Category Technique

Controlling the Lens Cap of the Leica D-Lux 4 and D-Lux 5

Owners of the Leica D-Lux 4 or D-Lux 5 are surely already familiar with the dilemma presented by the provided lens cap. If strapped to the camera, the lens cap gets in the way and draws attention to the photographer. If kept in one’s pocket, the lens cap is likely to get lost sooner or later.

This is easily resolved with a bit of masking tape and velcro.

Voilà! One minor modification provides — simultaneously — a place to stow the lens cap while shooting and a substantially improved handgrip for the photographer.

Obviously, there’s a slight loss to the camera’s ‘objet d’art’ appeal — but given the reversibility and utility of this modification, I doubt that’s of any great concern to those who are willing to try it.

Zeiss 35mm f2 ZE

The Zeiss 35mm f2 ZE is a fantastic lens. Granted, I’ve only been using one for about a week, but I’m already becoming familiar with — and appreciative of — the distinctive way it draws the world. The most obvious difference between this lens and other lenses? The transition into and out of the depth of field is incredibly smooth. It is almost completely free of distracting artifacts.

The other characteristics of the lens are as one would expect. The lens body is well constructed. The focusing action is precise and polished. The weight and size feel right. I recommend it without reservation.

(I blame the Alternative Gear & Lenses forum at FredMiranda.com for this particular acquisition. Be careful. That forum is an enticement to bankruptcy.)

I Dreamt You Were There: Illustration Process Video

I Dreamt You Were There from Jon Fuller on Vimeo.

“The Rock”

The Rock

Here’s a quick equipment recommendation for anyone using a recent Canon, Nikon, or Pentax digital body. The Rokinon 85mm f1.4 isn’t the best lens in the world — it exhibits a lot of defocus chromatic aberration at its widest apertures and is quite difficult to focus unless you have a body with ‘Live View’ support or a good manual focus screen — but it may be the best ‘portrait’ or ‘wide aperture optimized’ lens you can purchase for under $1000.

It’s being sold for around $250 under several different brand names: Rokinon, Samyang, Vivitar, Polar, Bower, Opteka, and Falcon.

There are some fantastic examples of the capabilities of this lens at Flickr. Note the quality of the in-focus and out-of-focus areas in those shots.

The Alternative Gear & Lenses forum at FredMiranda.com is a great source of information about this lens and other (relatively) inexpensive, yet high-quality bits of glass.

Obsession Times Voice

Recently, John Gruber and Merlin Mann recorded a talk concerning how creative individuals might find an audience on the web.

They have a disorienting, rambling, dissembling digressive manner, but nevertheless nailed what makes some websites a joy to follow. Attending to one’s obsession cannot fail to find a receptive audience.

A quote from John Gruber’s — as usual — excellent follow-up article entitled Obsession Times Voice:

No one gets into something like this without an obsession, but if your obsession is with the money, and your revenue is directly correlated to page views, then rather than write or produce anything with any actual merit or integrity, you’ll dance like a monkey and split your articles across multiple “pages” and spend more time ginning up sensational Digg-bait headlines than writing the articles themselves. It’s thievery — not of money, but of readers’ attention.

What’s so great, so amazing, about this racket is that it doesn’t have to be that way. You can obsess over your work, build an audience based on deep mutual respect, and eventually opportunities to earn money from it will present themselves. I don’t know how it works, I only know that it does.

Block An IP Range Using IPTables

One of the great things about hosting a website on a Virtual Private Server (VPS) is root access. This gives a website administrator the power to do a lot of interesting things. For example, one can easily block internet traffic from blog spammers using the built-in Linux packet filter iptables.

By way of example, let’s say a lot of comment spam begins to appear from an IP address like 194.8.74.0.

First, look up the owner of that address (and the associated address range) using the whois databases at ARIN or RIPE. Their entire address range — ie, every IP address they are ever likely to use — will be shown.

In this example, the entire address range is 194.8.74.0 – 194.8.75.255.

Under Ubuntu, blocking a port range is pretty simple. Start by backing up your current iptables rules and create a test rule set.

[root@agrajag]$ iptables-save > /etc/iptables.up.rules
[root@agrajag]$ iptables-save > /etc/iptables.test.rules
[root@agrajag]$ vim /etc/iptables.test.rules

In vim, add this line to the top of the test rule set to block the address range in question:

-A INPUT -m iprange --src-range 194.8.74.0-194.8.75.255 -j DROP

Then, save the new rules to the running iptables:

[root@agrajag]$ iptables-restore < /etc/iptables.test.rules

Last, list the running iptables rules and verify:

[root@agrajag]$ iptables -L

You should see something like this:

DROP       all  --  anywhere             anywhere            source IP range 194.8.74.0-194.8.75.255

That's all it takes to enjoy a spam-free existence.

