Inside Liberty


Everyone has seen pictures of the Statue of Liberty from various angles, but one view that most people probably do not think much about is the view from inside. The statue is essentially a hollow, copper shell. This is a fact that probably does not enter the minds of most people. And if it does, it is hard to imagine what the inside might look like.

Access to the interior has been hit or miss over the years for various reasons. We were lucky enough to make the trip to the crown before visitor access was shut down again on October 29th, 2011.

A spiral stairway is the way to get to the top of the statue. It's a long, steep, tight trip. I enjoyed it immensely, but it's not for everyone. The staircase is enclosed in a square column of glass to keep you safe should you need to take a break at one of several small landings. The photo you see above was taken from one of these landings.

I held my camera through a gap between the glass panels and pointed it straight down while firing off a bracketed set of shots. The plan was to get as much of the framework, scaffolding and "skin" as possible. As luck would have it, the glass provides an almost mirror-like surface which really doubles the complexity of the image and makes it seem more complete. (In reality you are only seeing about a quarter of the internal structure.) The diamond plate floor of the landing shows through the glass at the bottom of the picture for some additional texture.

With three exposures (-2ev, 0ev, +2ev), this is another HDR photo. I made an effort to keep things looking more natural while taking advantage of be able to see structure in what would otherwise be deeply shaded areas.

It was a fascinating visit and I highly recommend going to the statue for anyone in the vicinity of New York City.

SharePoint Weather WebPart - Tomorrow, You're Always A Day Away

Last March I posted a tip on how to create your own weather web part for SharePoint that used Yahoo! as the data source. A couple of weeks ago reader "Noel" posted a comment that asked how to get the next day's forecast to show up. So I've modified the XSLT to do just that.
The problem is that there are two "forecast" nodes. One that represents today and the other for tomorrow. You need to reference the appropriate node by using a pattern match. In our case, the first child is the today's information and the second child is tomorrow's.

This is represented as...

Today  =  rss/channel/item/yweather:forecast[1]
Tomorrow  = rss/channel/item/yweather:forecast[2]

With that in mind, here is the modified XSLT.

<!--?xml version="1.0" encoding="ISO-8859-1"?-->
<xsl:stylesheet version="1.0" xmlns:xsl="http://www.w3.org/1999/XSL/Transform" xmlns:yweather="http://xml.weather.yahoo.com/ns/rss/1.0" xmlns:geo="http://www.w3.org/2003/01/geo/wgs84_pos#">
  <xsl:output method="html" indent="yes" />
  <xsl:template match="/">

    <style type="text/css">
      #tywpMain {position:relative; padding:0; margin:0; font-family: Helvetica, Arial; font-size: 10pt;}
      #tywpMain p {padding: 0; margin: 0;}
      #tywpMain table {width: 100%; border: collapse;}
      #tywpMain table thead th {font-family:"Verdana"; font-size:16pt; color:#fff; background-color:#888; padding:10px; text-align: left;}
      #tywpMain table thead th span {float: right;}
      #tywpMain table tbody th, #tywpMain table tbody td {padding: 0 4px; white-space: nowrap; text-align: center;}
      #tywpMain table tbody th {vertical-align: bottom; color: #888;}
      #tywpMain table tbody td {vertical-align: top; color: #000;}
      #tywpMain table tbody td.High {color: #800;}
      #tywpMain table tbody td.Low {color: #008;}
    </style>

    <xsl:variable name="Scale">
      <xsl:value-of select="rss/channel/yweather:units/@temperature" />
    </xsl:variable>
    <xsl:variable name="CurrentConditionCode" select="rss/channel/item/yweather:condition/@code" />
    <xsl:variable name="ForecastConditionCode" select="rss/channel/item/yweather:forecast[2]/@code" />

