Saturday, February 26, 2005

Latest photo toy: Gretag-Macbeth Color Checker Mini

The more and more serious I get about photography, the more I want accurate colors in my final images. Under any lighting conditions - and certainly under bad ones - it can be surprisingly difficult to adjust a photo for accurate color rendition.

That's where the Gretag-Macbeth Color Checker Mini comes in. It's a tiny-sized version of Gretag-Macbeth's industry-standard color checker chart that is used in practically every professional studio.

You photograph the color checker under the given lighting conditions and use that shot as a baseline. You can then adjust the color rendition/white balance against the color checker and apply those adjustments to your final images.

In this case I used it to accurately represent my white socks hanging all over my room (see previous post). Click on the pic to see a larger version.

The mini chart is a little too flimsy for comfort (that's a $60 piece of cardboard!) so I've used small binder clips to mount it to an Altoids lid. Works remarkably well.

ps - see all those white shirts hanging up in the background? That's from my second load of laundry that didn't get dry - I started it before I realized the socks weren't drying in the dryer. Grr...

Surrounded by socks; a tale of dryer woe

I had been putting off washing my whites. It got to the point where I'd worn every single pair of white socks I own. And believe me, I own a lot of them.

So I finally mustered up the motivation and did the laundry today. Only I discovered that our dryer no longer dries clothes (just tumbles them over and over and over fruitlessly).

So I was forced to hang up my clean, wet white socks. All of them. In order to enter my room you have to step over the sock line. Then to get to the bed or the bathroom you have to crawl under it.

Click on the picture to see more detail.

All things considered it's more comical than inconvenient, but only just. They damn well better be dry by morning.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Wine Tasting: Yellow Tail 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon

Yellow Tail
(Southeastern Australia)
2003 Cabernet Sauvignon
Rating: 5/10

Do not pair this wine with a tomato-based pasta sauce. The result was an odd, almost unbearable sour finish that overweighed any of the wine's mild flavor. Paired against a sharp cheddar the wine fared much better. It was still mild but aeration drew out just the slightest hint of flavor. The sour finish disappeared entirely with the different food choice.

I will reevaluate this wine tonight.

$5 on sale at Pavillions.

Wine Tasting: Yellow Tail 2003 Shiraz

Yellow Tail
(Southeastern Australia)
2003 Shiraz
Rating: 7/10

A touch thin, mild with eager ripe fruit. Aeration brings out stouter black cherry with mild tannin backbone. Broad, flavorful. Enjoyable with or without food. Sweetness may become tiresome. Overall simple but pleasing.

$6 at Pavillions

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Wine Tasting: Chateau Souverain 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon

Chateau Souverain
(Alexander Valley)
2001 Cabernet Sauvignon
Rating: 7/10

Strong but overly restrained delivery. Muted. Rich flavor is perhaps more chocolate than grape, but too brief. Finish is smooth and gradual. Subtle flavor can be easily overwhelmed by oak and other harsher tones with too much aeration. Seems to take too much care to enjoy and the payoff isn't quite rewarding enough.

$15 at Costco

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Wine Tasting: St Supéry 2000 Merlot

St. Supéry
(Napa Valley)
2000 Merlot
Rating: 6/10

Strong, spicy. Needs to breathe a bit. Initial hint of fruit gives way to strong oak. Too much aeration brings out too much oak. Some acid. Full bodied. Must be had with food.

Andrew's opinion was much more favorable. Perhaps worth revisiting once my wine tasting has progressed a bit further.

$21 from local wine shop.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Vacuvin results

The Vacuvin does indeed work - to a degree.

First off I immediately vacuum-sealed the cabernet I opened on the first night after pouring myself a glass. Normally you'd like a wine to have some time to "breathe" but when preservation is the goal, the breathing has to be done in the glass.

After pouring a second glass I vacuum-sealed the bottle again and stored it in the fridge. The next night I took the wine out and let it acclimate to room temperature for about forty minutes (it was still chilled but easily within an acceptable range).

That second night the wine was just as good as I remembered it being the first night. I was very well impressed with the Vacuvin. Again I only had the bottle open long enough to pour a glass. I resealed it and returned it to the fridge.

