Archive for March, 2012

Org-mode is a great outliner/editor and I’ve been doing all my writing with it. The more I use org-mode the better I like it. But org-mode can’t do everything. BrainStorm excels at rapid sorting, reorganizing and brainstorming. Put org-mode and BrainStorm together and the synergy is terrific.

BrainStorm is a windows only program that I’ve been trying to get running properly on my Linux machine under Wine for almost four years. Wine released a new stable release earlier this month and BrainStorm is finally behaving.

I tried an experiment this morning. I used my portable AlphaSmart Neo for a freewriting session. When I was done, I dumped the file via USB cable to an org-mode file. Then I went through the file looking for interesting ideas, etc. Highlight some text, then press Ctrl-c x and the text is appended to a list in another buffer. When I reached the end of the text, I saved my list and fired up BrainStorm (BS).

Then I merged the list file with the file open in BS and sat down to play. BS has powerful tools for sorting and moving topics around, for creating order out of chaos which is what I did.

Now what? How to get my BS file back into org-mode? I wrote a perl script a few years ago that would take a tab indented file written from BS and create a file that I could load into Lyx (a front end for LaTeX). I spend hours trying to modify that program to translate the BS file into an org-mode file without success. I found a perl script on the old BS bulletin board that was posted there almost six years ago by Tony. His script takes a BS file and translates it so LaTeX understands it.

I took Tony’s perl script as the basis for a new perl script that makes an org-mode file out of a BS tab indented text file. It works! So now I have a two way street and can go back and forth between org-mode and BS.

I have high hopes for the synergy between these two programs. You might wonder what happened with MaxThink. Well, as good as MaxThink was, it’s too old, and has to run in a separate environment. I bought a licence for BS during the summer of 2006 because MaxThink was old and tired then. The reason I resurrected MaxThink was because the behavior of BS under the older version of Wine was quirky enough to keep me away. I’m happy that BS is working nicely now (knocking on wood). Stay tuned for further adventures.

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It’s funny how one discovery can cause a paradigm shift in our thinking, leading to new insights and creative possibilities. My ‘discovery’ of the DigiKam/showFoto refocus plug-in I wrote about last week is a perfect example. I chose a trio of photographs taken on a wonderfully sunny morning in mid-June, 2010 to illuminate (pun intended) my findings. To get the full impact of the photos below, please click to enlarge each of them in turn.

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This photo (and the others in this series) was taken along the Chestnut Branch inside Ceres Park. This was a day when the light came out to play, celebrate, sparkle on the foliage, reflections in the stream — a dance of light and shadow.

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I simply turned the camera from portrait to landscape to change the feel of this second image, from the vertical reach of the trees to the horizontal sweep of Chestnut Branch as it slips around the curve.

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This last photo was taken further upstream after crossing a homemade bridge christened tongue in cheek as the Commodore Barry Bridge by the mountain bikers who built it. It’s a lovely secluded spot with marvelous lighting.

All of the images were taken hand held with my Nikon N8008s, 35mm AF lens and Neopan 400 film rated at ISO 640. I’m sure I published these photos in the past but this time with improved post processing, I got much better results.

I experimented with curves in DigiKam/showFoto but in the end, I returned to the sheer power of the brightness curve transformation in PWP. If you want to get the best out of your images, you must learn how to work with curves and PWP is the best tool in my arsenal.

Rich, textured shadows and brilliant (but not blown) highlights are important but the real key to good B&W printing is in the mid-tones. I didn’t have to do much with these images because I had decent exposures and good scans. I pulled the mid-tones down and to the right.

I liked the platinum tones I got with DigiKam/showFoto but that’s a no choice one click transformation. PWP has a more sophisticated tint transformation that gives me complete control. All I wanted here was to warm my photos just a bit.

All my original scans are large enough for high quality 4 x 6 prints but too large for web display so the next step is to resize. I’ve standardized on 800 pixels for the long dimension for digital display. Any time you downsize an image, you lose sharpness and you must re-sharpen. The trick is to get your images sharp without introducing crunchy over-sharpening. Here’s where PWP and I part company. After downsizing, I converted the 16 bit image to 8 bit and saved it as a new tiff file and exited PWP.

