Friday, June 24, 2011

Rolling down the hill

Last night was pretty low-key. Krista and Abe came over to have dinner with us, so we hung out with them for a while while our boys and Toby played outside. After they took off, the boys spent some time rolling down the hill and playing with some colored chalk and water:

Tonight, they're going to my parents' place while Andrea and I -- along with her family -- are going out tonight for her cousin's wedding in Elk River. And tomorrow, if all goes according to plan, our little family will go camping at some nearby state park (location TBD) if possible. If we can't find any available spaces, we may just have to do the Great American Backyard Campout in our own backyard.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Unagi and philly rolls

We went out last night with Aaron and Elissa and Abe and Krista to Fuji Steakhouse for sushi and drinks. Andrea and I have been there once before, by ourselves, for hibachi, and we really enjoyed it. This was a real treat. Learning more about sushi (and learning to like it) is something I've been interested in for a while. For our first sushi excursion, I tried unagi (freshwater eel) and some Philly rolls (smoked salmon, cream cheese and avocados wrapped in seaweed and rice). Afterward, the Ballmans headed over for some Dominion and a few drinks.

Speaking of which: for my birthday, my parents bought me the Dominion base pack, and Andrea and the boys told me to buy an expansion pack for myself, which I finally did last week. Dominion: Cornucopia arrived today, so I'm jazzed to bust that open and see how it is.

I realized earlier today that I still haven't uploaded any photos of Reed with his new glasses, so here are a few photos I took last week or so when the boys were helping me with some landscaping. We moved our rain barrel to the side of the house and started putting some blocks up so there's a platform for it.

Friday, June 10, 2011

HDR at Lake George and a panorama in the car

Over lunch today, I ran over to Lake George with my hammock and e-reader for some midday relaxation. It was very comfortable, and I got the chance to take a few more HDR shots which I'm putting into my new HDR Picasa album. I like this one, which is a low-saturation (nearly black-and-white) version.

The boys were both very tired on the way home. In fact, they both fell asleep before we got on 94, didn't wake up when we got home or when I brought them inside, and slept just about until Andrea got home at 6:45.

Panorama made with Hugin

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

HDR Photography at Riverside Park

The other day, Andrea and I went to Riverside Park in St. Cloud and tried out my new hammock for camping and general use. I wanted to get a few shots, and while playing around with my camera, I took a few bracketed photos. Websites abound that describe how to do HDR photography, but I'll add my little ditty here about doing a simple HDR tone mapping from one set of bracketed shots.

First, I'll briefly mention that bracketed shots are a set of generally three photos of the same scene. One is under-exposed (a rather dark shot); one is over-exposed (very bright); and one is a more typical exposure. This can be done manually by changing the shutter time for each of the three shots, but it's significantly easier to have your camera do the heavy lifting. Canon (and probably Nikon as well) has a feature on their DSLRs called auto-exposure bracketing (AEB). With AEB, the camera will automatically adjust the exposure on three successive pictures. Just turn on AEB with your desired +/- exposure values, click the shutter button three times and you're done.

While at Riverside, I took three photos of the same scene of trees using AEB. I generally use -2/0/+2, though this time I happened to use -1.66/0/+1.66. I didn't have a tripod with me, but I was able to keep fairly stable.

Underexposed 1.66 f/stops
This is entirely too dark as a standalone shot. All the details are lost in shadows.

Normal (+0 f/stop) exposure
Still a little dark overall due to the bright light in the background, but reasonably good.

Overexposed 1.66 f/stops
Too bright, with leaves getting washed out.

Individually, all these shots are pretty poor. However, they each have some valuable color data to contribute, so I combined them all together into a high dynamic range (HDR) image using Photomatix Pro. Photomatix does a great job of making HDR processing seamless. Starting with aligning images properly (since I didn't have a tripod, each of the three individual shots was slightly misaligned from the other two) and allowing me to easily tweak settings for how to do tone mapping or exposure fusion.

