Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image



newfawn.jpgIt’s fawn season again, and yesterday we saw a mother deer leading a fawn that was no bigger than Jackie, if perhaps a little taller. Figure that: A deer the size of a bichon. The poor thing can’t be more than a day or two old, and it’s wobbling unsteadily around the First Curve on Stanwell St., where teenagers roar by in their parents’ elephantine Escalades and probably wouldn’t even notice if they had small animals wedged in their grilles. (We’re mostly thankful that they don’t miss the curve and plow through my office window.) Last night about 8 or so, mom had gone off somewhere, and junior was simply lying on our neighbor’s mulch, about six feet from the pavement. It wasn’t as obvious as it could be, but there are much better hiding places in the area. I guess we can think of it as evolution in action.


Our nephew Brian was out for a few days last week, and we all went down to the Garden of the Gods for a vigorous walk around the rock formations. I took a photo of Brian and Carol and something very weird happened: A dazzle from one of Carol’s rings just happened to hit the camera the moment the shutter snapped. Green Lantern must have that problem a lot, but this is the first time I’ve seen it from Carol.

My low-key inverted-vee antenna should be up and running off the back deck by Field Day, and will be 32 feet on each leg. That will get me the 20 meter band and up, and given that I’m feeding it with a short run (~10′) of open wire line through an MFJ Versa Tuner 2, I may get 40 as well. I’ll certainly try.

I’m still testing EPub readers. This morning, at Jim Strickland’s noodging, I installed the Barnes & Noble Desktop Reader. Not a bad item, but as with all the readers I’ve tested so far, doesn’t quite get it right. The presentation on my test files has been pretty good so far, but this time the software does use the title tag, and thus puts up only half of the Beyschlag ebook’s title. Also, it puts my test books up in two-column format, and I still haven’t figured out how to control the column settings. Neither of my two test books with cover images show their covers as thumbnails in the library pane. To its credit, the reader renders PDF documents pretty well, though of course there’s no metadata and thus no display of title or author.

Most annoying is the User Guide button, which brings up a longwinded sales pitch but no user guide. I assume you have to sign up for a B&N account to get the user guide, and I will at some point, but probably not today. I do understand that the product is designed to work tightly with B&N’s online bookstore and won’t slam them too hard for that integration, but basic “here’s how to do it” information should be there long before the sales pitches begin.

Nobody’s perfect, but the winner so far is FBReader, even though it inexplicably displays my copyright notices in ancient Greek. We’ll get there. Just not as soon as I’d like.

Kodak’s V530: The $40 Pocket Battleship


The camera gremlins have been active here this year: Both of mine were stolen at a dog show in February, and Carol misplaced hers last week. Fortunately, I bought a used Kodak V530 on eBay to replace my 5-year-old and now defunct V530, so we were able to take pictures at Aero’s pivotal dog show this past weekend. And of course, with the dog show past, Carol’s camera turned up again this morning. (I think it’s taking lessons from Aunt Kathleen’s Lucky Dollar.)

The “new” V530 is black, which wouldn’t have been my first choice. Anodized aluminum shows nicks and scrapes much better than plain aluminum. My poor busted V530 rode around in my pockets with my car keys on plenty of back-country hikes, to the point where much of the printing on the body is worn away past legibility. Still, it looks amazingly good, and if it still worked I’d still be using it.

The V530 has a feature important to me: A dock charger. The charger wall wart plugs into this little flying-saucer thingie with a plastic insert unique to the V530 body (other inserts are available for other cameras) and when I come back from a hike, I just drop the camera into the dock and it’s charged again within the hour. I know, people who take more than forty or fifty shots in a session will need to carry a spare charged battery, but I’m just not that avid. I have (or will soon have again) a much more capable camera for deliberate photography. Pocket cameras have a different mission in my universe: The V530 rides with me in case I need to take a photo–say, if I spot a bear rifling a trash can or a flock of wild turkeys up on the mountain slopes. Rather than pack a full camera bag when I’m not sure I will encounter anything remarkable, I just toss the V530 in my pocket with my keys so it’ll be there if I need it.

