Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I Am a Camera

Photography is a huge hobby of mine, and has been for some time. Not only is it a big hobby for all the Roth Brothers, Tom actually makes his living behind the lens. I think we all have Mom and Dad to thank for that (as well as our computer skills and music skills), because of the wise choices they made many years ago when we were young.

As young kids, in the 1970s, we had various cheap cameras about the house. . . 126 and 110 Instamatics, nothing special. The Roths were not shutterbugs by any stretch, and our collective childhood went largely undocumented. Until 1980, when in preparation for our six-week trip around the country, the folks bought a Minolta XG-7.
It came with a 50mm kit lens, plus they bought a Sigma or Tamron Zoom, probably in the 70-200mm range. Not only did they get the camera, they also taught us how to use it, and let us take our own pictures. Granted, at that time our picture taking skills consisted of getting the shot framed, focused, and adjusting the aperture to try go get a 1/60 shutter speed (I don't know where that rule of thumb came from.) Dad was big on slide film, which added an extra step to the whole process. So a few years later, Andy and I ended up getting our own 110 Instamatics. . . with built-in flash! (Flash cubes and flash bars were very common in those days.) We wanted prints, 3.5" x 5"

We took decent pictures with those for a while, until probably in early high school, 1985-86 or so, Andy bought a Mamiya point-and-shoot 35mm film camera. Wow! forget 110 film. We couldn't even look at prints from those tiny 110 negatives after that. Of course, it was Andy's camera, so I was relegated to occasionally borrowing it, or the XG-7 when others weren't using it.

In 1990, after reading Consumer Reports, I bought a Fuji DL-400 point-and-shoot film camera from some New York camera store with an ad in the back of Popular Photography.
I loved this camera. Not only did it have a zoom lens, it also had a data back for date imprinting, drop-in loading, and an LCD display. It did a fantastic job at metering, and nearly always got the focus right. Does, actually. I still have this camera. This is a great camera. It traveled extensively with Jennifer and me, and I have quite the collection of pictures with the inadvertent inclusion of its ubiquitous red camera bag in them. Camera bag in Mexico, Canada, Denmark, Greece, France. . . Even with the few "extra" creative controls it had, my photography skills eventually surpassed the abilities of the camera. Around the time Tristan was born (1998), it was time to move back to an SLR.

I'd been completely captivated with the Minolta Maxxum series of full-auto SLRs since the mid-80's, plus my experience with Dad's Minolta meant that I was going to be a Minolta guy too. I got a Minolta XTsi.

The Maxxums were awesome. Not only could you do things like choose the shutter speed and let the camera choose the correct aperture to get the right exposure, you could choose the aperture and let the camera set shutter speed. You could do full manual and set everything yourself if you wanted to, or with the press of one (panic) button, you could instantly switch back to full auto, where the camera does everything. . . so you'd never miss a shot. You could even change lenses. I never got an additional lens, but that was once the plan. I really enjoyed this camera, and took many pictures that I'm still proud of. This camera went with us to France, Italy, and Switzerland, among many places in the US.

Until digital photography became mainstream. I resisted going digital at first. I wanted to use my Minolta stuff on a digital camera, but nearly everything was point-and-shoot at the time. I was holding out for a DSLR with at least 5 megapixels that could use my lenses (lens, actually). But DSLRs were slow in coming.

By 2004, I could hold out no longer. I went digital with the Minolta Dimage 7Hi.

It didn't have interchangeable lenses, but it did a ton of cool stuff, plus the Minolta controls were very familiar. You could shoot full manual, partial automatic, or fully automatic, and still have the panic button to go back to full auto instantly. I really liked this camera, and slowly made the paradigm shift from being stingy with film shots to being liberal with digital ones. The camera had a few issues. . . it tended to overexpose, and the autofocus missed more than it should have. It really went through the rechargeable batteries, and it was also a lot to carry around at times. Plus with parts of the family being in different places at the same time, we needed a second camera.

Based on recommendations of people whose photos I admired, we picked up the ultra portable Canon Powershot SD450.
This camera is awesome! I wouldn't change a single thing about it. It takes great pictures, has long battery life, easily fits in your pocket for total portability, and has some fun features like color swap and Stitch Assist for building panoramic portraits.

So it was the Dimage and the Poweshot for flexibility and portability. . . until the sensor on the Dimage went faulty, and the camera turned into a brick. Fortunately, Sony (the manufacturer of the faulty sensor) agreed to replace my camera, despite it being way out of warranty.

The Sony equivalent of my Dimage at the time was the Sony DSC-H2
This camera lacked a few cool features of the Dimage, but added a few others. It has a tremendous lens. . . over a 400mm equivalent (in SLR terms), does a great job of metering and focus, and runs on half as many batteries. It also has one additional megapixel. It gives the shooter plenty of creative control. And other than a warranty repair for a faulty shutter release button that kept the camera out of my hands over Christmas, this camera has been great.

