Derek's Blog Page

Can a libertarian curmudgeon survive in a post 9/11 America? Is it possible to create the perfect meal on a Baby Q grill? Will Elaine finally succumb to her innermost desires? Check out my novels - which I am excerpting to separate blogs as I write them. Just click on my Profile button to access their links.

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Location: Citrus Heights, California


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Monday, August 31, 2009

Yay! My Sigma 135-400mm arrived!

And it is a HEAVY monster of a lens! It feels nearly as heavy as the older Sigma 170-500mm I used to own for my Canon system. But it works great on my D90 and I'm quite happy to have it. Yes, Nikon makes an 80-400mm VR, but that puppy runs nearly $1,300 brand new and the new Sigma 120-400mm costs close to $1,100 so I can't see why, when this slightly older, NON-VR, lens can be had on eBay for between $200 and $400 (I got mine for just under $240) and it will do quite a decent job.

I haven't gone outside with it yet, but I've included a hand-held shot (using the built-in flash and ISO 400) of my CPaP machine to give you an idea of the quality - reduced to 800 pixels by 531 pixels, of course.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Windows Easy Transfer *won't* work using a typical PC-Linq USB-to-USB transfer cable! I've got to wait until my Easy Transfer *cable* arrives! Shoot! Gol Durn! Bad Word! Bad Word! Bad Word!

Oh well, I'm still about 3/4 of the way done in setting up the Vista machine. Got Vista installed, got most of my favorite apps installed, got all my current novels transferred over via sneaker-net - as well as my complete collection of .prc/.mobi and .lrf ebooks. Yay!

But I'm not going to try to burn 200GB of Olympus, Canon and Nikon RAW image files to CDRW discs. It just isn't worth the effort to burn all those discs!

Anywho, found a great deal on a Sigma 135-400mm for my camera and am waiting for that sneaky hummingbird to show it's face. Of course, with that lens, I'll be able to get decent shots of the Wild Turkeys, California Quails and other large and suspicious birds in the neighborhood.

Still, I wouldn't mind building up a family of VR lenses - maybe the 14-24mm, 24-120mm, 70-200mm, 200-400mm and either the 500mm or 600mm VR series lenses. Yeah. RIIIiiiigggghhhhttt. Both the 500mm Vr and 600mm VR retail, through Amazon, for $9,699!!! Similar price ranges for the other lenses in this series. Maybe if I can manage to win the next big MEGAMillions lottery...

But what really caught my eye was the new D700X that should be coming out this Fall. 24 megapixels of Nikon sweetness! And less than 1/3 the price of a D3X! SWEET!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I think I've figured it out...

I'm a 'foodie'. Well, that and I'm a 'photogie', 'readie', 'writie', 'proggie' and general all-around 'whateverie'... :-)

Now some people, seeing my immense girth and depth of food-loving-dom, might be inclined to argue and say that I'd be better off claiming to be a 'gourmand'. But I'm not. There are foods I have no desire to eat - no Rabbit Tongues in Port Wine Reduction, no Calves Brains with Eggs, no Fugu, no Asparagus Sauteed in Squid Ink for me. No sirree-Bob! You won't find me hanging around the vinyards arguing the merits of tannin, charred barrels or the like either. But I DO like good food. I also like to create my own dishes as well as figure out how to make my own sauces, rubs and spice mixes.

That's why it was such a joy to me to be able to transform the jalapeno peppers from our garden into my own version of 'Tabasco' green sauce. I had some this morning on my breakfast burrito and it was DELICIOUS!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Yay! My C2Q Gateway Recovery Discs Arrived!

And that means I'm in the process of installing the OS back onto the system! I've included a photo, of course. :-)

One thing that surprised me was that the recovery discs they sent me were for Windows Vista Home Premium. According to their records, the system originally had Windows XP installed on it at time of purchase. I'm not going to complain because I'm just going to install Windows 7 onto the machine.

My DIY "Tabasco" Green Sauce...

Mom loves to garden. She's converted our back yard into this space where vegetables, agastache, tulips and echinacea plants abound. (Agastache is a wonderful plant that flowers for most of the summer and attracts hummingbirds in droves!) This summer she asked if I would like her to attempt to grow Jalapeno peppers and I told I'd love it if she did. Well, we only got one plant but that plant produced 15 peppers! They ranged in size from about 1&1/2 inches to just over 3 inches by the time we harvested them; also, three of the pods had turned this bright red color while the other twelve were a deep, rich green. I'm including two photos, one of a green pod and one of a red pod.

After about three days sitting on our kitchen counter, I decided to 'do something' with them. Last year we'd tried our hand at Anaheim peppers and I'd dried them out and ground them down to form the kind of red pepper flakes you find at pizza restaurants - I love to sprinkle them on our home-made pizzas! But this year I decided to try my hand at making a pepper sauce-if you've ever bought Tabasco's Green sauce, you know what I was shooting for.

