TGSMU#3, or The Great Scavenger Meet-Up in Orlando

(Cover image by Patt Dickson)

My main reason to go to the US last month was to attend the Great Scavenger Meet-Up in Orlando. The Scavengers are a group of photographers that I’ve been interacting with for a few years – responsible in particular for that sort of things: Scavenger Hunt 24, Scavenger Hunt 25 Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

For those who know me, it may seem wildly out of character for me to go meet a large group of people that I don’t really know. And I’d tend to agree – I would lie if I said I didn’t have any reservations before actually making the trip. But still, it went very well, better than my wildest hopes, so… let’s talk a bit about that! Beware, this may be a slightly more personal blog post than usual ๐Ÿ˜‰

Planting the seed

The Scavengers is a community I thoroughly enjoy being a part of. The group is made of people of all levels of skill (which helps not feeling too much of an imposteur) (not TOO MUCH, I said) and of general positivity and enthusiasm. Before the meet-up, I had met with two of them (and one of them twice ๐Ÿ˜‰ ), who had happened to pass through my corner of the world, and I had a brilliant time every time.

I first met Sivani – and I believe she actually planted the seed of “you know, this may not be that crazy”. She told me about the first Vegas meet-up, I remember babbling something along the lines of “oh, I could never do that, because, you know, PEOPLE” – and she pointed out that a/ most of the people in the community are introverts and I wasn’t the only one there b/ actually seeing people with familiar name tags (because I’ve interacted with them, or at least seen their names before) actually helps a lot. And I guess that it stayed with me – along with her stories and enthusiasm.

Somewhat more recently, but before I made any kind of plan (possibly even before any kind of plan was made at all), I met Dave – we walked a bit with our cameras in the city, and we went for dinner, and everything went well. It also happens that I have the deepest fascination for Dave’s work, because I’m in awe of his toy universe and imagination, and I’m amazed (and possibly slightly jealous) with what he manages to pull off.

And then, I remember a couple of coincidences, but not their order. I remember wondering if there was a meet-up at some point in the plans, and seeing that indeed things were getting into motion there. I also remember having a fairly vivid dream that I was at a meet-up, I was having a pretty bad meltdown, but that someone was actually taking care of me. Now, I don’t believe in dreams being meaningful or predictive or anything, but it made me consider the situation and deem that it was actually plausible that, if something like a meltdown happened, someone would indeed take care of me. (I remember talking about it on the Scavenger community at that time, and that people confirmed ๐Ÿ˜‰ ).

Making the plan

At that point, it felt like it was something I was considering, but not too sure about. One of the things that I was very hesitant about was the fact that the meet-up was in the US, which means a long flight, and more painfully… jet lag. And since my major concern was social-anxiety-related, and since fatigue (and ergo jet lag) really does not help with that, I was very hesitant. The flights to Orlando were also a fairly large pain from Zรผrich, which made me hesitate all the more.

When I talked to Pierre about that, he mentioned that the meet-up was roughly at a time where it would be good if he traveled to Boston, and so he suggested that I come with him to Boston, recover from jet lag, and fly to Orlando from there. I think that’s when things started to really click – that it was actually something that COULD happen.

Shortly afterwards, I told the Scavenger community “I’m in!”, and I booked the hotel in Orlando for the meet-up. It took us a little while to finish planning the rest of the trip (mostly because of procrastination), and at some point I said “folks, I do have plane tickets, I’m coming for sure, unless something super bad happens in the meantime.”

Uh-oh…

Well, the “something super-bad” was not that far. Two weeks before flying to Boston, I fell walking on a hiking path, and I sprained my ankle pretty badly. The following weeks were very stressful: I was in pain, I was super tired from walking with crutches, and it was generally speaking not fun. I had gone to the doctor and explained that I was hoping to fly; she gave me a prescription for blood thinners for the plane, which alleviated a very large fear of mine. I’d like to say that I didn’t waver, but it was a tough couple of weeks; just before leaving I told someone “well, see you in three weeks… assuming I’m actually making it to the flight, which I’m kind of doubting right now”. But in the end, I looked into “how do I fly with a crutch” (both in terms of security and luggage allowance), concluded it was not an issue, and off we went. I spent the first week in Boston, working a bit, getting over the jetlag, and getting slightly better every day; and when the time came to fly to Orlando, I was confident enough that I didn’t need my crutch and that I could walk enough… as long as there were not too many stairs going down on the way. Phew!

First evening in Orlando

I landed in Orlando around 3PM – Dave and Debbie had synchronized with me to pick me up at the airport (thanks again ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) and the adventure started for real! Most of us were staying at the Embassy Suites on International Drive – Angela had organized a group discount, and many people were sharing rooms – I had made the choice to not get any roommate because I knew I would probably need my space at one point or another, and I didn’t regret that choice. A bit of time to get acquainted with my surroundings, and I found a group of Scavengers around the hotel bar ๐Ÿ˜‰ I admit I have a fairly fuzzy recollection of the events and of the people at this point. I was still very flustered, probably terribly awkward, and a tiny part of me was going “oh God why am I here already?”. I’m happy I was happy to keep that part reasonably quiet ๐Ÿ™‚ I found something to eat at some point, probably; but then one of the major event of my stay was happening at 10.30PM: SpaceX launched the Falcon 9 on that day. Since I was not driving, and since I was not comfortable enough trying to organize SOMETHING to get closer from the launchpad, I didn’t have a plan for that. I had, however, looked outside of the hotel, looked at a compass, looked at a map, and secured what I deemed a “reasonable” point for seeing things, if things were to be seen. I had had the impression that I had been either annoying or super repetitive with my “and tonight there’s the rocket launch!” – but… I left the table where I was talking at around 10.25, announcing “okay, rocket launch time”… and I was outside of the hotel, in the fairly warm weather, hoping to see anything.