I started sharing my photos on Zooomr last year, and with all the interaction with some great photographers, and the awesome sense of community there, my photography skills, as well as my passion for photography, have increased dramatically. But once again, my skills have surpassed the abilities of the camera. Both Andy and Tom have been shooting DSLRs for a while now, and they've kindly let me use their cameras on occasion. I was growing increasingly frustrated at my inability to get the shots I was picturing in my head due to the limitations of my camera. I knew a DSLR was not far off.

Then in March of this year, the possibility of a trip to Korea became a reality. This is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and I knew how much I would regret not being able to get the pictures I knew I was capable of taking because I didn't have the right camera for the job. We're also planning a family trip to Africa next summer. . . another once-in-a-lifetime trip. A DSLR was quickly moving up the priority list.

Based on my experience with my Powershot, plus the recommendations from Tom, I knew I wanted a Canon. I was looking at the Digital Rebel Xti for a while. . . until a month ago when the Canon 40D was released. This was a camera that could do everything I needed it to to get the pictures I have in my head, plus it's flexible enough that I'm not going to outgrow it anytime soon.

I took the plunge last Thursday, and bought my Canon EOS 40D, with the 28-135mm Image Stabilized lens, also on the recommendation of Tom.

The issue du jour is, because this camera model is brand new, and very popular, many retailers are having trouble keeping it in stock. I ordered mine from Ritz Camera, (where Dad's XG-7 came from, coincidentally) initially, but when they couldn't even tell me when it would ship, I ordered from ProFeelVideo, and canceled the Ritz order. ProFeel said they could ship the body immediately, and the lens would ship the next week. So I ordered the camera kit on Thursday, and the body arrived Monday. This was maddening because I had this awesome new camera that I couldn't do a thing with, other than set the clock, due to my lack of glass. (We photographers don't say lens, we say glass.) I'm pretty comfortable that the kit lens will arrive before I leave for Korea on October 5th, but just to hedge my bets, I bought what would've been my second lens anyway, a 50mm 1.8 prime, used, on eBay. It arrived Tuesday. Also arriving are a spare battery, filters for the good lens, and a replacement GPS datalogger for the one I lost in Las Vegas.

So now my mission is to get up to speed on using the camera as quickly as possible, since I only have a little over a week before I want to be taking shots that count. I constantly have a photography book or camera manual in my hand, and I've been using the kids' soccer practices to fire as many frames, with as many different settings as I can muster, in hopes of really knowing how to make the camera do what I want it to.

Here are a few examples.
Tyrone Shoelaces

Portrait of AmericanGirl

I've even let Tristan and Zoe start taking their own pictures with it, and learn how to frame and focus (aperture and shutter speed are handled by the camera. . . for now.) You're never too young to start a lifelong passion for photography.

Thanks Mom and Dad.

(Zoe's pictures can be seen here.)
Thursday, September 13, 2007

Viva! Day Five

In The Hot Nevada Sun

Up at 6:15 (PDT), down to the continental breakfast at 7,

Room for Breakfast

session one from 8 – 9, and session two from 9:15 – 10:15. Back up to the room to finish packing and check out,

View from a Precipice

then back down to the lobby to meet the others at 11. Took a cab back to the airport, and strangely it only cost $15 ($5 each) this way, when the cab from the airport was around $27 ($9 each). I think we got screwed on our way out, and thus my reluctance to use cabs.

I had checked in from the hotel, and since I didn’t have any bags to check, went right to Gate D40. I should’ve stopped for lunch, but I was waiting for Bill and Cynthia, who were checking in and checking luggage, and thus taking longer. I was able to get caught up on work e-mail and some instant messaging. I saw that my “Dot Org” photo has already been marked as a favorite by 12 people. I’m pretty jazzed about that. It turns out Bill and Cynthia ate without me. Now I’m hoping someplace decent will be open at ATL after 8 when we get in.

The plane is a 767-300, and is quite full. I’m in 42G next to a window, aft of the right wing. We took off from runway 25R at 13:11 PDT. There’s a woman a few rows back who is evidently not fond of flying. On take off and climb out she’d let out a shriek every time we made the slightest bump up or down. Take-off from LAS is a little challenging because 1) we’re in the high desert where the air is thinner, 2) the 100F low-humidity air is even thinner, 3) we’re in a fully loaded 767-300, a trans-Atlantic capable plane with enough fuel to cross the country (read: heavy,) 4) there are mountains not too far past the end of the runway. The pilot told us he was shutting off the cabin A/C for take off and initial climb to gain some performance. But back to the shrieking woman: it was sad and a little funny too. I can’t imagine what having an irrational fear must be like, nor would I ever want to.

