Shiny Metal Tiger

Experiences in Baltimore, MD

Archive for September 2010

Camera test, part 2

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Well, I should be blogging about the conference I was at all week. But that’ll be a lot of work, plus I’m waiting for some pictures from the event to be circulated. So for now, some more photos with my new camera. These are me fooling around with some of the ‘art filters’ of the camera; I’m sure these gimmicky settings will get old real fast, but for now I’m enjoying the experimentation.

Pinhole effect

Despite being ‘cheap’, some of the effects you get out of the filters can look quite good. You could do the same in Photoshop for sure, but this is easier.

Pop art

This one was fun too. Saw a building with interesting color contrast, decided to emphasize that through the roof and see what happened.

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Written by Martin

2010/09/26 at 18:05

Posted in Uncategorized

Camera test, part 1

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I’ve been testing out the new camera a bit, and I figured I might as well share some of the pictures. I’m still very much learning to use it, so I imagine that things will only get better. Plus, I found out, I wasn’t shooting full resolution for these, heh.

You probably already figured out that I love clouds and sunsets. This one is from our deck, over downtown Baltimore.

Just a random shot of Boston street, but I liked the light and composition here.

I also spent some time playing with the various settings. Here’s focus:


More to come, I’m sure.

Written by Martin

2010/09/19 at 12:42

Posted in Uncategorized

The Road Trip

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While I did make a similarly entitled post a while back, this here is the real thing.

Along with a friend from Sweden, I’ll be riding coast-to-coast across America, from Baltimore to Los Angeles. ~4500 miles across 12 states, and that’s just the straight route. The trip will start in a couple of weeks, so due to both the season and our preferences we’ve chosen a Southern route, as shown on the map below (blue line). We have four weeks to cover the distance, which we hope will be enough that we don’t have to stick to highways the whole time, and that we’ll have at least the bare minimum of time at each of our destinations.

The blue line shows our approximate route. Everything else is sights and options.

Here’s the rough plan: Set out early in the morning and head down to Washington (passing by Minas Tirith on the way) to spend the day in the National Mall area, then further on the I-95 then I-64 until we reach the Appalachians. Scenic mountain routes further Southwest: Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Road until we hit Great Smoky Mountain, then detour north to Knoxville and take the I-40 to Nashville. See Graceland and revel in the Nashvilleness, then without too much delay Southwest again, along the Natchez-Trace Parkway as far as Tulepo, then detour north again to catch Memphis (mmm BBQ). From there we’ll obviously go down on highway 61; blues country. Along the Mississippi river, with a brief stop in Natchez to see some old South mansions before we reach New Orleans, . Definitely spend a couple of days in Nola, then shoot through the bayou to Houston, Texas, which is home to Rice University, in turn the home of supposedly the best college party in America. Qe need to get there for Halloween and crash said party, meaning that this’ll be the chronological mid-point of the trip.

Mileage-wise we’ll be more like a third through, however, so from then on it’s haul ass through the desert. At this point we’ll really be hitting the highways, and hopefully making better time than on the mountain trails; probably stop briefly in Austin, but otherwise not much until we reach White Sands in New Mexico. Once we get to Arizona we’ll go through the Saguaro National Park to see the archetypal cacti there, then north via Phoenix, through Sedona to Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon. From there it’s straight West over the Hoover Dam to Vegas, baby! A couple of nights there (and another friend joining us), then on to California. The plan is to visit Death Valley on the way to Los Angeles, then spend the rest of our time in LA and doing day trips to e.g. Sequoia National Park or up the pacific coastline. But at that point it really depends on how much time is left.

We’re pretty much ready, and at the same time pretty unorganized. The plan is to mostly camp and/or stay in the car. Youthful budget road trip all the way. Places like Vegas we’ll probably get hotels. Other than that, it’s pretty carefree; I have my new camera, a road atlas with the route marked in, some people who want to buy my car in LA and a lot of enthusiasm, so what else do you need? At the moment my biggest worry is to put together a soundtrack for the trip, or rather several soundtracks themed to different regions (Appalachians, Deep South, California…), plus some generic ‘Road trip’ ones. So feel free to offer suggestions!

Written by Martin

2010/09/15 at 21:59

Posted in Uncategorized

Third Eye

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This week at work is kind of like Christmas. I’ve ordered a whole bunch of stuff for the trip and otherwise, so I should should be getting a package a day or so. Today it was some clothes, plus the new camera I bought for my upcoming road trip (more on that later).

After much deliberation, I finally opted for an Olympus E-PL1 micro four-thirds camera. Micro four-thirds means that, like Single Lens Reflex cameras, it has interchangeable lenses and a large sensor, but that it doesn’t have the mirror reflex system that gives those cameras their name. In practice it means that it has great image quality compared to a consumer point and shoot camera, but that it’s a lot smaller than professional cameras (though a lot bigger than aforementioned P&S cameras; it definitely won’t go in a back pocket).

