Michael's Blog

Archive: 2021

Drawing With Light

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For the past few months, I've been taking a dive into film photography. It started when I was hanging out with a friend of mine, and he mentioned that he bought an old medium format camera. This sparked in me a great interest which would start me on the path of yet another expensive hobby. Wit the experience of one high school semester of photojournalism more than a decade ago, I decided to take up the art of film photography.

Thankfully, the height of my expenses would not begin immediately. My parents, being incurable pack rats, still had their old film cameras. I dug them out of the closet and began to examine them to determine what kind of repairs I might need to preform. My dad's camera, though in excellent cosmetic condition, had a fatal operational defect. Though the exact cause was not to be known, the mirror would catch on the back of the lens after releasing the shutter. Try as I might, this camera would need a professional's touch. My mom's camera on the other had, while having some cosmetic damage and some debris in the viewfinder, seemed to be perfectly functional. The light meter even seemed to work properly. So, equipped with a functioning camera, I set out to buy a roll of film (a challenge in it's own right in the current year)

And now to break with this weird narrative writing style. I don't know what prompted that, but you shan't have to endure it any longer. The camera I ended up with is a Minolta SRT201, a fully manual 35mm camera from around the 1970s. The only electronic part in it is the light meter. As stated earlier, the camera is fully operational, though I intend to clean the viewfinder and replace the light seals after I'm done shooting the current roll of film. Finding film to shoot in a brick & mortar store was a bit rough. I ended up finding a 3-pack of FujiFilm Supria X-TRA 400 at CVS. Walmart had a spot for Kodak UltraMax, but no film on the shelf. I've gone back since then, and they just have the Supria 400 now. Unfortunately, there are no camera stores in my vicinity, otherwise I would have gone there. I also found a few rolls of expired Walgreen's branded film in my parents' camera bag which might yield some interesting effects.

I've now shot one roll of the Supria 400 and one roll of expired Walgreen's film. Being the way that I am, I decided to process the film entirely at home. This involves two major steps: developing and scanning. The developing process is actually quite straightforward. It's a little different for color vs black and white, but it's well documented and not too difficult at all. Since I've been using color film, I decided to purchase the CineStill C41 developer kit. I did not buy their temperature control system, because I already own a sous vide machine. The equipment required for home developing is pretty universal: a light-proof tank, a changing bag, a timer or stopwatch, and nitrile gloves if you care about getting chemicals on you. For color developing you'll also need some way to keep the chemicals at the right temperature, like a warm water bath. I used the aforementioned sous vide machine. Then it's just a matter of putting in the chemicals in the right order for the right amount of time. Color processing technically has an extra bleaching step vs black and white, but, in CineStill's formulation, the bleach and the fixer are combined into a single "blix" step. Anyway, I developed the roll of Supria 400 that I bought, and, as far as I can tell, nothing went too horribly wrong. I did drop the developed film on the floor a couple of times, but there was only a little damage. I'll try not to do that next time.

For the scanning step, there are a couple of options for home scanning. The Traditional method involves a high-resolution flatbed scanner. These tend to be quite expensive, and they don't often play along too nicely with free software systems. The other method, which I decided to employ, is called DSLR camera scanning, and it's exactly what it sounds like. You basically take a picture of you film with a digital camera. I read somewhere that the amount of information in a frame of 35mm film amounts to between 12 and 14 megapixels, so you can get away with a pretty inexpensive camera. I bought a used Canon EOS Rebel T2i which has an 18mp sensor. It also has mirror lock up which is a nice way to reduce vibrations. You don't want to use just any old lens, though. A macro lens with at least 1:1 image representation (true macro) is best. You also want a relatively short focal length. I made the mistake of buying a lens with a very long focal length. It turns out that lenses with longer focal length also have a longer minimum focusing distance, so I ended up with my tripod extended to its maximum height and the film on the floor, a very difficult to use setup.

After you've got your film developed and scanned into your computer, you're going to want to convert your negative into positive image. There are many different pieces of software you can use to accomplish this. I chose to use darktable since it's free software, and it's "negadoctor" module seems to work quite well. There's also a plugin for Gimp for converting film negatives, but I haven't looked too much into it. I'm not sure how well Gimp handles raw image files, either. I'm not going to get into the ins and outs of converting negative. I only know the basics, and I don't think I'm very good at it yet. I've managed to get a couple of images to come out looking right, but I don't know if that's due to poor exposure, poor developing, or poor use of software. Time will tell as I get better at all three of those.

I plan on buying a better macro lens which will at least make the scanning process easier, if not make my scans sharper. I also intend to switch to primarily black and white film, in part, because the film and the chemicals are cheaper than color, but also because I find myself artistically attracted to black and white. I see a lot of things that make me think "I want to shoot that in black and white," and I think there are many situations where color doesn't really add to the composition and may even hurt the final picture.

And now for the moment none of you have been waiting for: I've added a gallery page to my website where you can view selected images I have created. Don't get too excited yet; it's not that good. This first roll in particular was mostly shot before I actually read anything about composition, lighting, exposure, etc. I don't know if I'll ever produce "good" photography, but I will at least improve, and my progress will be visible in my gallery.

P.S. I don't read my blog posts before I post them.