As I mentioned last week, I ‘discovered’ refocus sharpening in DigiKam/showFoto so I loaded each image into showFoto, ran the refocus sharpening, added my watermark and saved the result as a jpeg file. Photos #1 and #2 were re-sharpened with refocus in showFoto.

I learned that the refocus plug-in used in showFoto was ported from the refocus plug-in in the Gimp. Who knew? So I used the Gimp refocus on the final image.

I think the refocus sharpening is superior for re-sharpening after downsizing for web display. From the manual: “The FIR Wiener filter is frequently better
in restoring small details” which is precisely what I needed here. The images are sharp and don’t exhibit any evidence of over sharpening. The photos have that pop that can be so elusive. You need to enlarge the images to see and appreciate what I’m talking about.

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Org-mode is my choice for a writing environment. Gedit is the Gnome default text editor. Tonight I installed Leafpad, a simple text editor and made it the default (instead of Gedit) for automatically opening txt files. Leafpad isn’t just fast, it loads instantly, exactly what I need when I want to write a short note without fussing or to have a quick look at a text file. No frills like spell checking, word count, etc., just raw speed and simplicity. Sometimes simple is best.

I loaded a few text files to test and play with Leafpad. I found an old mind dump, actually a dump from my Neo: neo_dump_05_26_09.txt. Neo has eight files and I must have decided to clear Neo out. I thought two of the files would make for fun musings this week so here goes:

File #1 — Friday, Dec. 12, 2008 — Morning Pages

An experiment this morning. Instead of the dry, stupid, diary crap morning pages, I clustered around the word paralysis. Because I was stumped and uncertain of what I wanted to think about this morning.

My left brain likes concrete answers. It wants to know what’s likely to happen before I get started. My right brain wants to play. Right brain just wants to have some fun. Let’s play let’s find out.

My right brain loves the contrast while old left gets uncomfortable when I’m not organized, when outcomes are uncertain. When you play what if, you might not succeed, you might even fail. Is that so terrible? Not for a playful person it isn’t.

Contrast. The risk of success is worth the risk of failure. Failure is such a terrible thing in our upcoming (I wonder what I meant when I wrote upcoming? probably upbringing). Catholic school in the 50s taught that failure was a sin. Well, that sin is giving in to temptation. Better explanation is that sin is a mistake and mistakes are bad things.

How can a person possibly stop mistakes? Can’t be done. Minimize by paying attention, but stopping before the fact? That’s paralysis. Not doing because of fear of failure [and success]. It’s so much easier to stick with the known. Who knows what lurks out there. Who knows what might happen if the silly and irresponsible right brain takes center stage.

Right brain says let’s find out. Let’s play what if while left brain sits paralyzed by indecision. Just do it. Not recklessly Mr. left brain says. OK then, we’ll work together. You don’t judge ahead of time or stop me because you think I’m being silly and after I play awhile, I’ll be quiet and let you organize and make sense of my playful discoveries.

File #5 — no date

Years later I read the same book with different eyes, different mind and the tumblers click into place and the safe opens. How did I find that combination?

What makes us want to get out of bed in the morning?

PS — I wrote / assembled this post using org-mode

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When I visit Ceres, more often than not I cut off the main trail early and take the ridge trail because I like the perspective of being high above and parallel to the two lakes. The trail is narrow and the footing gets tricky in many places. The trail drops to lake level midway and there is another trail that branches off to cross a section of swamp between the lakes.

Swamp Crossing -- Click to enlarge

I took this photo from the wooden plank bridge that crosses the wettest part of the swamp. This image was taken during the summer. I don’t think I used a tripod here because I don’t like to linger and become a meal for the mosquitoes. The only time you can beat the buggers is when there’s a stiff breeze.

It’s amazing how dark it gets even on the brightest day under the thick forest canopy. When I find a spot like this one where the light is filtered, I like to play with the light and shadows.

Addendum added March 10, 2012 ——————————————————-

Swamp Crossing Addendum -- Click to enlarge

I’m an inveterate experimenter. I always scan 16 bit, then edit in 16 bit mode using Picture Window Pro 5.0 (PWP). PWP is a great photo editor that I’ve been using for something like 10 years now. But — here it comes, PWP is a windows only program and my desktop computer runs with Linux (Mint 9) as my operating system, so I have to use PWP under Wine which works OK but with some compromises.

