Traveling, Cooking, Reading, and Trains

Visit Dates: February 27 & 28, 2019

All right, let’s see if I can do this. Carla, Linda, and I went to New York City at the end of February to visit Linda’s son, Kevin, who moved there last Fall. We were joined by Nancy – a long time family friend who has trekked with us through the US and parts of Europe over the years. Nancy is a nurse and a hero; she saved my niece’s and grand niece’s lives a few years ago – but that’s a story for another time.

I picked up a nasty bug on the trip and have been pretty laid up since we got back. I finally went to the doctor Friday to discover I had a slight case of pneumonia; she fixed me up with some drugs and I’m definitely on the mend.

Anyway, back to New York City. Back when we planned this trip I asked “Why are we going to New York City in February?” The answer: “It’s Kevin’s birthday!” I rejoined: “Well, that explains why Linda is going but it doesn’t explain why we are going.” Cue the laughs. We had true winter weather with snow almost every day. But there wasn’t enough bad weather to stop us from exploring. We found an AirBnB in Brooklyn just a few blocks from the “L” train so it was easy enough to get into Manhattan.

It took all day Tuesday February 26 to get to the east coast. Nancy flew from the San Francisco Bay Area and we all met at the Newark Airport; then hired a Lyft to drive under the Hudson River, over the East River and into Brooklyn. On Wednesday the four of us headed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the east side of Central Park. Carla and I were there a couple of years ago but it is so big there is always plenty to see.

A word to the wise – if you are traveling with Carla and Linda you WILL see some museums. After Kevin was done working for the day he met up with us at The Met and we all walked up to the the Museum of the City of New York. I particularly enjoyed an exhibit about Jackie Robinson.

Jackie Robinson. From the Museum of New York City

I especially like this picture of fans getting autographsy

Jackie Robinson in the dugout. Museum of New York City

Kevin’s partner Natalie was able to join us for dinner. On the way home we got off the subway at one of the first stops in Brooklyn, picked up some Barbeque at Fette Sau – which was excellent – and took it up for a feast. Yum!

The weather was clear the next morning so we decided to hit Chelsea Market and The Highline. Taking the “L” train to its stopping point in Manhattan dropped us off within blocks of Chelsea Market. We window shopped and then had lunch. I had an AMAZING deli sandwich.

Chelsea Market

Kevin met us at lunch and then joined us on the walk along The Highline. Carla and I walked part of this elevated-train-track-converted-to-a-long-park in July 2016. On this day we walked the entire length starting at Gansevoort Street (15th ST) and ending up at 12th Ave and 34th St.

View of The Highline

The famous New York skyline is visible along the walk; here is the Empire State Building (I think!)

The Empire State Building as seen from The Highline
View on The Highline

There is a lot of new development going on in this area – most of it in an area called Hudson Yards. Although Brooklyn wasn’t happy about the residential impact of Amazon setting up shop in Brooklyn, Manhattan opened its arms wide.

New Apartment near The Highline
Apartment detail near The Highline

Hudson Yards is aptly named – it is near the Hudson River and is a train yard for subways and commuter trains.

Hudson Yards. Manhattan

The weather was clear but boy was it cold – we had to stay bundled up to protect from the wind coming off the Hudson River.

Carla, Kev, Linda, and Nancy on The Highline
Howard and Carla in the windy cold on The Highline

As the afternoon progressed we headed over to The Tenement Museum on Delancey Street at the west end of the Williamsburg Bridge. We had tickets for a 3:00PM tour. When the apartment buildings were first build, the word “tenement” didn’t have the negative correlation it has today. It was an attempt to provide working class housing in the burgeoning city during the Gilded Age. But they are hovels compared to today’s standards. There was no lighting in the hallways and the only water was a common pump in the courtyard. Heat was provided by a coal fireplace in the main room. Bathrooms consisted of 4 outhouses in the back. The tour followed two families who lived in the apartments – one when it opened in the 1860’s and another when it closed – due to poor conditions, in the 1930’s. It was my favorite museum of our visit – I highly recommend it for your next NYC trip.