There was enough time between 10.30 and “something happening” that my heart sank a bit – “I should have tried harder to get closer” – but finally, a small bright dot appeared above the trees. The bright dot eventually grew a tail, making it really unmistakable, even at that distance. I was adamant I didn’t want to take any picture, so I didn’t have my camera with me, but I still had my phone – so there, I have a few pixels of rocket on a picture.

And even at that distance, it was still a profoundly emotional experience and, for what it’s worth, I’m still happy I didn’t have my camera with me. I fully intend to go and see a launch from closer up at some point in the future, and I also fully intend to not have a camera with me at that time.

I came back to the table with a very, very large grin, “I saw the rocket!” and that’s when I understood that nobody had actually understood/realized what I was talking about before ๐Ÿ˜€ I’ve then been told “okay, from now on, we’re following you, because you OBVIOUSLY have awesome plans”. So all in all – despite my initial wariness and awkwardness, it felt like I was starting to warm to the people around me, and to start to include myself in the group instead of staying on its outskirts. And since this was technically happening before the start of the meet-up, let’s call it a win!

Also: I SAW A FUCKING ROCKET LAUNCH. That counts.

Friday: workshop day!

On Friday, we mostly stayed at the hotel, in one of the conference rooms, where we had a fairly packed day! But, first of all, group picture! Scavengers are easier to herd than cats, but barely – in the end, it did work out, and we have a group picture or 15.

Back in the conference room, Lauri started with the welcome speech; we were also treated with a few videos from people who couldn’t make it to Orlando but still wanted to say hi. These are people that I had never met, but I was still moved by their messages, and it was still fun to see these people whose name and sometimes profile picture I knew come to life on the screen.

Then, we had a talk by Dave, who had a talk with the subtitle “A rambling discussion of photography, toys, and toy photography”. And it was basically that, except that my own ramblings are usually far less structured ๐Ÿ˜‰ He talked about how he came to the Scavenger Hunt and to toy photography, and he explained the process around a few pictures, including his Acorn for the latest Hunt. It was quite eye-opening for me – I really (really) like what Dave does, and I kind of “knew” that there was quite a lot of effort in his images, but it’s one thing to have SOME idea, and even to read about it, and one thing to actually see it explained. It made me feel both a bit better about my own efforts (there IS a huuuge gap in our level of post-processing skill, but I have some hope that the gap is far less than I thought on the “images straight out of the camera” level), and a bit worse (thinking that maybe I don’t put enough effort in this). But all in all, an inspiring talk – made me want to try some more stuff (and to up my post-processing game ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). I also learnt about PixelSquid, and I’m definitely keeping that in a corner of my mind, it might become handy if I just need a 3D model of an Atari 2600 joystick or of a Piรฑa Colada. You never know.

The second talk was Gilmar – whose work is also very recognizable, and very inspiring too – at the risk of sounding very obvious, I really like her handling of colors, that make her pictures really stand out. She first talked about creativity and getting ideas, as well as about her own journey and inspiration, with a few examples. Then she dug a bit more into the technical specificity of building composites, and I learnt a ton of stuff, even though I’m not using the same tools as she is – many things are transposable, and these were not things I was even aware of asking about (the unknown unknowns!), so this was brilliant!

We then split in groups for lunch – I ended up at the Bahama Breeze with a group that got split over two tables – I was a bit nervous during lunch, because the planned lunch break was an hour, and we for sure went over that ๐Ÿ˜‰ but since one of the presenters for the afternoon was with us, well – I tried to relax and enjoy my food still ๐Ÿ˜‰

In the afternoon, we split into groups. I first saw Mark‘s presentation about how he created his Fire entry for the Hunt – he released a speed edit video since then. This was also super interesting – I learnt about a number of tools and “but how do I do that”, and mostly, I learnt about the quantity of work that goes into that sort of things. One of the things that struck me is that I usually consider that if a given “final image” requires me to take, say, 60 shots, it’s… a lot of shots. Mark was showing his Lightroom catalog, and he literally had hundreds of shots… only for the “body” part of his picture. I also found very interesting when he was talking about his light setup and how he adjusted it and so on. Those are not processes that are even remotely on my radar, and that’s definitely something I want to explore more.

In the second part of the afternoon, I joined the toy photography part, provided by Dave again. He had setup a light box, and provided a LOT of toys and figures, as well as Lume cubes to play with, and a fair amount of advise about posing the figures and lighting them. This was a ton of fun – I did fall in love with the Lume cubes (I just ordered a couple yesterday), and I’ll probably splurge on a decent light box at some point (for now, my ad hoc tinkering with a box and a bunch of tracing paper to soften daylight is good enough for me… especially in the summer). And I do have a few shots with which I might make images at some point – we’ll see how that goes ๐Ÿ™‚ Dave wrote something about the whole experience too: A Toy Photography Workshop.

There was also a third group doing portraits with Gilmar and her awesome-looking lights, but I got hit by a case of the shys and didn’t approach that group from less than a few meters away.

