Some comic sketching

This morning I had to make an expedition to the hardware store to buy a replacement fluorescent tube for the kitchen light. It dies a couple of days ago, and last night I had to cook dinner in the dark. Well, not complete darkness, but darker than I would have liked.

On the way back, I popped into my local art supply shop to get some new felt tip markers and drawing paper, because I planned to spend today doing some drawing. This is for a secret project which should be completed tomorrow, and which I’ll announce in the next few days. And drawing was pretty much what I did for the rest of the day.

I also walked past this interesting historical plaque embedded in the footpath near the Royal North Shore Hospital.

North Sydney Brick and Tile Company

I’ve waked past this dozens of times, but only stopped to read it today. The area where this is located is still an industrial zone, but no more brickworks.

New content today:

Coronavirus spooking

Not much to report today. I worked on some comics. And I did some shopping.

The ongoing coronavirus outbreaks around the world seem to have spooked the Australian public. Since the weekend there have been increasing reports of people panic buying various items to stockpile. Health authorities here have been suggesting that it would be prudent to add a couple of cans of vegetables and a maybe an extra bag of flour or pasta or something to the weekly grocery shopping, but not to go overboard.

Today some of my friends reported that at their local supermarkets, there were no supplies at all of toilet paper, long-life milk, rice, hand sanitising gel, and a few other products. In Sydney face masks have been in very low supply for a couple of months already, because so many people bought supplies of those during the bushfire emergency when the smoke pollution was out of hand – so there’s none of those to be had anywhere.

I figured a little prudent stocking up would be sensible and went to my local supermarket today. The only signs I saw were that roughly half the toilet paper and half the rice shelves were empty, but I still easily managed to get a bit of each. But things are distributed unevenly across the city.

I also heard from a neighbour that in another suburb he’d seen people standing by the side of the road selling rolls of toilet paper at inflated prices. So someone’s trying to profiteer from this. It’s crazy that this sort of thing is happening in a first world country like Australia.

What also staggers me is the fact that of all things toilet paper seems to be the thing that everyone wants to buy enormous quantities of. I would have thought, you know, food would be more important in a survival situation.

New content today:

Market day!

Today was the big market day!

I had my very first market stall for my fledgling photography business today. It was a brand new venue as well, for a relatively small local suburban market. They have a regular monthly venue, but were trying this new venue for the first time. So I think the attendance was probably a little lower than could be expected for an established venue.

It ran from 9am to 2pm, and ramped up and then back down in attendance, being busiest just before lunch. There were food stalls outside, so I think that attracted people at lunch time. My stall was indoors, which I was grateful for because it was a warm, humid day.

I had no idea how much business I’d get. I was really only hoping to cover the cost of the market stall itself and make a bit of a profit. I was selling greeting cards, 30×20 cm matted prints ready to frame, and 60×40 cm board mounted prints ready to hang. Here’s my stall after setting up for the day:

Market stall, Laurelbank

A lot of people walked past my stall with a quick glance, rapidly moving on through the other stalls – but that was fine, I expected that. Anyone who let their eyes linger for a few seconds I tried to say hello to, which attracted a few to come closer. Anyone who stopped to look at my products I tried to engage in friendly conversation, letting them know that (a) I was the photographer, and (b) the animals were all photographed in the wild, not in captivity. I settled on this routine after the first few potential customers all asked if I’d taken the photos. I’d thought that would have been obvious given my name on the banner with the legend “Photographer”, but I guess they didn’t know if “the photographer” was the same as the person tending the stall.

Market stall, Laurelbank

My stall had this prime position on the dance floor of the old stately home, which has now been converted into a wedding and function centre. Next to me was a woman selling hand-knitted stuff and tablecloths and napkins and things. At one point she left for a few minutes and I minded her stall – and sold some stuff for her! There was another woman across from me selling washi eggs -I had a chat with her and it was only her second market day.

I had a few good chats with some people as they browsed through the photos. Many complimented me on the photography. Some of the most enthusiastic were children, who loved the animal photos. My first big sale was when a boy, maybe 10 or 11 years old, took a liking to my yellow iguana photo, and asked if he could have a large print for his bedroom. His dad asked where he’d put it, and there was some negotiation, but eventually dad stumped up his credit card for a 30×20 cm print.