The Tenement Museum – New York City

After the museum we headed over to Russ and Daughter’s deli for dinner. I had a secured bagel: that is, a bagel with Lox (locks) on it.

Russ & Daughters Deli. The caviar was out of our price range.

Another great meal in New York City. We went home, and slept well that night.

EDIT: March 21, 2019. Added pictures of Jackie Robinson and the Russ & Daughters placemat menu.

Picture Dates: February 18 & 24, 2019

Last weekend (February 17, 2019) our neighbor and local wood duck supporter cleaned out the nesting box in the green space behind our house. Just in time. The next morning a couple of wood ducks were scoping out the homes in the neighborhood.

The female was already in the nesting box but the male was keeping watch.

Male Wood Duck on our back deck railing
“What do you want?

Then today – Sunday – I spied a couple – one on either end of the deck.

Another day, another visit to the nesting box

The female getting ready to fly into the nest. One moment she was there the next she was gone. I was really hoping to get a picture of her flying into the box.

Female wood duck on the deck railing

Back in 2014 the box was pretty new. I got a shot of the female just before she entered the box. You can see that in this post.

Cooking date: February 16, 2019

Back in 2011 Mike Vrobel – the genius behind DadCooksDinner.com wrote a blog post and recipe about osso bucco – a dish made from beef shanks. It looked delicious and with the pressure cooker it would be quick. Yet I hadn’t cooked it. Often when going to the butcher I’d see the beef shanks in the case and think “I really need to make that dish.” But then I didn’t. And then, a few weeks ago I decided to make beef broth for my Super Bowl chili and I used beef shanks along with ox tails. That does it I thought – I’m going to make osso bucco. We invited some friends over for dinner Saturday night and I got busy.

Ingredients for Osso Bucco – minus the beef shanks.
Mis en place – more or less – for Osso Bucco

Mike’s recipe calls for 6 beef shanks weighing about 3 pounds total. Maybe the steers are smaller in Ohio. One beef shank at Good Season’s Market weighed in at over 2 pounds. I bought two. I had hoped each person would get a full piece but it was not to be.

Beef shanks and other ingredients for Osso Bucco

After searing the shanks, then sautéing the carrots, onion, and celery, and deglazing the pan with some dry white wine, everything goes in the pot and cooks in an electric pressure cooker – my Instant 6-quart Pot IP-Duo – for 36 minutes and a 20 minute natural pressure release.

I thought roasted carrots would be a good choice for a side dish. Normally we cut them into 3-5 inch lengths, toss with olive oil and salt, and toss in the oven. But a few months ago I found a Serious Eats recipe for roasted carrots that I wanted to try. Two things intrigued me; first the carrots are parboiled before roasting, second, they are seasoned with cumin and Harissa – North African chili – paste for roasting and served on a platter of Crème Fraîche – though I used sour cream.

Carrots, olive oil, and Harissa paste for the side dish.
Olive Oil, cumin, pepper, Harissa paste for roast carrots. (We also used kosher salt)

I saved a bit of the paste/sauce for garnish after cooking then tossed everything in a large bowl then spread on a sheet pan for roasting.

Roasted carrots

Carla made polenta. Yum.

When the beef was done I pulled it from the pressure cooker and poured the cooking liquid through a strainer into a gravy separator. After waiting 10 minutes for the fat to float on top, I poured the jus into a gravy boat.

More by luck than by plan everything came out almost at the same time.

Polenta for our Osso Bucco dinner
Roasted carrots with Harissa paste and braised beef shanks for dinner.

The recipe calls for pouring a bit of jus over the beef and topping with a mixture of lemon zest, garlic, and parsley to brighten the dish – both visually and for taste.

Dinner is served.

Rating: ★★★★

Parboiling the carrots before roasting made them extra good. Even if I don’t use the Harissa paste every time, I’ll parboil them if I have the time.