16:10/19:10 Somewhere over somewhere. The flight has been fine so far. I got a few pictures of the Grand Canyon.

In Plane View

I kept my camera in the seat with me, and that plus my laptop bag, noise-canceling headphones, and this journal have made my personal space very limited. Aggravating that fact is that the not-very-bright older couple in front of me are fully reclined, yet sitting straight upright. Come on! I say they’re not very bright because I watched them spend about ten minutes trying to figure out how to turn off their overhead light. I would’ve helped them out, but the amateur anthropologist in me really wanted to see how long it would finally take them. The guy next to me eventually told them how to do it, but because the old folks were holding their headphones on their ears (also not being able to figure out the technical complexities of airline headphones either, apparently) it took him a few tries to get through to them. I should go easy on the oldsters though. At 70+ years old, they’ve probably never flown on an airplane before.

Since climb-out, the flight has been perfectly smooth. We're somewhere over, I don't know, maybe northern Mississippi or Alabama perhaps. Things are much greener and not all square. We hit a cabin altitude of 2795 meters as I can't figure out how to set the altitude units on my watch pressure-altimeter switched from metric to American units. Maybe I should ask the couple in front of me.

I'm sadistically hoping for a bumpy approach and landing in Atlanta, to see what the shrieker will do. It's 16:26/19:26 and we're losing altitude and speed. We're supposed to land a little early, maybe 20 minutes after 8 pm.

I got this journal with the grid rule so that I could sketch maps and what-not if I want to. Here's my map of the Atlanta Hartsfield runways.

Runway numbers are based on the compass heading of the runway, divided by 10, and for parallel runways with the same headings, the suffixes L and R designate left and right. I love the ATL system because as the world's busiest airport, they have simultaneous operations on all four (or maybe 5 now) runways. They all orient in the same direction at the same time - takeoffs and landings, so everyone is headed east, or everyone's going west. The two outermost runways are (generally) landing runways, giving the most space to aircraft on final approach, while the inner two runways are for takeoffs. It's very efficient. On a busy Friday night, driving past the airport on I-85 you can see at least a dozen airplanes simultaneously on final approach, and several others on their downwind and base legs being positioned to enter the stack on final.


Down to 1580 meters. I'm guessing that's Alabama below. "20,000 feet, 70 miles out, landing to the west, making right turns," from the captain, which means we'll be coming in north of the airport, and landing on either runway 26R or 27L (If I got those sets of runways correct, I'm always mixing them up.) There's still plenty of light, due in part to the fact that Atlanta is about as far west in the Eastern time zone as you can be, so sunrise and sunset is always later that places at the same lattitude but farther east. I think the pilot said we're parking at the A gates. I don't remember what is at which concourse anymore.

I miss flying out of Atlanta. It's 25 minutes from our old house, and you can fly direct from Atlanta to just about anywhere. 19:54 EDT, and we just passed the airport out the starboard side of the plane on the downwind leg of our approach. It would've been better on the left side of the plane to view the city. I haven't been to Atlanta proper in almost three years, I think.

20:06 Completed the base leg. We're on final approach. No shrieking yet. Landing at 20:10 on the farthest runway north, runway 26R, I think. Flight time: 3:26.

Went to TGIFridays in B terminal, the same restaurant Jennifer and I were at for their grand opening preview dinner, 10 or 11 years ago. The food was not great, but it was nice to be able to sit with relative quiet and some space.

When we finished dinner, it was time to board. 757, six seats across. We all got plenty of space. Push-back 10 minutes lated due (in my guess) to several retirees who couldn't get to their plane on time.

Take off at 10:50, probably runway 27R. Bill has a pretty sweet GPS that he was showing me. I think I need to add that to my gadget wishlist. They've come a long way in the 10+ years since I got mine.

The jackass in front of me has his seat fully reclined, which is bad enough, but then he moved over to the middle seat to be next tho his honey, yet left his empty seat reclined. I fixed that for him. He has a backwards ball cap on his head, and that act immediately lowers one's IQ by at least 15 points. I'll give him a pass because he's a dumbass.

23:20 Should be landing in 28 minutes or less. Yup, we're definitely descending. Watch says 1630 meters and my ears concur.

23:30 1000 meters

Landed just before midnight. Made the walk through RDU Terminal A, which is looking more and more like the interior of a double-wide to me. Out in the humidity once again to catch the bus to Purple 3. After a fight with the parking payment system, that evidently didn't like my Johnson Controls corporate Visa, I made the drive home, arriving around 1:00 am.

All in all it was a pretty good trip . . . other than losing my GPS. The Infor conference was good, though IMHO the Datastream conference in 2006 was better. I finally got to see Las Vegas, and even though I don't plan on returning on my own dime anytime soon, I know that if/when I do make it back, I'll have a better feel for the place, and for what I'd like to see and do on a second trip.

