29 August 2006

Simply Amazing!

The first time I was in Italy was the fall of 2002.

I was happy to see that when we were back in Italy again, in April this year, my bike was still there, where I left it.


That's like 3 1/2 years!

And the tires still had air in them!

20 August 2006

Another Fun Toy

If you have spent any time at all looking at my Flickr photostream, you may have noticed that many (405 as of now) of my photos have a link in the description that says something like "See where this photo was taken" or "fly to this location". Clicking this link will show you via Google Earth or Google Maps (depending on the link) the location I was standing when I took the picture. The satellite imagery in some parts of the world is amazing. This all works by adding "geotags" to the images, which is a just a nifty way to add the location from a GPS to the Flickr tags so that the various tools out there can read the information and display the map location.

It is sometimes a chore to add the tags, but there are various tools out there that make it very simple. For example, I find aemkei's Flickr geotagging bookmarklet almost scary in its simplicity (assuming the satellite imagery for the area in question is good).

This morning I even wrote a shell script that will automatically add the geotags to the JPEG files I upload to flickr, as long as I had written GPS data to the RAW file that the JPEG came from. To be honest, the shell script I refer to is actually quite simple now. It started out being quite complex, but as I pored over the man pages of exiftool, and absorbed the significance of the options (the many excellent examples help!), I realized that 98.39857% of the functionality I need is already built into exiftool! (Exiftool is definitely the coolest EXIF viewer & editor I have found. It does everything I have ever thought of, and more!)

Anyway, that is an extremely long intro to the cool new toy I discovered. I have always wanted a dynamic tool to display these geotagged photo locations together on a map, and, even better, to see geotagged photos other than my own as well. I finally found one worth talking about! The tool is still in development, so as of now it will show only the last 50 photos. In order to see more now, you have to zoom into specific areas of the map. Assuming your browser window is the same size as mine, here are a couple examples to try:
Everything around where I call home.
Eastern Germany, parts of Poland & the Czech Republic (Note: watch this space!)
Southern France, Italy & Switzerland
Belgium, Northern France, Southern England
My brother's geotagged photos

Isn't that cool?

15 August 2006

Photo Published

I was just asked for the use of one of my photos in a small news sharing web site. It's nothing big, but it's something!

Here's the story. My photo is of the squash in a market, not the baby covered in it.

11 August 2006

The Hottest Lens. Ever.

When Nikon introduced their 18-200mm/3.5-5.6 G IF ED AF-S DX VR lens to the world, I, like many other people, thought that it was too good to be true. How could an 11x zoom be any good? Something like 5 months later, I had read enough reviews of this lens and saw enough great pictures from this lens that I decided it is actually a nice lens, and a technnological marvel. Normally when I go out to take pictures, I take two lenses with me, a wide angle zoom and a medium telephoto zoom. With this lens, I could have more zoom range than both of these two combined with less weight than the lightest of the original two. So I started to look for one. At the time, they were scarce in both the US and Germany. However, when we were in the States in January, I found a camera shop with one in stock. I thought about it, but the price was quite a bit higher than I thought it should be. These suckers were in demand, and the shops invoked the laws of supply & demand directly from the textbooks.

I searched around here in Germany for a while, and eventually stumbled upon an online shop that had excellent customer reviews, a low price, and seemed more believable that the others when they said that they would have it soon.

So, on March 5th, 2006, I placed the order. They quoted two weeks. A day or so before the original date, I got an email that apologized profusely and told me that Nikon just wasn't giving them stock. Based on what I was reading in the varous forums I frequent, this was nothing unusual. So I waited it out. For the first couple months I would get an email - from a real person even, not some form letter - telling me that they still didn't have it in stock. After the 2nd full month, they offered to cancel my order if I wanted. The supply wasn't better in the US or Germany or the couple places I checked in France or the UK. Nikon just couldn't crank these babies out fast enough for the demand. So I kept waiting.

In fact, I stopped worrying about it. Every once in a while I would pine for it, or make some comment to Jeannette about how if I had that new lens, everything would be different on these glorious sunny summer days.

Out of the blue, on July 31st, I got an email telling me that my order could no longer be cancelled because it would ship soon. Woo hoo!

