Life In The Real World

It’s hard for me to believe that just over 50 years ago, I departed the campus of the University of Maryland in Munich, Germany to begin my life as an adult.  Sadly, no web sites dedicated to the Munich Campus exists, other than a mention in Wikipedia about McGraw Kaserne.

U. of Md. Munich Campus logo

U. of Md. Munich Campus logo

Yesterday (Sunday, March 26, 2023) I attended a multi-year reunion of Munich Campus attendees.  I thought I might be one of the older ones there, but I was surprised to find most of the folks gathering were students there during the 1960s!  And there were quite a few from the 1980s.  In fact, only one other 1970s-era attendee was there.

There is a sense of shared experience among those who attended the Munich Campus.  I felt right at home with the people (about 40) despite not having attended with any of them.  All of us have Oktoberfest memories, student pranks, dormitory escapades, instructor stories, and the relationships we formed and in many case, retain today.

Having attended a number of high school reunions, I scratch my head at times in wonderment that some people somehow seem to live in the past, considering their high school years the best times of their life.  High school was not that for me, but I do confess that my days in Munich were filled with awe and amazement.  I loved living abroad, learning another language, and, in all honesty, being irresponsible.  The only requirement placed upon me and others was to get passing grades.  We could smoke, drink, stay out all night, sleep in, and carouse in ways only college students are capable. For all intents and purposes, we were adults (there is no drinking age in most European countries) without adult responsibilities.  I have many fond memories of exploring, partying, jamming and sightseeing, all while maintaining a Dean’s List grade point average!

Munich was only a two year experience, sad to say.  In many ways, it almost a dream-like existence.  Having decided I wanted to continue my college studies, I had to find a college that would accept me and let me achieve my baccalaureate.  Some of the colleges I looked into would have required me to add an additional year to my studies, but I was eager to graduate, so I transferred to the University of Maryland’s home campus in College Park, Maryland.  Where the experience was turned on its head.

I won’t delve into how life in or near College Park was 180° different.  My life as and adult started when I arrived and U. of Md. informed me that

  1. They didn’t consider me an in-state student, despite having attended two years at the school.  A remote campus apparently does not qualify as in-state.  Therefore, no dorm room!
  2. It also meant I would have to pay out-of-state tuition.

I needed to establish residency by a) finding and renting an apartment off campus, and b) getting a job.  This helped pay for the apartment as I fulfilled the qualification requirements for in-state tuition.  As a result, I became somewhat of an “outsider” because I didn’t live on campus and have a social experience with other students.  Instead, I now had the responsibilities of working a job, paying rent, buying and cooking my own food, and getting to know my neighbors, most of whom were not students!

Thus it was that I couldn’t wait to receive my degree.  After establishing residency, I re-enrolled and dedicated myself to fulfilling the requirements for graduation.  Once I had diploma in hand, I just continued to work the job I’d taken, and “officially” entered the “real world.”  The reunion yesterday was a pleasant memory bubble, but I can’t relive it, and really don’t want to.  The real world, with all its flaws, is better approached head-on, and with full knowledge it isn’t “days of wine and roses.”

Call This A Placeholder

A few days ago I was thinking of all the spam email I receive, and of posting a snarky comment to the effect, “Why are you welcoming me to something I didn’t ask for, don’t want, and didn’t initiate?” But in the end, I realized there was no real point to be made railing against the characters who mass produce this nonsense.

So it left me thinking that at this current point in my life, I’m somewhat adrift.  I’ve been single again for some thirteen years now, the job I’ve held has lost its luster, and my intention to retire this year fills me both with eagerness and anxiety.

I’ve taken a renewed interest in computer programming (and now I have a category into which to place this post), and have begun looking into Javascript and web technologies — the same technologies that inspired me to creating this web site in the first place.

A few plugs:  I have been using the wonderful, free web server software from Aprelium, called Abyss.  It’s a full-featured web server, and I have been exploring various aspects of server-side includes (SSI) and common gateway interface (CGI).  As mentioned in my previous post, I have also started unpacking and learning Apple’s Shortcuts program.  I also came across a nifty freeware widget called “Plash

Plash icon

Plash icon

that enabled me to fulfill my wish to overlay the name of the image file used on my Mac’s desktop.  Available on the App Store, its author has produced other superb software, and I was delighted to support him in his efforts!  I wound up crafting a solution using a shell script, a Shortcut, and Plash.