In the evening, we had dinner at Olive Garden (incidentally, we had one of the best waiters I’ve ever seen) and, as we came back to the hotel, I declared that I was going to go for a walk in the direction of the Ferris wheel that was visible from the hotel, because Ferris wheels are pretty cool picture topics ๐Ÿ˜‰ We made way with a few other Scavengers, met another group on the way, and generally speaking had fun. And so, I have a first set of pictures here: Orlando – Icon Park. (Yeah, there was more than just a Ferris wheel there.)

At the end of the day, I was bubbling with ideas and motivation and all this sort of things; I believe that Friday was the day that made the most contribution to the motivation that I still have today, and gave me the most ideas of things to explore. It’s also the direct cause the my “Spiderman” image that I built a couple of weeks ago when coming home (more details in Spiderman visited Zรผrich!)

Saturday – Bok Tower Gardens

On Saturday, we went for a field trip at the Bok Tower Gardens. The garden has a very pretty tower (the Bok Tower in question):

There was a Game of Thrones event in the garden that day, with a lot of cosplayers! It took me a while to connect the dots between “wait, this guy is REALLY reminding me of someone” and “ooooh, he’s cosplaying as George R.R. Martin! Well done!” before I had seen the rest of the people. I know that many Scavengers took the opportunity for some great shots, but I was, at that moment, both too shy and too flustered to even try to interact with them ๐Ÿ˜ฆ It’s a bit sad, it would have been cool – they were really looking fantastic! It must have been quite difficult, though, because they had a lot of layers on, and it was probably around 33-35ยฐC at that time… The tower is also hosting a carillon, and it’s been playing for a long while – including, at some point, the GoT theme, which I found very cool ๐Ÿ™‚

The garden also encloses the Pinewood Estate, which I could visit. It has, in particular, fantastic tile work and light fixtures ๐Ÿ™‚ And a very cool sink.

And that yields a second album: Bok Tower Gardens. I kind of regret not having more pictures of the gardens themselves – it was very nice, but it was also very warm (limited me-compatibility) and sunny (limited photo-compatibility).

We were also very lucky to have Tatjana Andrรฉ with us, thanks to Angela and Jim – she modeled for us under the heat with a lot of patience and grace, and was generally speaking amazing ๐Ÿ™‚ It was the first time ever that I worked with a model, and it was a very interesting experience, although not necessarily one that I would repeat any time soon. I do have a hard time taking pictures of people in general, and I have an ever harder time editing/processing pictures of people in general – and that’s something that came very clear during this session and its edition. It didn’t help that I made Bad Choices with camera settings, and that my pictures were often either unfocused or annoyingly noisy, and it didn’t help that my focal length was not nearly long enough. Despite all the awkwardness, I did get a few decent shots.

And that album is here: Tatjana.

In the evening, we had pizza in the hotel lobby, and some toy photography shenanigans happened, lit with a mix of lume cubes and cellphone lamps ๐Ÿ™‚

Later, we went for drinks to Lafayette’s – there was a cool band, Ancient Sun, and I enjoyed that a lot. I don’t know much about saxophones, but I particularly enjoyed the saxophonist’s performance ๐Ÿ™‚ And I may have ended on the dance floor for a couple of songs – proof that my ankle was definitely getting better (A couple of songs was all that was reasonable, though!) And at the same time, there was more toy photography shenanigans happening ๐Ÿ˜‰

Unfortunately, I had to bail pretty fast, because for all the fun that it was, it was also very loud. But as I walked back to the hotel, I felt an amount of joy I have only rarely experienced in the past few years. I think it was a mix of “everything is going great despite my initial fears”, “I’m learning a ton of stuff and I’m super motivated right now”, “I like literally everyone I talked with” and “I’m actually glad I bailed and kept the good memories instead of pushing through and ending up in a worse mood”. I arrived at the hotel, dropped a few lines of apologies on Facebook (which has been our major communication channel during the meet-up), and spent an hour or so editing some pictures from Boston. Someone nudged me to come back down in the lobby, which was much quieter, and after asking myself whether I was okay to do that and whether I wanted to do that, I spent a bit of time in the lobby, chatting and laughing, before eventually going to bed.

Sunday – last day! And after…

My Sunday was pretty quiet. I went to breakfast quite early, because I wanted the opportunity to see everyone who’d be there and to hopefully say goodbye to everyone – I don’t think I managed, but I still saw a lot of people. It was a bit sad, of course, but I think there’s still some certainty that we’ll see each other again, at least on the Hunt, and hopefully in a future meet-up.

I had arranged a ride to the airport with Gary and Wade, who had planes around the same time as mine (thanks Gary ๐Ÿ™‚ ), which made me somewhat nervous (timing-wise) about joining other people’s activities (on top of being somewhat weary in general), so I stayed in the hotel lobby in the morning with my laptop, and continued my photo processing.

I posted my last “25th Scavenger Hunt” post from the airport in Orlando, which I thought was quite fun.

The whole thing ended three weeks ago, but there’s still pictures and memories trickling on the Facebook group, which makes the whole experience last just a little bit longer – which is amazing.

Since the meet-up, I’ve done the Spiderman thing, I started learning how to use GIMP for real (I’m watching videos and everything!), and I do have a concept for a couple of images that I want to make – and I typically don’t have images in my head before I start shooting, so I’m super curious about how this is going to turn out.

And, hopefully, for the next Scavenger meet-up, I’ll be less nervous beforehand ๐Ÿ˜‰

New monitor, new setup!

