Consultation -- Kind of

Do you know this? Something's happening, and you know this would make a good posting, but you can't find any time to put it up, and suddenly it's forgotten?

Well, for one year now, I wanted to blog about this:

TheGuy and I had spent a beautiful afternoon at the bank of Manhattan. (Not the thing with the green papers, the one near the Hudson, I guess it's also called river park). When we were back at his building (but he has moved a few weeks ago, so by the time I'm writing this, it's his former building) and walked to the elevator, a small old woman with huge luggage was talking to the doorman. She was coming back from a trip. It was a warm and sunny day, and TheGuy was bare-chested, showing off his abs and pecs. When the elevator came, the old Lady joined us in the elevator, and they were joking. I realized they know each other. No wonder, he told me she's his next door neighbor.

But somehow she was very familiar to me as well, but I didn't understand why. She was making jokes about TheGuy's bare chest, that this would be too sexy, and that I'm lucky for having this handsome guy. Not exactly what I had expected from an old Lady. I thought old ladies are prude. TheGuy told her I'm from Germany, and then she perfectly spoke German to me. We helped her carry her luggage to her apartment and talked for a little while.

Back at TheGuy's apartment, he asked, "Do you know her?". I said, "Not really, but she is very nice and amazing, and in a weird way she was familiar to me". He said, "Well, she's quite famous. She's Dr. Ruth."

I'm very proud and pleased I met this remarkable and wonderful woman, and had the chance to visit her at home and have a little chat with her.

Literature: The Visit

One of the best-known contemporary literary critic in German TV and radio has exactly the same name as I have (which is not a very common name like Matthew Smith or something like that). He grew up in my town as well. We get confused a lot. If you enter my our name, our city, and "radio" or "media", you'll find his entries pretty much mixed up with mine, since I do a radio show about culture (by the way, the next show is all about books) and publish many articles in our magazine.

It happens quite regularly that I get manuscripts from young authors by mail. "I know you're a very busy man, but could you plaese read my manuscript and tell me what you think" -- "Uhm, I'm not the one you think I am, we just have the same name." -- "Could you please read it anyway???"

"Are you the real XXX?"-- "I am a real XXX, but probably not the one you're thinking of."

"I stayed up all night because I saw that you'll be on [generic late night show], but it wasn't really you..."

To live up to expectations, I want to write about an excellent book by the Swiss author Friedrich Dürrenmatt: "Der Besuch der alten Dame" In English: The Visit. (see article in Wikipedia)

I had to read it in school when I was about 15 years old. I read the entire book in one evening, because I couldn't stop. It deals with the themes of punishment, greed, revenge, and moral strength in a very interesting and yet entertaining way.

I've almost forgotten how brilliant this book is. But currently I'm sick, I cought a flu, and by pure accident I saw it on TV today. I need to read it again, and you might want to read it as well. (hint)

Image of Der Besuch der alten Dame: Eine tragische Komödie
Autor: Friedrich Dürrenmatt
Verlag: Diogenes Verlag (1999)
Bindung: Taschenbuch, 160 Seiten
Preis: EUR 10,00

Layman's Guide to Acceptable HDR Images (batteries not included)

Since I got some e-mails and instant messages about my HDR images, I've decided to write a short tutorial for absolute Newbies. Anyway, seems like there are some readers of my blog...

Warning: HDR is harmfully addictive!

First Step: Software
Get yourself a HDR Software. There are many different programs out there in the wild. But since I use and adore Linux, I was limited in my choices somehow. I use Qtpfsgui, which is freely available for Windows, Mac and of course Linux. The results of my first few attempts were quite disappointing. But now I know the reason:
I didn't have this handy guide ... ;-)

Second Step: Source Images
Maybe even more important than a decent software are good pictures to start with.

Don't: In most tutorials, you can read that you need to take 3 to 7 pictures, i.e. one correctly exposed, one (to three) underexposed, and one (to three) overexposed. Some cameras can do that automatically ("exposure bracketing") . But, in fact, you need a tripod, and even then, people or things do move a little bit, which forces you to stitch your images (if you ever need to do it, use hugin).

