Valuable Photos

An acquaintance of mine spends a lot of money on travel and cameras, more than just about anyone I know. But you won’t find photos of famous landmarks amongst his pictures unless he’ll find a way to take a picture of something that nobody photographs – like a bathroom or a service entrance. His photos will stand the test of time.

Collectors of old photos know this: photographers have a herd mentality. In early photographs portraits are very common, but pictures of anything other than people are rare. Yes, old cameras were bulky and hard to use outside, but it’s still not a good reason: the earliest surviving photo is a view out of a window.

There’s a type of a photo that I despise the most: one of a flower. If you have an expensive camera with a nice lens you can go to a botanical garden and take a hundred gorgeous pictures of pretty plants with a pretty blurred background (coin-a-sewers of this type of photos like to discuss “bokeh” – the quality of the blurred background specific to a lens).

And then there’s one type that I like a lot: pictures of workspaces. My advice to you is to take more of those. Forget flowers, sunsets and landmarks: looking back you’ll enjoy these much more.

Here’s a blurry photo of my doorman’s desk from college years:
Screenshot 1:8:13 7:26 AM

And here’s my desk at TV Guide.
Screenshot 1:8:13 7:06 AM

A co-worker of mine kept a picture of his old workspace instead of anything else. He could never explain why he did it, but I found it funny enough to take a picture of it. I always kind of wished I had the foresight to keep taking pictures of my desks recursively – which is a great idea, I think.

Screenshot 1:8:13 7:00 AM-3

Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Standard Zoom Lens for Canon SLR Cameras

Canon is an industry leader in professional and consumer imaging equipment and information systems. Canon’s extensive product line enables businesses and consumers worldwide to capture, store and distribute visual information. Cannon provides a wide range of accessories that are fully tested and 100% compliant with the corresponding equipment. All accessories are noted for their high reliability and superior quality.Ever experienced one of those days when some of your pictures, shot under available light conditions, were ruined by camera shake and caused a substantial loss of sharpness? Well, kiss goodbye to all those camera-shake pictures via a remedy in the form of the new Canon EF28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS (Image Stabilizer) USM zoom lens. The IS system reduces the possibility of blurred photographs caused by camera shake, enabling handheld photography in comparatively dim light without a flash or tripod.

Canon vs. Nikon

I often get asked for advice on what digital camera to buy. I’d estimate that I was asked that at least a dozen times in the last couple of years. I’ve been asked by co-workers, friends, family.

I usually explain things this way: there are two classes of cameras — SLR and what used to be called “rangefinder“. SLRs range from bulky and heavy to galaxy sized black hole; from very expensive to small-Manhattan-studio-apartment-down-payment expensive. Rangefinders range from 007-spy-camera-sized to brick-sized; from very cheap to pretty damn expensive. The image quality on both types ranges from crappy to very good.

SLRs have one huge advantage: they look professional. And expensive. Two advantages. Well, actually while we are at it, there is a third advantage, and the only one that matters. Some SLRs come as a part of a camera system. A camera system is a collection of accessories that your camera can take. It includes lenses, flashes, extension rings, adapters, and other various obscure doodads like focusing screens and right angle viewfinders. Repeat with me – it’s not the camera body and the lens it comes with. It’s the System that matters.

When you are buying a non-system camera, you have to make a one piece investment as you won’t be able to upgrade it later. With system SLRs, your investment in lenses, flashes and other accessories is separate and much longer lasting than investment in the body of the camera. More than that, you’ll have a choice of several camera bodies at different price points. But the main thing is, you can have a lens and accessory collection and it will stay with you for many years.

In the olden days there were popular rangefinder systems and even TLR systems. Not anymore. But the main reason for rangefinder popularity still remains: they are smaller and easier to use than SLRs. A picture taken with a well-made rangefinder will be almost indistinguishable from that taken with a well-made SLR with a normal range lens (that is, not a macro or telephoto or something even more exotic). Rangefinders add something to photography that no SLR can add – spontaneity. To be able to whip a camera out of your shirt pocket and take a picture is priceless. 70% of photographic opportunities disappear in the time that it takes to take an SLR out of the bag.

