActionMode': App.Constants.AutoActionMode.Match
#               }
#           })

That’s the only change I made. Now, when I run the script from the scripts menu, I get this output:

Cutler Coast Campsite, Maine - custom

That looks more appealing to me.

My new script gives me all of the automatic adjusting of color balance, clarity, saturation, smooth edges, and sharpening the image; without the overpowering contrast adjustment.

Saco Schoolies

Early season striped bass on the Saco river from Camp Ellis up to Saco, Maine.

I was fortunate enough to be able to go out with a large group for some early season striped bass on the Saco river from Camp Ellis up to Saco, Maine. I was in a boat with Frank Glasscock and Jeremy Ratliff from Superior Distibution of Eastern Tennessee. We were going out fishing out with Captain Cal Robinson of Saco Bay Guide Service. Capt. Cal knew Frank and I would like to do some fly casting, so while the other two boats headed up river to catch some bait for fishing below the dam, we noodled around in the estuaries fly fishing for some schoolie action.

The weather outlook wasn’t very good for the day. It was drizzling rain at 5 am but expected to get heavier as the day went on. Capt. Cal knew he could put us on fish right away and then move up to try to get a keeper below the dam.

Cal was right. We started getting into them right away with some spinning rods while Frank worked the fly rod from the casting deck. We got a dozen or so small stripers in the upper teens. They were hitting hard and close to the boat.

When Frank gave me a shot at the fly rod, I didn’t find the wind to be too much of a problem. The 8 wt. rod sent the Cortland 444sl racing out of the guides with little effort. It didn’t take a very long cast to get the fish.

When the wind picked up, we moved farther up the river stopping here and there until about the Biddeford boat launch. Then we headed for the dam to fish with chunk mackerel. I’d never fished circle hooks before, but I see what all the fuss is about these days. The hook, if set properly, lodges just inside or at the lip of the fish. It’s easier to get the fish off the hook so you can catch more fish.

Even though the day ended in nearly a downpour for the ride back to the Camp Ellis pier, we had a blast. Frank and Jeremy were great fun to be with on the boat. Capt. Cal is a very experienced guide. I just love fishing for those schoolies.

Moving Forwards

I got a grammar lesson from Todd “Now we’re cookin’ with biscuits” Sullivan. An unlikely source at best. I said something to the effect of “He drives in forwards.” When he mocked me, I didn’t even understand. And it wasn’t because I was talking about Han Solo flying the Millenium Falcon into an asteroid crater inhabited by a giant, space sock-puppet. He had to explain it plainly for me to understand that “forwards” was not even a word.

I got a grammar lesson from Todd “Now we’re cookin’ with biscuits” Sullivan. An unlikely source at best. I said something to the effect of “He drives in forwards.” When he mocked me, I didn’t even understand. And it wasn’t because I was talking about Han Solo flying the Millenium Falcon into an asteroid crater inhabited by a giant, space sock-puppet. He had to explain it plainly for me to understand that “forwards” was not even a word.

I’m an introspective sort. So, having been made aware of this I began to cogitate on my own vocabulary and grammar. My reflection was fueled somewhat by the embarrassment felt by one who, most times, is pointing out the grammatical gaffes of others. It was a kind of competition my sister and I used to play; we still do. It has spilled over and has affected my colleagues. No one is made happy by this.

My wife has brought a little phrase to my attention: leave it go. I usually say something like, “I’m going to leave it go for now.” What I really mean is “let it go”, “leave it alone”, “let it be” or even “fuggedaboutit.” It seems to be something I learned where I grew up in Pennsylvania. My wife works in the Midwest, including Western Pennsylvania. She hears it there, occassionally. I am actually from Eastern Pennsylvania, but Western PA is closer than New England. Meaning, I probably talk more like folks in Pittsburgh than folks in Boston or Chicago.

Cursed to forever be the outsider, my relatives in Pennsylvania think I talk like a Mainer and the people in Maine just don’t care where the hell I’m from or what I’m saying, let alone how I’m saying it. They just know I’m a “from away.”

So, I’m not sure where I picked up “forwards.” I’ll make a temporary note to blame the Mainers, but I have a suspicion that it may be a root problem.

I’m hoping this will be an online exorcism. I’m going to leave it go, move forward and not look backwards.

Moving to a Blog

The conversion of ericholsinger.com from a static website to a blog went very well. It was pretty time-consuming because I was doing it after having done almost no research at all.

I basically culled a few choices from a comparison of downloadable blog software. Then I made a “gut instinct” decision to try wordpress. It installed very nicely. Continue reading “Moving to a Blog”