Something is pending.  I don’t know what it is, be it a new life experience as a retiree, or something else, but that’s the feeling I’ve been having.  I still exercise daily, play guitar, spend time (productively, or not) on the computer, and enjoy cooking and eating, but right now I feel somewhat in-the-middle.  Call it a placeholder.

Should I Write A Book?

As evidenced by this ongoing blog, I enjoy writing.  I have never approached this effort with an audience in mind, and most of my articles are mostly journaling personal opinions and experiences.  That said, my current motivation to write more frequently comes from two separate perspectives.  The first is my as-yet unannounced retirement, which I hope to make official a little over a month from now.  The second is from reading a book that is both informative but frustrating at the same time.  It’s this book that forms the subject of this post.

Here’s the back story:  I try to take a 30-40 minute walk every day.  As I’m heading out the door, I engage the “Outdoor Walk” workout on my Apple Watch.  I then open the Pacer app on my iPhone, which I use for its audible messages for time and distance.  I wondered to myself if I couldn’t automate that process, which led me to Shortcuts.

Shortcuts is an app that Apple produced and introduced on iOS (iPhone/iPad) and recently added to the Mac.  When it debuted, I took little notice of it, but I quickly realized that AppleScript and Automator (two other, older Apple technologies) were not available outside the Mac, so my attention turned to Shortcuts.

Another back story:  As a programmer most of my adult life and throughout my career, I’ve constantly looked for ways to simplify my computing experience, and have developed a number of scripts and processes using the command line, HyperCard, AppleScript and Automator.  Each has required a learning curve, and Apple has followed the trend of making programming languages and their syntax complicated and intimidating.  Which I find ironic, as the Mac was originally promoted as the computer for “the rest of us.”  Hmm.

To add insult to injury, Apple keeps breaking AppleScript with updates to macOS, and now I hear that Automator is likely going to be replaced by Shortcuts.

So, maybe it’s time for me to learn Shortcuts.

Shortcuts began life as a product called “Workflow,” which garnered an Apple Design Award in 2015, and was fully acquired by Apple in 2017.  It has since grown added features and in 2021 its availability for macOS was announced.  It now supports the entire Apple “ecosphere,” Mac, iPad, iPhone, Watch.

Even though Shortcuts attempts to be helpful and usable “out of the box,” most of the pre-built “workflows” (or “macros”) available in the product’s “gallery” do not fit my day to day needs.  Time to roll up my sleeves and create my own.

Which is where the dark side of technology is introduced.  In its inimitable way, Apple has tried to make Shortcuts usable without writing any code.  But by so doing, one must learn the “Shortcuts way” of doing things.  Sadly, there aren’t tutorials, and the built-in help is pretty much the only source for information.  That is, until I came across the book, Take Control of Shortcuts, 2nd Edition by Rosemary Orchard (the delightful irony of both Apple and Orchard being associated is not overlooked!).   I purchased it (Kindle version, the only format available) in large part because it even addresses changes and additions to the current version of macOS, “Ventura” (version 13), which I am running on my modern Macs.

Reading the reviews on Amazon, I was prepared for a less-than-ideal reading and learning experience, so I wasn’t surprised that the author, while knowledgeable about the subject, chose to attempt to address the differences between platforms every time one occurred.  And there are many!  I found this distracting and hard to follow.  There’s a lot of good information presented in the book, but I find myself losing track as Orchard follows breadcrumbs here and there.

Which brings me back to the topic of this post:  Should I Write A Book?  I have given this some (but not a lot) of thought.  If I were going to write a book about Shortcuts, how would I structure it?  Since I am exposed to a lot of technical documentation through the course of my work, my thinking is that I would probably write it according to this rough outline:

  • Introduction.  What is Shortcuts?  Where did it come from?  Who can use it, and where to find it.
  • Definition of terms.  It helps to have a clear understanding of terms like “events,” “actions,” “variables,” “triggers” and so on.
  • Core capabilities.  Items and processes that are available on all platforms.
  • Mac differences
  • iPhone/iPad differences
  • Apple Watch differences

It always helps to have examples and even do-it-yourself templates.  Screenshots and clear step-by-step instructions in abundance would go a long way to adding value to the book.