    <div id="tywpMain">
      <table>
        <thead>
          <tr>
            <th colspan="5">
              <xsl:value-of select="rss/channel/yweather:location/@city" />,
              <xsl:value-of select="rss/channel/yweather:location/@region" />
              <span>
                <xsl:value-of select="rss/channel/item/yweather:condition/@temp" />
                <xsl:text>°</xsl:text>
                <xsl:copy-of select="$Scale" />
              </span>
            </th>
          </tr>
        </thead>
        <tbody>
          <tr>
            <th>
              <xsl:value-of select="rss/channel/item/yweather:forecast[1]/@day" />
            </th>
            <td rowspan="2">
              <img src="http://us.i1.yimg.com/us.yimg.com/i/us/we/52/{$CurrentConditionCode}.gif" />
            </td>
            <th>Condition</th>
            <th>High</th>
            <th>Low</th>
          </tr>
          <tr>
            <td>
              <xsl:value-of select="rss/channel/item/yweather:forecast[1]/@date" />
            </td>
            <td>
              <xsl:value-of select="rss/channel/item/yweather:condition/@text" />
            </td>
            <td class="High">
              <xsl:value-of select="rss/channel/item/yweather:forecast[1]/@high" />
              <xsl:text>°</xsl:text>
              <xsl:copy-of select="$Scale" />
            </td>
            <td class="Low">
              <xsl:value-of select="rss/channel/item/yweather:forecast[1]/@low" />
              <xsl:text>°</xsl:text>
              <xsl:copy-of select="$Scale" />
            </td>
          </tr>
          <tr>
            <th>
              <xsl:value-of select="rss/channel/item/yweather:forecast[2]/@day" />
            </th>
            <td rowspan="2">
              <img src="http://us.i1.yimg.com/us.yimg.com/i/us/we/52/{$ForecastConditionCode}.gif" />
            </td>
            <th>Condition</th>
            <th>High</th>
            <th>Low</th>
          </tr>
          <tr>
            <td>
              <xsl:value-of select="rss/channel/item/yweather:forecast[2]/@date" />
            </td>
            <td>
              <xsl:value-of select="rss/channel/item/yweather:forecast[2]/@text" />
            </td>
            <td class="High">
              <xsl:value-of select="rss/channel/item/yweather:forecast[2]/@high" />
              <xsl:text>°</xsl:text>
              <xsl:copy-of select="$Scale" />
            </td>
            <td class="Low">
              <xsl:value-of select="rss/channel/item/yweather:forecast[2]/@low" />
              <xsl:text>°</xsl:text>
              <xsl:copy-of select="$Scale" />
            </td>
          </tr>
        </tbody>
      </table>
    </div>
  </xsl:template>
</xsl:stylesheet>

Award Winning Local Business: Etcetera Coffeehouse

OK. A confession right off the bat. There is no award.

But if there were an award then Etcetera Coffeehouse would surely be a contender for it and likely walk away with the trophy/certificate/cash prize/whatever other proof that a contest would present to the best and brightest in a given field.

One of the advantages of living in a relatively small town like Paducah, KY is that it's easy to become a regular at many local business establishments. I've been lucky enough to live in many different places and while there are pros and cons to the big city life as well as small town living, one thing I have always enjoyed regardless of the size of the area are the businesses where the people who work there recognize you on some level when you walk in.

My friends and I frequent Etcetera. Typically on a Saturday night after we've gathered for a meal and before we settle in for an evening of video games. It's one of the few places in town where you can get a decent cup of coffee. They specialize in "bubble teas" which I've never been interested enough in (read "brave enough") to try. They also make a killer dirty chai which has been my drink of choice of late. Throw in custom recipes by each of the staff and walls covered in works from local artists and you really get a feeling that this is a place that cares about more than just throwing some coffee beans in hot water and shoving you out the door.

Imagine my surprise when, during last night's visit, we are each handed one of these:


Now what kind of business hands out Christmas cards to their customers? All I ask from a business is to get reasonable service and decent product. I don't expect any more than that. If you meet that minimum requirement, you pretty much get me as a loyal customer.

Give me a Christmas card on top of all that? Well, I don't know what that gets you in return. I do know that an imaginary award mention in a not particularly wide-read blog just doesn't seem like a lot.

But it's a start.

If you're in Paducah, KY and looking for a place to relax with a hot (or cold) drink then you should head downtown and give them a try.

Tell them that Saturday Night Dude #4 sent you.

Rain In Times Square


This was an experiment. I had 4 shots of Times Square that were taken on a rainy night this past October. None of the shots were usable as-is, IMO. But I really liked the elements (reflections, lights, people with umbrellas).

