Blog entries from July, 2014

Exploring San Francisco and surrounds

Thursday, July 31st, 2014 at 11:23am

While right now I am killing time at LAX, for the past six days I have been exploring San Francisco and some surrounding areas.

After arriving in San Francisco from Portland my first stop was the accommodation at Fort Mason, but I immediately headed to the nearby FedEx store to pickup the lens that I had rented. There was a short wait, but I then had the lens, it was interesting to see how it was double boxed, the inner box being used with the provided shipping label to return the lens.

There wasn’t much left in the day so I went in search of some dinner and some initial exploring to confirm that I could look out towards Alcatraz, see the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance and was not far from the Waterfront area:

From the waterfront No more trains In the distance

The next day I woke up early and headed out immediately for some interesting light:

Curved Morning light Morning ride

After a quick breakfast I headed out properly, which was to start walking north until I got to the Golden Gate Bridge, crossed over and then continued on to Sausalito. Unfortunately I had developed some blisters, so I caught a ferry, tram and bus back to the accommodation where I spent the rest of the day giving my feet a rest.

Long span Not the original view Saturday traffic Longer than it looks

The next day turned out to to be the San Francisco Marathon which ran right by the acommodation. As I was still resting my feet, by the time I went out in the afternoon it was over and packing up was well underway. I headed east, towards Lombard Street and Coit Tower:

Apartments That street On the hill Rising above Connections Chrome

While planning this trip I was given a tip about booking the Alcatraz tour well in advance, the possibility of ending up with bad weather vastly outweighing actually having a booking.

Water Industries 23 Empty kitchen From the yard

After a couple of hours I seemed to have covered the entire island, so caught the ferry back and headed towards Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf:

Tram Various ages Backwards Entertainment Train loading

I had wanted to head out to Muir Woods and Marin Headlands but the buses weren’t going to work for me, so for the second half of my stay I hired a car (via a very good deal through the accommodation) so I could get out there. My first stop being Muir Woods followed by some views over the fog covering the city:

Curving up Vertical Tall Fog over the city

My visit to Marin Headlands was disrupted because areas were closed due to filming of what turned out to be Terminator Genisys. I also was there on the wrong day for access (go on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays from 12:30pm to 3:30pm) to the Point Bonita Lighthouse, so after some shots of the Golden Gate from this side I headed up to Twin Peaks and Sutro Tower.

City behind Closed Driving across Missing the tops Sutro

The following day I headed south down the coast, but first scouting views of the new Bay Bridge from Treasure Island for my return at sunset:

Deconstruction Towards downtown Eroded Tower West

For my final half day I headed over the Oakland and Alameda, getting a few dock related shots:

Port View Park Downtown behind Evergreen Hangar Driving across Red paint

This completes my first trip to the United States, unfortunately there were lots of places I didn’t get to plus more that have been added to the list…

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Bridges, trams and an underground station

Friday, July 25th, 2014 at 04:56pm

Now that I have gotten my initial thoughts about OSCON out of the way it is time to talk about Portland itself. I ended up heading out on three occasions, pretty much keeping to the river with its bridges and the downtown area. It was very helpful that one of the tram routes terminated where I was staying (although in the process of being extended) so I used that to get around.

My first outing was on the afternoon that I arrived, capturing the Steel Bridge and other buildings and infrastructure in the evening light:

Strong lines Rounded Steel bridge Double stack MAX

My second outing the following day was when I discovered that my usual lens wouldn’t zoom, so I changed my plan and headed over to the aerial tram:

Aerial tram Overview Complex

My final outing (this time with my 28mm lens) was back to the river to check out some of the other bridges and downtown area, including a detour to get a photo of a tram in the underground station:

Hawthorne Bridge Playing in the fountain Burnside Out of place The Robertson Tunnel

I have already left Portland and have started to explore San Francisco. There is no conference to distract me here, just six days of taking photos…

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My first OSCON

Friday, July 25th, 2014 at 01:03pm

For the past few days I have been immersed in OSCON, of which my single word summary is: overwhelming.