A few days later, almost 5 months to the day after ordering it, I picked it up from the post office. And the weather has been absolute crap ever since. So instead of castles and jousting knights and stuff, I had to take pictures of the box.

10 August 2006

Photo Editors Suck

So this week, the 80th annual "Unterländer Volksfest" is going on. For those of you that don't know what the "Unterländer Volksfest" is, imagine if you took someting, and put it on steroids, you would get Oktoberfest. That something would be the "Unterländer Volksfest".

Anyway, the local newspaper has had a photo contest during the Volksfest. The prizes for the winner are not huge - two free beers and chicken dinners at the fest - but they are asking for your best shots during the festival. They make it really easy to submit photos, and, theoretically, I could dump 7000 photos per day to their site. At the moment, 4 days into contest, they have a mere 28 submissions.

Now before I start my bitching rampage, let me mention that the entire month of June and July were sweltering, way above average temperature and below average rain. When August rolled around, the temperature dropped so much, and we have had so much rain, that in my opinion, the first week & a half of August has balanced out the entire months of June & July to make, in average, a very pleasant summer here in Heilbronn.

So, what I am trying to say, is that the weather has been crap. So maybe that is why the submissions to the photo contest have been so low. Because people just aren't going to the fest. But I submitted several high class photos (in my humble opinion) to the contest, and what wins instead? Every single one of the winners is some baby climbing on some carnival ride. I would be impressed if the baby was climbing on "the slasher" or "the thrasher" or "the masher" or some other violently-named ride ending with "er", or even the baby bumper cars, where 2/3 of the kids ride with daddy, but at least there is a little action. But no, the pictures are always of little, possibly cute (usually not), kid standing on the place where he/she/it should be sitting, said seat-cum-loitering violation is atop a halfway decent plastic rendition of a catepillar, snail, sloth, slug, turtle, glacier, tectonic plate, or other object that moves slower than the bums passed out on the bench by the river outside our apartment. Three friggin' days in a row. I don't even care about the free beer. Just tell me that my pictures aren't better than that. At least one of them. If nobody says so, I will sell my photo equipment and never take a picture again, because it would mean that I suck or that cameraphone snapshots of dorky kids on dorky rides are better than the drivel that I make.

This guy has a fricking FIRE on his head. Tell me that isn't more exiting than a baby on a hollowed out fiberglass spider man.

This woman carried seven beers and a bottle of water 100 meters to our table without crying. She didn't even whimper. Or break a sweat. And she went back and did it again several times for other tables. These dorky babies that are winning contests can't even sit on a plastic idealized dinosaur without bursting out in tears.

If I was a better photographer, I would have composed the breathalyzer girl a bit better. She was posing for me, so I could have taken my time. I would have preferred to get more of the mini-skirt with knee-high boots effect. But I like the guy in the background checking out her ass. This picture has style. Anyone could take a picture of a toddler on a toad with a seatbelt. That's like shooting fish in a barrel.

Sure, I'm biased. It is a picture of Jeannette. But she is drinking a beer that is bigger than these lame-o babies. That's got to be good for something. Besides, at least I can enjoy the beer if I were to win it. You would have to skip it and buy cotton candy for your whiny brat and then stay away all night as he/she or it berzerko hyperspazzes.

See how I am playing with perspective here? The tower, which is actually a WWII bunker, is nowhere near as tall or big as the ferris wheel. But because of my clever technique, I made it look that way. But No! The little baby that can stand up on a ride that just stopped is a better picture! He/she/it probably can't even say perspective. How's that for perspective?

I wasn't even prepared and I got this nice fireworks picture and Jeannette thinks it looks great. Try doing that with your cameraphone.

This is my example of how corny the Volksfest is. See, I even work puns, of all things, into my photos. But hey, your baby crawling on a little fake car ride trumps that. I'm sorry I even tried.

OK, so everyone has seen a ferris wheel. I tried to see it a bit differently. It could be better - like if I had lined up the wheel so it would have met the corner of the image. But you can't deny that the colors are absolutely fantastic. What? Your kindergartner sitting on the fake tractor backwards waving at random people is better? Oh, sorry I even tried.

No, I'm not bitter. Maybe I should just take pictures of cats. They always seem popular.

Indian. In a Can.