(Obviously, I could use the Akismet plugin to accomplish the same thing. However, this has the advantage of dropping bad traffic before it's even processed by the web server. Thus saving server resources for more important things.)

4 Years, 15 Notebooks

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Not pictured: The notebook in which I’m currently working.

A Design Observer post regarding Michael Beirut’s notebooks, Kate’s amazing photographic retrospective, and Merlin Mann’s thoughts on creativity recently got me thinking about my own growing archive of work.

Like Mr. Beirut, my mind fills with questions when re-examining the worn pages of these tiny notebooks — filled as they are with hurriedly scribbled notes and half-finished sketches. Recorded within them is a kind of personal renaissance, an arc of experience, the daily curation of a creative habit.

The first few — dating from 2005 — are filled with jotted notes for kung-fu classes (written in a particularly shaky I’m-too-worn-out-to-write hand), games of Ravenloft played with friends, sporadic, tiny, humorous illustrations made as time permitted. Throughout 2006 and 2007, a greater and greater portion of these notebooks are given over to personal illustrations and unsent letters.

By mid-2007, I am drawing — more or less — every single day. Escaping into one story or another. Reviewing those images now, I clearly recall everything about them and the setting in which they were created: waking at 5AM into the darkness of the little apartment, the comforting smell of wood smoke from a bakery across the road, the brilliant light and heat of summer afternoons, isolation and loss, a terrible flu, a circuitous resurrection through online communication, Planetes, and new stories.

I feel such chronicles are important. They’re maps of our internal territory, a perpetual well of inspiration and guidance, a reminder of what we’ve survived, what we’ve accomplished. A testament to the fact we just keep showing up.

Lars Pind’s Productivity Tips

Lars Pind’s life coaching blog might be of interest to anyone who is consistently trying to improve their work and quality of life. Thus far, he’s produced over 40 free videos discussing a wide range of life topics — including productivity and inspiration.

These serve as the foundation for his recent, excellent video seminar for Peepcode Screencasts entitled Productivity for Programmers. That title is somewhat misleading in my opinion — the tips within the video seminar could be applied to literally any creative pursuit. Highly recommended.

Our Library

Here’s an example of how I go from conceptual sketch to final painting. This piece is titled Our Library and was done as a Christmas present for a friend with two cats. The cats are named Casper and Peekaboo, are great buddies, and — strangely enough — are almost completely identical.

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Illustrating the unique qualities and similarities of these two cats is always a challenge. For this piece, I first decided on an appealing setting — a warm, comfortable sitting room — then divided the space and modified the poses, palette, and compositional elements to individuate the subjects. (If you compare the sketch to the final piece, you’ll see that an awful lot of detail work was done after the concept stage; this is perfectly fine if you’re confident in your ability to fill empty space with interesting things.)

our_library_final_thumb

Note all the artifacts in the background! Like most cats, these two are often occupied with adventure. One wonders what stories are associated with such a diverse collection.

Thomas Kinkade on Making Stuff Suck

This is terrifying… yet lucrative! According to a memo captured by agents of Vanity Fair, it seems Thomas Kinkade and I share similar ideas with respect to capturing the interest of viewers. Let us examine this awful coincidence more closely!

11) Hidden spaces. My paintings always feature trails that dissolve into mysterious areas, patches of light that lead the eye around corners, pathways, open gates, etc. The more we can feature these devices to lead the eye into mysterious spaces, the better.

Here, Mr. Kinkade clumsily alludes to a technique employed by artists since art began: create a setting, but leave room for the viewer’s imagination. In opening avenues leading to unknown and unseen places, the artist encourages viewers to imagine what might be around that corner, down that pathway, or through that open gate in the presented context.

12) Surprise details. Suggest a few “inside references” that are unique to this production. Small details that I can mention in interviews that stimulate second or third viewings — for example, a “teddy bear mascot” for the movie that appears occasionally in shots. This is a fun process to pursue, and most movies I’m aware of normally have hidden “inside references”. In the realm of fine art we refer to this as “second reading, third reading, etc.” A still image attracts the viewer with an overall impact, then reveals smaller details upon further study.

Is Mr. Kinkade speaking of parasignals? I’ve never run across the terminology he employs (“second reading, third reading, etc.”) but I don’t read a lot of art criticism. In any case, parasignals are intended to appeal to the viewer’s innate curiosity about the messages conveyed in a given work of art. I would argue this technique is only effective if viewers are attracted to the surface message or aesthetic appearance of the work. Someone who despises the visual appearance of your work is disinclined to decode parasignals included within it.

There’s surely more to discuss from this memo, but I’ll leave it there for now. Thanks to Kottke.org for highlighting the article.