Still Here!

Cracked Display

In first world terms, life has been a bit hectic lately and kept me from updating my ongoing story for several weeks….but I am still here

Changes at work mean I am now working from home full time – except when I need to travel to go onsite to address issues that can’t be handled remotely.  That meant a redo of my office which mandated removal of everything in there. I’m happy to say it looks so much better and that makes me happy since I’ll now spend an additional 8+ hours a day in this room.

Unfortunately, during the process of moving out and back in, I damaged my 3 month old 4K monitor.  When I picked it up I noticed a smudge on the screen and when I tried to wipe it off, I realized there was a ‘bump’ sticking out.  I didn’t actually know it was cracked until I powered it up. Broke and Dell doesn’t offer to repair cracked screens though they were happy to sell me a new one for $130.00 more than what I paid for this one from Amazon.  It is physical damage not covered by the warranty.

Initially I couldn’t even think of how I might have damaged it. The bump pressing out suggested  that something inside went wrong and had a mini-explosion.  The Dell rep pretended to not even hear my suggestion.  After accepting that they weren’t going to fix it, I later recalled that with everything sitting on a rug on the floor, I moved he rug once and the monitor – which was sitting on it’s stand on the rug, fell forward and landed on the PC case.  At most, the spot on the screen where the crack is located – which is in the lower half – must have moved 6 inches.  Mind you this was not a drop but merely tipping over on it’s stand. If this display is THAT fragile I really had to think about whether I wanted to throw any more money at it.

With that thought in mind, I hauled it to the street for pickup and reconfigured my workspace to use my trusty Viewsonic monitors. A little bit of testing and I’m not sure why I bought the 4K monitor. I marked this off as the universe encouraging me to take one more step at simplifying.    Then I mentioned my problems to a co-worker who suggested I could purchase the screen and replace it myself.  Of Course!

I located a replacement screen. $140 + $96 shipping is still less than half of what Dell wanted for a new one.  Since realizing I didn’t need that screen and appreciating the extra space on the desk, I have held off from ordering the part yet but am sure I will at some point.

In the interim,  I’ll get back to my work…or play.   The next image is ready to share and the story that goes with it is 98% complete.  I have yet to settle on the music to go with it so that may be the most difficult part…but I will manage 🙂

Time Off

Almost happy

When I scheduled some time off around my birthday it wasn’t because I had anywhere to go specifically but with work looking so busy through the rest of the year I wanted to use some days of my choosing rather than try to squeeze them in at everybody else’s convenience or lose them.

I figured I would get some things done around the house and perhaps get a couple images created in the two weekends that surrounded my week off.  Unfortunately, my 30 day old Veikk Pen Tablet which I have been very happy with up to this point decided that it too was going to take some time off.  The image I was in just beginning when this happened was going to require an abundance of hand edits that really required the tablet.  Sure, given enough time I might get them done with a mouse but I don’t think I could get the same amount of detail with the mouse.

Amazon, where the tablet was purchased has a 30 day return policy for this device. I purchased it on July 2nd and on August 2nd I found that it began editing when the pen was still nearly an inch above the tablet.  Sure, I should have called Amazon right then but not realizing I was right at the 30 days I spent a few hours removing and reinstalling drivers, doing windows updates and installing drivers again.  When this failed I installed it on another machine but got the same results.

Amazon did line me up with the seller of this device to request a warranty replacement (warranty is for one year) and the seller responded later that same day with apologies and the intent to send a replacement pen. Hopefully it is the pen and not the tablet itself since all of this waiting time right when I had hoped to used it the most is quite inconvenient. 

Standby for an update.

 

Bienvenido

Checking in
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Aedan stood in near silence at the door, only the distant rumbling of waves breaking on the shore and squeals of gulls broke the silence yet didn’t break the calm.  He knocked at the door again but with a bit more effort this time.

“Ya voy, ya voy!” came a feminine voice from behind the door even as the door cracked open to the extent that the attached chain would permit it. Brown eyes at chest height to him peered out the door at Aedan.

“Yo soy Aedan Charron” he almost got out before the door closed again.  There was the fiddling of metal on metal then the door opened wide.

“Of course you are!”  The woman, Aedan guessed to be in her mid 50s blurted out as she stepped out the door, looked both ways up and down the street then ushered Aedan in. She reattached the lock after he and his suitcase were inside.

“We didn’t think you were ever going to make it.” she went on in perfect english with only a subtle Spanish accent. “You must be beat. Would you like some coffee?  I just put the warter on the stove.”

“No…no thank you. I’d really like to get unpacked and cleaned up first.”

Aedan hadn’t known what to expect from his sponsors. The entire arrangement was made through the travel agency.  That her english was so good was a plus. Aedan hadn’t practiced Spanish since high school though he tried to refresh a bit when it became clear that he would spend is vacation in Cuba.

“Of course.” She said  “Take your time, I’ll make more if you wish, later.  Your room is at the top of the stairs“ She looked back over her shoulder and called “Juan! Ven aca!”