The used V530 cost me forty bucks plus shipping. Not too damned bad for a fully-functional camera in better shape than the one I’d been using. It was dusty (especially the dock) and a little greasy where fingers had been gripping it, but a few alcohol wipes took care of that. I’m seriously considering buying a “shelf spare” if another comes up on eBay, just in case the gremlins descend again in the future. It’s easily the best digital I’ve ever had, and for “opportunistic photography” I’m quite sure it’s as good as you’ll find.

CBZ Files as Image Archives

Last fall, I gathered a stack of Alma-Tadema‘s paintings from my pre-1923 images folder, wrapped them up into a ZIP file, and sent them to a friend who was looking for a copyright-free color cover for a novel. Some weeks ago, I learned that the CBZ (Comic Book Zip) file format is nothing more than a ZIP file with a different extension. I downloaded and installed a free CBZ reader called Comical. After changing the extension on the Alma-Tadema archive to .cbz, I double-clicked on it, and boom! There it was, beautifully presented and trivially easy to click through. And if you change the extension back to .zip, you can de-archive the images in the usual fashion using any ZIP-capable archiver. It’s all in the extension; no changes to the binary archive need to be made.

Not being a comics guy, I’d never heard of the CBZ format, though it’s been around since 2004. It’s basically an ebook reader protocol (since it is, after all, simply an ordinary ZIP archive) that opens a .zip file and displays the files in alpha order by filename. If the files are displayable as images, the reader displays them. If the files are not displayable as images, a well-behaved reader will ignore them. (Comical, one of the simplest free readers, sometimes crashes when it encounters a non-image binary.) If you need an indicia page, some readers will display text if it’s in an .nfo file. The .nfo will appear in a separate text window on opening the file, rather than in the page display area.

I’ve tested four free CBZ readers: ComicRack and Comical under Windows, and QComicBook and Comix under Linux. All but ComicRack are open-source. ComicRack is overkill in a lot of ways, though it works very well. (It requires the .NET framework, if that’s significant to you.) Comical is much simpler, and my only gripes are that it doesn’t display .nfo files, and it crashes when it finds certain kinds of non-displayable files in a .cbz archive. QComicBook is a Qt4/KDE app, and the one I find myself using under Linux. Comix (a Python app) works well but is not as capable as QComicBook. (Feature-wise, it’s on a par with Comical.) Others exist. Okular will open CBZ files without complaint, but it simply scrolls vertically through the images without attempting to show one per click.

Most of the comic book readers also read CBR and CBT files, which are RAR and TAR archives, respectively, and work almost exactly the same way. (I haven’t tested those formats.)

The CBZ system works best when all the images in the archive are the same dimensions and aspect ratios. I’m putting together some photo albums for showing the folks back home that are collections of digital photographs in one (big) .cbz file. The bigness is mostly unavoidable, since JPG files don’t compress very well. Still, it makes file management simpler

Here are some sample CBZ archives that I put together for testing: Alma-Tadema (14 MB). Hi-Flier Kite Catalog 1977 (6 MB). The “Elf” Space-Charge Receiver (1.7 MB).

Film’s Last (Hawaii) Hurrah


The camera gremlins were hard at work prior to our recent Hawaii vacation. Both of my working digital cameras were stolen at the Denver dog show in February. I do intend to get another Canon mid-size eventually, probably the G11, but in shopping for new pocket units I found that Best Buy had no Kodaks, and (worse) every damned pocket camera they sold requires that the battery be removed for recharging. The chap there had no idea why this was so, and I still don’t have a good explanation. But that’s idiotic, especially if (as I suspect) it was done to save a quarter’s worth of interior parts in a $500 camera.

My 2005-vintage Kodak V530 pocket camera had both a charger dock and a wall-wart, and the battery never needs to emerge from the camera until you carry it out in its coffin. Alas, the whole camera got carried out in its coffin last fall. My solution was to find a used or (hopefully) NOS Kodak V530 on eBay, and while I looked, I didn’t nail one until just last night, and that didn’t help us with Hawaii. Carol has a Kodak digital camera, but we’ve lost the portable charger, and the only way to recharge it is using her printer dock, which isn’t designed for lugging around.