Almost in spite of Orchard’s book, I have been able to create two Shortcuts “macros.”  The first addresses the original desire to automate my workout routine.  Because it is started on my Watch and transfers control to my iPhone, it doesn’t always work.  I’m still looking into that.  The second, which I even added comments inside, I have running as a “service” on my Mac that just uses the Mac’s “Quick Look” capability to display a random photo from a folder I use for desktop pictures.  It doesn’t serve any real useful purpose, but it’s kind of fun during a quick break to pop up and display a photo I may not have seen in a while.  Here’s a screenshot of the Shortcut “code.”

Remember that “learning curve” I mentioned earlier?  Well, I had to find out what a “Quick Action” is (in essence, it’s like a service one can call from the Services menu on.a Mac) and then I had to learn that I needed to “continue” if there was no input.  And, since I’m using folders on my Mac that don’t exist on my phone or iPad, I had to terminate the shortcut if I was trying to run it on one of them, otherwise I’d get an error.

I may never write this book.  But when I finally retire, I should have the time to learn and explore the Shortcuts app on multiple platforms, and maybe put my knowledge into words.

Has Apple Abandoned AppleScript? Automator?

Those who know me know that I’m an Apple Macintosh fan.  I was already fascinated with computers when Apple ran their famous “1984” commercial

and I went, “Whoa, this I gotta see!”

Soon after, I acquired an original, first-generation Macintosh, an ImageWriter printer, and I was hooked!

Awed by the rich, well-crafted graphical user interface (GUI), the “other guys” were suddenly rocking back on their heels.  They had nothing to compare to it.  Since Microsoft Windows hadn’t yet made an appearance, the best argument against the Mac came in the form of the criticism that the Mac had no command line, and no way for the average user to create their own programs, processes and workflows.

The answer to that complaint arrived in 1987 as Apple introduced Hypercard, the first-ever hypermedia system, pre-dating the worldwide web.  Apple pulled the plug on it in 2004 because, as Tim Oren put it, “HyperCard always had a marketing problem of not being clearly about any one thing.”  In other words, Apple didn’t know what to do with it.

AppleScript made its debut in 1993, when Apple was still shipping System 7, the operating system that was replaced by Steve Jobs when he returned to Apple from NeXT.  Compared to the DOS command line scripting language, AppleScript was not only fluid, very English-like in its syntax and language structure, but also leveraged components of the Mac operating system down to its core.  Scripts could be written to automate tasks, could integrate with other scripting languages (the porting of NextStep to the Mac and integrating it with the classic Mac OS added the ability to write Unix shell scripts).

I remember writing an AppleScript process that would

  1. Mute the sound output of the Mac
  2. Launch an Internet stream recorder every weeknight and point it to a radio broadcast
  3. Turn off the recording two hours later
  4. Save the recording to a folder with a date-time specification
  5. Restore the audio level

I could then listen to my replay of the live presentation at a more reasonable hour (for me).  Another feature of AppleScript that I enjoyed was the “folder actions” ability:  Write a script that watches a given folder and when an item is added, changed or removed, the script would take an action (in database parlance this is known as a “trigger”).  Cool stuff!

Eight years later, Apple added to its set of built-in tools Automator.  Building on top of previous capabilities, Automator is designed to create workflows using a point-and-click and drag-and-drop interface.  It can call AppleScript scripts and shell scripts, too.

Since my employment entails working with a lot of the “other guys” (Windows and Linux), I do a lot of shell scripting and DOS batch/command files.  Microsoft met the Apple challenge in 2006 with Windows PowerShell (now made open-source and cross-platform in 2016), but I’ve never taken the time to learn it (every programming language has a learning curve, and I’m pretty curved out).

Which brings me to the topic of this post.  I’m running the latest (as of this writing) macOS, Ventura (13.2).  Apple has made significant changes to its OS under the hood, and in so doing has broken a lot of AppleScripts.  A quick Internet search for “Ventura AppleScript” will reveal page after page of people reporting their AppleScripts no longer work under Ventura.

