Golf and birdies

My golfing friend contacted me this morning and suggested we engage in a friendly COVID-isolation-compliant round of golf this week. (Golf alone or in groups of 2 is allowed under current rules here.) He suggested the pitch-and-putt course where I first learnt to play, and I suggested why not this morning? So we met up there and played 18 holes.

He granted me a handicap of 18, one for each hole, and we played match-play style, to see who could win each hole. And then we decided to jackpot the halved holes, in the style of golf “skins”. As it turned out, my game seems to have progressed to the point where this handicap was a little too generous, as I won 12 1/2 points to his 5 1/2. (And if we’d played standard match play, I won 6 holes to 4.)

On the way home I stopped at my favourite pie shop to get some pies for lunch, and took the opportunity to do some walking around that area for exercise. I also took my camera.

Australian magpie

This is an Australian magpie. Check out the claw on the rear of the right foot.

Australian raven

An Australian raven.

Silver gull

My walk took me past a beach, where there were plenty of silver gulls around.

Australian pelican

And some Australian pelicans.

I didn’t get home until mid-afternoon, and spent most of the rest of it sorting through the photos I’d taken and cataloguing them into my database.

New content today:

Up for the sunrise

Scully woke us up early again, this time at 04:00. Normally she just sleeps through the night until we get up, but not the past few nights. She didn’t sneeze, but was a bit congested. I took her outside for a toilet, which took ages, and got in a bit after 04:30. Scully and my wife went back to sleep, but now I was wide awake again.

I decided to make the most of it and do another sunrise photography session.

Poodle rock

This time I went to North Curl Curl, where there is an ocean pool on a rock shelf, just east of the surf life saving club.

North Curl Curl pool, dawn

I got there well before sunrise, and there was a thin crescent moon in the sky, above where the sun would appear. And yes, as the above photo shows, there is a large rock in the middle of the swimming pool.

Division of water

The pool is separated from the ocean by a concrete wall. The tide was approaching high for the day, and at this time occasional waves crash over the wall and into the pool. The above photo is a long exposure, and the dark patch in the pool on the left is a swimmer.

Heron breakfast time

A white-faced heron flew onto the rock shelf next to the pool, and as I watched it fished a small crab out of the water to eat. I wasn’t quick enough to a get a photo of it eating the crab.

Three worlds

A few minutes later the sun appeared on the horizon and climbed up into the sky. It goes from dark to light really quickly in Sydney.

Dawn laps

Just a few minutes later I had the camera off the tripod and was taking hand-held shots of swimmers in the pool.

Morning swim class

And not long after that about 50 kids arrived for some sort of swimming class. They all did a few laps of the pool and then ran off again.

With the sunrise done, I headed home to process the photos. This was interrupted only by taking Scully to the vet to have her congestion looked at. We have some medication to give her to get her feeling 100% again. Hopefully tonight she’ll sleep through… and I can get a decent night’s sleep.

New content today:

A day out to the north

With my market day cancelled (as mentioned yesterday), I took the opportunity to go on a short day trip with my wife and Scully. We drove north to the outskirts of Sydney, stopping first at the suburb of Berowra, which is secluded in a pocket surrounded by undeveloped bushland. We stopped first at a place named Barnett’s Playground, at the end of a street. Leading from the playground was a short walking track that proceeded to the edge of a steep drop from the ridge down to Berowra Creek far below. Here was Barnetts Lookout (no apostrophe, since designated place names in Australia are decreed to never have apostrophes – the playground, not being a designated place, is allowed to have an apostrophe).

Berowra Creek

After admiring the view for a while we took Berowra Waters Road down the hill to Berowra Waters, a tiny village on the creek. There is no bridge, and the only way to cross the creek is by boat.

Berowra Waters wharf

Scully enjoyed the view too.

Scully checking out Berowra Waters

From here we drove back up the hill and further north to Pie in the Sky at Cowan, a popular roadside establishment that sells meat pies, mostly frequented by motorbike riders taking the narrow, winding old highway north rather than the newer and faster but boring freeway. Here we had lunch (I had one of the chicken, honey, and mustard pies and a Moroccan lamb pie), and also enjoyed the sky-high view east towards the Hawkesbury River and across Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park.

Hawkesbury from Pie in the Sky

Tummies full, we headed back towards home, but stopped one more time, taking an unsealed road into the Muogamarra Nature Reserve. At the end of the road we left the car and took a short walk into the bush. It was peaceful and remote, and we could hear numerous birds flitting around in the vegetation. However Australian scrubland birds tend to be very active and never sit still for very long. But I waited patiently and got a few photos.

Variegated fairywren, male

Variegated fairywren, female

These are male and female variegated fairywrens.

We headed home, and as we drove south the weather closed in and rain fell, fortunately after we were done exploring for the day.

New content today:

Sunrise at the beach

On Friday I set an alarm for 5:45, but I woke up just before 5:30. I got up, had a quick breakfast, and set out for the beach!