Yum, this was a delicious dinner – everyone liked it. I highly recommend it. Get the full recipes linked above from Dad Cooks Dinner and Serious Eats. This is definitely in our guest-dinner rotation. If you come over for dinner you just might get to sample this dish.

A note about the photography: I took these pictures using Godox XPro TTL wireless flash trigger driving 2 Godox speed lights mounted on S-mounts shooting through translucent umbrellas.. I used Manual mode with an ISO of 100 (mostly) and speeds between 1/125 and 1/250 of a second and an aperture f/5.6 ==> f/16. I’m pleased with the diffused light that didn’t have too many hot spots and minimized shadows.

Photo Dates: June 2012 and February 2019
Editing Dates: February 22-17, 2019

The week 4 activity was to frame wildlife. Given that most of the country is cold and/or wet it was fair game to pull some old photos or grab new ones of your pets. I don’t have pets but I do have pictures from our 2012 trip to South Africa when we visited Kruger National Park. The focus (heh-heh) of the activity was editing. The goal was to filter out distractions in order to bring the attention to the photo subject.

Once I started I realized I could improve some of those photo safari photos using this method. I had hoped to use Photoshop to use a selection to mask the subject then create various layers to manipulate the background. After working with a couple of my photos I realized I had a problem. All the animals we saw were tramping around in deep brush so that their feet and lower legs were hidden. Using that technique just made them look like they had amputated legs. Not good. So, I jumped back to Lightroom, re-cropped the photos to better frame the magnificent beasts then use strong vignettes and/or radial and graduated filters to center the attention.

I’ll use some before/after photos to demonstrate. Here is a leopard that was close to our Land Rover. It’s a nice picture but with his/her natural camouflage everything is golden.

Before – Leopard on the Hunt – Arathusa Safari Lodge, South Africa

I simply created an oblong vignette to remove some of the distracting background. Looking back I maybe went too strong on the vignette; nevertheless, it does the job of highlighting the leopard.

After – Leopard on the hunt. Arathusa Safari Lodge, South Africa

This leopard was sitting just next to our vehicle. It was hunting a pack of impalas and used the car to blend in. It didn’t work, the impala herd all looked straight at it and snorted up a storm until the leopard left. I was fascinated thinking their only defense was to run away.

I had to radically crop the right of the photo to get rid of the side of the car. Since the animal wasn’t in the center of the frame I couldn’t use the Lightroom vignette tool. Instead I used a couple of graduated filters from the top and left to highlight the subject.

Arathusa Safari Lodge, South Africa

I think the next photo is a great example of the concept we worked on in week 4. My original picture has a wart hog – maybe? – framed in a news like way. Subject in environment with everything given the same weight or importance.

Before – Some sort of pig or hog in Kruger National Park, South Africa.

I reframed and then applied a vignette. The cropping helped bring out the detail of the animal.

After – some sort of pig or hog in Kruger National Park, South Africa.

On our last morning we saw some white rhinos. They are elusive and frighten easily because of their terrible eyesight. I was afraid we would see any. I was so stoked to see them that I just grabbed a picture of the group.

White Rhinos – Arathusa Safari Lodge, South Africa

The name for these should be wide mouth rhinos – look at those flat mouths. Their name got lost in translation to “white”. So, of course when the other species of rhinos were found they were called black rhinos.

Anyway, for this course I made a couple of attempts. That rhino on the left is of no interest so let’s crop it out and focus on the mother/baby with a vignette.

White Rhinos – Arathusa Safari Lodge, South Africa

Or just focus on the baby?

Young Rhino – Arathusa Safari Lodge, South Africa

This week’s topic was interesting; even though I was a bit heavy handed with the edits, I think it helped me better frame these photos I took seven years ago. Through the Fresh Start Course I’m becoming more attentive to my subjects instead of using what I call a Detective Friday shot: “Just the facts ma’am, Just the facts”. [This is the tag line from the old detective show “Dragnet”]

This week is when our local wood ducks come looking for nesting spots. These pictures would be good candidates for the Photoshop layers treatment.

Male wood duck on our deck railing.
Male wood duck on our deck railing.

