Death of a tablet

It feels like an old friend is gone. The Wacom Intuous 3 pen tablet, model  PTZ-431W, vintage December 2006, has died.

I had thought it was essentially indestructible. I’ve spilled iced tea on it twice, coffee once; each time took it apart and gently cleaned the circuit board, and back to work it went. I’m on the fourth (and probably last, since I can’t find another to order) pen… the side switches wear out.

I use the pen tablet in preference to the mouse, which feels clumsy by comparison (albeit not as awkward as the touchpad on notebooks). I’m quite happy with pressure- and tilt-sensitive controls, and direct proportional mapping.

The replacement has new features, knows touch gestures, has edge lighting, even a wireless option (must remember to periodically charge the battery and not lose the fiddly bits) which generally won’t get used…

Serial number 7AZM14858, I salute you. Come to think of it, I’ll raise a pen to you.

Hummus among us

With the new year (2017) comes the resolution to diminish oneself – at least to remove some of the mass of self accumulated across years of ingestion. To that regard it is necessary to change the eating habit, and with it comes new foods; or variants upon old favorites.

Hummus is a preparation of the chickpea. Now the web abounds with all sorts of traditional recipes… uh huh.

I start with chickpeas. I get ’em mail-order from Camellia Brands (great place to get beans; only source I know for crowder peas) and then cook them in the crock-pot. Just rinse, put the pound of beans into the cooker along with a dash of salt and eight cups of water, set for high heat and let it go five or six hours.

The recipe is for a cup of hummus – my blender only handles a cup and a half and it gets really messy to clean if you fill it completely… but with a pound of beans you’ve got six or seven cups.

1 cup chickpeas (garbanzo beans), cooked
1 oz lemon juice (fresh-squeezed, bit less if concentrate)
1 oz olive oil (cheap stuff works fine)
1/8 cup sesame seeds
1/8 teaspoon ginger (optional, but nice ‘kick’)

Put half the beans/peas in the blender, add the sesame seeds and oil, put the rest in, add the lemon juice to the top, blend until it gets creamy. Yield is one cup.



Making Lemonade…

I take lots of photographs. Digital cameras have made that easy to do, just hold the button down and as long as there’s memory and battery power… and for the wildlife, this works just fine. When the bird’s in flight or the fox is on the move burst shooting is often the only way to get a useful photo.

But I tend not to be quite so trigger-happy on a fixed object. And that can be a problem, especially if the fixed object wasn’t quite as permanent… as I thought.


Thus we have this, an adequate though not particularly appealing photo of St Elizabeth’s Chapel by the Sea, an 1885 Episcopal church in Ortley Beach NJ. Alas a hurricane named Sandy decided to sweep this church out to sea, so I can’t go back and get a better shot. But I might be able to make this one more dramatic.

I usually work in color – that’s the world as I see it, and I have no history of using black and white in film days (allergies kept me out of the darkroom). Thus I rarely consider the grayscale option, except in cases like this.


Now let’s just convert the photo over to grayscale, and pull down the luminance (brightness) channel on the blue sky… and now we get a sense of foreboding.

As observed by others, this photo is a bit “soft” – that’s mostly due to the lens used; the Pentax FA J 18-35mm “kit” lens. But at the time of this photo (March 2007) it was the wide-angle lens available.

Here’s another pairing of color to black-and-white… in color:


The old church looks seriously forlorn in this April 2005 shot. Within a year it had been torn down.

And it’s a JPEG file. My first DSLR was the Pentax *istDS and I shot in JPEG for the first several months (this is image #990 on that camera, at about 2 months’ ownership). It’s not a bad shot, but now I would handle the task a bit differently.

Back we go to the grayscale, this time using Lightroom’s “green filter” preset as part of the conversion.


I think it’s a bit more pleasing this way.

The building is the 1832 African Wesleyan church of Springtown, NJ – this Springtown being located near Greenwich in Cumberland County. I was in the area (along with Frank Greenagel) to photograph the Bethel Othello AME church, built 1838 and located about 200 yards west of this structure (shown below, April 2005).


At the time we were not aware of any other church in the immediate area. However consulting the FW Beers “Atlas” map of Cumberland County, published in 1862, we find that there were three churches in the area – Bethel AME, the African Wesleyan, and an African Union church off to the north. I’ve highlighted Bethel in blue and the Wesleyan church in red on the map fragment below.



It’s always nice to know for sure.

The only beverage used in creation of this post was coffee – estate Java, to be precise.

In Memoriam -Evelyn Stewart, 1920 – 2016

Well it’s more a reminisce…

In the early winter of 1990, Bill Powell suggested we forgo the trip to Milltown for the Kaypro Users Group and check out the ‘local’ club instead. And sitting right there in the front row so she wouldn’t miss hearing anything (or being able to contribute), was the quintessential “little old lady” – Evelyn Stewart.

I never knew Evelyn when she wasn’t retired (from a varied career that included wartime manufacturing, being a school librarian, running a credit union, publishing cookbooks and newsletters, raising a family)… and she was the busiest retired person I’ve ever known!

We quickly became friends, and started collaborating on Evelyn’s Senior Center project – bringing computer literacy, arts and crafts to a wider audience. Over time the program grew to have a dedicated lab and staff, and continues to this day.

The first visit I made to Evelyn’s home in Holland Twp was an adventure: drive down a narrow lane next to a busy golf course, find the 1814 farmhouse with the open spring-fed cistern inside… and follow 70-odd feet of extension cord over to Evelyn’s computer. The basement was another strange land, dirt-floored and populated with Doug’s machine tools.

In time husband Doug passed on, and Evelyn moved from the farmhouse to a smaller condominium nearby, where she continued the crafts and began to rewrite the printed cookbooks for the web.

Evelyn in the Senior Center Lab, March 2004.
Digital camera lessons, June 2004.

In 2005 Evelyn decided to quit driving, and found an assisted living place – Fallsdale Meadows, in Tyler Hill, PA. On October 26 the big move took place… and it didn’t take long at all to realize this was a mistake. While the staff was well-intentioned, Fallsdale was a care facility; a holding pen for people. It wasn’t at all the place for a mentally-alert lady. I visited up there in mid-December for a short visit… In June 2006, we went over to a diner in Callicoon NY for lunch, and then a walk for photography:

Street photography – Callicoon NY, June 2006.

And by then there was the new plan, and the new move.

Evelyn bought a house in Plattsmouth Nebraska, found via the Internet. She relied on son Bruce to make sure the house actually existed, and prepared to move out there. Soon enough the troops arrived, along with her trusty RAV4, and packing was done and she was off, to new adventures…

In 2007 I decided to take a great road trip, and go visit Evelyn in her new digs. Loaded up my RAV4, headed west, and eventually arrived in Plattsmouth… and found during this trip that Evelyn was secretly a hardware-store junkie. One day we drove down to the small town of Weeping Water and spent most of the day in a giant hardware store; on the way back stopped in at Harbor Freight to pick up something she forgot to get in Weeping Water!

The little house in Plattsmouth was cosy; it provided room for her, her crafts and photos, computers and memorabilia… even two cats!

The Plattsmouth “command center” in June 2007.

After a few days, it was time to head back. That was the last time I saw Evelyn, although we stayed in touch via email for years… the last email was a couple of years ago but there was sporadic contact via Facebook after that.

Others can fill in more details about her marches in the Smith College parade (she was class of 1941), the puppetry conventions and the PrintArtist clubs.

What a wonderful life.



Organizing photos – geographically

Continuing the intermittent series on organization, today’s topic is geotagging.

As mentioned before, I tend to remember when and where I took a photo. Thus keeping a geographic record is an important part of my organizational strategy.

Ah, but how do we do this? In the days before asset managers such as Lightroom, I used notes, and tended to place said notes in the boxes with the photographs… or in text files in directories during the early digital era. With digital I often make it a point to snap a photo of a road intersection or sign (often both).

One of my cameras has support for automatic GPS tagging, and some of the time I use that (but not always since the GPS module sits in the hotshoe connector). But the other two cameras don’t support it at all.

If you have automatic systems available, use that – it’s far more accurate, and on the Pentax system you’ll even find out which direction the camera was facing. But if not, then it’s off to doing it manually… locating the position and tagging photos individually.

I’ve tried various add-on products which claim to help; several of which rely on smartphone GPS and timestamping and try to match the two up afterwards. But – this assumes the camera’s clock is truly accurate… and most aren’t really up to the task. Some of this is overkill on the part of a software designer (it’s idiotic to try to match diverse items down into the millisecond range without external synchronization), but some is also due to the differences in how various phones update position reports.

In Lightroom you can use the metadata filtering to quickly locate photos without coordinates; and the map subsystem allows you to save a handful of locations.

Pro tip: don’t let years pass by before geotagging. ‘Tis much more difficult to find locations when the roads have changed and the landmarks gone and buildings obliterated.


Getting Organized – photo edition!

Thus starts a series of posts on the topic of organizing photos.

There are lots of ways to organize photos, and I tend to use most of them. I use Adobe Lightroom as the principal asset manager. Lightroom is based on a catalog system. I have two principal catalogs, based on camera type – “Master” for the APS-C / scanned / Q photos, and “Phone” for the various cellphone photos. I also use a few special catalogs for book and calendar projects.

Back to the “Master” catalog. As of this writing (July 2016) there are about 20,000 items in the catalog… and how do I find anything in such a collection?

I organize this in several ways. The initial sort is done by date; with folders for each year, then each month in the year, and then by day within the month. Thus photos from today would land in “2016/2016-07-July/07-20-2016.” Note this is a physical organization (how the storage is laid out on disk).

Next up are the keywords, followed by geotagging. I tend to think in terms of time and location, thus I prioritize the geotagging ahead of keywording. Sometimes this leads to problems, especially if I didn’t take notes in the field (or a significant time has elapsed since shooting).

In addition to geotagging and keywords, there is the metadata recorded by the camera; ie. make/model of camera, lens type, and the usual exposure information. Also I use color coding in Lightroom – blue for items displayed on Facebook, green for items sent to SmugMug, yellow for special events, and purple for experimental stuff.

I’ll have separate posts on geotagging and keywords.


The Farm Journal Map

A persistent area of interest for me is cartography; the science of mapmaking. I have a substantial collection of maps (both printed and digital), including a few that I’ve made. However it’s historical maps which are often of the greatest interest, for those point out features which may be worth photographing (especially churches and railroad structures).

Rutgers University has an online resource for maps at the Rutgers Cartography Lab. One of the maps in the collection is a 1913 Farm Journal map of southern New Jersey.

1913 map south jersey from Rutgers
Clicking on map takes you to image source – which you can enlarge.

One quickly notices a proliferation of small red numbers labelling every road. What are these numbers?

To understand that, we have to think about the purpose of this map. It was published by the Farm Journal of Philadelphia, as a finder’s aid to go with their Directories. A directory was published for each county in the Farm Journal’s coverage region (which in 1913 comprised most of Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland). For Gloucester County New Jersey, the corresponding directory is online in digital form at

Once you see the directory, it becomes clear what the numbers are – they’re road numbers, similar to a modern [printed] map’s row-column index. In 1913 few roads outside of a town had names; and if they did, it was to name the endpoints (Williamstown-Glassboro Road) or a prominent feature (Alms House Road). Thus for a directory and map to be of any use, the publisher had to impose some form of organization.

To understand how this works in practice, an example is in order.

From the directory for Deptford Township, I’ve extracted this fragment, and highlighted one entry in yellow, two in light orange. In yellow, Chas Alley is a shoe cutter located near Almonesson on H19 (a road marked on the map). The orange highlights are for H33 near Blackwood.


Looking on the map, road 19 is quite visible as a segment just northeast of Almonesson; and road 33 is the stretch between Fairview and Blackwood.


The roads are numbered starting in the northwest corner of each township and ending in the southeast corner… or from upper-left to lower-right.