Do: I'm using just a single image. The secret is, you need to take a RAW image. Most digital cameras can write RAW images. Usually the camera processes the data from the image sensor and saves a jpg. In this step, the camera applies white balance, some sharpening algorithms, exposure corrections and all that stuff. In a RAW file, you have the "real" data, without any corrections. The advantage of a RAW image over another format is, that it contains more color depth and more dynamic range. And aren't HDR (high dynamic range) pictures all about dynamic range?!

So, my advice: Set your camera to save the images as RAW and use just a single RAW image.

Let's use this picture for our little workshop. As you can see, it's a bad image. Almost no details in the dark parts. But I underexposed it like that on purpose. I wanted to capture the structure of the clouds. The software is quite good in correcting underexposed parts (like the buildings), but an overexposed sky would lose it's structure and would be a plain white area. Not exactly what we want, am I right?

Step 3: Setting up your Software
Before you start, change one setting in Qtpfsgui. This will save you a lot of time and frustration. Go to the options and add a -w (or -a) to the raw convertion parameters. Without that, your images will have a mean color cast.

Step 4: Create the HDR (finally)
Click on "New Hdr..."

Then, click on "Load Images", and select your RAW image. Remember, most people use three to seven images here, but we only use one, our RAW image. Efficient, huh?

Just click on "Next >", and then "Finish". The default settings should be good enough for us. After a little while, we can see our new HDR image (see picture below). But that's not what we expected, right? Usually you use tonemapping on your HDR to get the images you probably know as HDR...

Step 5: Tonemapping
Click on "Tonemap the HDR" on the gui, which brings up our tonemapping window. Here you can use different Tonemapping algorithms (where I prefer "Fattal" most of the time).
Select the Tab labeled "Fattal", and press "Apply".

With the default settings(!), you should end up with an image like that:

I usually play a bit with the sliders, you will learn quite fast what each one does, and how you need to push them, to get the results you want. Use a small image for this process, because it's generated much faster than a big one.

When everything is adjusted for a breathtaking image, switch to a higher resolution and generate the image.

Step 6: Save and say "Wow!"
If you have an image that fits your taste, use "Save as..." to save the tonemapped image. Now is the right time to be proud of your work. Show it to friends and impress them.

Step 7: Show me your art
If you created a HDR following this guide, I would highly appreciate your feedback, and also a link to your image. Show me your baby. ;-)

HDR of Stuttgart Old Castle

I've been playing around with taking HDR images for a while now. Time to share something here. I took it today at the Old Castle in Stuttgart. I like the effect that it doesn't really look like a picture, but rather like a paintbrush art or whatever ...

HDR of Old Castle in Stuttgart

Curtainly a World Record

Yesterday I went to the New Castle, because I wanted to take some pictures at night. Unfortunately, something's blocking the view, what I didn't know before. Ok, so I got curious and wanted to know what it is. It's the world's largest curtain, and it will go to the Guinness Book of Records. Well, as if someone would be needing that. Maybe that's some compensation for our bad success at the Olympic Games this year.

Anyway, another unusual view of the New Castle...

World Record: Biggest Curtain in the World

Happy Birthday to me

Me: Hi Rian, Happy Birthday to You!
Rian: Oh thank you!
Me: I hope you have a pleasant day!
Rian: Oh well, so far it was quite ... but let's see what the rest of the day will bring.
Me: Have you seen the Buddy Bears Exhibition in Stuttgart?
Rian: Huh? Buddy Bears? What's that?
Me: It's an exhibition in front of the New Castle in Stuttgart. There's a bear-ish artwork for every nation. Quite cute.
Rian: Did you take pictures?
Me: Yes, I took some at night. Let me show you ...

Buddy Bears at Night

Buddy Bears at Night

Buddy Bears at Night

Buddy Bears at Night

Buddy Bears at Night

Buddy Bears at Night

Rian: Beautiful pictures.
Me: Thank you. I took them last weekend. You can click on one to see an entire gallery.
Rian: No thanks, I'm good. Gotta go!