I sold a total of 35 greeting cards, and 4 matted prints. I was holding out a hope that one of the large mounted prints would sell, but today wasn’t the day. The sales totalled approximately 4 times my stall rental cost, so that’s good! I made money!

The most popular photo by far was the black and white koala, followed by the elephants. But there were definitely people with a penchant for landscapes, picking a few of the greeting cards of those. Nearly every photo sold a greeting card or two, the most notable exception being the vulture in flight, which I was a bit unsure about myself, but included in the selection when some friends of mine said they’d buy it.

If you consider it to have been one full day’s work – 5 hours active selling, plus an hour each side setting up and tearing down – and I multiply it up to a yearly income, I actually made a pretty decent salary. Of course, I’m not running a market 5 days a week, but at least it’s a decent hourly rate, so I’m pretty happy. I also handed out a lot of business cards, and if even one of those people visits my website and makes an online order, that will make the return pretty respectable.

So, a long way to go and continue working on this, but I’m calling today a success. I have another stall in 2 weeks time, this time at the established venue of this market, so hopefully there will be more people coming through and seeing my stuff.

New content today:

Market readiness

Saturday! One day to the market! So of course I spent time doin last minute preparations. I realised I was planning to go to the bank yesterday to get some change to use as a cash float, and also I needed to get a receipt book, but I forgot. I thought I was in trouble, because banks don’t normally open on Saturdays, but I did some searching and found a few select branches were open, including one a short train ride away.

So I hopped a train a few suburbs over and went to the bank to get a bunch of coins and low denomination notes ready to make change if people buy stuff with cash. And from there it was a 15 minute walk to an office supply shop where I got a receipt book, before walking back and catching the train home again.

This afternoon I spent some more time working on Darths & Droids story planning. And this evening I went out for dinner with my wife and Scully. We drove to a beachside suburb and had a pleasant Spanish tapas dinner looking out at the beach as the sun went down. Very nice.

New content today:

Episode VII story plotting

With this week’s ISO meeting over, I had time today to do other things. This morning I went to the golf course to play 9 holes, hoping not to repeat last week’s disastrous round. And it began promisingly, with decent scores on the first few holes. I even saw an ibis on the greenkeeper’s driveway:

Golfing ibis

On the 6th hole, which is a short par 3 with a very elevated tee off dropping down to a green far below, I got my tee shot very close to the green. Then I did a “chip and roll” shot to get the ball onto the green, and it stopped about 1.5 metres form the hole. And then I sank the putt, for a par! The first time I’ve pared that hole. It felt really good.

I did well up to the 7th hole, where a tree had fallen over during the recent storms we’ve had.

Immovable obstacle

That’s actually the 9th green in the photo. The 7th green is behind me as I took the photo, and the tree must have fallen right onto the green before they cleared it away with a chainsaw.

Then I hit the 8th hole… Oh dear. It took me four strokes to even reach the beginning of the fairway. The ball kept landing in heavy, dewy grass, and whacking it as hard as I could just sent it 5 or 6 metres dribbling up the course to land in more thick grass. I eventually scored 13 on that hole. Oh well. Even with that, my total for 9 holes was still 2 strokes better than last week, which shows just how much better the rest of my round was.

Back home, I spent most of the day working on Darths & Droids. We need to get some sort of storyline planned for the next three Star Wars movies, and finalise which players are playing which characters, and what’s happening in their real lives. So I was busily thinking up plot points and making notes. It’s not quite at a point where I can start writing scripts for individual comics, but it’s a lot close now that it was yesterday.

Tonight, in lieu of our fortnightly Games Night, we had a birthday party event for Steven. It was at a local park, with a barbecue where we cooked sausages, and ate them with bread and salads. It was a nice park, with a lot of cool playground equipment, including a zipline. The kids all had a go, and then I tried it as well, and it was a lot of fun. I also had a climbing race with one of Steven’s daughters up the rope climbing thingy. And I managed to get my hand on the top post a second before she did, so I won!

New content today:

ISO meeting day 3

Day 3 of the ISO photography standards meeting began with more technical presentations and discussions. We heard information about the HEIF image file format, as well as proposals for standardising a high dynamic range (HDR) and wide colour gamut (WCG) encoding format for still images. There exist standards for HDR and WCG in video, but not for still photography yet, so we want to formalise one before manufacturers develop a multitude of competing formats.