Sydney has a lot of beaches, and choosing the right one for a sunrise photo shoot is a matter of weather conditions, tide, time of year, angle of sunrise, personal preference, travel times, and other factors. I used an app – The Photographer’s Ephemeris – to map the direction of the sunrise from a few beaches. One constraint I had was that I had a booking for golf at 8:00 with a friend, at Cammeray Golf Club, so wherever I went I had to have enough time to drive back there, in peak hour traffic, to make tee-off.

The closest beach I could think of was Balmoral Beach, which is not an ocean beach, but a harbour beach, facing the protected waters of Sydney Harbour. I knew that Balmoral has a very small view of the open ocean, threading in between the two sandstone promontories of Middle Head to the south and North Head to the north. I checked The Photographer’s Ephemeris for the direction of the sunrise:

Photographer's Ephemeris for Balmoral sunrise

It was almost perfect! The yellow line to the right shows the direction of sunrise on Friday, and it threads the needle right between the two headlands. Because of the motion of the sun with the seasons, this coincidence probably only happens on a few days of the year. So with a perfect combination of convenience and opportunity, I selected Balmoral as my target. (I did this calculation the night before.)

As I drove to Balmoral before 6 am, I could see stars in the sky. At least it wasn’t raining like last week. I got to the beach and headed down to a small exposed sandstone rock platform, jutting from the sand into the water. The tide was low – at high tide these rocks would be covered with water. The sky was just beginning to lighten, but unfortunately the cloud cover was highly sub-optimal for sunrise photos:

Edwards dawn

There was a dark, thick band of cloud right on the horizon, and barely any cloud in the nearby sky above. This is exactly the opposite of what you want for shooting a sunrise: a clear horizon for the sun to shine through, and lots of cloud above for the golden and red light to bounce off and set the sky ablaze with colour. Oh well, I was here, so I shot what was available.

First light at Edwards Beach

Early morning swimmers and joggers appeared on the scene, providing small points of interest for photos. After a while the tide started coming in, so to avoid being stuck on the rocks and having to wade back, I moved back across the sand and took photos from the path behind the beach. You can see the rocks I had been standing on in the middle of this next photo:

Dawn fisheye

This was also taken with a different lens, a fisheye, for a super wide view. As the sun continued rising, it became light very quickly. I ditched my tripod (I’d been taking exposures up to 30 seconds long), and walked around, taking handheld shots.

Morning kayakers

I packed up about 7:15 and headed to the golf course to meet my friend. We played one round of the 9 hole course, having a lot of fun. It was the first time he’d been to this course, and it has a few interesting holes, which I showed off last time I wrote about it. It had rained – a lot – since that visit, and this time the water feature at hole 6 was full (compare to the third photo on the previously linked entry):

Cammeray Hole 6

Unfortunately this meant we both landed our tee shots in the water! But I had a great tee shot at the par 3 9th hole. My ball landed on the green, pitching just 1 metre from the hole! Although it rolled a fair distance from there and I had a long putt, ending up with 4 strokes. But wow that was a great tee shot.

After golf I went home and worked on those sunrise photos, as well as some comics stuff, before preparing to head out to fortnightly Games Night with friends. We agreed to “socially distance” ourselves to minimise any disease transmission by touching as little as possible and using hand sanitisers, but of course playing board games means some interaction. Still, coronavirus isn’t very widespread here yet and it’s unlikely any of us has been exposed yet, so we felt okay with our level of precautions.

We played some games of the Throne of Eldraine Magic: the Gathering draft that we started a few weeks ago. I had two long games that both stalled with tough creatures on both sides. I ended up losing one, and winning the other, both by narrow margins. After that we split into two groups, one playing Spirit Island with 4 players, while I played Everdell with 3 players. It was a fun game, and I managed to pull together enough constructions and critters to score a lucrative 9 point bonus card, but it wasn’t quite enough – I ended up coming second with 51 points, to the winner’s 54.

New content today:

Housework Saturday

Yeah, not that much exciting today. I cleaned the bathroom and vacuumed the house, changed the bedsheets, all that sort of boring but necessary stuff.

I also spent the afternoon writing and making new Darths & Droids strips, for the start of Episode VII. Which I can’t show you because that’d be giving stuff away early.

Tomorrow morning I’m planning to get up early and head out to the beach to do some sunrise photography. I’ve packed my gear into the car already. I’ll get up at 5:30, grab a quick breakfast, and head out. I haven’t done a sunrise session for a while, and have been itching to go do one. This is a good time of year because it’s still warm, and the sunrise is getting later as autumn progresses, but daylight saving hasn’t ended yet, pushing sunrise back an extra hour. So sunrise tomorrow is a relatively late 6:49. With no traffic, I should be at the beach soon after 6 am, in plenty of time.

The only wildcard is the weather. Tomorrow is forecast to be “partly cloudy”, which is the ideal weather for sunrises, but of course it could be overcast, or rainy, or clear at that time, none of which is good. And there’s no way to tell at 5:30 when it’s still pitch black. You just have to go and hope for the best.