I often try to steer people into buying a nice rangefinder because I know that they’ll take it with them more, take more pictures and enjoy it more. A camera that wants to stay at home is not of much use, unless, of course, like me, you are Ok with dragging a heavy bag with you everywhere.

If it’s the SLR that they want, I explain the choice even simpler. You have to buy into a major camera system, which these days means Canon or Nikon. Once you buy your camera and lenses, you are pretty much stuck with the system, unless you never buy any expensive lenses.

Canon and Nikon systems are pretty equivalent in quality and variety. They are both awesome. Generally Nikon stuff is heavier and sturdier, and also more expensive. Just about anybody finds that appealing. I find the relative heaviness a huge drawback. Picture quality at slow shutter speed is mainly limited by three factors: sensor quality, lens quality and camera shake. So, if you are not using a tripod for every shot, a heavy, although sturdy camera is a huge drawback – it will make your hands shake a lot more than a lighter one. For these two reasons I am, and always was a fan of Canon.

Most of the people I ever advised on purchasing a camera bought Nikons though. More than that, most of my friends and co-workers are Nikon owners already. As a rule of thumb, prosumers that I know like Nikons. In general, among professionals and amateurs, Canon and Nikon are represented equally, as far as I can tell.

I do have one observation that might raise a lot of controversy. I find, in my empirical observations, that Canon owners take and share way more pictures than Nikon owners. Nikons are usually found stashed away at home, while Canons are out there in the world, taking pictures. Since 2000, I took about 25K photos, and a I guess I am a typical Canon user. So is Travis Ruse, one of my favorite photobloggers. So is Tema Lebedev, my favorite travel blogger. What about you, Nikonophiles? Where are your pictures?

Philip Greenspun has a nice technical Canon vs Nikon comparison, as well as a good description of the Canon system, and one of Nikon.

I’ve added a camera-related poll.

I’m Still Here!

As you might have noticed, dear readers, my blogging frequency is not what it used to be or should be. It’s not that I have writer’s block – in my GTD project folder I have enough notes for several hundred posts. But with the time constraints that a new baby, a demanding day job and several Quadrant II projects put on me, I have trouble finding motivation to sit down and craft my posts.

Still, blogging in itself is a Quadrant II activity, and even though so far I failed to make any real-life friends with it or attain any career-related connections, there’s the question of monetary gain. Belieive it or not, but even a small blog like mine, with only about 1000 readers or so, makes me enough money to pay for the hosting fees, and then buy myself a significant New Year present. I am talking a rather nice and expensive lens kind of money. Over the time, I had some thoughts about online advertising, and today, in order to make up a little for my blogging hiatus, let me share them with you in the next post.

The New Lens

I went ahead and bough myself a rather expensive 100-400 zoom lens for my camera. I am still kind of thinking that I should not have any equipment that expensive (and heavy), but now I find it rather hard to bring myself to return the damn thing. I can afford it, but I still feel guilty about it.

I took it out for a spin and here’s a sampling of pictures taken in a couple of humid, hazy days without the use of tripod:

The sign on top of the UBS building used to say something else:

Rockefeller Center Prometheus could use a bath:

The crosses that top St. Patrick’s Cathedral look like they were designed by HR Giger. What’s up with that?

This is what the Wireless Maiden on the top of the old RCA building actually looks like:

Deadprogrammer Visits Japan or Sakura in Partial Bloom Part I

Part I : The Roots Of Russian Japanophilia

What are the roots of Russian (I should really be saying “Russian-speaking Generation X”, but that would be too long, wouldn’t it?) Japanophilia? Honestly I have no idea, but the fact is that it plays an important role in the huge number of high quality Sushi restaurants in Brooklyn, tremendous popularity of Japanese themed blogs in the Russian-speaking Livejournal community and the popularity of Erast Fandorin Mysteries.

