Paris and Planet

I captured this picture of the Paris and Planet Hollywood casinos in Las Vegas in May 2009 while attending RailsConf. It's probably one of my favorite pics of Vegas mainly because of how cool I think the sky looks.

I didn't realize there was a name for this effect, but Scott mentioned at work this week that it is called the Blue Hour. Who knew...

Either way, I love the way the sky contrasts the bright and vivid lights from the Strip. What's even cooler about this picture? Well, it just won me a runner-up prize in a photo contest!

On a whim (I'm not even sure how I came across the ad), I submitted this picture to Fodor's "Show Us Your Las Vegas" contest. After the grand prize winner, there were 10 runner-ups in the contest so this beauty was apparently good enough to place in the top 11.

The grand prize was two free night in Vegas. Oh well. For my effort, I ended up netting two free travel guides, my picture will be posted online in a slideshow, and it may be used in a future travel guide. Not too shabby I guess.

At World's End

McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is still my favorite place in the world, hands down.

If you've been to our house, you probably know that I have a panorama of the falls that I took from a previous trip framed and hanging on the wall in our living room. Well, that is about to come down and be replaced by this one.

This panorama of the sunset over McWay Falls is an HDR blend of 27 individual pictures from the camera. 6 hours of Photoshop fun later (I'm not kidding about that, unfortunately), this was the final result.

If you want to check out some other pics from our recent trip to CA, you can view them from my SmugMug galleries.

Pictures from Huntington Botanical Gardens Now Available

I'm embarrassed to say that in the 3 years I lived in Southern California, I never visited the Huntington Library Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in Pasadena. During our trip to CA this past week, we made up for it.

This is a 4-picture infrared panorama taken in the Chinese Gardens. For a few other views of the gardens, take a peek at my friend Scott's Flickr page.

You can also see the rest of my set from the gardens on SmugMug.

Fix iTunes Catalog Streaming on FStream for iPhone

On my way to work, I've gotten in the habit of listening to web radio on my iPhone instead of local radio. It's a much more satisfying commute when you get rid of commercials, etc.

Up until recently I used an app called FStream, however, that all stopped working a few weeks ago. I'm not sure what changed, but FStream is no longer able to play any streams from the iTunes radio catalog (although other streams in the favorites browser, such as those from Shoutcast, still seem to work). After quite a bit of fiddling, I finally came across a solution, although it's a bit hackish.

Since I only had issues with the iTunes catalog stations in the app, I was betting that the stream URLs were wrong, or something along those lines. So I went into iTunes to try to get the stream URLs that it was playing, because I could still access those stations through iTunes. I couldn't find a way to just right-click on the stations in the radio browser in iTunes, so I had to drag the station to a playlist first and then do a 'Get Info' on it. Doing so, I was able to then copy the stream URL and then paste it into FStream as a new station (I emailed the URL to myself on the iPhone if you are wondering how I did this copy/paste).

No dice.

Looking at the stream URL I realized it was actually a redirect URL. Maybe iTunes uses these as some sort of marketing ploy to figure out what stations users are listening to? And maybe FStream can't follow the redirect? Don't know. So instead I took that URL and pasted it into Safari and let it follow the redirect. Doing so I was able to download the M3U playlist file that the actual web radio station serves up. Opening that with a text editor yields the real stream URLs. Copy/pasting those URLs into FStream instead did work. Voila!

So like I said, it was a bit hackish and I'm hoping the FStream app gets updated to remove this issue. Most users will not want to go through this process and the only reason I did it was because I only had two stations I listen to so it was easy. But for a free app that works well and keeps me from having to listen to the annoying local radio stations play the same crap over and over, this little hack fest was worth the effort for me.

Tuscany Pictures Now Available

Last one, I promise. The final set of our Italy pics captures a couple of different cities. We took a chartered bus tour from Florence through the Tuscany region, stopping in Pisa, a random winery for lunch and tasting, San Gimignano, and Siena.

Pictured above is a view of the skyline in San Gimignano, taken as our bus was approaching the city. The picture from the camera was pretty boring, so I decided to try something new and go all Frank Miller with the processing. I thought the result was pretty neat, so I stuck with it. Props go out to my friend Scott for giving me the idea. I also tried out some sepia processing for the first time on a few of the pics, so be sure to check those out too.