I’m looking forward to manually playing with apertures, shutter speeds and ISO settings, even though my knowledge of these is both minuscule and purely theoretical. But hey, I have a month to learn before the trip right? I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to squeeze far better pictures out of this one compared to my current Sony, though, even with limited practice. I do kind of hope that I don’t get sucked too far into photography, as new, specialized lenses for these beasts typically cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to nearly a thousand. I’ll stick with the one that came with the camera for now, at least until I’ve figured out the myriad settings I can change…

Olympus E-PL1 & M.Zuiko 14-42mm lens

Note that the E-PL1 is (obviously) in no way responsible for the quality of the above pictures; you’ll have to wait a while to see what it can do.

Written by Martin

2010/09/13 at 22:30

Posted in New toys

Product review: Cereal, part 1

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Well, it had to happen, didn’t it? Those of you who know me are already aware of my fascination with cereal products, so it should come as no surprise that I’d make the most of my time here in the land of animals with sugar bombs.

I’ve been through a fair few boxes at this point, so I think it’s about time I shared some of the things I’ve learned in a product review. I’ll present all the products I’ve tried while I’ve been here, and give a brief review of each. I’ll assume a basic level of cereology and freely refer to staples like rice crispies and frosted flakes. Even though it’s a bit simplistic, I’m going to be grading them on three points:

Taste: Pretty simple, how yummy is it? Both immediate gratification and aftertaste will factor in here, as well as the flavor conferred to the milk.

Nutrition: How healthy, or rather how unhealthy, is it? How much sugar, and is it sugar or high fructose corn syrup? How much fat, and is it nice and unsaturated or trans fat from hydrogenated oils?  How much fiber, how much protein, how many artificial flavors and colors? BHT added to preserve freshness?  Corn meal or whole grain? You get the idea.

Appeal: This one is a bit more vague, but basically, how much do you crave it? Appearance counts, both of box and cereal, as does texture and associations. Nostalgia too. The complete cereal experience.

Without further ado, let’s get to it!

The rings

Cheerios - Taste: 2/5, Nutrition: 4/5, Appeal: 4/5

General Mills Cheerios: Good old cheerios. To my knowledge the original oat ring cereal, it’s still popular, if a bit plain by today’s standards. You really can’t fault those rings, and if you can get over the bland taste it’s one of the healthiest options out there.

Honey Nut Cheerios - Taste: 4/5, Nutrition: 3/5, Appeal: 4/5

General Mills Honey Nut Cheerios: Now we’re talking! The honey almond flavor really hits the spot, and not just because of the added sweetness. The standard 30% sugar content, but otherwise the same as regular Cheerios. An A-list cereal to be sure.

Banana Nut Cheerios - Taste: 3/5, Nutrition: 3/5, Appeal: 3/5

General Mills Banana Nut Cheerios: Whatever they’ve done to these cheerios (other than adding banana flavor), it doesn’t work. They don’t have the same substantial crispiness, and the ingredient list is starting to look iffier as well. The banana taste isn’t bad, but it’s marred by some undefinable oily aftertaste.

Kashi Honey Toasted Oat - Taste: 3/5, Nutrition: 4/5, Appeal: 2/5

Kashi Heart to Heart Cereal Honey Toasted Oat: It’s kind of Cheerios, kind of Honey Nut Cheerios, but not really either. The basic concept would appear to be sweetened cheerios with no significant compromise in nutrition, but the end result is cheerios that are slightly tastier but with an air of dog food (a point that I will bring up repeatedly when discussing Kashi cereals).  Overall, I’ll irrationally conclude that I’m not impressed: I’m expecting cheerios, and I get something that’s similar but not quite as rewarding. As evidenced by the score indicated in the image caption, they’re not really healthier than regular cheerios, so what’s the point? Overall, my judgement amounts to: why bother?

Apple jacks - Taste: 2/5, Nutrition: 3/5. Appeal: 3/5

Kellogg’s Apple Jacks: Hmm, Cheerios with apple and cinnamon.  A sure-fire combination of tastes, but does it add anything to this species of cereal? Not really, and like the Banana Nut variety we lose the appealing crispiness in favor of an airy crunch. Not worth it in my opinion, especially since the cinnamon apple flavor isn’t as much cinnamon/apple as random artifical/random artificial. Skip this one, unless you have an urge to try everying (like me).

Cracklin' Oat Bran - Taste: 4/5, Nutrition: 3/5, Appeal: 4/5

Kellogg’s Cracklin’ Oat Bran: A pleasant surprise, with several unique characteristics. Most importantly, it tastes great, and not quite like any other kind of cereal I’ve tried; the brown sugar and baked oat bran go very well together, making it a cozy and enjoyable meal. Second, it’s very filling, easily more than any of the other ring-shaped cereals and above average overall. On a related note, the rings are surprisingly large; several times the size of e.g. Cheerios, the merit of which is entirely dependent on individual taste, I reckon. Health-wise it’s pretty average, but my biggest complaint is probably that it costs about 50% more than most cereals.