“This is my son, he will take your bag for you.” A boy of about twelve years of age came from the other room and she went on in rapid Spanish that Aedan wasn’t able to keep up with but as the boy reached for his bag.

“That’s ok, I can take my own bag.” He smiled at the boy with his most sincere “gracias” but didn’t let go of the handle.

Juan looked at his mom for guidance which she gave. He ran off, seemingly pleased that he wasn’t needed.

“Aqui, this way, then.”  She started up the stairs giving Aedan no choice but to follow.

The staircase was narrow and winding. On more than one occasion, Aedan struggled to turn the corner without his suitcase hitting the wall.  On the third floor, the woman opened the lone door at the top of the stairs, entered the room and after a quick glance around invited Aedan in.

“I hope you find everything to your liking. After you get settled in, come on down for some delicious Cuban coffee and tell me about your plans. There is a lot to see here and I can help you find it all.”

Aedan set the suitcase down in the first empty corner he saw in the small room then thanked and assured her he would be down after bit.  When she left the room and closed the door behind her, Aedan breathed a sigh of relief, truly alone for the first time in over 24 hours.

The room wasn’t large but it was comfortable. The bathroom reminded him of the classic cars on the street. A little worn but well tended to and clean. The main room was simple but clean with a double bed, night stands on either side, a small table and chair in the corner with two more chairs and table on the opposite side. Through french doors at the far end, Aedan could see the balcony outside.

Pulling the french doors wide open was like removing the entire wall from the room and outside that wall was a perfect view of the beach across the street. He was happy to see a chair and table set out here as he expected to find himself there many times.

Closing the french doors behind him, Aedan put his suitcase on the bed, opened it and began unpacking. He found a small closet adjacent to the bathroom and hung the few things he brought needing to be hung – including the jacket he was still wearing.  He finished unpacking then stripped down to nothing as he opened the water valve to take a shower.

The hot water wasn’t.  It was a bit above room temperature but not much.  This made for a shorter shower than Aedan was used to but it still felt good. Once he stepped out and began to dry off, the feeling of relaxation really moved in. The thoughts of laying on the bed if only for an hour were tempting. It had been a tumultuous day with little sleep and now he was well into the next. Maybe he would but first, he had to try to call Cathy again.

As assured by the travel agent, when Aedan looked at his phone, he did have a signal sufficient to make his phone call. It would be a roaming charge but that was better than nothing at all. Hoping to increase the signal a bit, he moved onto the balcony. Cathy picked up on the third ring. She was barely up at 6:15 on a Saturday morning but she had been anticipating his call since she had missed attempt to call her.

“Aedan, he is very nervous and wouldn’t tell me where you should meet him.” She described the conversation with his contact in Havana.

“Well, I’m here now. He knows where I am staying, right?”

“No, he didn’t want to know.  He insisted that I didn’t tell him anything. He has a plan, though.”

Aedan nodded to himself “of course he does…and what is his plan?”

“There is a store in Havana. In the window is a hat that he wants you to buy and wear. He said he’ll find you.”

Aedan didn’t like the idea “A hat? Like a flag for all to see?”

“Yes..but he insisted it must be that hat and nothing else from the store.” She responded then gave him the address.

They talked for a few more moments but Aedan was wary of saying much more in case anyone else was listening.  When the conversation was done, he moved back inside and stretched out on the bed. It was comfortable. Most anything would have felt comfortable right then. He closed his eyes and thought to himself that a quick nap was in order.

The Struggle is Real

What to do?

This is somewhat of an update to my progress toward my goal here. What I’m finding that there is always something to learn, that can sometimes be difficult and the struggle is real. On the other hand, there is some feeling of accomplishment when something new is learned.

In the last few weeks, I solved the problem I was having with my computer ever since adding a video card capable of displaying the graphics available in SL.  It was rebooting at the worst times – like when I’m trying to tweak the windlight setting after finding the pose I want and getting the camera set. Usually, I could tell it was coming because the fan speed on the video card would pick up. Of course, there was some concern that the video card wasn’t wasn’t all it was hyped to be but the fact that the machine was sometimes stubborn to power on and that I had struggled once before to get it to power up long before the new video card convinced me it was something else.  I had visions of purchasing a new, better motherboard…an opportunity but another expense.  In the end, I identified a connector that wasn’t fully seated on the motherboard and since addressing that, everything has gone great on the hardware side.  Now I could get back to focusing on my abilities.

Though my last image was, I think, a technical success in that three images were combined to make the one with little noticeable flaws, I wasn’t happy with the image itself…with the contrast or with the shadows. Most of the short comings are likely my own ability or lack of them while using Gimp. Last week, I stumbled upon a post on Flickr by Natsumi Xenga about a live editing session on youtube which really got my attention. I enjoy watching how others work.

 

I began with the oldest video and have been working my way through. It wasn’t long before I gave into the temptation of taking the Adobe plunge and trading in Gimp for Photoshop.  I have literally spent a full day trying to remove green pixels from the edges of images after trying to use a green screen background. I watched youtube videos that showed how to do this in 5 minutes in photoshop.

After signing up for a 7 day trial of Creative Cloud, I got to one of Natsumi’s videos showing her process in world and how she creates a mask to remove the background with an image from SL and then puts it all back together.  This is exactly what I needed. It is really the biggest shortcoming I’ve found in Gimp so far and here was a way to do it without Gimp or Photoshop. A few videos more of others complaining about Adobe’s monopoly and aggressiveness (which I was already aware of on the corporate side), I removed all the Creative Cloud apps and canceled my subscription before it began.  Back to Gimp 🙂

So, I’m not certain if this is 2 steps forward and one back or just three tiny steps forward but still the progress is forward and the next image of Aedan’s Spring Break is in my head so it’s time to get back to work.

Loading the car for a trip

No Surprise Here

Loading the car for a trip
Trying to leave again
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Of course vacation plans in SL are subject to complications just as in RL  You think you have everything packed and just as you’re about to get into the car you panic that you forgot something. Is it in the suitcase or..or is it lost? Similarly, I had spent hours setting up for this shot, tweaking the light, setting the pose – and that was after chasing down suitcases, cars, cats and parking lot textures! We won’t even talk about the cars I got at a very good price – too good to be true even with broken scripts. (Yes, I am lodging a complaint because at least one had a negative review because of the same issues I had).  After all that and then taking the picture, editing in Gimp because the only opening suitcase I could find that was half modern or not beat up was pink…after all that, you realize the jacket you’re wearing is a mess!

In all fairness, it was a few years old and the creators have a tough time dealing with the varied size avatars..but my avatar is 6 and a half feet tall and muscled…and small is too big!  So, refusing to leave home like that I had to go shopping.  I hate shopping for men’s clothes for this very reason.  Time lost shopping only to pull something else out of the drawer and set everything up for the photo again.

Unable to get the exact same lighting, I then spent another hour trying to (and took screen shots of the settings this time!) get the same angle, same light ( and failed) before saying ‘enough!’.  I’m getting really good at changing the color of items in Gimp by now so that was easy.

Almost ready to upload and then I noticed the cat was missing half it’s head! Really!? Log back in, set everything up as close as I can and…get a good picture of the cat from the same angle and distance…and hopefully with light close enough that it’s easy to bring into the image.  One last check and I realized that on one of my monitors it was too dark so I lightened the image before uploading.

There! Now we’re ready to go.  Get into the car! No, not you kitty…

Yes, it wasn’t too long before I was told the image was too dark.  I’m just ready to hit the road by now though I am a bit concerned that I’ve missed my flight…

Gimp Foreground Select

Rottendam - Too Bright
The starting point ..

From my post yesterday, you might recall that I was on a trip to find some objects for a secret and huge project I’m working on when I stumbled across this guy passed out on the street. It seemed like an opportunity to get some practice with my LUMIPro but I ended up taking the image into Gimp because I still couldn’t get exactly what I wanted.  I’ve found myself frequently needing to extract the subjects of photos from their backgrounds and this seemed to be one of those times.

Because this is becoming a frequent practice, I figured I should make myself more proficient at what I understand is supposed to be the latest and easiest way to isolate items in Gimp. The Foreground Select tool.  Here I go down another path!

To date, my experience with this tool has been only marginally better than using either the “free” or “fuzzy” select tools to do the same thing.  When it’s all said and done, I am still finding myself going back and spending perhaps hours removing unwanted pixels with the wrong color.  Unfortunately, this attempt has been no better.

However, I did learn one thing that prompted me to create this post.  When my attempts to identify the foreground and background using the tools presented by Foreground Select left so much wanting, I figured there must be something else to try. I watched a few tutorials on youtube and all showed the same thing though one was amazingly successful and extracting blowing hair from it’s background (video below).

In that video, the presenter is using the ‘Matting Levin” engine. On my machine, it was set to use the other engine, Matting Global, and I was unable to change the selection.  Similarly, the machine I am currently on is defaulted to the Matting Global but is denying the option to change engines.

I searched and read quite a bit but found nothing explaining why I had no other option.  I suspected it might be hardware.

Gimp Foreground Select Tool
Gimp Foreground Select Tool

I only recently built the machine that I’m using to take photos in SL.  It has what is supposed to be an exceptional video card which I may review later. Early on, I determined to use that machine ONLY for ‘gaming’ and web browsing when it was convenient.  No other software would be installed on that machine.  However, early on, I had installed Gimp before I reached that decision so I fired it up and sure enough, on that machine, I do have the ability to select either engine.  Just for fun, I tried extracting the same image from the photo above and though the result was slightly better, it still fails in comparison to the video below.  So, my search continues.  As is the story of my life, yet another small project has taken a life of it’s own.

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