As we have an electric stove, I pulled out a stainless steel pan and dry-roasted the peppers in the pan rather than attempt to hold them close enough to the burners to properly roast the skin - I made small slits in each so the peppers wouldn't explode from the pressure. After the peppers were charred, I put them into a ziploc baggie for about fifteen minutes to get the skin to loosen and pull away.

Once I had the pods peeled, I cut off the stem end, split them open and scraped out the ribs and seeds. It's time-consuming so expect it - and be patient. Also, DON'T forget that you're working with hot peppers and accidentally wipe or rub your eyes! I did that last year when I ground up the Anaheims - I'll never be that stupid again! ;-)

I then put my fifteen de-skinned, seeded and cut-open jalapenos into a small pot, poured in a little more than one cup of white vinegar and about two teaspoons of salt - I used sea salt - and used a hand blender to puree the ingredients. This took about twenty more minutes as I wanted the pods to be as liquified as possible. I then added water and more vinegar (remember to taste after each addition to see if the flavor is what you want) to bring it to a little more than 2 cups of sauce, while simmering over medium-low heat, using the hand-blender to keep the puree working.

I let it all cool down and poured the results into an empty 1/2 liter (16.9oz) plastic water bottle. It's now sitting in my refrigerator and it tastes FINE!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

So I've got the Core2Quad ALMOST working...

but I've still got to get the operating system installed. I've tried using a 'generic' Windows XP and the current RTM release of Windows 7 - but the Windows 7 release expects that the custom drivers for the Gateway GT5628 are already installed-they're not-and the 'generic' Windows XP OEM disc expects to find the SATA drivers as well as a floppy drive. They're not!

So I'm waiting for my recovery/restore DVD from Gateway. Sigh. In the mean time, I've got my new Phoenix Gold 100mm F3.5 Macro lens. (Okay, it's NOT new, but it's new in MY collection - I got it on eBay. ) Wow! Even though I've only got the basic lens - it's missing the 1:1 Life-Size adapter - this lens ROCKS for macro work!

I've included an 800x531 pixel (reduced from the 4288x2848 pixels) that makes the actual subject "about" the size of the real adapter.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I've decided to get a hummingbird feeder!

I figure that if I can hang a feeder, I can control the background and the distance from me. So I've gone with four of the type of feeder that you'll see if you click on the title of this post. I'm not advocating these types of feeders, just saying that these individual feeders will allow me to place in several areas of the back yard - including right outside my bedroom window.

In the mean time, I've got to tear down the new PC so I can *UN*-master my secondary HD. Sigh. Almost got the new system set up. As soon as that's accomplished, I'll be porting over all my data from this system and I'll be a "Happy Camper"!

Anywho... Shooting's been kind of on hold these past two days. But I think I'll be able to re-start tomorrow. Yay!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Not working on photos today...

Nope. I got a used Core2Quad 'barebones' system on eBay a few weeks ago - and then bought the upgrade RAM, HD and 22" monitor to bring it up to speed. But I didn't get a monitor cable and I had to get a USB-2- USB transfer setup to get the data from my "old" computer transferred over.

Anyway, today the cables arrived and I'm now partitioning and formatting the HD for use (Had to buy an external USB-2-SATA cabling kit - but that's done and I'm waiting, waiting, waiting for the 1-TB drive to format... 20 minutes in and I'm up to 11% completed!)

But I can't wait! I've got 6GB of RAM, a 250GB EIDE and 1TB SATA drive and a nice Westinghouse 22" display. And by waiting and shopping around on eBay, I managed to get the basics (HD, RAM, CPU, LCD) for under $350! Deals are STILL available if one has patience.

I needed the new system because Windows XP, Photoshop CS3, 280GB HD and 4GB RAM just wasn't cutting the mustard with my 12MP photos. On the new system, I'm putting the RTM (Release-To-Market) version of Windows 7 Ultimate and CS4. That should make a decent photo editing platform - and I can add in 2GB more of RAM to max it out - later!

So, in a couple of days, I'll be back up to speed with my photos.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

"Perfect" from camera or "post-process"???

I recent read a post in one of the discussion forums over at DPReview (And if you are interested in digital photography and you aren't a member, sign up! Click on the title of this post to go to the site.)

In it, the poster raised the question whether it was better to 'create the perfect shot' in-camera or to take the best one could under the conditions and then 'post-process' (PP) it using GIMP, Photoshop or similar photo-editing software. There were plenty of people on both sides of this issue - and I'm sure that any time this question gets raised, responders will jump to defend their views.