Sun, 30 Oct 2022 22:18:35 -0500

Bottling my mead

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A few months ago, I started up my first batch of mead. The process was really simple; just honey, water and yeast is all you need. I also added some yeast nutrient to help the yeast get started quicker, but that's not strictly necessary. The specific ingredients are as follows:

I mixed up the yeast and the FermFed in a little bit of warm water, and then I mixed up the honey and the water in a gallon jug. It takes some effort to get all the honey dissolved, but it will all dissolve. I then pitched the yeast mixture into the honey water (this is properly called must). Lastly, I put an airlock on the jug and put the jug in my wine fridge (set to 65F) to let it ferment. After two months, the fermentation had stopped enough that it seemed ready to transfer into another container for aging. You don't really want the mead to be sitting on the sediment layer (called the lees) since it can impart some yeasty flavors. It sat in secondary for three months until today when I bottled it (this is generally considered the minimum amount of time to age a mead).

The mead came out very well. It was a bit sweeter than expected. I had a starting gravity of 1.094 and a final gravity of 1.010 which makes for about 11.2% ABV. I had expected it to ferment to dryness (FG < 1.000), and I don't quite remember the ratio of honey to water necessary to achieve this. More research is required. I ended up with seven 16oz bottles of which I intend to draw out my consumption so I can see how it changes as it ages further.

Here's a low quality image for no real reason:
Mead

Tue, 19 Jul 2022 22:58:17 -0500

New and improved guestbook

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The new guestbook is now up and running. Like the old one, it's written in perl. This time I've put in captcha to help prevent botting. I also have entries stored in a tsv file instead of going straight into the html. This makes it much easier to do pagination which is another new feature in this guestbook. It also makes it easier to delete rule-breaking posts. Later on, I intend to implement a review system which will keep posts hidden until approved. I've already got email notifications for the guestbook, and I think I can make it so that I can just reply to the notification to approve a post. Check it out and give it a signature.

Mon, 18 Jul 2022 13:24:13 -0500

Transmogrifying into a cyclist

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Okay, so I've fallen into the trap which besets every aspiring "blogger" of not actually writing ever. To address that, I'm going to significantly lower my standards for what deserves to be written about. Instead of waiting to have a real full article to write, I'm just going to write stuff in parts: whatever's going on at the moment. That out of the way, I'll get on the actual topic of this article.

I bought a bike. For whatever reason, I've decided it's a good idea to start riding a bike to work. Actually, it's not whatever reason; it's several legitimate reasons. The first and most important reason is that I really need the exercise. At this point, I'm not even sure I can make the 3.3 mile trip to my workplace, and that's really bad. I'm going to work my way up for probably a week or two and then start with riding to work once a week, then twice a week, then thrice, etc. until I'm up to riding to work every day. The second reason is gas. It's honestly not that much of a deal since the bulk of my gas goes toward my weekly half-hour commute to church, but every little bit helps, I guess. I did the math, and I would save about $400/year at current gas prices if I were to bike to work exclusively. That figure will increase with gas prices.

Ah, and I suppose you might like to know what bike I got. Since bikes are so expensive these days I decided to get a used bike on eBay. I ended up going with a Specialized Crossroads XP from about '94 or '95. It seems to be in pretty good shape, but it will need a tune up. I'm also going to be adding a rear rack for panniers and trigger style shifters. I rode it around a bit, and the grip shifters are just a pain. I might need to get new wheels on account of my bulk, but that might be an expense for a later date. My hope is I'll be able to lose enough weight before the wheels become an issue.

My bicycle research also brought me down a rabbit hole of bike infrastructure and urban planning. That may be a topic for a future article, but I can sum up my feelings on the matter: I hate American cities, I hate suburbs, I hate cars, I hate stroads. I really think the car-dependent infrastructure of American cities is a major component of my disdain for cities in general. Maybe cities wouldn't be so bad if they were actually human oriented and people cared to make them beautiful.

Sat, 25 Jun 2022 03:09:04 -0500

New web button

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Just a quick update. I've made a new 88x31 button for my site. I think the new one fits my current stylistic preferences better. You can still use the old one if you like, but if you want the new one, here it is:
Michael C

Tue, 22 Mar 2022 22:38:42 -0500

Tech Mitigation

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In yet another step toward terminal neo-luddism I have greatly simplified my website. I've removed a lot of images, simplified some structures, and removed all CSS and styling. This is to several ends. I like the simplicity of it; I want the site to look good in text-mode browsers; I don't think the web should be titillating to any significant degree. Because I am a neo-luddite tech hipster, I've decided switch to XHTML for most of my pages. Supposedly there are performance benefits, but I mainly like it because it requires strict and clean code.

I've also removed all of my Stray Thoughts blogs. The Stray Thoughts project served its purpose to help me leave Twitter, but I don't really need my immature, scatterbrained, unfiltered thoughts to be out on the web. I'd like to give more attention to this blog and develop some writing skills.

I've made a couple of changes to my computing practices, as well. In order to improve my sleep schedule and my attention, I've switched to a dumbphone. I was spending way too much time listening to podcasts in bed, and I was often distracted during the day by Twitter, messaging, and games. I picked the Sunbeam F1 Orchid. Sunbeam is a small company, and they seem to have a decent enough mind for privacy (cell phones are inherent tracking devices, but every little bit helps). The Orchid model has navigation and weather. I'm not sure if I'll use these, but it's the same price as the less featureful models, and I like having the option.

Finally, I've moved my computer out of my bed room. I'm hoping this will help me use the computer less. At the very least, It will make my bed room a more focused space to be used for sleep, dressing, and prayer.

I'm hoping to take some more steps into minimizing my computer use. I may even go back to living in the framebuffer on my laptop (I did this for a time a few years ago with reasonable success, though web browsing is difficult). I'd really like to use a web browser only when necessary. RSS reader, email client, youtube-viewer, etc. Basically, the modern web is evil and should be used as little as possible.

Mon, 21 Mar 2022 19:09:01 -0500


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