Oh!s - Taste: 3/5, Nutrition: 2/5, Appeal: 4/5

Quaker Oh!s: Good things in the middle… of some of the Oh!s. Others have nothing, but I guess that’s life. What exactly constitutes these “good things”? As far as I can tell, a mix of rolled oats and puffed rice. I’m not sure they really add anything, but hey, it’s a nice gimmick so I’ll give them an extra point of appeal for that. The box says Honey Graham Oh!s, and while both are present they’re hardly the main ingredients: Sugar, brown sugar and high fructose corn syrup rank above the honey in the list of ingredients, and the graham flour comes in behind corn, rice, oat and wheat. The artificial flavoring and 44% sugar content don’t help either. Overall, it’s a “chem lab” cereal masquerading as something wholesome.

Phew, this post is turning out a lot bigger than I expected. I’m going to call this part done, and do the other categories at a later time. Sorry to anyone who had to endure the various in-progress postings of this entry; I promise I’ll be more professional next time.



Written by Martin

2010/09/11 at 01:52

Posted in Uncategorized

Victory by default

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As I mentioned in a previous post, the Baltimore parking officers like to give you tickets whenever they can, even if you’re not really in an illegal spot. Inconceivable! I said, and requested a court date to resolve the matter (and in the meantime accrued two more tickets in the same spot).

District Court of Maryland, Courtroom 6

Today I finally went to court (for the first ticket, other two are pending), armed with photographs, a copy of the city code and some papers to read while waiting. Along with ~70 other possible deviants, I shuffled into the courtroom and took a seat. As I say there going over my legal arguments, two things became apparent. First, most of the people there had very little understanding as to the purpose of the court. An example: “You don’t understand, I live in the neighborhood and there was nowhere to park!”. Secondly, most of the cases were in fact not solved by going over the case at hand. Rather, they were quickly resolved by either the defendant or the relevant traffic officer being absent, which eventually happened in my case as well.

At the advice of a colleague, I had prudently requested the presence of the officer who gave me the ticket. Aside from being a “screw you” to that trigger-happy antagonist, this meant that if he/she didn’t show, I’d automatically win the case. As it was spoken, so it came to be: L. Davis was nowhere to be found, and I don’t have to pay the $32 ticket. The only downside is that I still don’t know whether the court would agree that parking in said spot is legal, but I guess maybe I’ll find out next time.

Court is in session (well, almost)

Written by Martin

2010/09/09 at 20:19

Posted in Uncategorized

Electric Zoo

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This past weekend I spent at Electric Zoo in NYC. It’s an electronic music festival on Randall’s Island that was featuring some quite impressive names this year. The location was pretty great for me, as I could do a nice forty five minute walk in the sun while everyone else was crowding into event buses. Plus, walking to an event and observing the gradually increasing density of people who are obviously going to the same place you are is lots of fun (though nothing beats SENSATION in this regard).

Because we - are - your friends...

It was set up as four tents and a big stage scattered around a grassy lawn, with plenty of food vendors and miscellaneous around the site.  This had the distinct advantage that you could easily move from one show to the other if a given DJ turned out to be less smoking than expected, and simultaneous catch a nice breeze to contrast the ‘2000 dancing people in a tent’ climate that otherwise dominated. And, indeed, there were several surprises in the quality of performances, especially on the first day. Axwell rocked the house as expected, and The Chemical Brothers were nothing but pro. But aside from the latter, the main stage was pretty disappointing on Saturday. Major Lazer and Benny Benassi weren’t very interesting, and ATB was downright crappy. On the other hand, this just meant that I got introduced to a bunch of DJs I hadn’t heard before, of which Fake Blood and Rusko were particularly good (although the latter was mostly dubstep).

...you'll - never be alone again,

Sunday was a lot better musically (which is saying something!). Dancing around for like 11 hours the day before meant that I skipped some of the early artists, arriving just as the big shots started taking the main stage. I caught the end of Laidback Luke’s set, which was good, and was then very pleasantly surprised by Moby. His own music is pretty mellow, and I can’t say that I’m a huge fan. But here he was totally in tune with the crowd, and going nuts all over the stage to boot. Kudos! After that Boys Noize literally blasted my mind right out of my body, figuratively speaking. Extremely well-mixed set of his own excellent music, and extremely loud; the bass made my clothes continuously vibrate against my body and after a while I didn’t bother trying to think at all. Fedde le Grand was next, and although his set was totally tight, it didn’t quite draw you in as much as the previous ones. I took the chance to check out a couple of good DJs in the other tents, on Sunday at least, the main stage was where it was at, so it wasn’t long before I returned there.

so come on! come on!

Armin van Buuren finished things off Sunday, and his performance was… epic. Not really my favorite style, but it was a pretty suitable way to end things. Not bad though, and I bet it would have been better if you were high. Which I guess bears mentioning, at least: partying with people on ecstasy isn’t half bad actually, simply because they’re all having a fantastic time and are excessively friendly. On Saturday I’d gone with a friend, but when she’d left for Connecticut on Sunday I didn’t have any problems making new ones (of which only half were on drugs). Would get old quick I suppose, when you don’t partake, but for now it was fun. My only regret is that I postponed getting a rhino t-shirt because I didn’t want to carry it around, and when I finally went they were sold out (no, I would not like an antelope instead, wtf?).

Written by Martin

2010/09/07 at 20:58

Posted in Events