Kitya, the author of the above mentioned outstanding blog, whom I met in Tokyo, thinks that the reason is probably the same as with the US Japanophilia – anime cartoons. I have a different theory. Before the first anime shown in the USSR,Flying Ghost Ship, made it’s appearance, I was already fascinated with Japan. The reason for that was the excellent book called “Branch of Sakura” that I found in my dad’s library. As it turns out, 30 years later the author of the book, journalist Vsevolod Ovchinnikov was invited back to Japan to write a second installment of the book. Ovchinnikov’s writing still has the same lucidity, simplicity and attention to detail. I think that he is one of the major reasons why Soviet Generation X is so interested in everything Japanese.

Some time during Perestroika there was a week of Japanese TV in USSR. They showed the most amazing stuff : how they make Japanese water sharpening stones (I own a set these days) and how a skillful sharpening master can sharpen a carpenter’s plane so that he could make a micron thick shaving with it. They’ve shown how chasen whisks (I have one) used in a tea ceremony are made by splitting bamboo by hand. They’ve shown a fisherman who could tell exactly how many trouts his net was catching and a master bamboo fishing rod maker. They’ve shown an awesome game show called Takeshi’s Castle. Oh, how I wish someone would make a DVD of that show! There was the usual exotic stuff like Sumo wrestling, Sakura festivals as well more unusual stuff such as a few clips of Japanese reporters walking around Moscow (a part of which I described earlier.

Before coming to America I thought that there must be hundreds of channels on TV there, and specifically a few that showed only cartoons (as opposed to 3 or 4 channels in the USSR with one to two old cartoons shown per day). My expectations were overly optimistic as the Cartoon channel came into existence significantly later. Now I hope and pray that there will be a channel of Japanese TV with English subtitles, Sumo, news, Abarenbo Shogun and other Chambara. And Takeshi’s Castle reruns. Ah, one can only dream. For now all I have is the couple of hours of Japanese shows on Fujisankei Lifestyle which airs for a couple of hours. Actually while writing this post I learned that there is a Japanese channel on the Dish network, but it’s $25 a month.

I never anywhere abroad since I came to the US and me and my wife did not have a decent vacation in years. So I decided to pleasantly surprise my wife, who knows and tolerates my extreme hate of traveling, and proposed that we have a vacation in Japan. Thanks to her diligent planning we had an amazing 10 day trip to Japan, spending 6 days in Kyoto and 4 days in Tokyo.

My camera died in Gion, Kyoto’s geisha district. But still me and my wife managed to take about 2500 pictures. I took a lot of 3d pictures. 3d picture technology is very simple : I have a lens that takes two slightly offset pictures at the same time. To view the image you can either learn a special technique and really, really strain your eyes or obtain a rather simple viewer of which there are many varieties, some very cheap, some a bit more expensive and some are pretty expensive. I find that the cheap viewer made by the same company that makes the lens that I use work very well.

[update] : due to the lack of interest there won’t be many 3d pictures in my posts.

[update] Ok, I did get one request for a 3d viewer. So maybe someone out there cares. So if you want one, send me your postal address to

Digital Rebel, Limited Deadprogrammer Edition

Even though I am squarely in the EOS camp, I have to note that Nikon usually does not force the indignity of owning a silvery plastic camera on the buyers of lower end models of their slrs. Dear Canon, please fricking stop using that silvery plastic!

A few weeks ago I got so annoyed looking at my Digital Rebel that I took a permanent black marker and made my own “Limited Edition” :

This might not have been the best idea as the resale value of my $800 camera suddenly took a nosedive, but the “paintjob” turned out to be remarkably durable (it only came off around the shutter button and the top a little), but also gave my camera a mean, grungy look that I like a lot.

I think I will buy some Krylon Fusion paint and do a less half-assed jobs. There are people out there who used similar paint to modify old silvery rangefinders.