I have sitting next to me a book I purchased in 1995 by Tom Trinko titled, Applied Mac Scripting, which focuses on AppleScript, Userland Frontier (now primarily a web scripting language) and some other small automation tools.  It’s a huge book of over 800 pages, and originally came with a CD that has long ago disappeared.  I mention this because no one seems to have written anything new about AppleScript in years.  The most recent book I could find on Amazon is dated 2010!  Even Apple’s own Developer site has outdated information on AppleScript, and the “About AppleScript” forum is locked.  That’s not a good sign.

Here’s what brought me to this lengthy screed:  I like to decorate my Mac’s “desktop” with photos I’ve taken (or downloaded).  I also like to have the image rotated randomly at specific intervals. I save all my photos in a folder (not my Pictures folder).  Over the years, I have tried a number of programs that purport to do this, and all fail to meet 100% of my requirements.  The one I’ve used for years is a little freeware program, Change Desktop by Brian Bergstrand (hat tip!), now unavailable.  So, I thought I’d write one myself.  After all, I have all the tools necessary, don’t I?

As a proof of concept, I quickly whipped up a shell script.  It simply reads through the folder, building an array of file names, chooses one at random then displays the filename.  This is the script:

unset p
let x=1
for f in *;
if [ -f "$f" ] ; then
let x=x+1
echo "$f" is not a file
RANDNUM=$(( 1 + $RANDOM % $x ))
echo "There are $x files"
echo "The randomly chosen file is $FN"

Okay, it works.  But the shell doesn’t provide a way (that I know of) to set the desktop image.  I found several AppleScripts that should do the same thing.  But they don’t.  They either throw an error (AppleScript’s errors are as unfriendly as any programming language’s I’ve seen) or they don’t take the right image from the folder specified.  Huh?

Automator seems now to be Apple’s preferred method of creating your own workflows (which is the name Apple gives the processes you create).  At least they’ve updated the documentation for it.  I’ve created Automator workflows, but they don’t seem as “intuitive” as AppleScript.  Well, as AppleScript used to be.  As is the case with most software, “feature creep” enters the picture and what was once a simply, handy tool (like HyperCard) gets burdened down with external functions, libraries, frameworks and no longer is accessible to the common man.



Not Knowing What You Don’t Know

I am constantly struck by the “expert” opinions of those who haven’t the first idea what they’re talking about.  Most recently, I came across a thread on a forum in which I participate that was in the “off-topic” section and began by an incoherent post citing three different passages from Scripture.

Yes?  So what?  At least, that was my initial reaction.  I am one of the last people who should be holding forth on things Biblical.  And that’s my point:  I know that I don’t know nine-tenths of the Bible.  I’ve heard that “Scripture interprets Scripture,” so I know that those who study Scripture deeply are always finding new references, correlations and (possibly) deeper understanding.

As is so often in the era of the Internet, people who have no understanding, much less knowledge of a topic, find it necessary to take center stage and expose their ignorance for the rest of the world to see.  Rather than be embarrassed by their ignorance, they seem to relish it.  Because these days, opinions are more important than facts.

The sub-head of this journal is “Everyone is entitled to my opinion.”  Because everything I post here is opinion.  Oh, there might be a smattering of fact here and there (“This guitar is made of wood”) but I make no claims to expertise.  In fact, the subject I am most expert on is “being myself.”  And I’m not always that good at that!

I’m not sure when this trend began.  The easy answer for me is “When social media began.”  Of course, that’s just an opinion — however, the staggering preponderance of know-it-alls on the message boards has become a turn-off for me.  Add to this the equally staggering number of argumentative, “I’m right and you’re wrong” types rang the death knell for me.  I quite Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the rest.

There are still the forums and boards I read, mostly because the topics interest me (guns, guitars, cars, etc.).  But I discount those who approach topics claiming (without portfolio, at least) expertise.  I simply smile, nod my head, and move on.

My COVID Journey

Two and a half years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have now contracted the disease.  I’ve believed for nearly the entire time as more became known about the disease, that it would become endemic rather than pandemic, and that sooner or later, everyone would catch it.  I guess my time is now.

Far be it for me to pretend I’m a scientist knowledgeable about these things, but evidence I’ve read indicates that the “common cold” is a form of coronavirus, and that the SARS-CoV 2 strain was known to scientists some eight years before the recent pandemic (see link, above).

Perhaps I’m just lucky, of maybe the two vaccines and one booster have reduced the impact, but the fact remains that I, and everyone else, am not immune.  In a change of process then, I am going to use this post as a daily journal to track the progress of my journey with COVID-19.