I've played with settings so little that I hardly know what I'm doing, yet it's interesting to see the results that Photomatix and other HDR software can produce, such as this fairly realistic blend of the three exposures:

Monday, June 6, 2011

More relaxing than being at work

I recently made my own hammock for use on my hiking trips (using info from Just Jeff's Homemade Hammocks). While it was really pretty cheap and easy to do ($20 or so for the ripstop nylon and a few bucks more for chain links and biners), I can't say it was terribly comfortable when Luke and I went to the Superior Hiking Trail. (Not to mention the whipping nearly came off one night. Had that happened, I would have been rather abruptly woken from my sleep by crashing into the ground.)

I debated what I should do for my hiking trips -- keep the homemade, revert to a tent, or buy a nicer one? I opted for getting myself an ENO DoubleNest from REI. (They happened to have a pretty killer deal, and with free shipping, I got my DN for $41.) So today, on my day off, Andrea and I went to Riverside Park so we could try out the new ENO. Unfortunately, it's the start of some seriously hot weather -- over 95 degrees and humid. Luckily, however, Riverside has a ton of mature trees that can both support my weight without a problem and provide me with some awesome shade. So I had an opportunity to read in my book for a while...

Until I handed over possession of the hammock to Andrea so she could nap.

While we did go out on Saturday for dinner, this was something of a celebration of our seventh wedding anniversary: a day for the two of us to hang out and enjoy the outdoors (even if it was nearly 100 degrees).

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Meet the new roof. Same as the old roof.

Last year, we put some chipboard on the boys' playhouse. It sat like that through the fall, winter and spring. Now it's time to finish this project up, but the problem is that I didn't put any real support underneath it -- it's just sitting on top of some 2x4s directly. That will make it a huge pain to shingle, as it won't support my weight if/when I need to climb up to do the apex.

That means I spent much of the day taking down the two sheets of chipboard, putting up some 2x3s I had laying around, putting the chipboard back on top, then laying down some tar paper. It hardly looks like I did much, but I spent several hours doing it. Tomorrow, I'll work on shingles.

Today is Andrea's and my 11th anniversary together; tomorrow, our seventh wedding anniversary. So this evening, we're going out to Fuji Steakhouse (though Andrea doesn't know it yet). Mom is watching the boys so we can have an evening together. I'm looking forward to it.

This is going to be a long weekend for me, as I'm taking Monday off to be with Andrea and run some errands. We'll see what kind of fun stuff we can get done!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Just put 'er in gear and I'll have a look

Aaron and Elissa came over tonight for what was billed as either a Dominion or bonfire evening. The weather was so nice that we ended up hanging around outside all evening, watching the boys play with their fire truck jeep, and building a bonfire later on.

Jacob found a few of my wrenches and did pretty realistic play with them. That is to say, he laid under his jeep for a while, looked a bit confused, then got back up. Just like his daddy.

We're going to be spending a bit of time this weekend working outside. I'm finally going to get around to working on the playset roof tomorrow, and I expect Andrea will be working on landscaping in the back yard.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

How many fingers am I holding up? ... No, I'm over here. Look this way.

Reed had his two-year checkup the other day, and since it's easier for me to take a couple hours off from work than it is for Andrea, I took him. He's the perfect specimen of a toddler except for one minor thing. His pediatrician noticed a poor reflection of light off his left retina, which is usually minor but has the potential to be a big deal. She sent us right away to an ophthalmologist to see what the deal is.

Luckily, his eyes are fine (insofar as he has no retinal tear or amblyopia), though his eyesight is pretty bad, so our little two-year-old will be getting glasses as early as this week. He's following in his father's and grandfather's footsteps -- I had glasses when I was three and my Dad had them when he was 15 months.

Doug -- having many years of experience in optometry -- said that Reed will likely be amazed at how much he can see once he gets his glasses, so we're looking forward to seeing that improvement in his vision.

Incidentally, this morning before work, the boys found glasses to play with: Jacob and his sunglasses and Reed with my reading glasses.

I almost forgot: yesterday was Jacob's last day of preschool! He had a great day there, and afterward, I picked him up, we went to ING Cafe for a donut and then to the library for some play time and to get a few books, then I dropped him off at daycare. We also played outside after work/daycare, had a bonfire and flew the kite for a bit.