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What’s been keeping me busy December 30, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Photography.
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My regular readers, bless all 2 of them, may have noticed my posts have been dropping off. Aside from the Canadian Winter, it’s been the organization of my photographs that’s been taking up my time lately, and some attempted organization of my life.

I’ve found Picasa 3.6 to be a terrific tool for organizing my electronic photo library, and am now back to scanning old prints until all of them are backed up on my RAID 1 NAS storage unit.  The upload capability not only works with Picasa Web, but add-ons are available for Facebook, Geni, and other social networking and web tools.

Facebook, which should require no explanation, is where I hang out with my dive buddies, some old work and school friends, and a couple of family members. Putting my latest dive pictures on Facebook is as simple as connecting the camera to the computer, allowing Picasa to import, selecting the photos and clicking the Picasa Facebook icon.

Similarly, I started a family tree project on Geni several years ago. This has now spread to thousand of people, about 100 of whom have used the site to add or view the relatives. Pictures attract the most participation from other family members, so Picasa’s ability to organize the photos by person is invaluable. Geni is still trying to get the uploader to work properly, and have made some progress lately. The one outstanding item is that currently you have to load 1 photo at a time.

Weather permitting, I’ll be taking my last dive of 2009 tomorrow. Air temperature should be 2 degrees, and the water won’t be much warmer than that.

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Promotion December 22, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Training.
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I certified 3 new divers on my recent trip to the Florida Keys. One was an advanced open water diver and two were in the deep specialty. This allowed me to upgrade my PADI status to Master Scuba Diver Trainer (MSDT), catching up with my fellow instructors.

One benefit of MSDT are that you can apply directly to PADI for specialty instructor ratings, which I did immediately for everything for which I qualified. I’ve heard of instructors doing this without the necessary 20 dives “in the specialty” but I’ve been honest. The biggest temptation was night diving, of which I’ve done a limited amount but have more experience in equivalently dark surrounding during daylight hours. Some of the ratings seem more in the “card collector” category but others will be useful as long I can find students. I’m looking forward to teaching underwater navigation for instance, as this is one of the key diving skills.

MSDT is also a prerequisite for some other things, most notably technical diving instruction. I’ve a long way to go in this, having to act as an assistant to another instructor, getting a few more Nitrox/Deep certifications, and some more deep staged decompression dives in but it will all come together in a year or two I think.

So at any rate I’ve now earned 14 specialty instructor ratings, which are:

  1. Deep Diver
  2. Digital U/W Photographer
  3. Drift Diver
  4. Dry Suit Diver
  5. Enriched Air
  6. Emergency Oxygen Provider
  7. Wreck Diver
  8. AWARE Fish ID
  9. Boat Diver
  10. Multilevel Diver
  11. U/W Naturalist
  12. U/W Navigator
  13. Search & Recovery Diver
  14. U/W Photographer

Some of the dives I used to qualify for Navigation and Search & Recovery Diver were looking for things I’d lost on the bottom of the Lake.

Strange Connections December 11, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Photography.
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I spoke to some of my work colleagues about Google Picasa, the topic of my previous two posts. One of things I predicted, somewhat in just, was a good probability of finding someone in one my photos who I didn’t know at the time but do now. This has indeed happened.

It would have been very surprising if this was in the background of a photo taken while on a trip to another country, but so far that’s not the case. What I did find was a picture I took at the Comdex Canada trade show in downtown Toronto in 1992. Michael was talking to someone at the Hewlett Packard booth (at the time a competitor, now the owner of the company I worked for at the time) when I took the shot.

In the review of the 1700 or so unknown faces that Picasa picked up, I saw it. Michael hired me in 1999 to the company I still work for, although he left in 2006. Strange the 7 years after I took the photo, we would finally meet.

My photos are all indexed now, and I’m getting through all the faces that I recognise. There are lots that I don’t, of course, and plenty where I don’t remember the names although knew them at one time. Every once in a while one comes back to me after staring at the picture for long enough. I also upgraded to version 3.6, although it hasn’t made much difference so far.

More on Google Picasa December 9, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Photography.
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Another 24 hours of crunching through photographs (this time hardwired into my NAS box, so it ran perhaps 5-10 times faster) got through a good portion of my high resolution photograph archive with success. The only additional problem encountered is that I was cleaning up some of my podcast files (managed by iTunes) which were no longer needed on my C drive, and now Picasa can’t be persuaded to forget about them no matter what I try. Once the initial inventory of photographs is complete I’ll try again, which I think will take at least another 24 hours.

With the faster connection to the disk, Picasa is much more responsive, without the ghastly 10-15 minute waits I was experiencing with the Wifi connection. Still they’re a minute or two but I can live with that considering the size of the files.

Classifying all the faces takes quite a while. I think it works better if I leave it alone for a while as it seems to eventually get around to processing the files and identifying the faces automatically well after it has made the picture available for viewing.

I also found out there some APIs available to extend the functionality of Picasa. I doubt I’ll ever do that but it’s good to see. Perhaps someone will eventually do a fish ID module. That would be cool.

First Impressions of Picasa Desktop December 8, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Photography.
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My wife has often complained about 2 things when it comes to photography. First, that I don’t take enough pictures of the things she’s interested in, like the garden, and second, that the digital pictures disappear and are never seen again, as they’re stored on my computer (actually on a network drive at home).