Monday, September 26, 2022 was the morning I woke up to a slight cough and a bit of a scratchy throat.  As the beginning of a week I was to conduct training, I felt good enough to continue (I do this remotely from home) and vowed to keep my finger close to the mute button should I feel a cough coming on.

Tuesday, the sniffles began to be felt.  I opened a box of tissues to keep on my desk.  They, and the mute button kept me from being too disruptive to my students.  After the day was done, I ordered a jar of Vicks VapoRub.  I’ve used this product in the past, but since its main efficacy is gained through the camphor vapors it emits, have eschewed its use when in public.  I’m now working (and isolating) at home, so I have no care about wafting airs.  While waiting for the order to be filled, I decided to give myself an in-home Rapid Antigen Test, which then gave me a positive result.  I went to the drive-through at the pharmacy to pick up my potion so as to eliminate the possibility of person-to-person contact. Body aches began to develop and became more frequent.

Now it’s Wednesday morning.  I woke up early, likely due to the body aches, but with still a cough and sniffles, but not feeling any worse than I did the day before.  So, since I don’t want to make multiple posts on this topic, this will be my journal, and I’ll update it every day to track the progress of what for currently feels just like another “common cold.”

Thursday has come and gone, and several times I thought my condition had actually improved!  All of my symptoms seem to have abated a bit.  I spent the day conducting training, but found I did not have to hit the ‘mute’ button as often, and the Vicks helped keep my cough under control.

I slept well and woke up Friday thinking that I felt quite a bit better.  Still congested, with a cough and some aches, but perhaps the overnight rest brought with it some clearing of the affects.  Nothing so far has convinced me that I have anything other than a seasonal transition cold.  Still, I’m being cautious and staying out of public.

There were several times during the day when I thought to myself that I was actually feeling much better!  It’s now evening, the training week is over, and the rain from Hurricane Ian is moving in.  Two days ago I would have welcomed the opportunity to stay in all weekend, but now I’ve gotten more energy and less sniffling and coughing, and I’m afraid I’ll grow restless.  Since I’m wanting to do the right thing, self-quarantine is putting me away from contact.  I did find a potential temporary solution:  I went through the drive-in window at Popeye’s this evening.  That’s about as non-contact as it gets!

Down Time

Several times during the past few weeks I’ve thought of adding a new post, but then I get a case of “writer’s block” and come up blank with ideas.  Life recently has been much in the wash-rinse-repeat cycle, with work, guitar playing, exercising and similar routine activities.  So, what to write about?

Politics has become a horror show.  Watching the news and listening to opinion givers makes me feel like the world has become madder than ever.  If that’s even possible!

Fortunately, and it couldn’t come at a better time, I have a long weekend coming, where I will spend time in the Adirondacks with a group of some 200 men in a retreat, where we will sing, pray, talk, share, exercise and commune together, getting back in touch with our humanity and our relationship with God.

The Lake Champion Men’s Retreat Weekend is an activity created by an organization called Priority One, which is a ministry that ranges along the entire U. S. east coast.  The weekend takes place on a Young Life camp located near Glen Spey, New York.  The camp is now vacant, with school back in session, so the bunkhouses can provide accommodations for some 300 men.

(The video above may not be available after the weekend is over).

I attended my first Lake Champion weekend over ten years ago.  I didn’t know what to expect the first time, but it was such a refreshing and affirming time that I now look forward to it!  COVID affected it, like it did everything else, and I’m led to believe attendance won’t be like it used to be, but I’m going with six or seven guys from church, so we’ll have some fellowship together (we’ll be in the same bunkhouse) as well as meeting new guys (and re-acquainting ourselves with others).  Good food, good fellowship, great entertainment, and time away from technology and the worries of this ever-maddening world.  Relief!

Where Has “The Science” Gone?

A thought occurred to me today while I was out running (yes, I’ve started back; it’s a long way to go, but the benefits call to me…), the old saying, “Boys will be boys.”

This line was often used to excuse obstreperous, reckless, sometimes unruly behavior, because after all, boys will be boys.  The typical reaction to an overly-rambunctious boy was a “time-out,” sometimes accompanied by sitting in a corner.