DigiKam is a KDE (native Linux) image management program that includes a capable image editor that can work with 16 bit files. The editor is available as a stand alone program called showFoto. I created the Swamp Crossing Addendum above using showFoto as an experiment, a successful one in my mind.

I almost always use USM sharpening for local contrast enhancement. ShowFoto has a local contrast plug-in that works even better. ShowFoto also has an interesting sharpening method called “refocus” that I’ve never seen anywhere else. I like the results I’ve been getting from sharpening with refocus and will continue experimenting.

“Refocus is a tool to refocus an image by enhancing the sharpness. It uses the Deconvolution Filter algorithm copyrighted by Ernst Lippe. This tool attempts to “refocus” an image by undoing the defocussing. This is better than just trying to sharpen a photograph. It is employing a technique called FIR Wiener Filtering. The traditional technique for sharpening images is to use unsharp masking. Refocus generally produces better results than Unsharp masking.”  Quoted from the showFoto manual.

I also discovered the B&W tone filters. I used the platinum tone filter that replicates platinum toning done  in the traditional wet darkroom. Platinum toning is done for archival permanence and gives the finished print a lovely tone. I think the addendum version of Swamp Crossing is better in many subtle ways. I will be experimenting more with showFoto with the idea of making showFoto my image editor of choice.

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Org-mode is a structured editor that combines the best features of a powerful outliner and a powerful editor in one package. I’ve been fooling with org-mode a lot lately, digging into capabilities, solving issues and fine tuning, always asking the question — is org-mode the best environment for my writing? The answer is an unqualified yes.

Emerald Ring Outline -- click to enlarge

The illustration above is a screenshot showing the outline I used to write “An Emerald Ring,” a short story I wrote at the end of last year. Org-mode uses stars to distinguish heading levels, one star for the top level, two for the next and so on. You create a new headline by pressing either the Ctrl or Alt key together with the enter key. You cycle headline visibility using the Tab key.

As I progressed, I created a new top level heading for each new draft of my story with the latest draft at the top. The first four lines in this outline are structural markups that begin with #+. The markups don’t print. They tell org-mode what to do when the file or part of the file is exported to LaTeX, html or plain text. I put the latest draft at the top of the outline so that when I highlight the structural markups and the first headline, only the latest draft will be exported.

When you’re deep into writing a story, an article or even a book, and you have ideas, where do you keep the ideas so they don’t get lost? Well, I created headings for Story outline, characters and notes lower in the outline. I didn’t lose anything and my notes are right there when I need them.

The screenshot shows the outline partially expanded. Org-mode shows three periods after any headline that has subheads or text below. Yeah you say, all this is lovely but doesn’t it get kind of messy when you want to concentrate on writing a passage of plain text in the middle of an outline? Glad you asked because org-mode has a neat trick.

Focused headline -- click to enlarge

I put the cursor on the headline for the 8th draft and told org-mode to narrow the focus with a simple shortcut command. Here’s the screenshot. Try that one with your word processor. Now I have an uncluttered screen where I can write with no distractions. I wrote this post with org-mode using this trick. I created a new headline, told org-mode to narrow the focus and had a clean screen with the subject line at the top. Works for me.

There’s lots more to come. I figured out how to get the old DOS MaxThink and org-mode to cooperate but that’s another subject for another time.

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Today’s image reminds me of an octopus with it’s tentacles tightly gripping, hanging on, firmly planted. This tree clings tenaciously to the side of the ridge trail in Ceres Park.

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I particularly like the rich tones and textures in this photo. This one was taken almost two years ago during one of my earliest visits to Ceres. The image is full frame, no cropping. I thought about cropping a bit from the left but decided to leave it alone (for now).

The camera was my Bessaflex and screw mount 50mm lens hand held. The film, Ilford FP4+ rated at ISO 250 and developed in Diafine.

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While browsing through my image collection, I came across a series of color shots of turtles sunning themselves on a log in Emerald Lake in Ceres Park taken almost two years ago. The images are scans from Ektar color print negatives. All of these images have been published in the past. I was in the mood for a re-run.

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