I just replaced my 24″ monitor with a new shiny 27″ – 3 more inches in the diagonal, but 4 times more pixels – which required a bit of tinkering – so here’s a bit of a write-up, so that a/ I can share what worked for me and b/ I have something to refer to myself whenever I do that again (I’ll probably have to tinker is some similar ways for the laptop…)

General setup

I have a fairly… personal setup – it DOES work for me, but it’s definitely in the “less common” category, which makes searching for information somewhat more challenging.

  • First things first, obviously: I run Linux, specifically right now Ubuntu 19.04 Disco Dingo – that’s probably the most standard element of my setup.
  • I run it with xmonad/xmobar/dmenu as my user interface.
  • My main screen is now a 27″, 3840ร—2160 (very pixels, wow)
  • I have a second screen, left of my main one, as a secondary screen, which I mostly use for “browsing documentation when I’m doing something on the main screen” or “chat window when I’m playing in full screen on the main screen”. It’s a 19″, 1280ร—1024. So, yes, that means multiple-DPI setup – I will admit that the thought had not crossed my mind when I bought the new one. Eh.

So, essentially, this looks like this:

Display configuration

I have a fair amount of things running in the browser, so the first thing I experimented with was changing the scale of the pages of what I was browsing. That went okay on the large screen, but then the scale was completely off for my secondary screen – and switching scale levels depending on the screen would have been a major pain. There is some automated and experimental stuff there; since my setup is already atypical, I decided to not dig much more into why it didn’t work. (I tried. Vaguely.)

I ran into a reasonable solution almost by chance (I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for) here: Configuring mixed DPI monitors with xrandr. I’m now scaling the secondary monitor by a factor of 1.5, which makes it still “good enough for my use” when it comes to the look of the screen (it’s wobbly on my terminal. I can live with that.) and which is “compatible enough with my large screen” when it comes to displaying stuff that’s configured for my large screen.

I’ve been running a “screen setup” script for a long while (which I basically run every time I boot my computer – both on the laptop and on the desktop), so it was a matter of editing the xrandr line to the following:

xrandr --output DVI-D-0 --scale 1.5x1.5 --output DP-2 --pos 1920x0 \
    --mode 3840x2160 --primary 

So from there, I know that whatever I do on the large screen is going to be “good enough” on the secondary screen.

Chrome

Chrome has been a bit of a pain. My first attempt was playing with the default scaling of the rendered web pages and fonts, but the tabs and the UI were still (as expected) super small. I finally found the right flag, specifically --force-device-scale-factor=1.5. As far as I can tell, there’s no way to make that configuration persistent at Chrome level (or, at least, I didn’t find it). And since I’m not starting my browser from an icon or a shortcut or anything like that, I couldn’t set it up there either. I ended up creating a google-chrome launch script in my personal bin directory (which was already setup in front of my PATH, thankfully, otherwise I would have required additional yaks) to pass the flag.

Moreover, the flag worked to scale the UI, but it also re-scaled the web page rendering, so I had to roll back my earlier config attempts. But now everything is fine and I can use Chrome without squinting too much, yay.

The “Save” dialog is still tiny, but I really don’t want to try to fix that now, so it’ll wait.

xmonad / xmobar / dmenu / trayer

My top bar with xmobar and the trayer were feeling a bit cramped, and so did my dmenu (the text-based launcher I use to start everything else). Some adjustments were required there:

  • I changed the configuration of the xmobar position in .xmobarrc to read position = Static { xpos = 1920, ypos = 0, width = 3456, height = 30 } ; the xpos parameter is set to 1920 because I don’t want that bar to be present on my secondary screen (and it’s setup to have a width of 1920); the width is 90% of 3840 so that I have 10% of the width for my trayer.
  • I wouldn’t have needed to touch my xmonad config if not for the fact that it’s launching dmenu, and that dmenu’s config is in the command line; I just modified the font of dmenu so that I have ((modMask, xK_p), spawn "dmenu_run -fn xft:terminus:style=medium:pixelsize=22") to start dmenu on Mod-P.
  • Finally, I only changed the height of the trayer (since the width is expressed as a percentage of the total width) so that it now reads trayer --edge top --align right --SetDockType true --SetPartialStrut true --expand true --width 10 --transparent true --tint 0x191970 --height 30 --monitor 1 &. This part is in my “setup screen” script, so the modification here was minor.

gnome-terminal

I use gnome-terminal as my standard terminal: it’s the only thing I ever managed to configure exactly as I wanted it (set of colors, unicode handling, non-blinking cursor, and that sort of things.)

The font was on the small side on the highres display, so I switched to Terminus Regular size 22. I’m not convinced yet by that choice, because it feels bolder than I think it should be, so I may have to play with alternate choices at some point or another. For now, it’s good enough. And I don’t care about the UI scaling in general because I don’t use “anything else than writing on the terminal” often enough for it to be a problem.

Slack

I just zoomed to 150% in the default preferences in Accessibility. The menus and whatnot are still tiny, but I actually don’t care (because I don’t use them much). Good enough for now.

Darktable

Darktable the software I use to do most of my photo post-processing. The picture area is much nicer on the new screen (ahem. It may also have something to do with “the picture area is much nicer on a clean screen.), but the interface was also very tiny. Two things there:

  • in .config/darktable/darktablerc, set screen_dpi_overwrite=150 – I didn’t feel the need to experiment more with other values, this works for me
  • in the UI settings (available from the interface), set the “width of the side panels in pixels” to 400.

It is necessary to restart Darktable after this modification.