My view on this issue is simple. If you're perfect, your lens is perfect, your camera is perfect, the lighting is perfect and the subject matter is perfect, then by all means, don't bother with post-processing. For the 99.999999% of us who can't match that standard, we'll continue to PP the heck out of our work.

Post-processing can salvage a so-so image well enough to make it suitable for personal scrapbooks, turn a decent image into one worthy of framing and sending out as gifts and take a great shot and make it mind-blowing wonderful! In the same discussion forum as the thread in question, another poster had re-visited an older photo for the purpose of examining whether the shot - a wide-angle scenic might show potential when re-processed in High-Dynamic-Range (HDR) mode as well as a black & white image. I must say, I *loved* the original image (he'd posted it as a 'reference'); it captured the sweeping horizon-to-horizon vista that he had seen. And from my point of view, it clearly made me feel as if I were there.

However, his rendition as an HDR image also worked. In that image, I was less concerned with the sweeping vista as I was with the way he made the HDR settings he chose bring out the subtle variations in the light, the way the clouds shaded from white to orange to pink (early evening shot) as well as lightening the shadows of the rocks while keeping the highlights from washing out. Again, I felt as if I had been transported to the scene.

In the third image, he chose a starker, harsher, black & white technique which made the slight cloudyness appear more 'threatening'. It brought out a sense of foreboding, of an impending storm.

Each image exposed a different theme, told a different story, yet all three images were created from the same original. That might well be impossible to do without post-processing.

One final reminder, Ansel Adams, one of our greatest photographers, routinely post-processed the heck out of his images. And he did this at a time when there were no computer post-processing applications. He used his hands, chemicals, film, paper and light to alter and form his mind-blowing works.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

There's something 'freeing' about digital photography.

As usual, I've linked the title of this post - this time it points to my 'Derek Benner Photography' page where you can see a gallery of some of my images. Right now I've got five images posted. At the bottom there is a link to my DeviantArt page where some of these images can be purchased.

But that's not the point. The point is that having a digital SLR - in my case a Nikon D90 w/18-105mm VR lens, but I believe the same could be said for any of the current crop of dSLRs - has freed me from many of the technical details of photography. This 'freedom' allows me to concentrate upon getting the shots I want to make. Right now, I'm learning all there is to creating a great hummingbird photo. (I've attached the most current hummer shot to this article.) I've progressed in my bird photography to the point where - after just a few short weeks - I can actually get a recognizable photo of the hummingbird in question. One which is sharp enough to show some feather detail and fast enough to capture the wings in mid-stroke. I won't claim these current images are 'National Geographic' quality, but they're good enough to show to my friends and family.

Part of what makes these images possible is that I have a dSLR. That means I can choose a lens suitable for the task at hand. In this case, I chose my trusty 70-300mm telephoto zoom (Yes, I *do* lust after one of those 'monster' 300mm f2.8s or 600mm f4s but that ain't gonna happen unless I win the lottery.) because from where I'm shooting, anything shorter than 300mm gives me just too small an image of the bird in the overall picture. That's almost impossible to do with one of the single-focal-length 35mm point-and-shoot cameras and nearly as impossible for a point-and-shoot digital camera with a wide-to-short-tele zoom.

Another part is that the current crop of dSLR cameras allows for massive in-camera customization of image sharpness, contrast, color saturation, brightness and color white balance. Not only that, but I can choose between low ISO ratings for less 'noise' in the image or boost all the way up to extremely high ISOs (3200, and even 6400) for shooting in very dark situations. Yes, at the high ISO end, I'm going to get much more color noise, but consider this, with a 35mm camera, I'd either have to have several cameras loaded with the different films I thought I might need or I'd have to stop shooting in mid-roll, rewind and insert another roll of film - that would sure waste critical time!

Plus, the current release of lenses for dSLR cameras tend towards some form of in-camera or in-lens image stabilization. That means I can shoot hand-held at far lower shutter speeds and still have a reasonable chance of not having camera-shake ruin the images. It's true that image-stabilization (IS) lenses are more expensive, but almost all the dSLR kits offer a basic wide-to-tele zoom w/IS as part of the kit.

Finally, even with all these hardware enhancements, I find that some images just aren't quite 'popping'. That's where the final tool kicks in - Photoshop. Yes, Photoshop, or the free equivalent, GIMP, lets me tweak the saturation, sharpness and contrast - allows me to crop out the non-essentials and put the 'finishing touches' om my digital images. And at no time do I have to send out film for processing and wait for them to come back from the lab.

With all these tools, I've actually found myself shooting an image, transferring it to the computer, performing post-processing and uploading the image to my website inside of one hour.

Some people may complain about 'too much technology' but I'm quite happy to have it.

Anyway, I hope you feel the same way. Keep on shooting!