Picture Perfect

The nice thing about scaling back on my posting commitments for a couple months is that I’ve been able to comb through the site I’ve built this past year and tweak what’s here, refine how it’s displayed or add completely new things.

Most of this is “under the hood” so to speak, but regular readers may notice a few minor changes I’ve made to castironguy.ca over the last week or so.

One of the big things is photo galleries.

I hastily added a photo gallery plugin at the end of June as a means to do some light updates to the site in between my sporadic summer posting schedule. If you haven’t seen that I’ve been updating a Summer 2021 gallery of random photos a few times per week.

I’ve been fascinated by online photo sharing for a long time now. Fascinated? Well, intrigued and captured by the potential of sharing a medium that I love in a fluid and barrier-free way, I guess would be the better explanation.

For years, in fact, I maintained an online gallery that had thousands of photos grouped into hundreds of albums, ranging the gamut from kid-pics to be shared with the family, all the way through to a kind of semi-professional portfolio of my better, high quality images. The effort got dated, of course, content and software-wise. It was lightly hacked. I took it down, archived it and never tried to replace it.

I did replace it with social media, I guess. Over the last couple years I’ve been active on Instagram sharing photos to various curated accounts, one private for people I know IRL and a couple public themed accounts for everyone else. Yet, social media has lately become something of a tangled mess of paywalls and advertising and fake content and frustrations, so I’ve leaned away from that and other platforms in recent months and chosen to put more effort into private website content like this site.

So having added that gallery plugin I’ve been getting some photos into it, deciding how I want it to look and act, and posting some updated collections. It makes me excited to have a place to post more photos again. Stay tuned.

Backyard: Macro Photography

In recognition of yet-another-local-lockdown due to the ongoing pandemic, I'm doing a week of feature blog posts about living in the backyard. From May 10th through 16th, my posts will be themed around life outdoors but as close to home as possible, a few steps out the back door.

Being all-but-stuck in my own backyard for the better part of two weeks during a health crisis has provided me with ample time to enjoy my own small bit of nature.

It has also reminded me —what with the bumble bees, wasps, ants, ladybugs, butterflies, spiders, flies, and so on — that there is a lot of critter life to be found in a couple hundred square meters of suburban backyard.

Photographing backyard bugs was one of the big — ahem, small — reasons I bought myself a macro lens a decade back and really got into taking pictures of little fauna crawling around the variety of flora I’d nurtured.

As of this afternoon the blossoms are just appearing on the trees and the population of dandelions seems to be doubling daily. The sky might be a bit cloudy, but that doesn’t seem to have much sway on the action of the various insects crawling and flying around me little backyard workspace.

Capturing photos of those critters takes a particular set of skills.

Right Gear

Macro photography is more than a purpose-built lens. A macro lens is a great addition to any photographer’s kit bag, but that alone won’t get you awesome insect snaps. Setting up a shot that is in focus in in the narrow confines of a shallow depth of field on a subject that is measured in millimeters means the stability that comes from a tripod and the light enhanced by a source or reflector will do wonders for the final results.

Good Timing

Back in University I took a laundry list of coursework in both botany and entomology. All that study of plants and bugs certainly didn’t hurt my backyard photography skills, but I’d be hard pressed to say how it helped. Figuring out when the flower are open at their peak and picking the right moment on the right day to encounter the kinds of insects worth photographing is still as much luck as it is skill. It’s a good idea to keep your camera charged up as spring warms up and summer approaches, though.

Long Patience

Anyone who has ever said photographing puppies and babies is the hardest gig obviously has never tried to get a really nice photo of a butterfly. I’ve found that there are really just two approaches to taking macro photo of an insect in the wild: chase, click and hope for the best, or set up your gear, focus, and wait. I’ve lucked out with the first method, but I’ve taken some amazing pics with the latter. It does mean sitting in the grass with your finger on the shutter for the better part of an afternoon, but I’m sure the instagram likes were worth it.

Tech Help: Fixing a Photographer’s Nightmare

I turned on my computer this meta Monday morning and was greeted with the following message in the black and white boot screen:

WARNING: Please back-up your data and replace your hard disk drive. A failure may be imminent and cause unpredictable fail.

It seems that my life never fails to present me with timely topics to write about.

But you ask, why am I writing about computer tech problems on a cast iron blog?

If you are an outdoors guy like me or just love to take photos and video of your travel adventures, chances are you too have gigabytes of media stored in fragile spaces.

Yet, all of this epic computer fail wasn’t necessarily a surprise.

When I built myself a new computer a few years ago I had salvaged my data backup drive from my old machine. It was a two terabyte drive that also happened to be where I stored all my photos and my music library. I popped it out of the old and dropped it into the new, and voila… all my media were on the new computer. Yet over the last couple weeks, working from home from this machine, some odd noises have been emitting from the big black box and I’ve been a terrible techie and basically ignored the early warning signs.