On Saturday I flew from Las Vegas into Portland, got to my accommodation, had a quick break and then headed to the OSCON venue for registration. The registration was pretty quick so I went to find some dinner and then headed out with my camera, ended up around the Steel Bridge as the sun was setting.


I had a nice sleep in on Sunday (I only had the three day ticket which did not include the Sunday (or Monday) tutorials) before heading out again to explore Portland (this is where I found that my lens was no longer a zoom lens) before getting to the OSCON Ignite event. There was food and the talks were entertaining. Don’t take my word for it, they are up on YouTube.


Monday was another tutorial day, while there were some sponsored tutorials I could have gone to, they didn’t interest me. I spent the morning deciding what to do about my lens, before heading out to be a tourist and then back to the OSCON venue for the Expo Hall Opening Reception. Again there was free food, but it didn’t take me long to get bored with the Expo Hall as I had no interest talking to people at booths about what their company did. This was followed by the Elements Attendee Party which also had more food and some interesting live performance art.


My first full day for OSCON was Tuesday which, after the opening and a few keynotes, was packed full of sessions on a wide variety of topics. If you look at the schedule you can see that there were eighteen (18) different rooms, each with a session. A few weeks ago I had tried to figure out which sessions to go to, I started by finding all of the perl sessions and others that interested me, these included:


Much like Tuesday, Wednesday was packed full of sessions. I had intended to get to the perl lightning talks, but I ended up going out to dinner instead. Memorable talks included:


Being the last day of OSCON this day was much of the same, but shorter and I ended up joining up with a group for an Underground Portland Walking Tour.


As I said at the top, this was an overwhelming few days and I have a lot to think about.

Though there was one realisation that I had during one of the IoT talks, devices are currently too fragmented and are also fragile because of how they are intended to be retrofitted. Why should your smart light bulb be rendered inoperative by the ingrained act of flicking the switch on the wall? Shouldn’t the light bulb stay the same but the switch become smart? Granted, a smart switch isn’t able to change the colour (but it could dim) of a non-smart bulb, but then why not have a two part system if that is what you want? Another way to phrase it could be having a true smart home, not a home full of smart devices…

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A zoom lens that doesn’t zoom

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014 at 09:31am

For many years (longer than I have had the Canon 7D body) I have had four lenses for my camera:

  • a “nifty fifty” EF 50mm f/1.8 that I have rarely used, when I got a new camera backpack earlier in the year this lens didn’t make the cut
  • an EF 70-200mm f/4 that I have mainly used at airshows
  • an EF 28mm f/1.8 that I use for low/ambient light indoor shots
  • and a heavily abused EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 that I use most of the time

There are lenses better than the 17-85mm but the both cost a lot more and do not give me the same range on a crop body such as the 7D. I would love to have a lens like the 24-70L or 24-105L, but I cannot justify the cost and to get the same practical use out of it I would also need to upgrade to a full frame body.

So far I have stuck with the 17-85 (it has been my everyday lens on the 400D, the 40D and currently the 7D) but it has not been without its issues. The biggest being a fault with the aperture control cable part of the way through a road trip from Melbourne to Perth and back. For the remainder of that trip I stuck with my 28mm lens (buying a polariser the first chance I got) and then took the 17-85 to Canon for repair once I got home.

Yesterday I found that the 17-85 had developed what I found to be another common fault, it was stuck at 17mm and would no longer zoom. I still spent the afternoon travelling around Portland, but I had to shoot everything at 17mm. I couldn’t even change to my 28mm as it was back in my room. The 50mm and 70-200mm were also not an option as I didn’t even bring them along on this trip.

Once back in my room I did some Google searches which is how I found it was a common issue that is usually caused by a single screw working loose inside the lens. Unfortunately you need to disassemble a fair amount of the lens to get to that screw. I briefly considered tracking down the required tools, but then I decided against taking the lens to bits here in my room in the Portland State Uni student accommodation.