Maybe someday; for now we are moving in on the Week 5 which uses natural elements for framing pictures. I’m not sure I’m going to get this done – our week is crazy busy. I don’t see how I’ll find any time to get out to shoot pictures. I’ll watch the videos of course and we get to keep all the videos from the course so I can refer back in the future.

The Library Book
Author: Susan Orlean
Type: Non-Fiction
Date Finished: January 23, 2019
Rating: ★★★★

On April 29, 1986 the main branch of the Los Angeles City Library suffered a huge fire that destroyed or damaged tens of thousands of book. The fire may have been arson and suspicion fell on Harry Omer Peak, want-to-be actor, whose story constantly changed. This excellent book threads the fire and its aftermath, the investigation of the enigmatic Harry Peak with a history of the Los Angeles library system in particular and the place of libraries in the modern age.

The challenge to save the books from the fire was enormous:

“Approximately 700,000 books – 75,000 cubic feet of material – were wet or smoky or, in many cases, both. Up until the library, the largest book drying project involved just 100,000 books.” [p 263]

They citizens and companies in Los Angeles pitched in to help the restoration and repairing the library.

The most extravagant character in the library’s history was Charles Lummis who, when he accepted a staff position with the Los Angeles Times in 1885, walked to Los Angeles  from his Ohio home. After living in Los Angeles for a few years, Lummis became the city Librarian. He was a great example of the influential man of the Gilded Age. “He lived on bullheadedness, self-involvement, and a daredevil’s willful obliviousness.”[p 150]

For all of his eccentricities,

“he was passionate about the job, and much of what he did for the library made it the institution it is today.”  [p 145]

“He made it more substantial, more accessible, more celebrated.” [p 152]

My favorite story about Lummis was his approach to questionable books. Rather than banning the books,

“He established what he called the ‘Literary Pure Food Act to warn readers about them… He also created warning cards to insert in the questionable books. He wanted the cards to say, ‘This book is of the worst class that we can possibly keep in the library. We are sorry that you have not any better sense than to read it,…”[p 145]

In 1979 I graduated from the University of Oregon with a Master’s Degree in Library Science. This was at the very dawn of computers and automation in the library. Due to my love affair with computer systems, I ended up in another career – Information Technology – and came to regard libraries as quaint and old-fashioned. This book completely changed my thinking. Libraries today “do more and more while still being places of books.” [p 294] Libraries are one of the salad bowls of society bringing people of different walks of life together. As such, “being a librarian is an opportunity to be a social activist championing frees speech and immigrant rights and homelessness concerns while working with the Dewey decimal system.” [p 110] John Szabo, the current Los Angeles city Librarian remarked:

“‘The most beautiful thing about public libraries is that they’re open and free to everyone.’ … ‘With that promise, there are unquestionably tough challenges that our library and public libraries across the nation face every day. Of course they’re not unique to libraries – they’re big, complicated community-wide issues. And we’re actually making a difference with programs serving the homeless and addressing health disparities.'” [p 244]

Time and again Orlean tells stories of passionate, committed librarians who reach out to provide information and services to everyone. For example:

“The [teen] librarians in the department view themselves as a hybrid of unofficial advice-givers, part-time disciplinarians, and homework coaches. They act in loco parentis for many kids who get scant parenting at home.” [p 206]

After finishing the book, I immediately went to my local branch of the Washington County Cooperative Library Service to renew my library card. I also checked out a book or two e-books. This fascinating and engaging book was a quick read; I heartily recommend it. And, if you don’t have a library card to your local library, get one.

Cooking Date: February 3, 2019

We held our annual Super Bowl party last Sunday. In addition to my traditional chili I made some roasted chick peas. I found the recipe on Dad Cooks Dinner and loved the idea of making them from dried garbanzo beans. Check out his site for the complete recipe.

Dried Garbanzo Beans

I cooked a cup of the garbanzo beans in the pressure cooker with water and a bit of salt for 40 minutes with a 20 minute natural pressure release. While they were cooking I made up the spice ingredients for roasting.