Viva indeed.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Viva! Day Four

9/10 Tuesday morning. I skipped the rah-rah opening session and breakfast. Did my two morning sessions, ate a very light lunch, did the two afternoon sessions, and then headed out on an In-N-Out burger quest.

I got on the Deuce Bus right outside the Venetian for $5 for a 24-hour pass, and took that down to the Excalibur. Made my way through the casino and along Tropicana Avenue. I could see the restaurant getting closer, but I-15 was in the way. I found some underpasses, but still no way across the Interstate, short of playing Frogger on an eight-lane superhighway. I was within baseball-throwing distance of the restaurant. Headed back north to look for another way across, but never found it. I was pretty dejected by this point. I was really looking forward to a 3-by-3, animal-style, extra toast, with a side of fries, well-done, animal-style. Some have suggested I take a taxi. I just couldn’t bring myself to pay $20 for a $5 burger. Maybe I’ll regret that decision later, but if I come back next year, it’ll be worth the $20.

It was only 100F (and 12% RH), so I walked around a bit, getting pictures of New York,
New York
Mini Chrysler Building
New York Skyline, sort of

and a really good one of a building covered in green dots. Dot Org

I stopped at an indoor mall, and wandered around a bit, buying some personalized Las Vegas license plates and actually found “Tristan” and “Zoe,” so I had to get them. I got JR a fancy “JR” rubber stamp, and a really tacky Las Vegas bathing suit dude bottle opener for her to take to happy hour. I also got two dice lollipops in yellow and purple for the kids. I stopped at a restaurant called “Aroma d’Italia” for a(nother) prosciutto panini and more gelato: green apple and pina colada.

I went back outside and got some more shots outside “Paris,”

Eifaux Tower
and then took the Deuce Bus (so named because it's a double-decker) back to the Venetian.

Uploaded pictures, dealt with e-mail, and went down to the Blues Brothers concert that was part of our conference. Despite the 6000 people in the room, mostly at tables, I made my way right up to the stage before the concert started. At the last moment I saw that photography was not permitted. Just damn! I was close enough to get some really good shots. When the “brothers” came out, I was within five feet of both Jim Belushi and Dan Aykroyd at one point. I had a great view of the Hammond player, who was great. The volume was a really comfortable level up there behind the speakers. But the Blues Brothers aren’t really my cup of tea, so after a few songs, I bailed, stopping by one of the many free beer tables for some refreshment for the eight minute walk back up to my suite, and picking up two pairs of cheap knockoff Ray Ban Wayfarers for the kids.

Back upstairs to start packing, more e-mail, and a few more pictures out my window. Getting back onto Eastern time is going to be rough.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Viva! Day Three

Monday, September 10th.

Yet another morning of waking up in Eastern time, too early, and going back to bed. The hand-washed clothing was completely dry, meaning I’ll be able to pack less clothing for Korea. That’s awesome.

Went to the continental breakfast. It was just OK. From there to the kickoff meeting (rock concert, almost.) with the Infor CEO. After that it was a little time at the vendor show, picking up a little swag for the kids, and meeting up with Randy Bell, Susan Gallagher (the GSK Datastream owner) and Andy J., all from Pennsylvania. We went to the huge lunch buffet, having chicken salad, wraps, bread, and soup. There were probably a dozen or more serving stations for the 6000 attendees, and it seemed like 90% of those people queuing up at the first one. So one thing we learned is that you bypass the fist serving station for everything. There are always others, farther away, and less crowded.

After lunch, it was on to the sessions. All of us were in the 1:00 “Meet Your Peers.” From there it was “Using Inboxes and KPI’s more efficiently” at 2:15. “Utilizing Infor EAM in a Regulated Industry,” presented by Andy at 3:45, and then “Infor EAM Advanced Mobile Computing” from 4 to 5.. Whew!

After that, we heard that the Infor Global Account Manager for GSK wanted to take us to dinner. Twist my arm. We met three other people from Franklin Plaza, and 10 of us piled into three cabs to the Bellagio. Unfortunately, the whole going-out-to-dinner thing was last minute, so there was no time to grab the camera. The Bellagio has an amazing glass ceiling that I’ve seen many times on Zooomr, and I really would’ve liked to have photographed it.

We went to a restaurant called “Olives” that overlooked the Bellagio fountain. This place was impressive, and I was nearly giddy with excitement when I perused the menu, with everything having a “free” price tag.