GIMP

Since I also started to learn how to use GIMP, it did cross my mind to set it up during my initial setup. Two things:

  • I defined the icon size to “Large” in Preferences > Interface > Icon Theme
  • I also defined the font name to “sans 16” in my theme file, /usr/share/gimp/2.0/themes/gtkrc (defined in Preferences > Interface > Theme).

And this can be reloaded without restarting Gimp ๐Ÿ™‚

IntelliJ / CLion

I’m using IntelliJ at work, and the rest of the JetBrains IDEs at home. These days, I’m using CLion to develop on Marzipan (my fractal generator). IntelliJ scales its interface depending on the UI font size; so in Settings > Appearance & Behavior > Appearance, I modified the custom font for a size of 20.

This doesn’t modify the editor font size, though, which needs to be defined in Settings > Editor > Font.

Also, I know have a stronger incentive to continue working on my fractal generator: now that I have a higher res screen, I’m tempted to generate high res images, so I need to optimize that ๐Ÿ˜‰ And also probably to decouple the size of the image from the size of my UI ๐Ÿ˜›

World of Warcraft

I’ll admit, WoW is one of the first things I tested after plugging in everything and checking that basic function was there. I’m running WoW on WINE – and this was actually the least painful experience: it started without problem, the UI scaled properly immediately, and everything was just as I left it. The only difference is that the cursor is smaller (and that I probably need to modify my mouse sensitivity). But all in all, flawless. And it still runs 100fps, which is cool. (I did feel the need to triple check that I was indeed running in that large resolution. It seems I am.)

Slay the Spire

Other game I play a lot, Slay the Spire – there, I had to adjust resolution manually, but once that was done, nothing to see here, move along.

Conclusion

This may seem like quite a lot of work, and some snark along the lines of “if you ran Windows/MacOS/GNOME/KDE you wouldn’t have to configure things in such a gazillion places” may be warranted – but to me the “having things exactly as I want them” is definitely worth a bit of extra work – as well as knowing that once the configuration is stable, it doesn’t break at every update ๐Ÿ˜‰

I’ll probably find a couple more things to fix in the near future, and I’ll update this post with my findings.

Cambridge, MA

We went to the US for a couple of weeks – I wanted to attend the Scavenger Meetup in Orlando, and Pierre visited colleagues in Cambridge (near Boston); since both are on the same coast, it played out pretty well.

What did NOT play out pretty well is that I sprained my ankle quite badly less than two weeks before leaving, and I was still sporting a “potato foot” and walking with an aircast and a crutch when we left for the US. Consequently, I didn’t explore around as much as I would typically have – but I still got a few photo albums out of it!

New England Aquarium

The New England Aquarium in Boston is a staple of my visits there – I like the place, I like their gigantic tank in the middle, and it’s generally a cool place to take pictures.

And they have fun jelly fish too.

The full album is here: New England Aquarium in Boston – 2019.

Harvard Museum of Natural History

I had never visited the Harvard Museum of Natural History – and despite my initial grumbling about stairs at the entrance (there WAS an accessible entry. I just chose to grumble instead.), I absolutely loved it ๐Ÿ™‚

The first thing that caught my interest was the botany exhibition.

All of these are… glass models, made between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. They’re really impressive (I couldn’t believe they were made of glass) and very pretty. I’ll have to go back, because my pictures are shitty, but the models are very pretty.

The other room where I spent a lot of time was the mineralogy collection.

It was truly fantastic, a lot of specimens, great curation, and even panels on the side explaining where to find the Minecraft rocks ๐Ÿ˜€

Also, does this guy look hungry or what?

I believe that the “animal” sections were also great, but I got unfortunately freaked out before I could appreciate their true worth – I was still not walking very well and I got tired, that probably didn’t help.

The full album is here: Harvard Museum of Natural History.

A short walk through Cambridge

There’s a pretty famous MIT building, the Stata center, designed by Frank Gehry. I hadn’t managed to get a decent picture of it in my previous stays in the area, but that’s now fixed – we went on a walk on Memorial Day and I was able to get a few shots from an angle I had noticed a few days before.

On the same day, we walked a bit along the river, ran into a bunch of kayaks:

who happily provided me with some foreground:

And we dropped by the board games and comic book shops near Harvard – which was preparing for graduation ceremonies:

The full set is here (and it’s the smallest of all three): Cambridge – 2019.

TL;DR

I went to Cambridge. I made pictures. They are here:

#balisebooks – April/June 2019

Version franรงaise ici : #balisebooks – Avril-Juin 2019

Two #balisebooks in one because of traveling and other adventures!

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe – Alex White

Protagonist 1, Nilah, a very pampered racing driver who ends up on the wrong side of a conspiracy. Protagonist 2, Boots, who sells creatively enhanced salvage/treasure maps. Both end up, because reasons, on a wild goose chase for a legendary warship, while being hunted by a Big Bad.

I kind of believe that I would have liked this more at a different time. There’s honestly a lot of good things in there, and a lot of things I’d enjoy normally – I quite liked the characters, and I think the story was pretty good, but…. I don’t know. I think it felt messy and rushed, for some reason, and I really had a hard time finishing it.

Tell Me Three Things – Julie Buxbaum

Jessie’s dad just moved to L.A., so Jessie is the new kid in a very intimidating high school. Luckily for her, she soon starts receiving anonymous e-mails from one of her schoolmates who decided to help her navigate the whole thing. Not hugely believable for a few reasons, but a fun, lighthearted and cute read that put me in a very good mood.