Today's Quote

Please hold me close and whisper that you love me
And promise that your dreams are only of me
When you are near, everything’s clear
Earth is a beautiful heaven
Always I hope that we follow the star
And be forever floating above

I know a falling star can’t fall forever
But let’s never stop falling in love

Taken from the absolutly wonderful "Let's never stop falling in Love" from Pink Martini.

Back from Istanbul

As I wrote in an earlier post, I had to go to Turkey for a business trip. At first I was a little bit scared. Foreign culture and all that stuff. But now that I'm back I must say it was a real pleasure. And our business partners were very nice. We spent most of the time with two people from the Turkish company we were visiting, and they also invited us for dinner every night and showed us the beautiful city after work.

I took many pictures, but with my cell phone. But my co-worker took some with his camera and he will send them to me. I might publish some more as soon as I get his.

On the first and second picture you can see the area where our hotel was. And here we also had our first lunch, and the first traditional Turkish food. Yummy!

I had eggplants and Kebab (like turkish BBQ). For dessert we had candied fruits with a very thick and sweet milk cream. At least I thought it were fruits. But it turned out it were candied olives, eggplants and tomatoes. And also candied whole walnuts (with the shell, by the way. Yes, you can eat it when it's candied).

Then we drove to the Bosporus and had a coffee at this place. By that time we and our host were still like strangers. You know, these awkward silent moments when you think you should say something, but can't figure out what.

But that changed very soon. On the next picture you can see Hüseyin and Gökçe. They were our fantastic hosts and the people in the Turkish company we discussed everything. After a short while they felt like very good and close friends. They were really amazing.
Our workdays were very productive and efficient, but after work they were like good friends.

Here we went out together with their friends, and I'm fortune telling to Osman by reading his coffee grounds. It was a very funny evening and we laughed so much that my cheeks were hurting.

Ok, some tourist stuff. This is inside Hagia Sofia (Ayasofya Camii Müzesi). 1400 years ago it was the most important ortodox christian church, later it was the most important islamic mosque. And today it's a museum. It was the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years, until the completion of the Medieval Seville Cathedral in 1520.

Inside Hagia Sofia you can find Christian and Islamic symbols, which looks quite uncommon. Here for example a mosaic with huge parts made of gold.

This is Hagia Sofia from outside. Unfortunately it was raining that day.

This is inside the Blue Mosque, which is also quite famous for Istanbul, but it's still a mosque.

This is outside of Blue Mosque.

This is Blue Mosque from a distance.

That was the view from my hotel room in Kadiköy, which is on the Asian part of Istanbul. Istanbul is the only big city that is on two continents. Our hotel was on the Arabic part, not the European.

This is a famous breakfast area in Istanbul. At least that's what Hüseyin said. We had a very nice brunch on Saturday right at the sea, together with some friends of our hosts.

This was on the market. Which was also very impressive.

Here is a picture from another part of the town.

It was a very pleasant trip and we had a fabulous time (well, except the sweet custard-like dessert that also contained chicken breasts, called Kazandibi). In fact, they want me to come down for two weeks in May to finish the project. And I'm actually really looking forward to that. I hope it's gonna happen. They also tried to hire me for good. "Write down what you want. House, car, office, ... you'll get it". I was laughing. "That's not a joke. I'm serious. Just write it down ..."

I am dreaming of a White Christmas Easter

Christmas Eve is the most important part for children of German Christmas celebrations. It's the first day with the X-Mas tree in Germany, and the perfect X-Mas Eve is a white X-Mas, with snow. When I was a child, Christmases usually were white. Alas, I think the last 15 years have been without snow.

However, today is Easter Sunday. Perfect would be green grass, daffodils, tulips and sunshine. Yesterday was cold, but no snow. The picture has been taken this morning. It really was a big surprise for me.

I guess Easter is much more important in Germany than in the USA. It's also a big holiday with presents and good food. And of course with huge family gatherings. Since I overslept last Christmas sick and with high fever, this feels much more like Christmas today. And for the rest of you without snow: Happy Easter!