I started with a fine mojito, and partook of the excellent bread, olives, and multiple olive tapenades. Partook lightly, that is. I was saving my appetite. For the appetizer, I had the squid and baby octopus ($15). It was extremely tender without the slightest bit of rubbery-ness. As I expected, my dining companions were slightly repulsed, as usually happens when I order cephalapods for dinner. Randy had ordered the littleneck clams, and he let me have some. They were awesome too. For the entrée I had the ribeye, medium-rare with haricot vert garlic frites, and some kind of sauce – maybe a demiglace. Randy and Susan had ordered the same. It was exquisite, with a perfect crust, fork-tender meat, and fat that melted like foie gras. All for the virtual price of $46. The best steak I’ve had in years.

For dessert I had some kind of panna cotta with mixed berries and shortbread straws, and a snifter of Grand Marinier. What a meal! I was a little reluctant to give the sales guy my business card, for I fear the Johnson Controls name has less pull than the GSK name does, but the sales guy seemed very excited to have us there regardless.

After dinner, Bill, Susan, and I walked outside to see the fountain show. It was very impressive, plus with temperatures in the 90s, and relative humidity ~ 13%, the evaporational cooling from the water spray was definitely noticeable. After the first show, we walked into the Paris Casino to check it out. I wonder what Parisiennes and other Francophiles would think of Las Vegas’ interpretation of their city. People were smoking everywhere, so in that sense it was a lot like Paris. Other than that, I’m not sure.

We caught the next fountain show, and then went into Caesar’s Palace to explore. I wonder if that place was the big Italian-themed casino before Bellagio/Venetian. Blue-sky painted ceilings with clouds seem to be very popular in European-themed casinos. There are plenty of high-end shops in all these places. And all the regular-end shops are unnaturally high-priced. I guess people need places to spend all their winnings. I couldn’t imagine buying anything of substance in any of them . . . knowing I was being screwed, then again, maybe that’s why I don’t gamble either.

Back to the hotel where I’m able to see bits and pieces of the “Sirens of Treasure Island” show from my window.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Viva! Day 2

Sunday, 9/9

Realized that I don't always hear/feel my phone ring. Met up with Cynthia and Bill at Triva, a Wolfgang Puck restaurant just below my window. Had a pretty good omelet for $16.

Headed south down the strip a little ways. Saw the Mirage and Caesar's Palace. The others didn't have much of an agenda, so my suggestion to walk to Stratosphere won. Maybe walking wasn't the best idea. It's probably at least a mile, (turns out it's two) plus temperatures were approaching 100F. We bought $1 bottles of water from ad hoc street vendors, plus I got a quart of Gatorade at Walgreens.

We finally got to Stratosphere, and while I was buying my tower and ride tickets, the other two decided that they didn't even want to go up the 108 story tower, let alone the three rides at the top. I can't believe they walked all that way to not go up. Their loss. Whatever.

I bought a tower + 3 rides ticket ($25) and headed up. The views were spectacular.

Southbound Strip
Looking southbound on the strip. This is highly zoomed-in, so these things look a lot closer than they were.

Shooting Down on a DeathStar

There were indoor and outdoor viewing areas, plus the rides.

I had tickets for all three rides, but only got to go on X-scream because the others ended up closing due to high winds. I'd never seen a ride like X-scream. It's basically a large sled that holds maybe 8 people in four rows of two. It's on a long straight track that hangs off the edge of the tower, about 900 ft. above the ground. The track tilts down, and the sled accelerates downward at probably a 30 degree angle, stopping abruptly at the end. The rail then tilts up, and the sled slides back. This happens a few times, with a couple of surprise starts/stops on the way.

It was very cool, but I imagine the front seat really must have been amazing. Another ride, Insanity, is eight seats suspended from a claw that rotates over the edge, facing you nearly straight down. Winds stopped that one, and also Big Shot, which sticks straight up from the top of the tower, shooting you straight up and dropping you back down.

I came back down and got a $10 refund for my unused ride tickets, and made the solo walk back to the Venetian. Somewhere along the way, I lost my Sony GPS-CS1. (GPS for geocoding photos) I'm guessing the cheap caribiner came open and it fell off somewhere near the Fashion Show mall. I didn't realize this until I was back at the hotel. I grabbed a quick pear gelato, and backtracked to the old New Frontier hotel, the spot of my last picture, but to no avail. Just damn. I really need that for Korea, so now I'm faced with shelling out another $100, plus a few more for a locking carabiner.

Once I got back to my room, I had to head out straightaway for the opening session and "cocktail" reception. (There was beer and wine, but nary a cocktail to be seen.) The keynote speaker was Alastair Fothergill who directed/produced the Discovery Channel series Planet Earth. His presentation was very cool, displaying lots of awesome footage from the series. The "cocktail" reception immediately followed. This thing is beyond huge. I'm guessing ~5000 people. Dinner was various hot buffet entrees, wine, and beer. I hung out a while, running into Cynthia and Bill, and Andy Jeremias from PA. With the huge number of exhibitors, the place was like a mini Pittcon. By 7:15, I was shot. Went back to the room and made avail of the huge bathtub. My tired legs and feet really needed that.