Dear Mrs. Bird – A.J. Pearce

During WW2 in London, Emmy accidentally becomes typist for a woman’s advice column. Said advice column is supposed to stay Proper and to not contain any Unpleasantness – but Emmy starts secretly writing back to the letters that are not to her boss’ liking but that she still feels require an answer.

This felt like a nice premise, but I was a bit disappointed. The story was mostly about Emmy and what would go wrong if she ever got discovered, whereas I was almost expecting an epistolary novel that would be more centered around the people writing to her. I may have liked it better with the right expectations, but I may not have read it with the right expectations ๐Ÿ™‚

Bad Astronomy – Philip Plait

I mostly heard of Phil Plait because of his Astronomy Crash Course – which I haven’t taken the time to watch yet. Since books are more “my” medium than video, Bad Astronomy had been on my to-read list for a while too, but I eventually read it ๐Ÿ™‚ Plait goes through a number of “myths” surrounding astronomy, from bad explanations of how tides actually work to astrology, and corrects them. I had never heard some of these myths, so it made for a somewhat bizarre read at times ๐Ÿ™‚

Generally speaking, a very good pop science book. I would have appreciated a liiiittle BIT more maths/physics. Typical example – at some point he talks about orbital energy, and I ended up looking that up for myself – so, in a sense, good that it gave me the taste for it enough; in another, slightly frustrating that it wasn’t just a little bit more “here’s the equation” content. Still – I learnt stuff, and I want to dig more in the topic – so that’s definitely a good thing ๐Ÿ™‚

Except the Dying – Maureen Jennings

I have a huge fondness for the Canadian series Murdoch Mysteries, and the series credits that series of books, so it was kind of a given that I’d end up digging into them. William Murdoch is an acting detective (detective, in the series) in Toronto in the late 1800s and, well, solves crimes. This one has to do with a young woman found dead, naked in the snow – who is she, how did she end up in that situation? While the book version of Murdoch is grittier and apparently far less nice, the book was still quite entertaining and enjoyable.

L’ร‰cole des soignantes – Martin Winckler

(no English translation yet)

It had been a while since I had read Martin Winckler! L’ร‰cole des soignantes takes place in 2039, and is essentially a medical utopia (with a touch of sci-fi), following the main character, Hannah, during their training in an unusual medical unit. A number of reviews reproach Winckler to lay it on thick with regards to his agendas (standards of care, feminism, medical training), but to me that’s expected and welcome. So, all in all: exceeded expectations (because I got what I came for, and on top of that I really liked the ending).

Say Yes to the Marquess – Tessa Dare

Clio has been engaged for 8 years, and decided she’s had enough and to break the engagement. Her betrothed is abroad, and left his business with his brother – so that’s the person Clio tries to convince to sign the papers to get her freedom back. Shenanigans ensue, including plans for a brewery.

This was exactly what I needed at that time – a nice story with likable protagonists, the promise of a Happily Ever After, and still enough tension to not be ENTIRELY SURE what the HAE actually will be. Really liked it!

Babylon’s Ashes – James S.A. Corey

6th book of The Expanse, where we deal with the aftermath of the previous book events, try to handle the politics (or lack thereof) of the new faction in play, and generally try to do the Right Thingโ„ข at interplanetary scale.

I thought this one was a bit slow to start, and it took me a little while to warm to it, but eventually it picks up the pace and continues telling the story of the Rocinante, its crew, its friends and foes. (And I really kind of want to ship with these people. Yeah, despite all the unpleasant events.)

The Governess Game – Tessa Dare

Another Tessa Dare – I was in the mood for something lighthearted, and I got that in The Governess Game ๐Ÿ™‚ Alexandra sets clocks to Greenwich time, and gets almost accidentally hired as a governess for two little girls that are wards of a duke, into whom she had bumped a few months earlier at the bookshop. This was a super fun read – the children were fun, Alex has somewhat of a Mary Poppins streak to her (and chases comets), but I think it lacked a bit of tension/conflict towards the end. Still, thoroughly enjoyable.

Spiderman visited Zรผrich!

One of the direct consequences of my Scavenger trip to Orlando (more about that later) is that I got weirdly motivated to start learning “proper” photo editing/processing. And hence, here comes my first attempt at that – and a bit of write-up, both to not forget what I did, and to share with whoever may find it useful.

I started with a picture of Spiderman taken during the workshop:

The picture itself is a Spiderman action figure, held with a piece of 8-gauge wire to some box in the room, and lit with a Lume cube (I’m DEFINITELY getting a couple of these) held in the hand that was not holding the camera. This is already processed a tiny bit in Darktable – levels, (debatable) white balance, that sort of things. I exported in TIFF to not start compressing before I had to, but I’m not sure this was absolutely necessary.

Then I looked into my archives for places where I could put Spiderman, and I ran into this older picture, snagged with my phone a while ago to show snow falling quite late in the year:

Now that I had something that I thought could work, time to start GIMP and work on it! The first step was getting a cleaner image of Spiderman, removing the background. I first cropped the image to only contain the part I was interested in, added a layer mask to my image, and worked with the paintbrush tool (with finer and finer brushes) to remove all the stuff that was Not Spiderman. I left the bit of wire that held the figure on the waist, I figured it was not that visible and could be confused with a belt, or something. In order to keep the layer and the mask (if I wanted to go back to the picture), I created a new layer from the “visible content”, and that’s what I copy in the other image. (I have no idea if that’s the “canonical” way of doing things, but it worked that way for me ๐Ÿ˜‰ ).