Roasted chick peas spices
Roasted chick peas spices combined.

After draining and patting dry the chickpeas between some sheets of paper towels I tossed them in olive oil and the spice mixture.

Chick peas being prepared for roasting.
Spiced chick peas ready for roasting.

I roasted them just a smidge too long – by the time you can smell them they are over roasted. I had to toss a few but was able to rescue most of them,

Roasted chick peas ready for munching.

These were good but I don’t think the spices were assertive enough. Next time I’ll use a bit more salt. The process is definitely worth trying again but I have a different spice profile in mind for that.

They were out on the coffee table ready to go up against the Cheetos.

Cheetos and roasted chick peas go head-to-head on the snack table.

And of course I made the annual El Cid Chili. I found this recipe on the Sunset Magazine web site years ago. It has now made its way to the Food Network and other places. My recipe has changed slightly over the years but the meats are still the original: hamburger, sirloin steak, and chorizo.

This year I made beef stock for this dish instead of relying on chicken stock. Chicken stock is great but I’ve been wanting to try making beef broth for a while. I used the same recipe as chicken stock but substituted 1.5 pounds of beef shank and 1.5 pounds of ox tails for the chicken. I got that ratio from Alton Brown. But I wasn’t a fan of his spice set – which seemed to be geared to making Phó – a Vietnamese soup. I decided to stay basic and add the necessary spices for whatever dish the stock will be in.

I browned the beef shanks in a couple of batches and set aside. After putting the meat back into the pressure cooker, I added a large onion, 2 carrots, and a celery stalk – all very roughly chopped. To that I added 1 teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of peppercorns, 2 bay leaves. I then added enough water to cover but keeping below the max fill line on the pressure cooker. I cooked under high pressure for 1 hour with a 1 hour natural release. This makes a very low-salt stock. Recipes calling for canned broth will typically not add salt to the high-sodium canned product. So, be prepared to add more salt to the dish you are making with the stock.

I took another tip from Alton Brown by using 2 large fine mesh strainers nested one inside the other with a few layers of cheese cloth in between. This allowed me to just make one pass of straining the stock. It came out clearer than when using my old method of passing the stock through one fine mesh strainer a few times.

It takes a while to get everything together at first but it is totally worth it once you start cooking and adding ingredients.

Spice Set 1 for El Cid Chili
Spice Set 1
El Cid Chili Ingredients (With 2 spice sets).

After trimming the fat from the sirloin it is cut into 1″ cubes. The casing is removed from the chorizo, it is cut in half length wise and then cut into 1/2″ pieces.

The “secret” ingredient of this dish is the cinnamon stick. For heat we slice the jalapeño vertically three times but keep it together on the stem. The recipe calls for two; but some in the group don’t like it that hot so I cut down to one and did not add the chipotle en adobo.

Cinnamon stick, jalapeño, and bay leaves for the chili

After sautéing then simmering for 2 hours, you get a rich red chili.

El Cid Chili just about ready to eat.

In the past I started the chili so it would be ready for half time; this year I had it ready at cook off. Add some cheddar cheese and sour cream and you’ve got a nice bowl of red.

A delicious bowl of red.

This group really brings their “A” game each year. We had so much good food – but maybe not for for you.

Super Bowl Buffet

We had a great time -as usual – even though the L.A. Rams lost. It marked the second time in just under 100 days that a Boston team beat a Los Angeles team for a championship. Back in October the Red Sox beat My Los Angeles Dodgers. That was a kick in the shorts.

Post Date: February 3, 2019

I’ve fought and argued with the WordPress editor about tables and we came to a compromise: I’ll do a table like WordPress lets me. Here is the list of the 14 books I read in 2018. There are links in the titles which go to my reviews which in turn have links to the books on Amazon. Yeah, the links may not show up in highlighted blue like they should but they are there. Welcome to an insight into a small part of my battle over tables in WordPress.