We also had a big discussion about how to define exposure for blended images, as I mentioned was an ongoing problem yesterday. An idea raised was to categorise photos by the digital blending techniques used to produce them, so that we can then define different, meaningful exposures for the different categories. This seems to be what we’ll investigate, and some draft proposals will be put forward for the next meeting.

That next meeting is scheduled for June in New York City. My wife and I were planning to travel there, and combine it with a short holiday, but with the coronavirus still spreading we’re going to sit on that decision for a while. It’s possible the New York meeting may also be turned into a mostly virtual meeting.

Apart from the meeting, I took a couple of walks today, just to get away from sitting in front of the computer all day. And… that’s about it. It’s been a busy week – almost like being in a full-time job!

New content today:

ISO meeting day 2

Today was the big technical day of the ISO photography standards meeting that I’m attending virtually. We had presentations and discussions on the topics of standardisation of measurements of camera imaging noise, resolution, autofocus repeatability, depth metrology, image flare, as well as standardisation of Adobe’s DNG file format, and a presentation on new work by JPEG.

Much of it was very technical and probably not very interesting to most people. However the autofocus presentation had some fascinating experimental results. The presenter had at first assumed we could do image statistics to determine the best focused image from a series of photos taken by a camera. Defocus blur smooths out the image, so the variance in the pixel counts is lower, which means that if you measure the variance in a photo (of the same subject, at the same light level, taken by the same camera), then the image with the highest variance should have the best focus.

However, doing an experiment in which he measured hundreds of images, he found that sometimes when the autofocus failed and the image came out blurry, it actually had a higher variance than in-focus images. The reason was that the camera added artificial image noise as an image processing step. The reason it might do this is because it’s known that slightly blurry images look sharper to human eyes if a little bit of image noise is added. So the camera has been designed to add some noise, to fool human users into thinking the photo is sharper than it really is. The result of this is that when a photo is truly out-of-focus, it adds so much noise that the variance ends up higher than an in-focus image. (This was a phone camera that was being tested, by the way, not a DSLR.)

So to make our standardisation of a method to measure autofocus workable, we have to deal with this artificial image noise that some cameras add to the image, and we can’t rely on the image statistics being sensible and based merely on the physics.

This sort of thing is becoming more and more of a problem for us in this work. Measuring the performance of a camera is getting more complicated because of all the post-processing that modern cameras (particularly phone cameras) do to make the image look “nicer”. Even a conceptually simple thing like defining the exposure time of a photo is riddled with complications caused by cameras that take multiple exposures when you press the shutter button, and then combine different parts of different images to produce a composite final image. For example: some areas of the resulting photo might have pixels taken from an exposure with one exposure time, while another area has pixels from an exposure with a different exposure time, while another area has pixels that are an average of two or more different exposures, and then the brightness levels might be adjusted in different ways. At one extreme, there is no single “exposure time” that physically describes what is represented by the pixels across the whole photo, and at the other extreme to fully describe the “exposure” you need to list an array of different exposure times and their blending coefficients for every pixel in the image. While that would be physically correct, it’s obviously impractical. We still haven’t figured out how to address this issue.

Another interesting thing came from the JPEG presentation. JPEG is not just an image format, it’s a large technical committee (separate from the ISO Photography committee), working on a lot of new stuff related to image encoding. Their representative was giving us a report on recent work they’re doing. One thing I thought was interesting is a new project to add privacy controls to images. Say you want to share a photo of yourself on social media, but you don’t want random strangers seeing your face. This JPEG project is working on a way to select a region of a photo (e.g. your face), and encrypt the image data for that region, so that a person without the key can see the background but where your face is it just displays a blurred/pixelated version, but a friend who has your encryption password can see the original photo with your face. (I described this to a friend of mine and he criticised the idea as unnecessary complexity, as there are already ways to achieve basically the same effect without building encryption into JPEG. I’m no expert in file encoding, and I suspect there’s more to it than that, but *shrug*.)

Anyway, this is kind of all I did today – this sort of highly technical stuff. One more day of the meeting tomorrow. There’ll be a bit more technical discussion, followed by administrative stuff. (And I’m not getting paid for any of this…)

Oh, the other thing I did today was go to teach my Ethics class this morning. I had time to do this because the virtual meeting is running on Tokyo time, so it started at 11 am Sydney time. So I had enough time to go teach my class. However, when I was set up and ready to go, and the school bell rang… no students showed up! I had to go find a teacher, and they told me that Year 6 was away on camp this week! So I packed up and headed home. Oh well… next week!