Then I pasted and scaled/positioned the figure in the image, doing my best to match the lights in both images.

I did make a mistake there: I realized that my clipping was not great (there was still a lot of stuff around the legs, in particular), but instead of correcting it in the initial image, I started correcting it in the composite. Retrospectively, it doesn’t make much sense; I’ll blame jet lag.

I blurred the background so that it would look better (especially since Spidey’s legs DO have focus blur) – I’m not sure if it was blurred enough, it’s tough to tell. I also re-added a couple of brighter spots in the image to better match the light on Spiderman, which I think kind of helped, but that I might have over done it a bit. I also added a bit light below my pasted Spiderman. I also tried my best to better match the color temperature of both images – I think it’s okay.

Finally, Spiderman cannot be complete without a couple of spider webs – especially since his hands are very much in position! These ones were paths, stroked in grey and edited with a large white brush to make them a little bit less uniform. I tried playing with the gradient tool (which seemed…. made for the task), but failed at it. Then, I decreased the opacity of the “web” layer, and added a bit of blur to it. The spider webs are in my opinion definitely the weakest part of the image, and I kind of believe that making them better would require better drawing skills than mine ๐Ÿ˜‰

Still, for a first attempt at this sort of things, I’m super pleased with the result ๐Ÿ™‚

25th Scavenger Hunt – 3/3

It seems fitting to start writing this post at the airport while waiting from my flight back from the Scavenger meet-up, where I got to meet a great group of great people, learn stuff and get a lot of ideas of new things to try and to experiment. But, without further ado, here are the remaining pictures of my 25th Scavenger Hunt submission (the first two parts are in previous posts: 25th Scavenger Hunt – 1/3 and 25th Scavenger Hunt – 2/3).

Green

I’ve been wanting to experiment with photographing rocks and minerals for a while now (but lacking the proper subject to do so). And then, at some point, I remembered that there was a mineral shop that I wanted to visit in Zรผrich, and that it had been closed every time I had been there (it’s in a part of town where I like strolling, but mostly stroll on Sundays, for some reason!) I finally pushed their door one afternoon, and came home with a small haul of small stones, including this very pretty Green emerald stone. And no, emerald doesn’t break the bank when it’s in that form ๐Ÿ˜›

The picture is a composite of between 10 and 20 pictures, focus-stacked using Zerene. I shot the stone on my paper background, and was pretty surprised to see its texture appear below the stone – but I happened to really like the effect (not to mention being profoundly unable to edit it away :P), so I kept it that way.

Quarter

My shot for Quarter started as a backup “if I don’t get a better idea” shot – literally shooting my dinner, in fairly crappy evening light on top of that. And then, I started playing a bit with it, darkening the background, playing with the orientation, and it started to become a shot I didn’t hate, so it ended up being the final shot.

Knife

Knife is one of the last words I tackled, if I remember correctly. Inspiration had not struck there either, so I went for yet another easy kitchen shot as my husband was cutting onions.

Button

Something would be missing if I did a Scavenger Hunt without a single board game picture ๐Ÿ˜‰ So for Button, here’s a picture of Patchwork, a very neat two-player game where players compete at building the best quilt, and where buttons are used as a currency and as victory points.

It hasn’t always been the case (I’m thinking of a Squash entry for a previous hunt), but now I’m trying to get a credible game state whenever I take board game pictures. And the easiest way to do that is to actually play the game, even by myself playing the different players (which is exactly what I did there).

And the picture itself was mostly a matter of finding a pleasant enough angle.

Ice

That’s the most accidental one of the whole set: I went to the aquarium to shoot Sponge, I came home, and I realized I could play the penguins for Ice. Not a great picture by any means, but it’s part of the full set, so I’ll be happy with that ๐Ÿ™‚

Remote

Second self-portrait (over a set of 26 pictures, I would have expected more of them!) for Remote. Buying a remote trigger for my camera was one of the best decisions I made, because I really use it quite often, either for that kind of application or to avoid moving the camera when triggering the shutter manually. So for once, it’s very visible in the picture ๐Ÿ™‚

I was also playing with the studio lights that my colleague had lent me – I’m not necessarily convinced by my work with them on this picture, but I like how my hand has more light than the rest of me. And it was generally speaking a good exercise for me to start playing with these things (although it gets warm very fast!). Also: probably should have brushed my hair before taking that picture ๐Ÿ˜› (But hey, this is a photography thing, not a modelling thing ๐Ÿ˜€ )

I had a different set of pictures with a pose where I’m holding the remote as if it were a pistol; I liked the image more, but I was not comfortable sharing it publicly, so you get this one instead ๐Ÿ™‚

Donut

My Donut was an unexpected find in the frozen goods aisle of a large supermarket – I took a couple of picture with my phone from above, and boom. The plan B was to have my husband make some donuts during the Hunt time – he probably wouldn’t have objected to the idea ๐Ÿ˜‰

The picture is somewhat more processed than usual – for some reason, I was trying to get a “retro” look for this picture, because it felt like the right thing for it; I’m actually pretty happy with how it turned out.

Yellow

Yellow also benefited from my trip to the mineral shop that gave me Green at the top of this post. It was significantly more annoying to shoot, though, even if it’s a single image (not a composite). That stone is obviously much more interesting when you see the inclusions and the transparency, which meant backlighting, which meant struggling to find a way to hold that thing vertically – it doesn’t hold on its own, and it’s small enough that there’s no easy way to find a support that doesn’t hide it completely. I finally solved the problem by leaning the stone against my studio lamp, and putting it over a box covered with my faithful dark fabric.