The OdysseyHomer;
Translated by Emily Watson
Little Fires EveryWhereCeleste Ng★★★★★
Everything I Never Told YouCeleste Ng★★★★
A Visit from the Goon SquadJennifer Egan★★★
The Final Days of JesusMark D. Smith★★★★
AutumnAli Smith★★★
The Republic for Which it StandsRichard White★★★★★
The GodfatherMario Puzo★★★★
Clock DanceAnne Tyler★★★★★
Turtles All The Way DownJohn Green★★★★
The Accidental TouristAnne Tyler★★★★
Reckless Daughter:
A Portrait of Joni Mitchell
David Yaffe★★★★
LessAndrew Sean Greer★★★
The Bartender’s TaleIvan Doig★★★★

The award for the longest time to read is “The Republic for Which it Stands” It is a history of Reconstruction and the Gilded Age in America 1865-1898. It is another comprehensive book in the Oxford History of the United States. I love this history series and am looking forward to the volume on the early 1900’s through World War I and maybe up to the Great Depression. These books are great but they are dense and detailed. It took me almost 4 months to finish.

My favorite novel of the year is “Little Fires Everywhere” which opens with a fire. We then backtrack to see why it happened. It is an intricate story about mother and daughter relationships and how we fight back against parental expectations. Beautiful.

I’m looking forward to another serendipitous journey through the world of literature in 2019.

Post Date: January 31, 2019

I’m really enjoying this course from Matt Kloskowski; it has me thinking about my photos in new ways – which is exactly what I was hoping for. If you aren’t aware of MattK I urge you to visit his website; along with paid courses he has tons of free stuff with a focus on Lightroom, Photoshop, and On1. But it isn’t all editing – as we see in this course. If you are on Facebook you can follow him there; find him as Matt Kloskowski.

The subject of this week’s exercise was “hobbies” and the theme was “moody”. We were urged to photograph someone else’s hobbies and give them a copy of the results. Moody and dark would be a difficult trick at my house this week – we’ve had abundant sunshine which is rare in Portland January. When we bought the house the thing we loved the most was the windows – so many windows. A contrast to our house before.

After watching the Week’s opening video and wondering what/who to photograph, I walked into the other room where my wife was knitting. Boom! For mood I used my sheets of black and dark gray poster paper I got for week 1’s project. Then I broke out my tripod – a tool I don’t use much but have enjoyed using in the past three weeks. I set up in the dining room – the room with the least windows and drew the curtains. Making a few test shots I wanted to bring the light down even more so I notched the Exposure Value to -2.0. This was a bit too much; although, it looked okay on the camera screen they were a shade too dark in Lightroom. But I could work with the results.

My first take was a small sample Carla made to test a stitch. In Lightroom I bumped up the exposure a tad to compensate for the enthusiastic camera setting; this got the subject to a brightness I liked. I then created an oblong radial filter to drop the exposure, shadows, and blacks in the the background hoping to create a spotlight effect.

Knitting Sample

Here is another take on the knitting sample.

Trying out a pattern to see what it would work for.

I dropped the camera angle, used f/4.0 and didn’t brighten it as much as the first. I’m still not sure which I like better, but I posted the second shot for the exercise.

Next I got out some of Carla’s skeins of yarn. to play with. The combination of green and purple is a bit more dramatic than moody but I went for it.

Yarns for future projects

This is another at the lower angle which I preferred after looking at them. The higher angle is really just the view I have standing up – I like getting the newer perspective. I used f/11.0 for this so the wool is more in focus. This was my second sample uploaded for the project.

I took over 150 pictures for my various subjects this week moving through aperture settings, focal length, and arrangement. I didn’t reach 150 photos my just clicking randomly. For each arrangement of the subject I shot at least 4 different f/stops and did two sets with different focus points.

I tried a set of pictures of books – which is a hobby of mine – but I wasn’t thrilled. Plus Matt’s samples included reading and I wanted to do something fresh.

