The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Always carry a gray card

I'm traveling for business right now so I don't have my real camera with me. I do, however, have a little pocket camera. I'm not disparaging the thing; it really does take better photographs than any digital camera I've owned except for the two SLRs. But after just shy of 29 years of photography, I've learned a couple of quick and easy techniques to help it along. (I wish I'd known these things when I shot on film, but who could have predicted the mind-blowing power of this decade's digital image editing software when the pinnacle of faithful photographic reproduction was Kodachrome 25?)

First among these techniques is to use a gray card whenever possible. This is a simple piece of cardboard that has a color-neutral, 18% reflective surface, that allows you to calibrate both the exposure and colors of a scene. They cost less than a take-out coffee and take up almost no room in your bag. They do two things: first, they tell you how much light is available on a scene, and second, they tell you what color the light is.

The first is harder to explain than the second. Suffice to say, your little pocket camera constantly has to guess at how much light to let in. Your eye does this automatically, opening and closing your iris as required for you to perceive, almost always, that there's just the right amount of light available. Cameras, being mechanical and not having brains, have to guess. The human eye can look at two different scenes, one of which having 32 times more light than the other, and not register a difference. If you walk under a bridge on a bright, sunny day, you can still see.

Cameras, being mechanical, can't do that. Modern cameras have automatic light meters that make really good guesses, and so most of your photos come out fine. But they make a lot of mistakes, too, particularly when the thing you want to photograph is really dark or really light.

Gray cards fix that. Your camera's light meter assumes that the average scene reflects 18% of the light falling on it, and adjusts the exposure to fit. A gray card really does reflect 18% of the light falling on it. So if you meter off a gray card, the photo will be correctly exposed.

Gray cards also fix colors. If you're in a room with incandescent light bulbs, your brain automatically corrects the colors of the things it sees. You know that's a white bedspread; you know that's a blue book cover. So your brain tells you, that's a white bedspread, and a blue book cover.

Cameras, however, don't have brains. And cameras can't see colors that aren't there. And incandescent light bulbs are orange. The consequence of these three facts is simply that a raw photograph of a white bedspread under incandescent light bulbs will look orange.

Here, for example, is a photo of my hotel room as the camera saw it:

Keep in mind, this is the correct exposure. I know this because I took a picture of my handy-dandy gray card before snapping this one. Not only did the gray card show me the correct exposure setting, but it also showed me the correct colors of the same scene, to wit:

Again, my real camera would have done a better photo, but at least with a gray card (and Adobe Lightroom), I can get reliable colors and exposures with a cheap little pocket camera.

Immigration queues at Heathrow

The Economist's Gulliver blog has a summary this afternoon about two-hour wait times at Heathrow to pass through immigration:

[O]n Saturday BAA, which owns Heathrow (but is not responsible for immigration), duly resorted to handing out leaflets apologising for the situation and suggesting that passengers complain to the Home Office.

Marc Owen, the director of UKBA [United Kingdom Border Agency] operations at Heathrow, was none too impressed by this tactic. The Daily Telegraph saw emails he sent to BAA threatening to escalate the matter with ministers, and asking it to stop passengers taking pictures of the queues. "The leaflet is not all right with us," he wrote. "It is both inflammatory and likely to increase tensions in arrivals halls especially in the current atmosphere."

The slowdown at immigration is linked to a row last autumn over passport checks. Previously, a relaxation of these checks had been agreed between the Home Office and UKBA, but UKBA ended up going further then the government had expected, and reduced staff numbers in the process. The subsequent brouhaha led to the resignation of the then head of the agency, Brodie Clark, and the reinstatement of full passport checks.

(Yes, I'm taking a break after 9 hours of requirements gathering.)


The bad news is I've been in meetings with clients all day. The good news is their office has a view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Updates as warranted. And as I have time for.

Good analysis of the American-USAirways deal

Washington Post columnist Steven Pearlstein yesterday expanded on how American Airlines' unions bested management by dealing directly with US Airways:

Bankruptcy has changed [the unions' bargaining strengths]. Suddenly, airline executives discovered a way to unilaterally abrogate their labor agreements, fire thousands of employees and impose less generous pay and more flexible work rules. Indeed, the technique proved so effective that several airlines went through the process several times. The unions’ strike threat was effectively neutralized.

All of which makes what is happening at American Airlines deliciously ironic. Late last year, American finally decided to join the rest of the industry and make its first pass through the bankruptcy reorganization process after failing to reach agreement on a new concessionary contract with its pilots’ union.

Essentially, US Airways agreed to pay all of its pilots — the American pilots as well as its own — the higher American Airlines wages, along with small annual raises. In return, the union accepted less lavish medical and retirement benefits along with adoption of US Airways work rules that have been rationalized during two trips through the bankruptcy process. In the end, what probably sealed the deal was the US Airways promise of no layoffs.

He concludes:

For years now, Corporate America has viewed the bankruptcy court as a blunt instrument by which failed executives and directors can shift the burden of their mistakes onto shareholders, employees and suppliers. The auto industry bailout orchestrated by the Obama administration posed the first challenge to that assumption. Now the unions at American airlines have taken another step in curbing this flagrant corporate abuse and restoring the rule of law.

The more I think about the two airlines merging, the more excited I get about the deal. The unions and creditors (not to mention the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp.) are right: a strong airline with competent management is good for everyone, including us customers.

More about our really warm winter

The Tribune has a graphic this morning pointing out a number of things about our lack of snow this past winter. It turns out, the snowfall on March 4th was the earliest last snowfall. That is, in the rest of recorded history (back to 1884), we've always gotten snow later than March 4th. Until this year.