What I did was to take all of the shots, align them in Photoshop and then change the stack mode (similar technique for stacking astronomy shots). This made the crowd a little busier looking (which I liked) as well as creating some interesting effects. A few curve adjustments later and voila'! For whatever that's worth. :)

N.Y.C. Escher


Still trickling out photos from my trip to New York last October. I suspect that this one likely won't appeal to many people. I don't know. I guess it's because I really can't articulate why it appeals to me.

What I like about it is the lines. You've got the pattern of the bricks for one. Then the boxes created by the landings with all of them connected by stairs and ladders. The light on the wall is reflected from the windows of the building next door and that adds a weird texture to the scene. Then there are oddities. The satellite dish is an element that seems out of place. The fact that the lower door on the wall is actually about 4 or 5 stories off the ground is also interesting. With that in mind, the bit of rooftop that we see in the bottom, left-hand corner is about 6 or 7 stories up and yet there is a regular folding ladder being stored there.

Again, maybe it's just me. ;)

15 Of My Favorite iPad Apps


I often get asked by people who get a new iDevice and know that I'm an Apple fan (not to be confused with an Apple fanboy) for a list of apps that they should get. A good answer to that question is almost impossible to compute since it's highly subjective.

But if what I am really being asked is which apps I like, well... I'm always ready with an opinion.

This is still a difficult question to answer. It is like shooting at a moving target. My favorite apps tend to change as app availability and my own tastes change. What you get now is a subset of what I currently have installed on my iPad with a very short synopsis of what the app is and what I like about it. I'll make longer app reviews the subject of future posts.

The Apps




Aelios Weather
Category: Weather
Cost: $4.99
iTunes Link


This one is more about eye candy than utility. There are plenty of weather apps for the iPad and most of them are free. But there are not many that make checking the weather look this good.



Comics
Category: Books
Cost: Free
iTunes Link


This won't appeal to everyone, but if comic books are your thing, then you need this in your app stable. While it is free, you will find most of the comics in the store involve an in-app payment. But don't let that deter you from trying it out as there are plenty of freebies to be had. This "first one's free" ploy works pretty well. You'll be hooked in no time.



Evernote
Category: Productivity
Cost: Free
iTunes Link


I am actually new to this one, but in the past few days it has come to grow on me. If the idea of keeping notes, pictures, links, thoughts and other random bits of information in stacks of digital notebooks appeals to you, then give this one a look. This description just barely scratches the surface of what this thing can do. It's also available on many other platforms so you're not tied down to your iPad (not that that is a bad thing).



Feedly
Category: News
Cost: Free
iTunes Link


When the browser app/extension known as feedly came to the iTunes App Store, I was thrilled. I had been using it as the front end for my Google Reader feeds. It makes keeping up with the news that interests you so much nicer.



Flickr Studio
Category: Photo & Video
Cost: $4.99
iTunes Link


Disappointingly (but, perhaps, unsurprisingly) Flickr/Yahoo! does not offer an iPad app. The folks at Keeple, however, have been kind enough to provide us with one. A darn good one, I might add. Whether you have a Flickr account yourself or you just like browsing what's available through a well put together application, this is one that should do the trick.



Flipboard
Category: News
Cost: Free
iTunes Link


Flipboard takes the functionality of many of the other apps you see on this page and packages them all together in a magazine-like format. It's slick, convenient and you just can't beat the price.



Kindle
Category: Books
Cost: Free
iTunes Link


I probably don't need to say a lot here. Amazon's Kindle is probably the de facto standard for eBooks and Amazon offers many options for reading your purchases on devices other than their own. While the software is not much better or worse than Apple's own iBooks app, I find the Amazon experience for shopping, searching and consumption to be superior.



LastPass
Category: Utilities
Cost: Free (but really $12/year)
iTunes Link


This is probably an odd choice giving the fact that this application requires a LastPass Premium subscription. LastPass is a password management/single sign-on solution. I highly recommend something like this or 1Password to keep yourself secure. This particular iPad application includes a browser that will sign you into your important sites automatically.

Go to the LastPass website and kick the tires in your regular desktop browser. It doesn't cost anything to try. If you appreciate what it can do for you and want that same functionality on your iOS device, you can buy in for that $1 a month subscription.