As the remainder of my days in Portland will be taken up by OSCON I don’t need the lens working right now, but I am then spending six nights in San Francisco, a place where 17mm and 28mm are not the only focal lengths I have to work with.

One thought was to find a local lens repairer who could repair the lens before I flew out. I looked up a couple, but what their sites said about turn around was in the order of weeks. The option was there to call them first thing Monday morning.

I also started considering if it was time for a new lens. The 17-85 was introduced ten years ago, since then other lenses have been introduced that improve on its design. The obvious replacement being the 15-85mm which is both slightly wider and also slightly faster. The reviews of that lens say it is quite good, but priced a bit high. There are also non-Canon lenses that could be an option, but I need to take my time with the research as I don’t want to waste my money.

Then I thought about renting or borrowing a lens. Would it be possible to rent a lens in San Francisco to get me through to the end of my trip? The answer is yes and that is what I am doing. Through I will be renting a 15-85mm lens (and polariser) that I will pick up from the FedEx store near where I am staying. Then before I head to the airport I will drop it back at a FedEx store with the provided return label. As well as giving me something to use for those six days, it will also give me information to feed into any future decision to buy that lens as a replacement for the 17-85.

But there is an issue which means I will mean I will probably still use the 17-85 for certain shots, the adapter ring for my LEE filters (ND grad and big stopper) is 67mm which is right for the 17-85, but the 15-85 is 72mm so it will not fit. I might be able to find a 72mm adapter ring, but that might not be a wise purchase as I might not need it in the future depending on what I do long term. I might still make some calls, but I might just have to live with the big stopper shots being at 17mm.

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Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Arizona, Utah, Arizona and Nevada

Saturday, July 19th, 2014 at 03:23pm

Five days ago I picked up a rental car, and then proceeded to drive over a thousand miles on the wrong (not to the locals though) side of the road.

My first stop was to the Hoover Dam where I walked around, took a tour and overall marvelled at the engineering involved:

Not full Penstock Generating To the vent Fancy Powerhouses below

The next day it was time to head west from Las Vegas, after leaving Nevada I would cross back and forth between Utah and Arizona a couple of times before ending up at Page. There are a few national parks that I would have loved to detour to, but I didn’t have the time, I did fit in a tour of the Glen Canyon Dam and stopped by the well-photographed Horseshoe Bend:

Highway through the canyon Arching over General Electric Horseshoe Sandstone and concrete

My main reason for visiting Page was for the nearby slot canyons. These are well known – one appears in the default Windows wallpapers – and I found that there was one group that has a dedicated photography tour. I opted for the half day tour which included three canyons, only one of those being the popular Antelope Canyon:

In the canyon Narrowing Flowing Strong beam

After spending the morning in slot canyons, the remainder of the day was spent driving down to and then along the rim of the Grand Canyon before trying to capture the sunset:

Stump on the edge Mostly dead Into the distance Afternoon rain A sunset

Heading south I stopped briefly at an aircraft museum and passed through Flagstaff on my way to a big hole in the ground, Meteor Crater:

An old angel Deep impact

It was now time to head west along parts of the old Route 66 before stopping at another dam and then back to Las Vegas:

Winding down The thimble On Historic Route 66 More power

Tomorrow I fly up to Portland, Oregon for a couple of days sightseeing and then OSCON, a huge open source conference.

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TAM2014 is over… it was great

Monday, July 14th, 2014 at 02:04pm

For the past four days I have been immersed in The Amaz!ing Meeting 2014. The closest I got to the outdoors was looking out of the window in my hotel room as I was in an organised session/workshop/event, was talking to people or I was asleep. Throughout the conference I made handwritten notes (instead of posting directly to G+ or Twitter) and I will eventually type them up, but meanwhile I recommend looking through the posts in Twitter tagged with #tam2014.

Tomorrow I will start stage two (before heading to Portland, Oregon for OSCON) which involves hiring a car and driving around Las Vegas and then heading into Arizona for a big loop around the Grand Canyon.

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