On Tuesday morning I went out to breakfast with my buddies Jay and John. As we were solving the world’s problems I had a little flash of inspiration. John loves to tinker; knowing I love trains, he recently made something for me out of a railroad spike he found. It dawned on me that he had done the same thing for Jay a few years ago but with different material. We use Jay’s on the regular. After breakfast – without John knowing – I went to Jay’s to borrow his device. I combined it with mine and created a backdrop of the things we use them on.

My buddy John is a tinkerer. These are a couple of bottle openers he’s made.

This was my favorite picture of the week. I like the light on the left two bottles. I printed a 4×6 copy, put it in a frame and gave it to John.

I tried another shot with much more light and a different background. It’s nice but for me it doesn’t have that same moody and dramatic feel so I didn’t post it to the course site.

Brighter backdrop for the bottle openers

I’m looking forward to next week’s challenge.

Post Date: January 27, 2019

Week 2 of the Matt Klowkowski Fresh Start Course taught us to learn our equipment better by taking comparison shots and examining them in LightRoom, PhotoShop, On1, or whatever. Comparison ideas were raw v jpeg images; ISO tests; Auto v Manual Focus among others. The underlying message is to not just read articles, reviews, and message boards but to actively compare hardware.

I wanted to compare my Sony 24-105 and Sony 24-240 lenses. Actually I started out comparing 4 lenses but during analysis I focused [heh heh] on the two zoom lenses. All the reviews I read said the 24-105 is much sharper. Reading about it is one thing; I wanted to really see the differences in my photos. The test comprised changes to focal length, aperture, and ISO. I took over 100 shots at different focal lengths with apertures every 3 stops more or less from 4.0 to 22. I put the camera in aperture mode on a tripod and aimed it at my subject. Starting at he widest focal length – 24mm for these lense s – I ran through 6 aperture settings at stop intervals: f/4.0, f/5.6; f/8.0; f/11, f/16, and finally f22.

Lightroom filtering by metadata made it real easy to identify and compare images based on the characteristics I was looking at. I then selected two similar spec’d photos from the camera and aperture and loaded them as layers into Photoshop. In Photoshop I used the “Difference” blend mode to line the pictures up (Thanks for the tip, MattK). Then I zoomed into the image and toggle the visibility of the top photo layer and go back and forth comparing bokeh, sharpness, depth of field, and what-not. I zoomed way into the images into Photoshop – up to 500% – something I never do in real life practice.

The unedited photos at 70mm are the images included here. The 24-240 lens’ minimum aperture at 70mm is f/5.6 whereas the 24-105 can open to f/4.0 through the entire range. I include the f/4.0 shot from the 24-105 along with the f/5.6

Sony 24-105 70mm f/4.0 ISO 250 focal length.
Sony 24-105 70mm f/5.6 ISO 500 focal length.
Comparison of Sony 24-105 and 24-240 lenses at 70mm focal length.

The 24-240 required higher ISO. The increased noise was negligible when unzoomed. I mean, the specs bear that out so it wasn’t surprising; but it was really useful to actually see the differences in my pictures. Noise became more and more apparent as the zoom increased. Noise in the 24-240 lens was much more apparent at 105mm focal length (not uploaded here).

I noticed a definite difference in the background blur between the two lenses. It was nice to be able to shoot at f/4.0 with the 24-105 lens – an aperture the 24-240 doesn’t have. It’s common knowledge that depth of field increases as the aperture narrows but again it was fun to see it in practice.

Finally, the 24-105 lens was noticeably sharper in picking up the wood grain on the deck railing. Though you may need to zoom in a bit to pick that out.

Finally, I took some pictures of the same subject with my Sony RX10M4 which zooms out to the equivalent of 600mm. It’s not full frame – in fact the sensor is smaller than APS-C. I’m very happy with this versatile camera but when you pixel peep you’ll find a lot more noise in those images. I couldn’t lock in to 70mm with this camera because I can’t do the translation of the physical focal length distances. But here is a picture at 97mm.