In other news, reading through boring link blogs and popular link aggregators slowly pays off:
This is hard to believe, but there are Nikon lens to Canon camera adapters. I think I’ll buy one – I do not own any Nikon lenses, but have a lot of friends that own some pretty expensive ones. By the way, this might start a small flame avalanche, but in my experience most of the people that I know who own Nikon SLRs brag about having many very expensive lenses, but for some reason do not take a lot of pictures. Canon owners tend to have few cheapo lenses, but have pictures coming out their wazoo. (by the way, dictionary.com’s explanation of etymology of wazoo is not very convincing).

UV Filters considered harmful. I was never a fan of putting a glorified piece of window glass in front of my lens, but could not figure out why. Now I know. (I think I snagged this link from Kottke).

Making a lens out of an old magnifying glass and free time. This is some fine ducttapemanship.

iPhoto Retro or John Sculley’s Gift To The World of Photography

I collect 20th century technology antiques. They are not expensive and don’t take up much space – perfect for my cubicle museum.

My shelf at work houses a small, but growing collection of monstrous early cellphones. There are a couple of gigantic vacuum tubes (some from an early Univac), a core memory plane, a multiprocessor unit from an Amdahl mainframe, a weird hardwired logic unit from a forgotten computing machine. My latest purchase is rather interesting – the first consumer digital camera.

A $700 piece of equipment in 1994 Apple Quicktake 100 cameras sell for just a few bucks on eBay. I first saw one mentioned in this outstanding livejournal post. This guy’s camera still had some images in it which provided a weird time tunnel into some office party in 1994. I guess the people in the photos were celebrating extravagant Mac purchases.

I bought two cameras on eBay for just a few bucks each, and one came with a cable and a floppy with PC software. Not even hoping that it’d work I plugged in the serial cable, installed the software on my Win 2000 machine, turned on the camera and ran the program. It worked the first time.

Here are the two Apple QuickTake 100’s that I purchased. I bought two so I could take stereo images and view them on my 100 year old stereoscope. In a couple of years I think I’ll be able to buy a couple of iPod photo thingies for a few bucks and do what this guy did.

Times Square at night in full .3 megapixel power (compressed to 500 width).

Times Square at night with lower resolution option turned on

Snow storm in Brooklyn

Considering how difficult lighting conditions were the results are respectable. Usability wise these cameras are lacking. Even though they look like those binoculars from Star Wars movies, they have a very nasty lens cover that is very hard to open without leaving a nice fingerprint on the lens. Taking portrait orientated pictures is rather hard.

So here I am, paying tribute to one of the last Apple products of John Sculley’s era at Apple (note how Apple CEOs are arranged in a timeline at Wikipedia – just like kings). I wonder if Steve Jobs will ever consider making an Apple digital camera. So far the fate of Apple Newton shows that to Jobs anything ever touched by Sculley is taboo.

A Bucket Of Manhattan Bytes

A building in K-Town has this evil looking beaver above its entrance. The only explanation I can think of is that the owner of the building went to MIT and really HTFP. Having to fill out this form probably got to him or her.

Formerly known as “BOYS-ONLY-BVILDING”. This photo also reminds me that I really want a digital SLR with a tilt/shift lens.

A firehouse door had this sign on it in case you would like to report a fire in an old-fashioned way. The information might be a bit outdated – if I remember correctly alarm boxes (which are actually alarm telegraphs) are not operational anymore.

View from outside:

View from inside:

Dreamblog : Deadprogrammer Takes A Picture Of Respected Leader’s Wife

Saw this dream yesterday morning :

I was walking by Kim Jong Il, who looked rather silly. I really wanted to take a candid picture of him, but did not want to be thrown in jail for that. I saw a Japanese reporter photograph him, and decided to ask for permission. Respected Leader did not want to have his picture taken, but said that I could take a picture of his wife. She started walking through the palace. When passing through a dungeon she was overcome by a pain in her leg. I thought that the ghosts of women killed by her husband were causing her that pain. Finally we made it outside. She sat down on a brick parapet. The Sun and the Moon were in the sky at the same time. Also in the background was the spire of the AIG building. I started to take the picture, but the camera lens fell apart in my hands.

Although, to me the AIG building is the Ace Of Swords, not the Tower.