Mint.com Personal Finance
Category: Finance
Cost: Free


Mint was an early entrant into the world of web-based personal finance software. Simple, intuitive and pretty (so maybe I'm shallow), it was a perfect candidate for the creation of an application to extend its reach to the iPad. Mint was bought by Intuit (makers of Quicken, QuickBooks and TurboTax) and gains that company's reputation for a trusted interface to your financial information. 


Category: Entertainment
Cost: Free (but really $8/month)


If you are a Netflix streaming subscriber, this is a no-brainer. Highly recommended. It's a great way for the cord-cutter in you to turn your iPad into a portable 10" television. Carry it around your house or apartment. Put it on the counter as you make dinner. If you just have to have your TV at all times and in many locations, this is well worth the $8 per month.



NFL '11 for iPad
Category: Sports
Cost: Free
iTunes Link


Don't have time to watch your favorite teams play (or know it's pointless)? Want to keep an eye on scores around the league while you do watch your team play? This makes it easy. Want to find out what the latest news is in between games? You get that too.



Emerald Observatory for iPad
Category: Utilities
Cost: $0.99
iTunes Link


So it's a clock. A clock that costs a buck. It has a bunch of other astronomical stuff. It's also gorgeous. If you like that sort of thing. Which I do.



Pulse News for iPad
Category: News
Cost: Free
iTunes Link


Yet another way to get your news. This may be more your speed if you do not already have an extensive RSS feed list set up. If you have no clue about what I just said, then this app is probably the news reader you want.



Reeder for iPad
Category: News
Cost: $4.99
iTunes Link


Like Feedly (listed above), this is a Google Reader client. Unlike Feedly, Reeder is not free. But if your feed list is quite large, then you will appreciate Reeder's ability to take advantage of Google Readers feed organizational capabilities.



Twitter
Category: Social Networking
Cost: Free
iTunes Link


There are plenty of Twitter clients for the iPad. Some of them are free and some are not. None of them work nearly as well as the client from the source itself.



Conclusion


That wraps up a sampling of my favorites.

I know what you're saying now. "What, Tom? No games?" Yeah, I know. I had to save something for another post, didn't I?

New York Harbor


Another shot from the observation deck of the Empire State Building.

What you're seeing is the southern end of Manhattan with the Brooklyn Bridge on the left (nearer the viewer), the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge on the left (in the distance), the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island on the right (if your eyesight is particularly good).

Jersey Shore


Meet Hoboken, New Jersey. This is the view from the top of the Empire State Building.

When I started editing this photo, I couldn't help but get a steam-punkish vibe off it. Particularly with the blimp flying overhead. And since it wasn't particularly attractive or interesting otherwise, I thought I'd really lay it on thick. So...
  • Triple exposure HDR (+2ev,0ev,-2ev)
  • My signature faux tilt-shift in Photoshop
  • Some "vintage" processing with Topaz Adjust 5

Little known fact: I lived most of my teenage years in New Jersey. Explains a lot, doesn't it?

Manhattan


This was taken from Liberty Island and is composed of three "sections" of three exposures each. So nine shots total. If you look carefully, you should be able to pick out quite a few New York landmarks.

Dynamic Views Update


So it's been about a couple of weeks since I switched my blog template to Blogger's Dynamic Views and there have been some ups and downs. Overall it's been a pretty positive experience, though.

The Pros

The layout is fairly clean and it's pretty snappy. I like how the social components don't load until you hover over them. The old templates tried to do too much. So much that I ended up restricting things to a single post a page to try to speed up the load times.

Semi-related is how more content loads dynamically as you scroll down the page. It's a cool effect and I've found it to be useful already.

It's also reasonably customizable if you dabble with the CSS. You can't stray too far from the formula, but you can make it your own. I suspect there's more to come in this area.

Giving your visitors an option to choose the view that works best for them is also a nice touch. Some of the views need more work and some just won't work for every blog depending on the type of content, but it's fun to play around with.

The Cons

I've pointed out the search problem before. Basically if you use the search box for content you know is there it doesn't show up. Even as the same search through Google Proper succeeds. This is a known problem, though, and not likely to really impact most people (I think).

You can't preview posts. This one hurts a bit since I preview all the time before I publish. At least I used to.

No widgets. The template is pretty well locked down. When Google+ Badges were announced yesterday, I copied my code snippet to the clipboard and then realized that I had no place to put it. (For what it's worth, that's probably a pro also. It forces me to keep things simple.)