Our entire season gave us only 11 days with 25 mm or more of snow on the ground (normal is 43); it was one of only 10 seasons (out of 128) with less than 500 mm of snowfall total (normal is 932 mm); and it's the second-shortest interval from first to last snowfall ever, at 117 days (normal is 174).

Of course, snow has fallen in 40 Mays of the 128 in this could all be completely wrong. We've even gotten snow in June (on 2 June 1910). But it looks for now like we can add one more quantification to our wonderfully mild winter.

Looks like Keynes is still right

Despite the rise of right-leaning economics ideology, reality stubbornly retains its liberal bias, with further evidence today coming from the latest UK economic figures:

The UK economy has returned to recession, after shrinking by 0.2% in the first three months of 2012.

A sharp fall in construction output was behind the surprise contraction, the Office for National Statistics said.

"The huge cuts to public spending - 25% in public sector housing and 24% in public non-housing and with a further 10% cuts to both anticipated for 2013 - have left a hole too big for other sectors to fill," said Judy Lowe, deputy chairman of industry body CITB-ConstructionSkills, said.

Or, as Krugman points out, the Conservative's austerity measures have worked no better in the UK than anywhere else in the world:

Now Britain is officially in double-dip recession, and has achieved the remarkable feat of doing worse this time around than it did in the 1930s.

Now, the defense I hear from Cameron apologists is that the austerity mostly hasn’t even hit yet. But that’s really not much of a defense. Remember, the austerity was supposed to work by inspiring confidence; where’s the confidence? Basically, the expansionary aspect should already have kicked in; it’s all contraction from here.

Needless to say, Cameron and Osborne insist that they will not change course, which means that Britain will continue on a death spiral of self-defeating austerity.

It's amazing, really, how Keynes looked back at the Great Depression and learned something, which the right have forgotten for ideological reasons. It's simple: the way out of a recession is for governments to borrow money to get people back to work. This causes growth. The government can then pay back the money when revenues rise because of that growth. Right now, with real interest rates around –4% (yes, minus four), people will actually pay the US government to lend it money. The UK is in a similar situation.

So: the way for the West to get out of the recession is pretty clear, and today's UK GDP growth numbers confirm it. But politicians in most of the world don't believe the facts before them yet. And the recession drags on.

The 30-Park Geas, clarified

The 30-park geas continues apace. Here's my progress so far:

City Team Park Built First visit Last visit Next visit
Chicago Cubs NL Wrigley Field 1914 1977 Jul 24 2014 Sep 24
Los Angeles Dodgers NL Dodger Stadium 1962 1980 Jul 28? 2001 May 12
New York Mets NL Shea Stadium§
Citi Field
1988 Sep 15†
2012 Jul 6†
1997 Apr 19†
2012 Jul 6
Houston Astros NL Enron Field
Minute Maid Park‡
2000 2001 May 9
2009 Apr 7
Milwaukee Brewers NL Miller Park 2001 2006 Jul 29 2008 Aug 11
Kansas City Royals AL Kauffman Stadium 1973 2008 May 28 2008 May 28
San Francisco Giants NL AT&T Park 2000 2008 May 31 2014 May 27†
Chicago White Sox AL U.S. Cellular Field 1991 2008 Jun 6 2011 Aug 1
Cleveland Indians AL Progressive Field 1994 2008 Jul 10 2014 Aug 11
Baltimore Orioles AL Camden Yards 1992 2008 Jul 26 2008 Jul 26
Philadelphia Phillies NL Citizens Bank Park 2004 2008 Jul 27 2008 Jul 27
New York Yankees AL Yankee Stadium*
New Yankee Stadium
2008 Jul 28 2008 Jul 28
Washington Nationals NL Nationals Park 2008 2008 Jul 29 2008 Jul 29
Atlanta Braves NL Turner Field 1996 2008 Aug 13 2008 Aug 14
Oakland Athletics AL Oakland Coliseum 1966 2009 Apr 25 2009 Apr 25
Detroit Tigers AL Comerica Park 2000 2009 Jun 24† 2009 Jun 24
Boston Red Sox AL Fenway Park 1912 2010 Aug 21 2010 Aug 21
Pittsburgh Pirates NL PNC Park 2001 2011 Jul 9† 2011 Jul 9
Los Angeles Angels AL Angel Stadium 1966 2011 Sep 3 2011 Sep 3
Miami Marlins NL Marlins Ballpark 2012 2012 Apr 19† 2012 Apr 19  
Tampa Bay Rays AL Tropicana Field 1990 2012 Apr 20 2012 Apr 20
San Diego Padres NL Petco Park 2004 2012 Aug 6† 2012 Aug 6
Cincinnati Reds NL Great American Ballpark 2003 2012 Sep 22 2012 Sep 22
Seattle Mariners AL Safeco Field 1999 2013 Jun 28 2013 Jun 28
Arizona Diamondbacks NL Chase Field 1998 2015 Jul 24 2015 Jul 24
Still to come
Colorado Rockies NL Coors Field 1995
Minnesota Twins AL Target Field 2010
New York Yankees AL New Yankee Stadium 2009
St. Louis Cardinals NL Busch Stadium 2006
Texas Rangers AL Rangers Ballpark 1994
Toronto Blue Jays AL Rogers Centre 1989

† vs. Cubs
‡ Renamed Minute Maid Park in 2004; moved to AL in 2013
§ Shea demolished in 2009; Citi Field opened 13 April 2009
* Yankee demolished in 2009; New Yankee opened 3 April 2009

Last edited: 27 July 2015. This page replaces the original page started in 2008 and the 2011 update.