Tuscany album on SmugMug

Tuscany GPS track #1: Google Maps
Tuscany GPS track #1: Google Earth

Tuscany GPS track #2: Google Maps
Tuscany GPS track #2: Google Earth

Florence Pictures Now Available

The more pictures I post, the shorter the summaries get...

Next up in the madness that is my Italia pics is Florence. We only had part of the day to explore the city, but managed to sneak in a visit to Michelangelo's David, eat more gelato, and hike to the top of the Duomo.

Instead of posting another panorama (yes, I took one from the top of the dome), I'm going with something different here. I tried various long exposures of the carousel in Republic Square and really liked the effect.

Florence album on SmugMug

(Sorry, no GPS tracks for this one. I had to do the geotagging by hand since my GPS never got a signal in Florence.)

Cinque Terre Pictures Now Available

What else can I say about the Cinque Terre that hasn't already been said? It's one of the prettiest stretches of coast line you will see, it's rustic and relaxing, has the best pesto in the world, I actually ate fresh anchovies here, and it's another place we didn't get to spend enough time (partly due to train incompetence on our part) and another place I would definitely like to go back to.

Shown here is yet another HDR panorama (can you tell it's my new favorite thing to do?) of Monterosso. One of the few things we did get to do, in between missing trains and eating said pesto/anchovies, was do the 2+ mile hike from Vernazza to Monterosso before enjoying a quick swim in the Mediterranean Sea. This HDR pan was the result of 9 individual shots off of the camera.

Cinque Terre album on SmugMug

Cinque Terre GPS track: Google Maps
Cinque Terre GPS track: Google Earth

Portofino Pictures Now Available

Okay, technically these have been posted and available for awhile, but I'm just getting around to writing about them now. So act surprised, okay?

The next Italy album features Portofino, the classy and pricey little port town just south of Santa Margherita. Portofino immediately reminded me of Avalon, California, with its small crescent shaped harbor and boats docked outside some quaint little cafes and shops.

We took a 2 mile walk from Santa Margherita to Portofino and then took a boat ride back. While the town isn't very big, I would have like to have spent a little more time to explore the coast and even take a dip in the water near here. Oh well, next time.

The picture shown here is my first attempt at doing selective coloring with a layer mask in Photoshop. I think it came out okay for my first attempt, but it sure can be time consuming. But I remember when we took this picture (Missy gets credit for taking it first - I loved the way she framed it so I had to shoot it too), as I immediately thought about making this sort finished product from it. Something about that red boat just really stuck out well in the scene.

Portofino album on SmugMug

Portofino GPS track: Google Maps
Portofino GPS track: Google Earth

Santa Margherita Pictures Now Available

Next up in the Italian photo-fest is Santa Margherita. We took a train from Venice through Milan down to the Italian Riviera and stayed here for three nights. Santa Margherita was a nice place to stay, since it provided easy train access to the Cinque Terre while being close to Portofino, which we might otherwise have missed.

Shown here is another HDR panorama, this time comprised of 18 raw shots off of the camera. I think this may be my favorite picture from the entire trip. I just love the wide perspective this shot (taken from the balcony of our hotel room) gives of the morning sun rising over the harbor. Although I do wish the clouds were a little whiter. I think some of this is due to the HDR processing, but they were a little grey in the original shots too.

Santa Margherita album on SmugMug

Venice Pictures Now Available

After spending way too much time processing pictures (I guess that's what happens when you take 1800 of them...), I'm happy to say that I've started posting pictures from our recent trip to Italy.

First up is Venice. All I can say is that I've never had so much fun walking around and getting lost. (Most of the getting lost part was trying to find the church/library from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.) You think you know what to expect from movies and seeing pictures online, etc. but it was very different seeing it in person. In many ways, it's still hard to imagine that a place like this even exists. Seeing a city built completely on the water was very surreal.

I think we got lucky, in that we visited during the week instead of a weekend so the crowds were much smaller. I can see why people would not enjoy it though if they visited during a hot crowded summer day, that's a shame. I think the city has a wide variety of site seeing options and we had a blast and would definitely like to go back sometime.

Pictured here is an HDR panorama from the balcony of Basilica di San Marco. It's a blend of 27 individual shots off the camera, combined using Photomatix (to make the HDRs) and Photoshop CS4 (to make the panorama). If you want to take a peek at all of the geotagged photo goodness from Venice or view the GPS tracklog of where we wandered, here's a few links:

Venice album on SmugMug

Venice GPS track: Google Maps
Venice GPS track: Google Earth