I also took a stab at washing my travel clothing in the sink and air-drying it, to see if that's going to be a viable option in Korea. So far, I'd give it a huge "Yes!" I fought with the in-room Internet access ($9.95/day. . . what a racket) and was able to handle most of my work e-mail, and get my pictures uploaded, sans geotag data.
Saturday, September 08, 2007


8 September 2007 13:30 EDT

Viva! Sitting at Gate A17, RDU, waiting for Delta flight 6007 to CVG (Cincinnati), and from there to Las Vegas. I can't believe how fast I got through security. Saturday afternoon in September may be a great time to fly. . . other than it being on my weekend.

I'm headed to the Infor Worldwide User Conference. I went to its equivalent last year when it was the Datastream 7i Worldwide User Conference in Greenville, South Carolina. That was pretty fun. Am I excited to be going to Las Vegas? Sure. I've never been there, and even though I don't gamble, there's a lot of stuff to see and to photograph. I've brought my larger camera with me. . . my Sony DSC-H2, because I'm kind of using this "small" trip as a warm-up for my "big" trip to Korea 27 days from now. I need to decide if I'm buying a DSLR before Korea, and this trip will help with that. I'm also trying different packing strategies in the attempt to be as efficient, yet as prepared as I can be for that trip. I'm carrying-on all my luggage today, as per usual, but I'm still uncommitted to what I'm doing for Korea. I might have some better ideas by Wednesday night when I get back.

Joining me from GSK/Johnson Controls RTP are Cynthia, who also was in SC last year, and Bill, who wasn't. There may be coworkers from PA too, but I don't know about that yet.

Just saw Cynthia, and met Bill for the first time, so we're probably all in the right place.

What would I like to accomplish in Las Vegas? Well, there's the conference, of course. That's all day Monday-Tuesday, plus half a day tomorrow and Wednesday. we have nothing scheduled for Monday night, but last year we (the GSK contingent, et al) were invited to a private dinner on our free night, so I suspect that may happen again. Exclusive of the conference, I'd like to take a lot of pictures, get to In-N-Out at least once, and go to the top of the Stratosphere and ride the rides and take some pictures from up there.

Right now it looks like we have this evening (after 7 or so) free, and most of the day tomorrow. I'm sure finding some adventures shouldn't be too difficult.

All the Delta flights that have boarded around here have not been crowded. I'm hopeful for the same. The weather is great

14:11 On board. Embraer 145, three seats across. Didn't have to gate check anything. Hoping the next plane is bigger though. Ten minutes 'til departure and no seatmate yet.* Just had my watch batteries replaced, so all my geeky azimuth and cabin altitude observations should work. One hour flight time, 26,000 ft (7925 m) cruising altitude. Weather in CVG: scattered clouds, light rain, 78 degrees F.

Just saw in Sky magazine that Delta has a direct flight between Atlanta and Dakar, Senegal. That may be advantageous for Jennifer, who is hoping to go to Senegal next summer. It sure was convenient to fly direct pretty much anywhere when we lived in Georgia, 25 minutes from ATL. From RDU, you're very often going to connect.

Now for the flight details. Take-off runway: the one next to Terminal C, heading in the direction from I-40 towards Andy's old house (Runway 5L). Wheels up 14:41. Maximum cabin altitude 1990 m (6528 ft). Wheels down 15:52, landing to the South on the leftmost runway (18L). Flight time 1 hr 10 min. Gate C26.

* At the last minute, a fleshy flyer took the seat next to me. My left leg is now all sweaty, having been encroached upon for all that time. That was not enjoyable.

16:24 Walked to the bus, rode to B Terminal, and walked right onto Flight 733 at Gate B21. This is a 757 with six seats across. It's more comfortable already. No seatmate yet. Alleged departure at 16:35. Late arrival just took the middle seat next to Bill. Cynthia (one row up in 41F) and I are still unencumbered. Door closed. Whew!

Flight is 16:15 EDT to 17:38 PDT. Flight time: 3h 46m. According to the map in Sky magazine, I'll be flying over the following states, respectively:
  • Indiana
  • Illinois
  • Missouri
  • Kansas
  • Colorado
  • Utah
  • Arizona
  • Nevada
Here we go. Wheels up: 16:52, runway ? facing south.

The chick next to me has a piercing in the back of her right wrist. . . and probably elsewhere. That's different. I forgot the charger for my iPaq Pocket PC. I stopped by the office on the way to RDU, but I couldn't get in to get it. I think my access hours are still M-F 7-6 or so, based on how they were originally setup when I started at GSK three years ago as a temp. Need to get that fixed. Now I'm forced to be parsimonious with my iPaq usage so the battery won't be dead when I really need it. That's a shame because I have a lot of music on it. I can always use my laptop as an iPod. Talk about overkill.