Sony RX10M4 for comparison with A7R4 images

In day-to-day life pixel peeping is just dumb – it’s like not being able to see the forest for the trees. Look at the picture – is it nice? For example, the wood grain is sharper in the 24-105 images; but you have to zoom in to see it. It isn’t readily apparent in the uncropped images. But this exercise gave me an idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the lenses I was comparing. If I want to get a close up crop of an image that shows the wood grain, then the 24-105 lens is the one to use. Conclusion: The 24-105 is a bit sharper and gets the edge for having a wider minimum aperture. Again, that isn’t news: you can see it in the specs and read about it in reviews; but it was enlightening to see it come to life. Of course the 24-105 can’t zoom in as much as the 24-240. But that’s why I have the RX10M4.

Thanks for reading; I’m looking forward to the Week 3 challenge!

Post date: January 25, 2019

It was an “exciting” 24 hours here at the 2For66 International Headquarters. Yesterday I was preparing my annual reading summary for the previous year. I’ve always tried to do this with an HTML table listing the Title, Author, Type, and Rating. And I always get frustrated with the limitations of creating HTML tables.

So I explored some options. One option is a WordPress plugin that supports robust tables. (I won’t name it here; I’m sure it works well for expert bloggers.) When I clicked to activate it I got a warning that it would take away some blog functionality – specifically the “Follow” button. I held back and looked at some other options. I found that I could create my own “Subscribe” button – I guess “Subscribe” is the new “Follow”.

It looked like the plugin was the best option so I clicked through the warning thinking “What’s the worst that could happen? I can always remove it and return to the state my blog was in.” I started to wonder what it was doing when it took a while to come back.

I opened a new browser tab to look at the blog and NO PICTURES! NONE! NADA!

Uh oh. I went to my media library and saw my photos were still there just not in the individual posts. That was a huge relief. I looked at the page source to see if I could figure out what happened. I couldn’t (I didn’t look closely enough as you’ll see later). Thank goodness WordPress.com has a good support system. I scheduled a 30 minute concierge system for 8:30 this morning. I installed the meeting software (Zoom) and waited for this morning.

My analyst – Sasha – was fantastic. She shared her screen with me and then went into my blog to track the issue. After about 10 minutes she got in touch with a developer to take a deeper dive. It turns out that when you install a sophisticated plugin that gives the warning I blithely ignored, the infrastructure of the blog gets changed. In addition my blog theme is no longer supported, which makes it more likely to get clobbered.

I’ll try to describe the problem. – this is accomplished behind the scenes. Media such as photos live in a WordPress library. When I drag and drop and a photo in a post, what I’m really doing is adding the image to the library and creating a URL link to the image. There is an HTML “href” tag that points to the photo. In my case the URL (just like the address in the browser bar) is something like


My broken links looked like


Notice the “https://” and the leading “2” in my blog address was gone. No wonder WordPress couldn’t find the images. Sasha didn’t say this but I wonder if the leading “2” in my site name caused part of the problem. Usually these things start with characters. The plugin must have run a comprehensive change to my blog posts.

Sasha also showed me a time machine feature in the blog where you can roll back to an earlier time and date. Beautiful. Let’s just rollback to the morning before I made changes. Nope. Unfortunately, installing the plugin blocked the ability to rollback to a time earlier than the installation.

Manually fixing a link fixed the problem for one picture. But changing links for the thousands of photos on my site would be impossible. Sasha to the rescue. She installed a new find-and-replace plugin then ran it with the developer. She e-mailed when it was done and Voilá! My blog had pictures again.

I also learned how to create a site icon – which you can see on the left part of the browser tab up there ^^^ where the browser tabs are. It’s a little Route 66 highway sign icon.

Tonight I switched to a new supported blog theme. It is “responsive” which means it should work better with mobile devices. In addition, it supports the banded feature image in posts that I’ve come to like. Being an updated theme it brings in many more editing features I’m excited to explore in the coming weeks and months. I’m not sure I’ll stick with this specific theme so be aware that the look may change periodically as I nail down the theme I want and make the customizations – without using nasty plugins.

WordPress support was incredible. Sasha was on the problem immediately and got help when she needed it. I love how the two of them worked the problem to solution without numerous e-mails, call backs and what-not.