So about all we could do was dig Carol’s 2001-era Kodak Advantix film camera out of the junk cabinet to see if it still lived. And mirabile dictu! The little CR2 3V battery wasn’t even dead, after not having been used for at least six years.


We put a new battery in it anyway, and it handled the bulk of the photography on our Hawaii adventure. (We bought an underwater film camera for our very corkybobby snorkel trip.) Walgreens no longer has Kodak machines, but Target does, and we got the pictures back a few days ago.

It was interesting to compare digital photos from our 2004 Hawaii trip and our 2005 Bermuda trip to the Advantix film photos. It’s obvious why film is barely twitching: The colors were brighter on the digital shots, and the resolution noticeably better. The photo above is typical; in bright light, Advantix does pretty well. (That’s me in the open car of the Sugar Cane Train, waiting to pull out of Lahaina.) In low light, Advantix got very grainy, and the colors lost most of their subtlety.

Carol paid for digital images on CD, which saved me having to scan prints into our photo archives, and that was quite welcome. One annoyance: The digital images were numbered 1-25, but in reverse order. In other words, photo 25 was the first photo taken on the roll, photo 24 the second taken, and so on. I don’t know if a tech at Target messed this up, or if it was an engineering brainfart associated with the machines.

No matter. My NOS Kodak V530 is on its way, and I’ll be getting a G11 one of these days. But Hawaii reminded us that film is mostly dead for a reason: Color, resolution, convenience, immediacy, and probably a few more. There are probably circumstances where film can still shine, but tourist photography is not one of them.

Boy. Keith and I talked about starting a magazine called Digital Camera Techniques in 1996. We didn’t. Talk about opportunities missed.

Odd Lots

  • Here’s a great article from NASA on the unexpected success it’s had with the WISE (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) spacecraft in spotting previously unknown asteroids in the infrared spectrum. WISE is detecting hundreds of new asteroids every day, which is unnerving, since a rock no bigger than a Motel 6 could cause regional devastation greater than any nuclear weapon yet produced.
  • From Larry Nelson comes a pointer to the AirStash, an interesting $100 USB Wi-Fi gadget that can accept up to a 32 GB SD card and act as a content server over Wireless b/g. Anthough nominally a thumb drive, the USB plug also charges the internal battery, and (though it’s not screamed from the rooftops) the thingie works all by itself, no computer connection required. This suggests “wearable file sharing”: Drop one in your pocket and nearby people can download files from the device without having any idea where it actually is. Little by little, the jiminy (an AI wearable computer I thought up in 1983, and figured would be mature by 2027) creeps toward realization. The AI is actually the tough part; everything else already exists, if not in as small a package as I imagined 25 years ago.
  • And if you ever wanted to run Linux on one of your fillings (ok, one of your elephant’s fillings) this would be the solution. (Thanks to Bill Cherepy for the link.)
  • Here’s a gadget that builds you an external USB storage device by dropping in (literally) a naked SATA hard drive. I may not need it, but I admire the elegance of the concept.
  • I’ve been arguing in favor of dual-screen reader devices for years, and this one is a good start. Sounds like the user interface software needs work…but when has that not been an issue for a first-gen device? We’re closing in on it, though.
  • Nice status update on some of the current non-Tokamak fusion research approaches, link thanks to Frank Glover.
  • Also from Frank comes a reasonable article on how people would die in a vacuum and how they wouldn’t. I had heard of lung shredding; heart failure was new to me. But take, um, heart: Your blood wouldn’t boil.
  • If you ever wondered why you cry when you slice onions, well, it’s the sulfuric acid released by cells in the onion when they’re cut open. Supposedly living things evolved this mechanism (or at least key parts of it) half a billion years ago. Onions evolved their chemical weapons to avoid being laid on hamburgers in slices–but we evolved Vidalias to prove that we were smarter than onions, and that fast food will prevail against all threats.
  • Interestingly, the Canon G11 camera reduces the size of the image sensor to 10 megapixels, down from the 12.5 on the G10. The new sensor gives you fewer pixels but better ones, and faster, which is all for the best.
  • Burger King is testing a new retailing feature in Brazil. When you order a burger, they take your picture and print your face on the burger wrapper.