I have my Sharper Image noise-canceling headphones on. Man, I love these thing. You don't realize how well they're working until you take them off. These are definitely going to Korea with me. That's a 13-hour flight, and I have no idea how much, if any of it, is night time. They'll pay for themselves.

Not sure if there's a movie on this flight. I guess I should read. Not sure about food either. I wish I had eaten lunch. I'll be famished by the time we get to Vegas, around 9pm biological stomach-growling time. I'm betting Las Vegas is a good town to be hungry in.

17:13E/14:13P Cabin altitude 2290m
19:32E/16:32P Cabin altitude 2695m

The movie was "Oceans 13" and that's cool because I hadn't seen it.

Looking out the window about an hour ago, all I saw were square farm fields with huge irrigation circles. Fifteen minutes ago it was mountains. Just now, it's clouds. I think we have about an hour left. The second snack service is starting. I need to look at the flight route map to try to figure out where we are. I'm guessing somewher over western Colorado/eastern Utah. Mountains, roads, lakes, and houses. . . all in shades of brown. . . as far as the eye can see. I see a dam and its lake, and a green valley where the water flows out. Pretty cool. Some of the mountains just look like sand. You can't even see any scrub on them.

The pilot did something really cool; he made a few big S-turns over the Grand Canyon. With the light (about 6:20 pm local) as it was, it was awesome! I could completely see the national park at the South Rim, and I easily identified the campground where we stayed in both 2003 and 1980. What an awesome surpirse, especially since the route maps don't' show a course that's southerly enough to overfly the canyon. Too bad my camera's in the overhead bin. Next time I'll keep it with me.

17:23 PDT. Cabin altitude 1420 m.

Landed! 17:45. Flight time 3h 52m.

Once Bill and Cynthia collected their luggage, we caught a cab to the Venetian for $9 each. It would've been $6 for the shuttle, but Bill seemed determined. It took forever to get checked in at the hotel. I went to my room in the Venetian tower, room 14-104. Holy Cow! This is the nicest hotel room I've ever had. There are three flat-panel TVs, a desk, table, coffee table, and huge bathroom. Didn't have much time before I had to head down to the Crand Canal Shops to meet the others.

Are we Outside?

I went down and checked out the canal with gondolas, the shops, restaurants, etc., but I never found the others. After half an hour, I gave up and ate at the panini place. It wasn't right, but it was good.

I headed to The Strip with camera in hand. I could only stand about 40 minutes of that before I made my way back to relax. I did manage to get a few good shots in the process.

Southbound Night Strip
Standing near the Flamingo, looking southbound.

Northbound Night Strip
Same place, but facing northward.

The Flamingo itself.

Faux Tour Eiffel
And a shot of the tiny Tour Eiffel.

My Hotel Room

I am easily amused.
Friday, September 07, 2007

Soccer Night in Mebane, Fall 2007

Yes, it's once again time for Mebane Youth Soccer Association (MYSA) fall soccer. This year, Tristan is on the U10 Terminators, and Zoe is back on the U8 Strikers. Tonight was the first game of the season, and as luck would have it, both Tristan and Zoe's games were at the same time.

Tristan's team's uniforms hadn't come in yet, so they attempted to match as best they could. The playing was great, and you can really notice the differences even between U10 and U8. Tristan did some great work as fullback.

RaceWith him in this picture is Ayanna, who has been on the same team as Tristan for four seasons now.

Charge the Common Ground

I Can Play Forever

The Terminators won their game against the Cougars, 5-2.

Back in U8, Zoe is stepping up and taking more of an active role on her team, now that she's one of the older kids.
Waiting and Watching

I'm Running

The Strikers won their game, 2-1

Next weeks' schedule hasn't been finalized yet, but check back next weekend at the latest to see what's new.

In the meantime, I'm off to Sin City. . . . .
Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Geotagging 101

I take a lot of pictures in a lot of different places, especially since going digital three years ago. I don't always remember exactly where I was when a particular photo was taken.

In the bad old days of film, I would use the date imprint function of both my film SLR and my film point-and-shoot cameras to capture the date a photo was taken. It really ruined any artistic value the picture may have had (which, admittedly, was pretty minimal in those days,) but at least knowing when the photo was taken, I could usually deduce the occasion/location of the subject.

For example, here's an otherwise good picture of the harbor in Vernazza, Italy.
Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy
That imprint showing that the photo was taken on April 2, 2003 sure is distracting.

With digital photography there is no need to print dates on photos, because that information, plus a whole lot more, is encoded into the file in the Exif information, which is saved with the digital picture file. Exif stands for Exchangeable image file format, and is part and parcel to all digital photography these days. Your camera is recording it whether you know it or not. Some of the information in the Exif data includes date and time information, camera settings (including aperture, shutter speed, focal length, metering mode, and ISO setting, et al.,) a thumbnail, copyright, and other information.

