February 05, 2006

Nothing To See Here

Posted by Will Duquette at 07:50 AM

Remember, this incarnation of The View From The Foothills is dead.
Long live The View From The Foothills!

February 03, 2006

Moving the Movable Type...

Posted by Will Duquette at 09:53 PM

...to WordPress. My webhosting service now provides automatic installation of the WordPress blog software, and (woo-hoo!) automatic upgrading as well, when new versions of WordPress come out. At lot of folks seem to having good luck with WordPress, so I'm going to give it a try.

So...move along with me to the new address of The View From The Foothills! (Don't forget to update your blogrolls and bookmarks!)

Oh, and I've copied all of the posts from here over to there. So there's really no reason to come here anymore.

Mary, the Human Fly

Posted by Will Duquette at 08:05 PM

My youngest kid, Mary, is nearing two years of age, and she's finally beginning to talk so that we can understand her. That's a good thing.

When she's stuck in the toy room, which is not infrequent as it's a safe place for her to be, she tends to complain verbally. You'd think I'd be used to this. Nevertheless, I still find it a bit disconcerting to hear a high-pitched little voice wafting from the toy room saying, "Help me! He-e-e-e-elp me!"

February 02, 2006

Ship of Magic, by Robin Hobb

Posted by Will Duquette at 06:40 PM

This is the first volume of Hobb's Liveship Traders trilogy, which is set in the same world as the FitzChivalry Farseer books. Between the Six Duchies and Jamaillia, far to the south, lies the Rain Wilds and on their edge the Cursed Shore--a stretch of coast long avoided by ships. To land there is to court madness; and the water from the Rain Wild River sometimes runs with acid that will burn through a ship's hull.

Some time in the past, a band of desperate emigrants from Jamaillia came to the Rain Wild River, and endeavoured to settle there despite all of the difficulties. Today their descendants live in Bingtown on Trader Bay, near the mouth of the river; it said that anything that is can be purchased in Bingtown. There are many mysteries in Bingtown, but the greatest involves wizardwood, and the liveships that are constructed from it. Such ships are always more nimble than normal ships, and after generations of service such a ship actually comes to life and can assist with its own sailing. Each liveship belongs to one of Bingtown's Old Trader families; a liveship will only serve willingly if a member of "their" family is on board.

The action centers on the liveship Vivacia, newly come to awareness on the death of her third Captain, Ephron Vestrit. By rights her third captain should have been one Althea Vestrit, Ephron's daughter; but Althea's family judged her not ready and passed Vivacia to Althea's sister, to be captained by Althea's sister's husband Kyle Haven. Kyle is an experienced captain; but he's no Bingtowner and has no appreciation for the odd creature that is a Bingtown liveship. Much trouble will ensue from his foolishness. Trouble for him, trouble for Althea, and trouble for his despised son, Wintrow, a priest-in-training, who is forced to join Kyle on his voyage since Kyle is not of the blood of the Vestrits and Vivacia requires such a one.

Outwards of the Cursed Shore lie the Pirate Isles, where those who are unwelcome in any of Jamaillia, Bingtown, or Chalced scratch out an existence preying on merchant shipping. One such, Kennit Raven, is working to unite the Pirate Isles under his own rule. Kennit is a shallow man, a foolish man, but an extremely lucky man--he will do anything to see his ambitions realized, he will ride the moment like a surfer no matter where it carries him. One of the pleasures of the book is the increasing discrepancy between how Kennit really is, and how he is perceived due to his actions.

In short, this is a complex book with a cast of thousands, lots of complex relationships, and pots of action. I had to read it slowly; as always, Hobb is extremely hard on her characters, and small doses go down better. It's ultimately rewarding, though, and I'm curious to see how it all plays out.

Golden Fool, by Robin Hobb

Posted by Will Duquette at 06:14 PM

This, the sequel to Fool's Errand, is possibly my favorite Hobb to date...possibly because Hobb's hero, FitzChivalry Farseer, finally seems to be gaining some wisdom. The book advances the plot tolerably well for the middle book of a series, and leaves me quite curious to know how the story turns out.

One word of caution: there are some spoilers in this book for Hobb's Liveship Traders trilogy, of which I'd only read the first volume when I read Golden Fool; The Liveship Traders books are still in print, and you probably should read them all before this one.

February 01, 2006

Ex Libris Reviews

Posted by Will Duquette at 07:25 PM
The February Issue of Ex Libris Reviews is now on-line. And Craig Clarke is back with us after a short hiatus in which he became a new father. Happy reading!

January 31, 2006

Photografee

Posted by Will Duquette at 09:17 PM

A reader sent me links to a couple of articles on digital photography from a webzine called TidBITS. The first compares oil painting techniques with photography, and talks about how to enhance photos in similar ways in Photoshop; the second talks about getting the best color and sharpness out of color printers.

I've read both; all I've got to say is, the author is an ardent perfectionist and knows far more about either topic (and the pitfalls of each) than I'm quite comfortable with knowing. For the brave, TidBITS has at least one other related article (and possibly more than one) by the same author.

Sunlit Fountain

Posted by Will Duquette at 08:38 PM
Sunlit Fountain
Sunlit Fountain,
originally uploaded by will.duquette.
I went for a walk at Descanso Gardens on my way home from work today, and thereupon walked straight into this: the setting sun shining through trees into a fountain of water. Even a novice can see a good scene when it whacks him on the head with a two-by-four. I took a bunch of pictures, of which this is the best.