(Playing around with blogging styles here.) We got back from our Thanksgiving trip to Chicago yesterday afternoon, just before the deep freeze closed in again. Low tonight 10; high tomorrow 15; low tomorrow night 4. This is the coldest damned autumn we’ve had since we moved here, as well as the snowiest. Still, I’ll take this climate over Chicago’s three-month gloomfest any day.

I stuck my nose in the attic earlier this afternoon, scoping out what it might take to finish the job of shielding the leads from my garage smoke detector from my new-and-never-used wire dipole. What it will take is gloves and a winter coat, and wistful regret over not doing this in the fall. Wait a sec–this is the fall. And it’s not like I have any sunspots to coerce my signals into a path long enough to be useful.

My venerable 2005-era Kodak EasyShare V530 pocket camera is malfunctioning consistently and is probably scrap. I’ve said this before and it unexpectedly and inexplicably came back to life, but it’s been sitting dead in its little cradle for a month now, and I’m trying to decide what may take its place. I have the superb Canon G10 for technical photography, at which I’ve gotten tolerably good, but I still need an unfussy camera that will fit in a pocket, not need a case, and take a certain amount of rattling around with keys and small change (or big change) without damage.

In truth, what I’m really looking around for in a pocket camera is the champ at minimizing shutter lag. When I press the button I want the picture now–or as close to now as the technology permits. (I know DSLRs are good at this, but I want something small.) All of my previous digital cameras have required an ungodly amount of time to calculate what they’re going to do with the pixels that they’re about to capture, and this has meant a lot of missed shots of cute nieces and rowdy bichons playing dog soccer with Katie Beth’s beach ball. Sony seems to lead in most of the stack ranks on the shutter lag front, so I’m thinking about the Sony DSC-WX1.

Elsewhere in the Dying Hardware Department is my poor HP Laserjet 2100M printer, which I’ve had since, well, damn, I don’t remember, but probably 1998. I have pumped an immense amount of paper through that little cube, and replaced its worn-slick feed rolls in March of 2006, expecting them to work for another six or seven years. No luck. Paper feed has gotten erratic once more, and I’m not sure I want to go through the gnarly process of changing the feed rolls yet again. (That said, I have another repair kit on the shelf, so I probably will. I was the Lord High Feed Roll Executioner thirty-five years ago when I worked the LaSalle St. copier territory for Xerox, and such hard-won skills are a shame to waste.) So this might in fact be a good time to pop for my first color laser printer. I’m still shopping, but the HP CP1518 is the current front-runner. I know that the color laser cartridge market is a racket, but there have been times this year when I would really have liked color output for proofing book pages and covers. I guess if I do change out the rolls on the 2100 yet again I could park it downstairs for volume runs and keep the color unit up here. We’ll see, and soon–I need the tax deduction this year, courtesy my assembly language book.

Dash is sliding into puppy puberty: I caught him marking the baseboards in the front hall where QBit often sleeps. I rolled him on his back and tried my best to sound furious. He wagged his tail. A disciplinarian I’m not. I sense (nay, smell) interesting times ahead.

Holy Faces


I’ve been doing a 50th anniversary commemoration book for our Episcopal parish, and as part of the project I’ve been photographing the Stations of the Cross on the church walls. I’m strictly a hobby photographer, and admit a little sheepishly that I haven’t gone through my camera’s manual yet, page by page. So I found it a little startling when I aimed my new Canon G10 at the first station, and the camera identified Jesus’ face. The Canon G10 identifies faces for a couple of reasons, from eliminating redeye to starting the timer when an additional face (presumably the photographer’s) enters the field of view. It puts brackets around them when it identifies them.