The processing was mostly making the blacks black and the whites white (although I failed at that in the left corner and I’m grumpy now that I see it).

And there, those were all my entries for the 25th Scavenger Hunt… which makes me want to ask, do we have a list for 26th yet? ๐Ÿ˜€

25th Scavenger Hunt โ€“ 2/3

Second post of my Scavenger Hunt pictures! The first part and a bit of context is here: 25th Scavenger Hunt – 1/3.

Leaf

My Leaf comes from… my balcony. I have a 5th floor balcony, all concrete and metal and everything, and that thing’s been growing in the drain ๐Ÿ™‚ Life… finds a way, I suppose. The picture was mostly a matter of lying down on the balcony, arranging the offshoot to get the right angle over the drain grille (which I really like as a background here).

Olive

Olive was also a theme for last hunt, and I was super happy with my entry there, but completely out of ideas for a new one. Lukily, this pretty MG spawned in my neighborhood (and stayed long enough that I have multiple views of it, even if they’re all on my phone!)

Vase

My Vase entry is firmly on the “I’m happy with this one” side. It started with a bouquet of tulips, which I had initially bought for another word of this hunt (one that has not been revealed yet, shhh!), and ended up being used in yet another image (but not in the original theme) ๐Ÿ™‚ I took a fair amount of pictures of that (by that time wilted) bouquet – this one was taken on the floor, in front of my dishes cabinet, and it worked really well in my opinion, with the white-blue-grey of the vase and the white of the cabinet behind. I’m also very happy with the crop, which happened almost by accident. Generally speaking, I like that picture ๐Ÿ™‚

Earring

Earring also ended up being a favorite of mine, despite being somewhat in the “hmm, I don’t really have an idea there”. I actually searched Google Images for inspiration – that’s where I got the idea of setting up on the side of a glass. And then it kind of clicked – I went for a “after the wedding” theme, using my own wedding jewelry (and my husband’s cufflinks), adding the hair pins in one of the glass (there’s definitely a memory of removing a gazillion hair pins ๐Ÿ˜€ ), and finishing the image with a piece of ribbon, also coming from our “wedding memories” box. Setting up all of that in my softbox, and voilร  !

Fire

Fire would probably have ended up with me playing with me playing with candles in one way or another, if my husband hadn’t decided to try his hand at crรจme brรปlรฉe during Hunt time (better: FANCY crรจme brรปlรฉe, with roquefort and pecans. It was delicious.) And I actually manage to react quickly enough for a “waaaait a minute, this is relevant to my interests” camera-grabbing. A thing of note on that image is that I flipped it on the vertical axis because it “felt” better that way, which is not something I often think of, and I’m definitely happy I did, because the image is better that way. Sometimes things are weird ๐Ÿ™‚

Chocolate

For Chocolate, my husband is also to be credited ๐Ÿ™‚ He made some chocolate (it’s a thing that happens from time to time – I started it, he took over ๐Ÿ˜‰ ), I arranged it in a corner of the kitchen and snagged that shot. Easy-peasy!

I had a “backup shot” with some (delicious) hot chocolate in a cafรฉ in Zรผrich, but I ended up going for this one that I liked more (for one thing, it’s pretty difficult to make the difference, on a photography, between a hot chocolate and an espresso… except by the size of the cup!)

Moon

There was a full Moon and clear skies a few days after the Scavenger Hunt start – perfect opportunity for some balcony shots! This image is a composite of two – the lines and halo are from my neighbor’s balcony (the moon was “trapped” in there for a while), and the moon on top was shot at a different exposure. I’m happy that I had previous experience with taking pictures of the moon, because it’s non-trivial at first glance, but it goes well with the the right technique (expose at f/11 – 1/250 – ISO as required, use tripod and remote, do NOT focus at infinity, use live view and zoom and peak focus to focus properly).

I was expecting to go for a more “natural” look of the composite, but I actually kind of liked the “quirky” effect that this one had (it’s like the moon’s a penny!). It was my first shot of the Hunt, and I’m still quite happy with it.

Jellybean

I had a lot of fun with Jellybean. I don’t eat much candy; I’d assume I could find an equivalent of jellybeans in Switzerland, but I didn’t find anything convincing when I browsed my supermarket aisle. Hence, time for some creative solutions: let’s have… jelly beans, I guess. I found a pack of red strawberry jelly, which I made with slightly less water than was written on the package to get something that would really hold together for the picture. And I took the prettiest dry beans I could find, sorted though the package for the best looking ones, assembled all of this, and tadaa! At first I wanted to just do a “food” shot, but I decided it’d be funnier to go for the “I don’t know what all these people are raving about, jellybeans are DISGUSTING!” approach ๐Ÿ™‚

Pencil

My first idea for Pencil was to go for a bunch of pencil shavings – you can always get a pretty graphical shot with these, and I liked the idea of just “suggesting” the pencils by their absence. But in the end, the laziness prevailed and I went for a shot of my pencil box. It turns out that I broke my blue pencil, and it’s consequently significantly shorter than the other ones, which give a bit of interest to the picture. (But I do own the replacement of that pencil somewhere ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). I spent a large amount of time sorting the pencils in an order that made sense to me, and then some time shooting them from different angles, before deciding for that one.