As an example, here's a picture I took of the moon.
Moon Over Mebane

And here's some of the Exif information on that picture.

I can see that I took this picture on January 2nd around 6 pm. It sure gets dark early in January. So that takes care of the when, but what about the where? In the harbor picture above, I know it's in Vernazza based on the date, plus the fact that I have travel journals that correlate the dates to the places. That's fine if you're in a few, very specific places, but that won't work in all situations.

As an example, I shot a lot of pictures around Manhattan last year at Christmas time. New York City is a photographer's dream, as there is an endless supply of photographic subjects everywhere you look. Too much to keep mental track of, actually. I shot one day, and then struggled that night to remember where exactly where each picture was taken. The next day I went out, and when I'd photograph something, I'd immediately take a shot of the nearest street sign so that I could use that as a geo reference. That may work for alright for NYC, but most places it wouldn't, plus it's not very efficient.

Why do you need to know where a photo was taken, anyway? I guess you don't, but to me it sure makes viewing pictures, especially other people's pictures, far more interesting. When I see something really cool in a photo, I want to know where it was taken. Maybe I'd like to go there myself someday.

The best photo sharing sites allow you to incorporate this information into your photos, and then display them on a map. Conversely, you can surf to a particular location on a world map, and get a quick overview of all the photos taken there. It's a traveler's dream.

For example, here's the map view on Zooomr of L'il Saint Louis in Paris, one of my favorite places in the world. (BTW, the island just to the left is L'il de Cite, where Notre Dame cathedral is located. You've definitely seen pictures of that.)

As you can see, there are three pictures taken on different places on the island (all taken by me, incidentally). You can click on any of the thumbnails to get a full-sized version. What a great way to see what's where.

Now there's two ways to get that location information into the Exif data of your photos: after uploading your pictures to Zooomr, or some other, lesser site, you can point to the right spot on a map, and associate that spot with the picture, or you can tag your pictures before you upload. Google's Picasa (free) software allows you to geotag your pictures with the help of Google Earth, but you still have to remember where each photo was taken. Too much of a hassle. I do it the easy way.

I have a Sony GPS-CS1. It's a GPS (Global Positioning System receiver) that you clip on your camera bag, or strap, or belt, or wherever. . . and it records where you are and when. . . that's it. There's no display. You can't go Geocaching with it or use it to navigate in your car. It has three status LED's, runs for about 12 hours on one AA battery, can hold roughly 160 hours of track logs before you'll have to offload, and is about the size of half a bratwurst. (Ever notice that it always comes back to food with me?). I got mine for about 75 bucks, US.

With the GPS on, you just shoot away with your camera, never worrying about trying to remember where you were when you got "the shot." (Make sure your camera's time setting is correct though. This will be very important later.) When you get back to your computer, you connect the GPS via a USB cable, tell the software what time zone you were in, and offload the time/location data. . . which is just a text file, basically. From there you tell the software what photos were taken in the time frame that the log covers, and it automagically tags the photos with the geo lattitude/longitude data. Even if you lost GPS signal for a while when you were out shooting, the software is smart enough to interpolate your position with pretty decent accuracy. When you upload your photos to Zooomr, the Exif geo data carries through, and Zooomr marks the photo on a world map. Officially, this unit only works with Sony Cybershot cameras. Unofficially, it works great with my Canon too.

So there you have it. Now go out and geotag your pictures. Do it the hard way, or the easy way, but do it. You. . . and the world. . . will be glad you did.

We Have Been Remiss

It's been a while since we've posted anything of substance on here, and for that, we (I, Dave) apologize. It's not that nothing has been going on, it's just that. . . . maybe we're too busy, or on a summer "break" or whatever.

So with that being said, time to catch-up.

In late July/early August, we spent a week at a big house in the Canaan Valley of West Virginia with my brothers and their families, and my parents. Between the six or so digital cameras there, we got a lot of pictures of us swimming, rafting, caving, cooking, eating, hot-tubbing, playing, and reading. Here are a few:


Roth Bros. Inc.

The Women in My Life


Me and T at the Falls

Duck Brown at the Falls

For a look at 50+ pictures from the trip, visit and use the search term RothVacation07. Or follow this link.

After a week at home, working, for Jennifer and me, and a week in Pennsylvania for T and Z, we finally got to go to someone else's Pig Pickin'! This one was to celebrate Anika Kreider's 1st Birthday. . . more or less.

Birthday Girl

Have Her Cake

After the pickin', we headed back to the coast, making another weekend trip to the ocean; Fort Macon beach again.

T Sea

A Long Day at the Beach

A few more "normal" days at home and the pool, and it was back to school time.
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