The station depictions at our church are not photorealistic. They are done in the distinctive Mexican primitive style, by the well-known Mexican-American artist Mario Larrinaga, who (among many other things) was a matte artist for the original 1933 film King Kong. The stations are painted icons, deliberately lacking any suggestion of a third dimension (so that they cannot be mistaken for the biblically prohibited “graven images”) and as such they resemble cartoons more than portraits.

It got me thinking about how cameras identify faces. As I worked my way around the church, a pattern began to emerge. For the image above (Station #6, depicting Jesus, Mary, and Veronica) the camera tagged Jesus’ face twice–once in person and once on Veronica’s veil–but did not consistently identify the face of the Blessed Mother. Veronica did better, but not nearly as well as Jesus. The brackets flickered and did not stay on consistently.

When I got home, I tried a few other things. I brought up Google Images and aimed the camera at screen images of the Mona Lisa, various Rembrandt portraits, and a few other things. The camera got most of them. I then pulled out a couple of Lynda Barry’s books, spread them open with bookweights, and tried to get the G10 to recognize Marlys and Maybonne. No deal, but some of their friends were picked up.

These seem to be the criteria:

  • Faces need eyeballs. Marlys always has her Far Side glasses on. No eyeballs.
  • Big eyes are better than small eyes, all else being equal. This seems to be Mary’s problem in the station image above.
  • Faces need to be mostly human-shaped. Funny animals don’t cut it. But then again, neither did any of the characters in PVP. Tycho and Gabe were similarly snubbed. (It was odd to think of Marlys’ brother Freddie as being more “realistic” than Gabe.)
  • Faces need to be looking more or less straight at the camera.

This last criterion seemed to be the most significant. Profiles were never recognized, and three-quarter views only about half the time. The closer a face was to dead-on, the better the camera recognized it.

So. Got redeye problems? What Would Jesus Do? Get a G10. And look straight at the camera.

Heat of Fusion

moonvenus022709Well, we’re off to Chicago again, driving that familiar I-80 corridor, and yesterday got as far as North Platte, Nebraska. The target was Kearney, or at least Lexington, but winter threw us a curve: As we left Colorado on I-76, the temperature started to drop, and the quick dusting of snow that had passed over the area an hour or so earlier was freezing on the pavement, making the left lane a first-order approximation of glass. In fifteen miles we passed two rollover accidents, and speed was down in the 45 MPH range. Driving that stuff in the light of an overcast sky was bad enough. Driving it at night was right out. So we stopped at a nice Holiday Inn at North Platte. The free broadband is about dialup speed, but at least it’s there.

As we took the puppies out for a walk last night in 15° temps, I tried to get a shot of the conjunction of the Moon and Venus on a dark, unplowed road behind the hotel. The shot above isn’t bad, considering it was a snapshot from a handheld camera (my new Canon G10) that I still don’t know how to use in any detail.

We’re about to load the car and get back on the frozen roads, wishing that the heat of fusion of water was a little lower, so that the Sun would clear the ice a little sooner. It’s +4° right now, and it may be a slow haul to Des Moines. We’ll soon see.

Gretchen’s Patent Pasta Ponchos


I got a couple of really nice things for Christmas. Carol gave me a Canon G10 camera, a device that probably contains more intelligence than NASA had at its disposal in 1965. In fact, I’m still getting used to some of that intelligence, but…more on that later.

The other thing worth noting is a hand-made item from my sister Gretchen, before whom all things in the textile kingdom bow. Months back, when Gretchen asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I told her, Make me a pasta poncho. I told her what I meant. And she did.

You see the results above. She took an ordinary 48″ X 26″ bath towel in appropriate tomato red, and somehow (this is a black art to me) inserted a turtleneck dead center. So whenever we have pasta now, I just pull it over my head, and I’m set. Nothing to tuck, tie, or button. And when I invariably dump some of the sauce on myself, well, it’s machine-washable. (I always seem to wear white shirts the nights I make our trademark Front Range buffalo spaghetti sauce.)