Sometimes the... dynamicness... isn't as smooth as it could be. I'm probably overly picky here so your mileage may vary.

And finally, I think the stats are wonky. My usage went up right about the time I changed to dynamic views. That might make me happy, but I've also noticed that the view graph doesn't really match the post counts (they seem high) and traffic sources (says that there are no stats yet).

Update: I still think the stats are a little wonky since I almost never see traffic sources anymore, but the apparent increase in usage is supposed to be more accurate. See this post for more information.

Try It!

If you run a Blogger blog and you're looking for something fresh, try the new templates. It's easy enough to switch back if you don't like it. In any case, I'm sure the Blogger team would be thrilled to get some feedback. ;)

9/11 Memorial


This photo isn't particularly artistic. It did get the HDR treatment since I was shooting in bracketed burst mode, but I did not invest a lot of time in processing.

I'm posting this for two reasons.

First, I think that some of you might be curious to see what things look like currently (as of October 2011). It's a mixed bag. It was a little messy because of the construction, but kind of neat as you see One World Trade Center (aka Freedom Tower) going up. Then just a few blocks away you have the Occupy Wall Street folk.

Second, if you want to see the 9/11 Memorial, you must make reservations. We did not know that and, well... you see how close we got.

To make reservations, you can go to the official 9/11 Memorial site.

East River View - New York In Miniature - Desktop Background


Once again, I've combined HDR and a faux tilt-shift effect on one of my photographs from the observation desk of the Empire State Building to come up with what you see above.

Download the 2560x1600 desktop background version

The Case For Google+ Pages


Today Google+ finally gave us the ability to create Pages and I've been seeing a lot of griping and complaining about how that is going to ruin the very interactive network that Google+ appears to be cultivating.

I beg to differ.

First of all, I would like to point out that it was not that long ago when all of the grousing was about how Google stupidly did not allow for businesses, brands and personas to create Pages from Day 1. And today, although not quite as loudly, the cries of dismay are from the opposite point of view.

The Internet sure is fickle. No deep meaning here. We all know it to be true.

At any rate, I like Pages for a handful of reasons...

It makes Google+ more accessible to people who present themselves to the public more as "brands" than as someone's son or daughter. People can be themselves even if its not the person who is listed on a birth certificate somewhere. If that makes conversations more honest, that's probably a good thing.

Then there are companies/businesses/brands out there who actually do interact with people. You see this on Twitter all the time. Many times I've mentioned a company, group or persona and gotten a meaningful and targeted response.

One complaint people are having is that Pages are just advertisements that we will get crammed into our streams. Just as with "real" people, don't Circle anything that you don't like and you will never have to see it (the "What's hot" section notwithstanding). Besides, Pages may actually be advertisements, but they are those ads that you want to see.



Possibly the biggest reason I am looking forward to Pages is that it gives us something to talk about. So what if I follow a news outlet's Page and they never respond when I comment on a story. I don't really care what "they" think. It's when I re-share that post with the people in my Circles that things become interesting.

There are other reasons to see this as a positive move, but I think you get the idea.

The net result is that this invites more people to inject more content into Google+. Of course, that sucks for those of you interesting in maintaining a private, club-like atmosphere, but for the rest of us it should be great news.

Uploading High Resolution Images to Google+


I'm trying something new here. I thought I would try my hand at a "how-to" video. This means I ended up doing things that I don't normally do and using tools that I don't normally use. Bear that in mind as you watch.

So here is the problem. I want to provide 2560x1600 resolution images to people who want to download some of my work via Google+. However, if you upload an image either through Google+ or through Picasa Web, the resulting file gets resized so that the longest size is no more than 2048 pixels long. That just will not do.

The trick is to use Picasa (the actual application client; not Picasa Web).

If that's all the information you needed, then carry on. No need to watch 15 minutes of my ramblings. But if you would like to see the steps involved, just hit play.

If you have comments or questions, the related Google+ post can be found here.

Scraping The Sky - Desktop Background

Scraping The Sky by Thomas Gehrke
Scraping The Sky, a photo by Thomas Gehrke on Flickr.
Taken from the observation deck of the Empire State Building, this HDR view of the East River was put together using three exposures.

I really enjoyed the clouds and the patterns of light and dark that they create on the landscape.