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:

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:

Matting photos…

Saturday began with a round of housework: cleaning the bathroom, vacuuming, refilling the damp absorbers in the wardrobes, cleaning up the kitchen, etc, etc. Then I got stuck into matting photos for my market stall. It’s astonishing how much work is going in to preparing for this. With a few well-earned breaks, by the end of the day I’d matted 40 prints. Only 60 to go…

This evening was a family dinner, for my mother-in-law’s birthday. We went to my wife’s and my favourite pizza place, and had a good time. The owner came out to chat with us for a bit – it’s that sort of place. We noticed his wife wasn’t working tonight, and he said that she’d been laid up with a sore ankle. Hopefully she’ll be better soon.

New content today:

Craft day: greeting card display

I mentioned yesterday that I bought some cardboard to make greeting card displays for my market stall. Today I got crafty and made the displays.

First I had to design what they would look like and how to assemble them.

Greeting card display: part 0

Don’t let anyone try to convince you that you won’t use trigonometry after leaving school. I also had to do coordinate geometry and solve a pair of simultaneous equations, as you can see. My design consists of a rectangular sheet of cardboard, scored and bent into a step-like shape, with extending tabs to slot into triangular side supports on either side. The whole staircase is angled at an angle of θ = arctan(1/4), to provide gently angled steps where the cards can sit and lean back without falling over. The whole stand has four tiers, wide enough to display two landscape format cards side by side.

The step section was the easiest, although I discovered that I needed to score the card a lot deeper than I first thought to get it to fold comfortably.

Greeting card display: part 1

The triangular parts were trickier. I had to cut a triangle and then cut slots for the tabs at the angle θ. Fortunately the new cutting mat I bought yesterday made this easy, because I could place the triangle on it at the right angle, and then rule lines using the grid as a guide.

Greeting card display: part 3

And here’s the completed stand, with some of my cards:

Greeting card display: part 4

It worked really well! And it holds together without any tape or glue, which means I can disassemble it for easy transport as flat pieces. Making one of these took me all morning, and I took a break to go get some lunch up the street at a local fried chicken place.

After lunch… I made a second stand! And that was essentially an eight-hour work day, right there. I did have a bit of time at the end to start matting 30×20 cm prints of some of my photos.

Matting photos

You can’t see it in these photos, but these are really high quality prints on super fine museum quality art paper (Canson Rag Photographique, for those who know their art papers). And the matting really makes the photos look amazing (if I do say so myself). I’ve matted only ten or so prints – I have 90 or so to go. That’ll probably be another half day of work there.

It was a busy and exhausting day! I’ve put a lot of time, effort, and investment into getting ready for this market stall, and gearing up to launch my photography sales. Now I have to see first if I can recoup my investment, and hopefully make some sort of profit.

New content today:

More about yesterday

The other thing I did yesterday was take a trip into the city to pick up a bunch of things. My large photo prints for my market stall were ready, so I went to the printer to pick those up.

I took a walk from Redfern train station to the printer, then from there continued on towards the University of Technology, Sydney, where I was meeting with an old colleague to pick up some games. He started a small game shop business after departing our former employer, but alas competition from large retailers able to cut prices has driven him out of business, and he’s discounting all his remaining stock. So I helped out and picked up the Star Wars: The Edge of the Empire and Force and Destiny roleplaying game books. I would have grabbed Age of Rebellion as well, but he didn’t have that title.

Along the way I stopped to take photos of various things. Around UTS there’s a lovely string of old Art Deco pubs:

The Old Clare

From UTS I walked down Broadway into the centre of the city, passing more Art Deco:

The Great Southern Hotel

Sydney has a lot of Art Deco architecture if you know where to look for it, or if you just keep your eyes open as you walk around. It’s possibly my favourite architectural style, so I always have an eye open for it. There’s also this weird Googie sign at the Agincourt Hotel in Broadway:

Agincourt Hotel sign

Sydney really has an awesome mish-mash of architectural styles. My walk was towards a game shop in the heart of town, where I had a book on order to pick up. When almost there, I passed some more Art Deco:

The Civic

At the game shop I picked up my copy of Original Adventures Reincarnated #3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. I have the first two books in this series, and they’re amazingly cool retrospectives on the original D&D adventures as well as modern updates and expansions. So I’m very keen to start reading this one.

With this huge haul of stuff, I returned home, where I had a quick lunch before leaving for Dick Hunstead’s remembrance function, which I described in my previous entry.

Today, Saturday, I haven’t done much! Some shopping, some housework, a little bit of doing more tasks to get ready for my market day. I took Scully for a run in the park, and then when we got home I gave her a bath, solo. Normally my wife and I cooperate to give Scully a bath, but today I did it for the first time as a solo job.

This evening we went out for dinner to Balmain, a suburb on the southern side of the Harbour, necessitating a drive over the Bridge. We had pizza at a place we hadn’t been to before, and it was amazingly good. We had to sit outside because of Scully, and initially chose a table close to the street, under the sky.

This seemed fine for a while, until the clouds grew very dark and lightning pierced the sky. I checked the weather radar and saw a huge storm front crossing the city, so we hurriedly moved to a table closer to the building, under the awning. As it turned out, the heaviest rain missed us, but we got a moderate burst lasting 20 minutes or so.

Rainy Darling

New content today: