Urban Sprawl — Are Humans Less Efficient Than Slime Molds?

“History suggests humans, in contrast to ants and slime molds, rarely optimize growth, particularly when multiple objectives such as profit, equity, and ecological integrity come into conflict.” And since we aren’t quite as good at this as slime molds are, there is the distinct possibility that we should plan for the worst rather than assume we’ll fix the problem ahead of time. – Dave Levitan | August 5 2014

Thanks to Pamela Zevit for posting this quotation, and the article it came from, on FaceBook. Pam posts links to a steady stream of articles that make one sit up and think.

Paul’s Photo Tips — Tip 4 — It Is the Camera

It’s the Camera, Not the Photographer

About a week ago in Photo Tip 3 I argued the point of view that you can take great photos with a cheap camera, and bad photos with an expensive one. I promised to write about the other side of that coin, so here goes:

In some situations professional, expensive gear will get shots that are difficult, or impossible, to achieve with simpler cameras.

Speed. Semi-pro and pro models focus faster, meter faster, shoot multiple shots faster, and have faster shutter-button reaction time (“lag”) than cheaper models. Those gaps have been closing over the last decade, but you still get what you pay for.

Mirrorless cameras throw some wrinkles into the following discussion, in which by “pro” models I mean higher-end DSLRs, but for simplicity I’ll ignore the mirrorless format for now.

Of course not everyone needs speed, but if you’re into genres like sports or wildlife photography, speed can make the difference between blown shots and tack-sharp ones that capture peak action.

Let’s tackle some of these speed issues one by one.

Faster, more accurate focus: Pro models usually have sensors with more focus points than consumer cameras, and accompanying computer chips that can react and process data extremely quickly. This results in near-instantaneous autofocus, focus tracking, etc. The autofocus sensor systems on higher-end cameras also work better in low light, and can work with lenses with smaller maximum apertures than lower-end cameras.

Faster, more accurate metering: Take most of the above comments, and apply them to metering, too. Higher-end cameras have more sophisticated metering systems.

Faster multiple shots: (in the old days with physical film we called this “motor drive”). Pro models can take multiple shots faster than cheaper ones. There are other variables involved here like file size, etc., but generally speaking a pro DSLR can shoot somewhere around double the number of shots per second compared to an entry level one. Another factor here is buffer size. A pro camera can likely shoot and store two or three times as many shots before its buffer fills up. When the buffer is full, the camera cannot take any more shots until the data in the buffer gets transferred to the memory card.

Higher usable ISO: Pro models have the latest, greatest (and concomitantly most expensive) sensors, and can often produce usable images in low light at extreme ISOs that cheaper cameras may not handle.

Shutter lag: Semi-pro and pro DSLRs have near-instantaneous shutter-button response. That means that when you hit the shutter button, the camera fires now, not a split second later. And yes, a split second can make or break a shot. Again, this applies mainly to action photography, but can also be key in documentary situations, or even catching a grin on a kid’s face.

Durability: Higher-end DSLRs are built like little tanks. They have expensive metal frames and bodies, and components like shutters that are tested for tens of thousands of cycles. They tend to be water-resistant if not watertight. In contrast, lower-end cameras tend to have more plastic parts, and are not designed for the heavy use and abuse of pro models.

Support: This varies by maker, but expensive DSLRs tend to get preferential treatment if anything goes wrong. If your $400 DSLR breaks and you take it, or send it, to an authorized service center, you may not see it for some time. But if you take a multi-thousand-dollar pro camera in, it’s almost guaranteed to jump the queue and get fixed ASAP. That makes sense to the manufacturers, who want to maintain good relations with professional photographers who buy expensive gear, and whose livelihoods rely on that equipment.

So there you have it. You can take great photographs with a pinhole camera, but advanced gear is immensely enabling, if you know how to use it.

500 Words a Day Not Going Well

I must confess that my 500-words-a-day writing project is not going well. Initially I was blasting out 500 words as fast as around eight minutes, but it’s been over a week since my last entry. I think the problem is that so far it’s basically been a diary or journal with no focus, no other goal.

It is not building toward anything, so what’s the point? I can spew 500 words about my day, but who cares about the subject matter if even I don’t?

I need to choose a topic, or choose some goal, to write toward.

It could be an essay, it could be working toward longer blog posts on topics I’m passionate about, it could be an even longer fiction or non-fiction work, but it has to be about something.

UPDATE: Hey, my Photo Tip 4 that I posted here the next day is over 600 words! I had a topic staring me in the face, eh?

Yet Another Poorly Designed Survey

Just took a survey sent to me by an NGO resource organization. I like to be helpful, so I often take the time to answer surveys.

The survey was mostly about HR, and as I worked my way through the questions I kept typing in that our streamkeeper society is 100% volunteer, with zero employees. Finally, the last couple of questions in the survey included “how many employees do you have?” Why the heck wasn’t that one of the first questions?

And then the last question was what category did our annual budget fall into. The lowest category was less than $500,000/year. Seeing as our annual budget is $1,000 (the amount of our annual grant from the Fisheries and Oceans SEP program), that was the category I chose, but damn! Out by 500X, eh?

Small Sockeye This Year?

I bought our first wild sockeye of the season at Save-On Foods in Burnaby, BC, today.

It was small, weighing in at 0.686 kg, or about 1.5 lbs. Of course that’s sans head and guts, but it still appeared undersized. All of the sockeye at Save-On looked small. Certainly way smaller than the pinks I fished on the Fraser last year.

Come to think of it, the fish looked not much bigger than a coho jack — a male coho salmon that returns to spawn a year early.

According to the DFO Tidal Waters Sport Fishing Guide, a sockeye “usually weighs between 2.2 kg and 3.1 kg, but can reach 6.3 kg.”

UPDATE: I’ve been looking into this online, Googling and reading academic papers, and have come to the conclusion that while small, this fish was likely not an outlier.

Most research and reporting on fish sizes and weights presents “average” ranges, and it’s hard to find information about what the usual minimum weights are. However I did find the following on the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada government website:

“Commercially caught sockeye range in weight from 2 to 9 pounds and are graded according to size: 2-4 lbs., 4-6 lbs., and 6-9 lbs.”

So I guess that 1.5-pound dressed fish was not an outlier.

Fun Day at Powell Street Festival in Vancouver

We always enjoy the annual Powell Street Festival in what is left of Vancouver’s original Japantown. What was once a vibrant community was dismantled in 1942 with the Canadian government’s internment of Japanese Canadians — many of them Canadian citizens. The festival never dwells on that part of the past, it’s a super celebration of Japanese culture, art, music, food, martial arts, and more.

See my Flickr album here.

Powell Street Festival Vancouver 2014

Touring Byrne Creek with Vancouver Retired Teachers

A walking club from the Vancouver Retired Teachers contacted me a few months ago to ask for a tour of Byrne Creek in SE Burnaby. They walk regularly every Wednesday, all over Vancouver, Burnaby, and the north shore. I was happy to accompany them around the creek and ravine park today.

We covered the ravine loop in just over two hours, with plenty of time along the way to enjoy nature, and talk about urban streamkeeping and biodiversity. I am passionate about nature in the city, so I can blather on for hours, but they politely insisted at the end of the tour that they’d found it all very interesting : -).

And in a surprising gesture, they passed the hat at the end of the tour and came up with nearly $80 to donate to the Byrne Creek Streamkeepers Society. Wow! I was really touched, since our group is 100% volunteer and we have never charged for tours.

I enjoyed the morning outing. It’s wonderful getting out into nature, fresh air and sunshine, talking with a group of convivial folks, and getting some exercise all at the same time!

Vancouver Retired Teacher tour Byrne Creek

Streamkeeping, sustainability, community, business, photography, books, and animals, with occasional forays into social commentary. Text and Photos © Paul Cipywnyk