The photo was taken yesterday evening, just before I lit into a pile of whole wheat spaghetti. I had a minor problem; I’m alone in the house. So I took the new Canon G10, put it on my tripod, and placed it across the kitchen table where Carol’s chair usually is. While digging through the manual looking for how to use the self-timer, I discovered that the G10 has something new (to me): a face-recognition self-timer. It works like this: You set up the shot, select the face timer, and then trip the shutter. The camera waits until it sees a new face in the field of view, and then kicks off the self-timer. So all I had to do was amble (not run) over to my chair, grab my utensils, and look the camera in the, er, eye. Bang! Timer starts running. Five seconds later, photo happens.

It doesn’t have to be a solo portrait. Get the family together in one frame, trip the shutter, and the G10 will wait until it sees you (or at least one more face) in the frame before it starts the timer. Sheesh. For a guy who began in photography with 120 Tri-X Pan film and a motheaten folding bellows camera (patched at a bellows crack with a small piece of Curad Battle Ribbon) this treads on the thin edge of spooky. I can see myself the day after Christmas 2019, arguing with my brand-new Canon G256:

ME: “Hey, lensface, this time take the glint off my skull, ok?”

G256: “Sure thing, boss. I can render CGI hair if you want.”

ME: “Don’t be a wiseass. You know what I mean.”

G256: “That would be an image closer to your genetic reality.”

ME: “A genetic reality that hasn’t been fully expressed since 1982 or so.”

G256: “But that’s the Canon slogan for 2019: Reality never looked this good!”

ME: “Take the best picture you can. Don’t screw with reality. Just. Take. The. Picture.”

And I’d get the CGI hair. Just what the world needs: A WYGIWITRSB camera. (“What You Get Is What I Think Reality Should Be.” )

Not that I’m complaining; the G10 is a pretty spectacular camera, and it doesn’t talk yet. It can take macro shots that are almost like what you’d see through an inspection microscope. The thumbnail at left is a 1N23 microwave diode, slightly larger than life size. (The real thing is 5/8″ long.) Click on it. Dare ya. Count the dust grains. Wow.

Anyway. Gretchen made a pair of ponchos and gave one to each of us. We hung them on hangers in the laundry room just off the kitchen so they’re handy, and as soon as Carol comes home again I’m going to throw her a spaghetti feast like she’s never seen before–and if I miss, well, she’ll be wearing the poncho.

Scanning Some Personal History

We live in a wildfire zone, and there’s not much to be done but make it easy to run if we have to. That leaves everything we have to go up in smoke, and while most of it is replaceable, a good deal isn’t. The worst of it is our photo album set and our boxes full of loose photos and slides. I’ve been scanning them as I can, but it’s a slow business and may not be done for a long time.

It has been a good opportunity to look critically at the photos as they come to hand one-by-one, and decide which are worth keeping come hell or high water (or a wall of fire) and which are not. People rarely throw away the bad ones, even when they’re out of focus or virtually identical to three or four others on the roll. I’m so used to nuking lousy digital camera shots that I was surprised that so many bad slides remained in the boxes, including a few that were so out of focus or exposure that it was difficult to tell precisely what they were. I guess I figured that they were paid for and therefore could not be wasted, like the last few ounces of a huge pile of heavily spiced pasta that you can’t bring yourself to eat but can’t bear to put down the disposal.

In going through a box of slides, I realized that I was only scanning about a third of them. The rest were bracketed attempts at excellence that missed the mark or just plain booboos. (Having a small light table to preview the slides certainly helped.)  I had to smile when I realized that I only keep about a third of my digital camera photos too, depending on what they are. I do better at things that sit stock still than I do at QBit and Aero tearing around the house or trying to do tricks.

So in fits and starts, Carol and I are preserving an era of our history together that isn’t in the photo albums, because (for the first three or four years) we took slides almost exclusively. It’s startling to see myself as an adult with hair, given that it’s now a small and shrinking percentage of my life, basically, 1970-1985. (The photo here is from the backyard of our first house in Chicago, the summer of 1978.)