Imminent hard drive failure warnings are something like a stage four cancer diagnosis for your computer. You don’t deal with that stuff tomorrow… you act. Today.

Now, to be clear, I do have a cloud backup of all those photos in case of an epic emergency like a fire or a flood, and local backups scattered across old hard drives and such, but my core library is… well, was this drive.

I write “was” because as of this morning that first action step was to immediately start to move all that data to a newer drive…. all seven hundred plus gigabytes of what I hadn’t copied already. (The music files are up next and that’s also nearly a terabyte of data I need to contend with!) All in all, I’m looking at about six hours of data migration today in a race against the ticking timebomb of my hard drive giving up and deciding not to work anymore. A race against a fragile piece of equipment which I need to push to its very limits by copying every last byte of data it has stored inside it. A recipe for a technical nightmare.

Cue the epic action movie soundtrack:

Hard Drives are not Cast Iron…

They are the exact opposite actually… temporary, fragile, and mysterious in their operation. Even so, I use the former every day to share my love of the latter.

So, if you got here by Googling and are mid-panic and wondering how to deal with this kind of error yourself, here’s my advice:

First, stop whatever else you are doing and get that data off the failing hard drive. Put it on another hard disk in your machine. Put it on an external drive. Drag it onto another computer. Move it to memory cards. Push it to USB sticks. Write it onto recordable media like DVDs or even CDs if that’s what you have handy. Whatever you can do to save all those precious files, particularly files you don’t have other copies of, cannot replace, or would be time consuming or expensive to restore. Save as much data as you can first.

Second, figure out a backup solution (or two). Backup external hard drives are fairly inexpensive these days and even a hundred bucks to store a decade worth of photos and video is a relatively small investment to protect your memories and work. Free cloud storage products are hard to find anymore, but if you don’t mind paying a hundred bucks a year you can store a lot of data with Apple or Google or Dropbox or any of a dozen reputable companies who will keep your data safe in their datacentres. Watch for fees for things often called “data egress” which means you pay extra to download those files when you need them back.

Third, don’t mess around with broken drives. Get that old hard drive out of your system and replace it. There are lots of software programs that claim to fix or restore failing drives, but too often these are temporary fixes at best, fixes that give you time to nab your data before it’s done for good.

Winter Reprise Surprise Run

Sunday Runday, and yesterday morning I did some work in the yard, took the dog for a lovely spring walk, sat in the grass, cleaned up some flower beds, and generally enjoyed the spring.

This morning we met for a run on icy sidewalks and through ankle-deep snow.

These woodpecker winter days are nothing too surprising for anyone who has lived here very long. The gentle-jabbing joke that quickly circulates on text threads between local friends is “ok, who put their snow shovels away for the winter! It must be your fault!”

So, surprise… no.

But it is still very much a shock to the system when one is expecting something slightly warmer when planning a spring run.

I’d already cleaned up and packed away all my winter running gear. The mitts, hats, heavy jackets all tucked into the closets once again. The shoe spikes hidden away for next winter.

Maybe it was my fault the snow came back for a reprise.

We immediately made for the trees and escaped the icy city streets dropping into the river valley trails. The snow was deeper there but the ice was far less dangerous.

The snow storm had blown in quickly and aggressively, dropping a near-horizontal storm on the whole region. Somewhere between five and ten centimeters of fresh white powder covered the ground and then also the west side of everything. Wind. Horizontal snow. It sticks in unexpected places. The fluffy white kiss of winter’s last gasp clung to the trunks of trees and every branch of every tree creating a magical scene along the trails.

I spent almost as much time snapping photos as I did running.

As much as we’re used to a fresh snowfall here, it never ceases to be a breathtakingly beautiful opportunity to inhabit these familiar spaces as they are temporarily dressed in an all-encompassing snowy veil.

And temporary is the key word.

Even on the loop back I could see the melt begin.

Have you ever felt that sensation of momentary awe when you witness some bit of slow-motion nature happen in real time. Like, when you walk through the woods and a branch tumbles to the ground from high up in a tree. It has been growing there for years attached to the trunk of an even older tree, and then in that one moment as you pass by it happens to reach a critical tipping point between gravity and connection, and it falls down to the ground.

This morning was like that, except in high speed clumps of snow were loosing from their grip on the woods, tumbling through the lower branches and releasing a puff of snow as they crashed to the ground, here, there, here, over there, and there too.

Even the slippery city walks had mostly thawed as we returned to our vehicles and stopped our GPS watches for another successful Sunday run.

And by next Sunday, likely as not we will be back to treading through familiar spring trails and snowy paths will be just another week gone by.