To address the first issue, I’m buying her a nice pocket camera for Christmas. For the second, I searched around for some organizing software, and came across Picasa desktop 3.5.1 from Google, which has the very nice attribute of being a free download.

While I write this, my computer is busily going through all my photographs, which it has been doing for a couple of days now. I don’t blame it for being slow. Five years ago I digitized all my negatives and many of my father’s slides with a 4000d dpi Nikon Scanner at full resolution in 14 bit mode. Each file is about 120mb and takes 10-15 minutes to process. So it will take maybe a couple more weeks to crunch through everything. That it can read these files at all is pretty impressive, and it goes much faster through the 3mb files from my pocket camera at max resolution.

The coolest thing about the program is face detection. Faces in photographs get treated in 1 of 4 ways.

  1. Automatically detects the face and who it belongs to (after having you identify the face in another photograph manually, of course – it would be pretty scary if it could tell without that).
  2. Automatically detect the face, and guesses who it belongs to, asking you to verify it. Most of the time it is right. Sometimes it thought I was my brother or vice-versa, especially with pictures during my beard phase.
  3. Automatically detect the face, but is unable to guess who it is. It’s curious sometimes that some faces you’d think would be easy it misses, yet some obscure and fuzzy pictures it gets correct. The fact that it can do it all is pretty amazing though.
  4. Doesn’t see the face at all. Again, sometimes you’d think one that it misses should be really obvious, then other times it picks out faces that you’d miss with a quick glance. Sometimes it even notices faces in mirrors, pictures or on magazine covers. On one picture from the dive shop it picked out a model from a PADI poster. I was tempted to call him “PADI guy” but thought better of it.

I also like that while scanning my photos I could do other things with the software (i.e. it had some level of asynchronous operation). However while it was doing my 120MB files I was subjected to long (like 10 minutes) periods of looking at the hourglass. In the software’s defence I was running it over a 11mb/sec wifi link to my network hard drive at the time.

There are many cool features that I won’t go into here, but I will mention the two main issues I have with it.

  1. It handles video which is great, but when you load it to YouTube it always fails after performing the upload. This problem has been reported frequently in message boards. As Google owns and controls YouTube, I’m surprised the software was released with this bug.
  2. Uploading to commercial printing services is extremely limited. If you’re located in Canada, the only one that is offered ships from the UK. Given that even here in the great white north Walmart, Costco, and many other services are just a few minutes drive away, this is plain stupid.

Still, in my brief research it seems to be the best option around. I’d like to hear if anyone uses anything they consider better and why.

Now if it could only automatically identify fish I’d pay real money for it! Upload to Facebook and WordPress would be nice as well.

Diving the Spiegel Grove December 7, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Shipwrecks, Technical Diving.
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The first dive near Key Largo on our club trip was the Spiegel Grove. This was the first and only dive I did on double tanks, which meant we had a good long dive and I felt more comfortable on the long swim throughs. Here’s a video of the most interesting one, according to our charter operator, Conch Republic. This video covers most of the swim through, although it took the first 20 feet or so to get the camera sorted out for video.

A minor source of embarrassment was forgetting to set my computer to Nitrox until 16 minutes into the dive as you can see in the log. This caused it to calculate longer decompression than was required but I didn’t mind hanging out on the line. Rich wondered what the hell I was doing as he had little or no obligation whatsoever. It was definitely less of an issue than diving a Nitrox profile on air.

Spiegel Grove 20091122

Diving the Vandenberg December 2, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Shipwrecks.
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Day 1 of the club’s Florida Keys wreck diving extravaganza took us to Key West to dive the Keys’ most recent artificial reef, the USS (ex-) Vandenberg. While some of us had brought our technical gear along, these dives were done as recreational dives on standard Aluminum 80 cubic foot tanks.

After being sternly warned about not penetrating the wreck due to the usual hazards plus the threat of collapse, we were encouraged to try the numerous swim throughs in accordance with our desires and abilities. I can only speculate that the area around the designated penetration areas is made of stronger stuff and doesn’t collapse.

We went through one behind the bridge section at about 118 feet deep. Being equipped with standard AL80 tanks, we didn’t do anything extreme, just short excursions through from side to side. One that we started down had a bunch of stuff hanging from the ceiling so we exited the way we came rather than risking getting entangled. I think the risk was low but without a redundant air supply it is better to be safe than sorry.

There were also a remarkable number of jellyfish around, including inside the wreck. Some people got stung, and on that dive I had bare legs but managed to escape them.

Being deep air dives with my computer on a somewhat conservative 30/85 gradient factor setting, I picked up a little deco obligation on both dives. Neither were onerous, not much more than a “mandatory safety stop” that I would have had with tables. While the wreck hasn’t been down long enough to accumulate a great deal of sea life, it is quite large with lots to explore. I could spent several days there.

Here’s the logs for both dives. By the time the second one was finished the sun was starting to go down so we were treated with a gorgeous Key West sunset and a view of some really nice yachts on the return trip. The dive operators, Lost Reef Adventures, were friendly and competent and conveniently hung a bottle at 15′ which none of us needed. They are also located within a few feet of the dock so getting to and from their boat was simple and quick.

Vandenberg 1

Vandenberg 2