By the third night, last night, the wine was no longer good. Drinkable, but only just. As the bottle empties, the ratio of oxygen to wine increases since the vacuum is only a partial vacuum. A 3/4 empty bottle will still contain enough air to oxydize the remaining volume of wine. It's entirely possible that a half bottle or 3/4 full bottle would survive just fine to the third night.

Still, getting two nights' enjoyment out of a bottle of wine is well worth the minor outlay for the Vacuvin ($9-$13). Cabernets supposedly last the longest while pinots are the most fragile, so it's still possible that the Vacuvin won't work at all for certain wines.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Experiment in progress: Vacuvin wine saver

This simple device allows you to reseal a bottle of wine by creating a partial vacuum in the bottle. By reducing the amount of air trapped in the bottle the wine's oxidation is slowed. Store the wine in the fridge to further impede oxidation.

When you're ready to serve the wine again you remove it from the fridge and let it sit for twenty minutes to return to room temperature (apparently red wine is horrible cold). Then release the vacuum and pull out the rubber cork and serve.

The vacuum pump was very easy to operate and the rubber cork is easy enough to remove when the time comes.

In theory an opened bottle can last three days or longer if carefully resealed with the Vacuvin. We shall see how tonight's cabernet fares tomorrow.

Wine Tasting: Elizabeth Spencer 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon

Elizabeth Spencer
Proprietor Blended
Special Cuvee
(Napa Valley)
2002 Cabernet Sauvignon
Rating: 8/10

Excellent flavor, smooth mild delivery. Finish has a hint of acid but fades immediately. Strong spicy impact once aerated for full flavor. Excellent paired against appropriate foods but too forceful and palate-numbing to be enjoyed on its own.

$25 at local wine shop.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Wine Tasting: Robert Mondavi Winery 2001 Merlot

Robert Mondavi Winery
(Napa Valley)
2001 Merlot
Rating: 6/10

Flavor is only accessible through aeration - it is concentrated and pleasing, but entirely too quick. In its place is an astringent, acidic finish that overwhelms and clouds the experience.

$21 at local wine shop.

Wine Tasting: Sterling Vintner's Collection 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon

Sterling Vintner's Collection
(Central Coast)
2002 Cabernet Sauvignon
Rating: 7/10

Pleasing, full flavor is smoothly and evenly delivered from start to finish. "Long" in wine tasting parlance. Easily accessible and enjoyable. Very good, but is so evenly distributed that there is no highlight - only a single, pleasing plateau.

$15 at local grocery store.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Wine Tasting: Merryvale 2001 Starmont Cabernet Sauvignon

(Napa Valley)
2001 Starmont Cabernet Sauvignon
Rating: 8/10

Deep and immensely concentrated rich flavor, but too concentrated for my taste. Aeration brings out excellent black cherry and other fruit essences. Enjoyable but not easily accessible to this novice. I suspect in a few years this (and cabernets in general) will be more to my liking as my tastes mature.

$20 from Trader Joe's.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Book Review: The Dark Tower, Stephen King

Stephen King's career-spanning magnum opus - the Dark Tower cycle - reaches its conclusion in the seventh book of the series, aptly and simply titled, The Dark Tower.

This cycle begins with The Gunslinger - which, if I remember correctly, is the first novel King ever wrote (Carrie was published first, but The Gunslinger's completion predates it). I remember beginning The Gunslinger - oddly enough - in a plastic surgeon's office after my own life-altering (and life-threatening) high-impact encounter with a high bar.

At age sixteen-going-on-seventeen I was perfectly suited to be swept up by King's Wild West-meets-Mad-Max blend of traditional Western with modern technology with deep, deep mysticism and magic. He pillaged the best of all genres and created a fascinating, irresistable world.

I tore through The Gunslinger, the immense Drawing of the Three, and the thrilling but awkward The Wastelands (with its damn frustrating cliffhanger ending). And then I, like thousands of his fans, waited years for the next installment in what he promised to be a six or seven novel series.

It wasn't until my junior year of college that the fourth novel finally emerged, Wizard and Glass. Reading that was also an unforgettable experience. It was over my Christmas break - the break where I had begun my semester-long junior independent work on the first day of the three-week break. I had to stay at school over the break, working like a madman to the point of exhaustion.

And yet when I finally returned home to my dorm room, I'd pick up Wizard and Glass and find myself unable to put it down. Other than the three days I spent at home for Christmas, my entire break was my junior independent work and Wizard and Glass. Its tale of tragic adolescent romance coupled with the usual action, adventure, and magic was absolutely captivating (though many others find it intolerable - to each their own).

And again we waited.

Sometime around 2001 King announced that he was completing the Dark Tower novels - all three - back-to-back-to-back. The Wolves of the Calla came first and felt a little rusty, a little overlong, somewhat lacking in the magical, creative vitality that the other books possessed.

The Song of Susannah reads so quickly that it's practically a footnote compared to the others. King himself appears in fictional form as a character in this novel and in the next. While it's borderline egomania, it makes plenty of sense in the gunslinger world. Especially if you consider the alternating difficulty and inspiration this story has offered him over his decades-long career.

And then The Dark Tower imposes its mighty and lengthy self. It recaptures that magical allure and is a good read. But as a conclusion to his immense, most important work, it is merely quite adequate. This is, in some ways, no fault of King's. He wraps up his Dark Tower cycle in as fitting a manner as anyone could expect. But for all the earth-shattering revelations in the previous six novels, the conclusion is merely "right". But not brilliant. Not awe-inspiring. But not exactly disappointing either.

After all it's a seven-novel journey of incredible sacrifice, incredible hardship. The very definition of a Pyrrhic victory. A happy, glorious conclusion was never in the cards. The conclusion that is offered is the only one that could be written. But I don't think it compares to the other high points in this series.

It's well-known that many of King's other stories tie in somehow to the world of the Dark Tower. 'Salem's Lot, Insomnia, and Hearts in Atlantis figure very prominently in the Dark Tower novels and are therefore required reading. However The Stand, It, Misery, The Eyes of the Dragon, and others tangentially (or directly) refer back to the Dark Tower world.

The Dark Tower cycle is an immense achievement and a testament to King's incredible imagination. His concept of fate - "ka" in gunslinger lingo - and the way it guides, controls, and condemns his characters' lives is captivating and seductive. He set out to write his own Lord of the Rings (this is quite obvious as the stories unfold) and, for the most part, succeeded masterfully.

Wine Tasting: Robert Mondavi Winery 2001 Pinot Noir

Robert Mondavi Winery
(Napa Valley)
2001 Pinot Noir
Rating: 8/10

Exceptional flavor - strong bright grape flavoring. Just dry enough without being too dry. Oddly, it could almost pass for an excellent carbonated refined grape drink. Very easy to enjoy. Flavor is delivered smoothly, alcohol is barely noticed. Probably a novice-level wine lacking complexity, but well-suited to my novice palate.

$18 from my local Vons.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Fake Word of the Day: Quantificate

Quantificate, v.

1. To collect and analyze data in a careful and meditative manner. Before jumping to conclusions one should quantificate the long-term impact of the problem.

I coined this verb in jest as Byron struggled to find the word "quantify" during a meeting last week.

'Boarding skillz revived, though not soon enough

I learned to snowboard five years ago and hadn't gone since, until Saturday. I was getting rather decent during my last trip in 2000 but it was hard to guess how I'd do this weekend. It definitely took a few runs to get myself on track. But by midmorning we were already hitting the black diamond trails (though, to use Carlos' phrase, they were probably only black diamonds due to "trail inflation" and were really closer to blues). And by midday I was taking a cautious ride over some of the small jumps.

So I got back up to speed pretty quickly, though not soon enough - a novice snowboarder decided to take a sudden cut across the trail without taking a look uphill to see if anyone was heading towards him. I tried to swerve but ended up having to throw my ass to the ground and skid to a stop. Technically he had the right of way - just as a car is surely to blame for hitting a pedestrian - but one might strongly consider looking both ways before crossing either a street or a snow-covered hill...

The small resort - Mountain High - turned out to be surprisingly decent. Especially considering its convenient, easy access from LA (hour and a half of fast expressway driving). Definitely worth the $38 we paid for the lift tickets. Snow was okay but not great. But on the upside it was warm enough to ski in just a sweater and jeans if you wanted to.

On the way back we ran into traffic and stopped off in West Covina - Filippino central apparently - for dinner. Carlos guided us to a very authentic Filippino dive (no menu at all and I doubt the workers even spoke English). The food was good but it's a wonder that any of them lives past forty with all the fried foods in their cuisine's repertoire.