New content today:

ISO meeting day 1

Today was day one of the ISO Photography standards meeting, ostensibly held in Yokohama, but actually connected via teleconference from multiple locations due to the coronavirus travel restrictions and precautions. There was a large group assembled in a meeting room in Tokyo, which acted as the central location, and people (including me) attended remotely from 5 other locations. Tomorrow there will be more attending remotely, as we get stuck into the meat of the technical discussions.

The meeting started at lunch time in Tokyo, so I had all morning free. I started painting the wooden crates that I bought yesterday. I researched a little about painting wood with acrylic paint, and discovered that I should prime the wood first.

So I prepared to go out and went down to the garage, ready to drive over to the hardware store to pick up some primer. While down there, I figured I’d get out the hammer, which I wanted to use to drive a couple of extra nails into the crates to hold a slightly loose slats. I opened the storage cupboard in the garage, and to get the toolbox out I had to move a couple of tins of paint…

One of which was primer! So I aborted the hardware store expedition and returned inside to start work on the crates. Here’s one after priming (I forgot to take a photo of the bare wood before I started):

Crate painting

They’re very nice crates, made of smooth pine wood. They’re “craft” crates, not actual shipping crates for fruit or whatever. And here’s one after the first coat of black acrylic:

Crate painting

I think they’ll need a second coat for a smooth black look. In between coats I matted some more photos. I’ve done about 2/3 of them now. It’s quite labour intensive. The ISO meeting ended at 7:30 pm my time (5:30 Tokyo time). After exercising Scully for a bit outside, it was time to make a late dinner.

New content today:

Shop is launched!

Well today is a big day. I finished configuring my photo site shop and linked it up, so now it’s fully publicly visible.

In other news, I went on another expedition to the hardware store to get a couple of small wooden crates to use as display boxes for the matted photo prints I’ve been working on. They’re a perfect size, and I got some black acrylic paint to make them black to match the colour scheme of the rest of the market stall.

For lunch I had the prettiest bowl of food I’ve eaten for some time:

Açai colour

And the rest of the afternoon I spent preparing for an ISO Photography Standards meeting, which begins tomorrow. It was scheduled for Yokohama, but I wasn’t applying on attending in person, choosing to participate by web conference instead. But with the coronavirus outbreak, the meeting has been converted to a full virtual meeting, with many of the participants attending only virtually. This followed the cancellation of the annual CP+ Camera Show, the largest camera show in Japan, which is what the standards meeting was scheduled around – normally attendees go to the camera show as well. Our next meeting is scheduled for New York City in June, but it may end up being affected by coronavirus as well, depending how the situation develops over the next few months.

So anyway, I’ll be busy with photography standards work for the next three days, and won’t have time for much else.

New content today:

Markets and shops

Today was double market day! There was a local arts and crafts market at The Coal Loader, a historical industrial site on Sydney Harbour’s northern shore, converted into a community centre. My wife and I walked down there with Scully and checked it out. Besides looking at the things for sale, I had a good look at how the various stalls were set up and kitted out, to get ideas for how to set up my own. I noticed that many of the stalls had custom fitted tablecloths on their tables, although some were more free-form or rustic. One stall had a bedsheet as a tablecloth!

On the way home we stopped for lunch, before completing what is a rather long walk from our home and back. Scully was exhausted by the time we got home, and we weren’t far behind.

In the afternoon, I matted more prints, and then this evening I did some final work to complete my web shop. I added shipping costs and tested payments by making an order. Everything seems to be working, and it’s now in a state where I can start taking orders! The last step is to link the shop from my photography website, and to set up some information pages explaining stuff like how the photos are printed and mounted, and how long it takes to ship and stuff like that, but it’s late now and I’ll do that tomorrow.

But if you’re curious to have a look, or maybe even buy a print, you can go to the shop directly using this link. (If you live outside Australia, I can only ship unmounted prints – please don’t order a mounted print – I might need to figure out a way to restrict that option for overseas addresses.) I have eight photos set up as products now, and will be adding more over time.

New content today: