Monday, July 9, 2012

Birthday Number 23

I'd like to just say thank you to everyone who sent me birthday wishes and presents this week.  It was 23 years ago on July 7th that my wonderful mother brought me into this world, and in what would turn out to be befitting of my personality, I saw little motivation to breathe for myself when someone else had been doing it so well for me for the last nine months.  Luckily, that little road-bump was overcome and I've managed to make a respectably good ado of my first 23 years hanging out around here.

Due to my trip to Dallas and getting back 10AM PDT on my birthday, my family was kind enough to give me a mulligan and we celebrated my birthday on Sunday instead.
The highlight of the day was my favorite - a flourless chocolate cake.  If you get the feeling that it looks like a giant block of dense fudge, don't panic - that is because it really does turn out like a dense block of fudge, and that is awesome.  Of course, it never quite slices well, so I figured I'd apply one of my birthday presents (A manual on lumber woodworking) and cut my cake like a lumber mill, because that's just how I roll.
The birthday gifts were numerous, and I would have inevitably missed some, so I'll only talk about those from my sit-down-to-presents proper.
  • A set of 12" interchangeable driver bits, because a holiday just isn't a holiday without hand tools.
  • Code, Petzold: I was keyed onto this book by Larissa, and it is amazing.  In short, it is a book that explains how computers work.  Like, really work, from the ground up, and he does it really well.  He doesn't use strange analogies to explain computers, but really just starts with a flashlight and a relay, and builds on that until by the end of it you understand how a computer really works.  A great introduction to the subject for anyone who hasn't taken a college processor architecture class yet, regardless of your background (This is one of those technical books that even a mother would understand*).
  • The Ashley Book of Knots: Another of the multitude of things that I totally nerd out about in life is knots.  (While in high school, I was passed down the title "Tetris Master," who is the marching band member responsible for over-seeing the weekly loading of the truck with all the band equipment on the way to band competitions.)  The Ashley knots book is actually so definitive, knots are often simply referred to by the number he assigned them in his index. 
    • Understandably, you maybe not be as excited about spending that much on a tome about knots, and may like more written context about each knot than he provides.  A good alternative for the beginner would be The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Knots & Ropework, Budworth, which can be had for <$10 used.
  • Finally, a set of accessories for the Vixia HF R21 camcorder, which I originally got as my graduation gift, and which all of you should appreciate for the positive impact this will have on the video content of future blog posts.
    •  A 32GB SD card - In the remote chance that a mere 10 hours of recording time will ever not be enough.  The Vixia R21 has the awesome feature of supporting 2 SD cards in addition to the 32GB of internal storage, so we decided to populate one slot with the current capacity sweet-spot and leave the second empty while the storage-price knee continues to move up until there is a definite need for it.
    • A set of 34mm filters - The Vixia has a 34mm accessory thread in front of the lens.  Although 34mm is a somewhat rare size, we were able to find the standard UV, FLD, PL set for it.  This set also came with a cleaning kit and a pocket tripod, which I don't need for my typical use-case (Park-n-bark in front of my electronics workbench), but may be handy if I'm every shooting on the road.
      • UV - Ultraviolet filters are used to reduce general hazyness of images by removing the higher colors which we can't see but which effect the camera's sensor.  This filter is also desirable because it is a much cheaper piece of glass than one's lens, so you would typically leave this one on your camera all the time for protection.
      • FLD - This filter is slightly pink, and is used to normalize light from fluorescent lights, which have a color spectrum which tends to make scenes seem oddly lighted and people appear sickly.
      • PL - Polarizing filters are used to remove the glare from reflective surfaces in scenes (water, etc) and add color depth to sky.  My one complaint is that the filter that came with this set isn't circularly polarized, so you do need to be aware of how far your screw it on for best impact.  Higher-quality PL filters will have an adjustment knob to allow you to rotate the polarization independent of the screw thread.
    • 34mm to 37mm Adapter Ring - Unfortunately, since 34mm is a relatively rare accessory size, to be able to use anything other than your basic filter set requires an adapter ring to the next larger "standard" size, which happens to be 37mm.
    • +1, +2, +4, +10 Macro Lens kit - Since much of my recording will likely be very close-up scenes of small electronics, close focal ability is important.  Of course, no reasonable camcorder user ever needs to focus on things 4" from the lens, so Canon didn't design the Vixia to do so.  I, on the other hand, do need to focus on things 4" away from the camera, so these macro lens simply move the focal length of the camera closer to the lens, in +1, +2, +4, and +10 steps, or any combination of such since they can stack. (I would assume these are measured in diopters, but can't find any solid sources on the matter at the moment).  This of course does slightly reduce the quality of the lens stack as a whole, and removes the ability to focus on things far away, since "Infinity" is now a very finite distance from the camera.  The Amazon reviews knocking this trade-off baffle me...
    • A Vented Sun Hood - In the not-entirely-unlikely event I ever end up shooting outside in actual sunlight, being able to keep sun glare off of the lens itself is important to maintain scene quality.  With the step ring and my Vixia zoomed ALL the way out, you can just pick up this hood in the corners of the scene, but simply zooming in a bit solves that at no appreciable expense.
Again, thank you to everyone who sent me birthday wishes and presents; they were all very much enjoyed and appreciated.

* - I say a mother, because using my mother as an example wouldn't be particularly fair; she majored in computer science and worked for HP writing compilers before coming to the realization that dealing with my antics as  a child full-time would be so much more fun than working.

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