Do look at the larger sizes; it's well worth it.

Let There Be Light!

Posted by Will Duquette at 08:34 PM
Let There Be Light!
Let There Be Light!,
originally uploaded by will.duquette.
I found this while out walking the other day. It's a manhole cover of some kind, but it's a lot bigger than most; it says "C OF G" on the other half, which I presume stands for "City of Glendale". The recess around the word "LIGHT" was already full of light-colored gravel when I came across it; I liked the contrast between the dark letters, the light gravel, and word "light" itself.

If I were to print this, I'd crop it down a bit, so as to lose the fragment of letter in the upper right corner; and in retrospect I really should have moved the stick in the lower left.

Understanding Digital Photography, by Bryan Peterson

Posted by Will Duquette at 06:49 PM

The reviews at Amazon didn't lie; this is a fabulous book. Whereas most books I've seen on digital photography are mostly about using Photoshop, Peterson's book is mostly about how to take good pictures. There's a slim section on using Photoshop at the back, 40 pages out of 160 total: the basic clean-up steps Peterson does with most photos, and a few advanced techniques for composing multiple photos into a single image.

Other than that, the book is all about taking pictures with digital cameras--that is, on the photographic aspects of taking pictures with digital cameras. Peterson assumes the reader is both reasonably serious about photography and capable of reading an owner's manual. He doesn't tell you how to set the aperture using your particular camera's controls; instead he tells you why and to what, depending on what you're looking to accomplish. On the way he covers issues of exposure, composition, depth-of-field and the like; how to stop motion and how to emphasize it; how to shoot vast landscapes and intimate portraits; when the light is best and how to make the best use of it; what to do when conditions are just wrong; shooting at night and during the day; and on and on. He has a boundless and infectious enthusiasm for his subject, and the book is filled with gorgeous pictures, tips, tricks, and suggestions.

Peterson generally assumes the reader will be using a Digital SLR with multiple interchangeable lenses and an external flash, and consequently some of the things he discusses don't apply in my case. I won't be switching between a wide-angle and telephoto lens, for example. Most of what he has to say applies in either case, though, and where there are important differences--e.g., the effect of specific apertures on depth-of-field--he's careful to explain how it works in both cases.

In short, this is a fun book to read, and useful as well; and Peterson's enthusiasm is infectious as to be a real inspiration. It's not all pie-in-the-sky, either; I'm already taking better pictures than I was. Highly recommended.

January 29, 2006

Photographic Composition, by Tom Grill & Mark Scanlon

Posted by Will Duquette at 06:44 PM

As has no doubt been abundantly clear over the last week, I've got a new camera, and I've aspirations to learn how to use it properly. One of my friends at work is seriously into photography--which is to say, he's utterly nuts--and he's going to be helping me along. In the meantime, of course, any new hobby is a good excuse to go shopping for books. Unfortunately, finding good books on photographic techniques proved difficult.

The Photography section at the first store I went to (a Borders) consisted mostly of large expensive "art" books and coffee table books containing beautiful pictures from various cities and countries. While a careful study of many of these would undoubtedly benefit a serious student of photography, I'm hardly at that level. This particular store also had a "Digital Photography" section, grouped with the computer books. It consisted almost entirely of books which show you how to use Photoshop to overcome your non-existent photography skills. I saw nothing with an emphasis on how to take a good picture.

I went from there to a large independent bookstore. It has a large section on the arts, including architecture and photography, and I had high hopes. The situation was indeed somewhat better: the books were at least organized by type. There was a large section of books collecting photos by one or another photographer; a second of monographs by photographers; and a third consisting mostly of fashion photography with two whole shelves of books on photographic techniques. I didn't see anything I liked, though.

A couple of days later I went to a third bookstore, another Borders. They had a relatively small photography section, but--wonder of wonders--they had many books on photographic technique. There were a few that were specifically aimed at digital photography; most of those were, again, more about Photoshop than about taking good pictures. But I did find one book that appeared to be exactly what I was looking for: Photographic Composition, subtitled "Guidelines for Total Image Control through Effective Design". Published by Amphoto, it covers all aspects of photographic composition, with lots and lots of example photographs.

I've since read the book cover-to-cover, and anticipate reading through it once or twice more, a little bit at a time--it's a difficult book, but the subject is sufficiently complex that it will take time and repetition to fully digest it. I'm glad I bought it, and expect to learn quite a bit from it.

The book is not perfect, however. The authors take their subject (and, I suspect, their photographs) a little too seriously. Every Photograph Must Make A Statement, and every aspect of the photo's composition must contribute to that Statement. They give some examples towards the end of the book; taken after one of the authors returned from serving with the Peace Corps in Brazil during the 1960's, they are all about his alienation with America as he found it on his return.

Gag me.

On top of that, the authors appear to prefer pictures with a lot of soft focus and without a lot of clear, crisp detail; which I suppose is natural if photography is about making statements rather than taking compelling pictures of interesting subjects. In their defense, of course, they were trying to choose images that illustrated their points without a lot of distracting elements. Possibly, the simplicity of the images stems from their pedagogical style rather than their preferences. Nevertheless, the whole book is weighed down by their serious, portentous attitude. There might be some fun in photography, but you'd never know it from this book.

All that said, Grill and Scanlon manage to explain a variety of basic concepts in reasonable detail, well enough that there are a number of obvious mistakes I hope I won't be making again.

If anyone has a better book to recommend, of course, I'd love to hear about it.