So, we have bee-yotched and moaned several times about the lack of a good Indian restaurant in Heilbronn. Actually, we had two excellent ones for a couple months, but they opened within a week or two of each other, lasted about a month, and closed within a couple weeks of each other. I guess good ol' HN can't support two new non-Turkish, non-Chinese/Thai restaurants in the same timespan. They were good. They knew how to make something hot yet still so tasty that you keep shovelling it in. And that is a challenge in the land of negative food heat that is Germany.

The long-standing Indian restarant is just a few steps from our house. OK, call it 1.5 US blocks. Anyway, we went there once and the food was bad. I always say, I think the only spice they use is salt. It just wasn't good. We gave it a second chance, in case the normal cook was sick or on vacation or something. Same deal. So we wrote it off. But it always has a crowd inside. I just want to crack open the door and tell everyone that they wouldn't know good Indian food if it popped up 3 times a year in a can at discount grocery store Aldi!

Thing is, it does.
And we took advantage of it today.

Too bad they don't have much variety. But it is better than the salty crap we would otherwise be able to get. *

Gettin' The Indian Fix

* Strangely enough, there are at least two pizza delivery services in town with "fast food" Kormas and Vindaloos. They are pretty decent too. Too bad their burritos and tacos** blow.

** Yes, edible Mexican food is also the proverbial needle in a haystack here in Heilbronn, too.

06 August 2006

Dragon Boats '06

Like Last Year, Jeannette was on the company's dragon boat team. And also like last year, I took a bunch of pictures. Unlike last year, the races were not part of the Neckarvergnügen since that festival only happens every 4 years. Instead, it was part of the 4. Böckinger Drachenboot - Cup und Käthchen - Cup 2006. To you, gentle readers, it doesn't mean much. But to us, it meant that the races weren't outside of our window like last year. Instead they were along a stretch of the Neckar in Böckingen, far enough from home that we had to hang out there between races. Which wasn't too bad, since they had the whole fest thing going on (which means food & drinks were readily available), but the weekend of the races was the first weekend in our 2+ month heat wave, so it was not that fun being out in the sun for 6 hours. Redheads don't react to that very well.

Jeannette's team didn't do the best, but they weren't bad either. All in all, it was fun for everyone. Here are a couple of my favorite pictures from the day.

Paddle-Up Team is Winning
Jeannette's Team is Winning at this point.

Jeannette hard at work.

One of the professional teams

I like the expression of the girl in the center. She looks quite tired.

Jeannette's team just won the heat, and the drummer boy knows it and is quite happy.

The drummer for this team of nurses was drumming on a bedpan instead of the drum. She was quite disappointed to learn of their loss.

Pink Castle of Karlsruhe

Schloß Gottesaue

On June 10th, we were in Karlsruhe. I was a bit nervous about going, because earlier this year I was there and I broke my camera. I hoped I wouldn't do a repeat performance of that last time.

We had three goals for this visit:
1) Go to the Indian buffet we saw the last time. Since high quality and tasty Indian food is hard to find in Heilbronn, we seek it out when we leave town (see: Chaos theory: Some differences between Germany and France).
2) Find a nice 80th birthday gift for Jeannette's Grandmother to give from Jeannette's dad (since he couldn't make it, being in America and all).
3) Take some pictures of the nice castle-cum-music school Schloß Gottesaue.

All three goals were completed without a major hitch.

And, in case you were wondering, eventually I got my old camera and lens fixed. It cost 300 euros (almost $400!) to repair. Ouch.

Heilbronn Vintners' Cooperative Tour

Genossenschaftskellerei Heilbronn Wappen

On June 5th, a holiday here in Germany (another Something to do with Cheeses holiday), the Genossenschaftskellerei Heilbronn was having a big party and they were giving tours of their winemaking facilities. So Jeannette and I decided to ride our bikes to the Weinberge outside of town and check it out.


Wine Barrel

Fancy Faß

It was a good fest, and we saw some nice stuff on the tour. Lots of shiny vats. Nice wine-stained oak ageing barrels and other fancy things.

Heilbronner Shipyard

On the way there, I couldn't resist taking a picture at the shipyard. I dunno why I like it so much.

Short Updates

Since I haven't been doing a good job keeping you updated about what's been happening in my life for the last couple months, I will fill in the blank spots as best as I can with some short bits of info.

I'll try to be better about keeping up to date in the future.