Somewhere along the line, “scientists” decided that boys were afflicted with some made-up affliction they termed Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and invented drugs to counteract this behavior.  In other words, don’t let boys be boys, but turn them into malleable zombies.

Today, it’s gotten worse.  No longer do the “scientists” want boys to be boys, they want boys to be girls!  Yes, as the “woke” pandemic propagates, it now seems that every little boy is a mistake, and “science” determines that they should indeed, be girls.

THEN:  Boys will be boys

NOW: Boys will be girls

Except that this entire trend lacks any true science behind it.  Now, I’m not a scientist.  I don’t even play one on television.  But I have achieved that rare quality:  An education.

Thus, despite the claim of “scientists,” boys are born boys and girls are born girls, and no amount of makeup, surgery, and/or indoctrination can change that.  How can I say this?  Science.

Research has determined that human DNA contains 23 pair of chromosomes.  Female humans have two “X” chromosomes and male humans have one “X” and one “Y.”  DNA exists in every cell of the human body.  It is beyond the reach of science to alter a human’s DNA to add, remove or change a chromosome.  Thus, males are born male and will forever remain such, as females will always be female.  Science.

“Fake science” seems to have overtaken “fake news.”

Take “climate change,” for example.  Doomsayers are claiming that anthropogenic (man-caused) climate change will destroy the planet.  They even say that the year 2030 is the deadline to enact programs designed to prevent this catastrophe.

But where is the science behind this?  Proponents of “green” technologies and “new deals” point to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a “scientific” group established by the United Nations (let’s dispense with any commentary on the uselessness of the U. N. for now, shall we?) that issues dire reports on the state of the earth’s climate.  On what does the IPCC base its science?  A simple answer:  Political science.

The upcoming sixth report from the IPCC, in a leaked documents, says, “Life on Earth can recover from a drastic climate shift by evolving into new species and creating new ecosystems,” the draft reportedly says. “Humans cannot.”  No, humans cannot.  And in fact, NO SPECIES HAS EVER BEEN PROVED TO EVOLVE INTO A NEW SPECIES.”  Science?

Geologists (and now the astrophysicists behind the Hubble and Webb telescopes) are constantly proving the origins of the universe, the earth and of mankind.  Once again, the amateur scientist, through my reading, listening and observation, understands that the universe is some 13.7 billion years old and is constantly expanding.  As it ages, old stars and planets die and new ones are born.  Earth was formed approximately 4.6 billion years ago, and as our sun ripened, cooled a bit, and continental shift occurred as the seas receded (a through reading on earth’s geological history may be found at the very scholarly Encyclopedia Brittanica) and an environment suitable for life was created.

Ah, science.  Much of our understanding of earth’s history comes from the fossil record.  Let me state what has been known and is known:  The fossil record never shows evolution.  Particularly of man.  Those who claim man descended from apes are “science deniers.”

Speaking of fossils, where does the idea that petroleum is derived from dead and decaying dinosaurs?  A few data, mostly buried and forgotten, reveal this to be possibly false (a brief article and interview on this topic can be found here: Oil As A Fossil Fuel Is Fake Science).  Two important takeaways:

  1. Oil is frequently found at, and drilled at, levels far below that at which fossils are found
  2. At the 1892 Geneva Convention, John D. Rockefeller lobbied to have petroleum listed in the definition of organic materials, hoping to increase its value as a “scarce” resource.

The debate over oil being biotic (formed through the decay of organic material) or abiotic, which Richard Heinberg states, “[H]olds that there must therefore be nearly limitless pools of liquid primordial hydrocarbons at great depths on Earth, pools that slowly replenish the reservoirs that conventional oil drillers tap.”

Governments seeking power and businessmen seeking riches have always been the driving force in moving man’s “progress” forward.  They don’t always use science.

One final note:  I have read (and am re-reading) a book that addresses many of these topics in detail and scientifically.  Its title is Why The Universe Is The Way It Is, by Hugh Ross.  Spoiler alert:  Ross states, and then goes on to demonstrate scientifically, that the Bible, written in antiquity, reveals more about the universe than most “science” these days.

The Photo (Vendor) Wars Have Heated Up

Yes, it’s been a month and a half since I threatened promised a post with photos.  That’s longer than I anticipated, largely because trying to combine a work schedule with the time needed to catalog and edit some 1,100 photos takes longer than I’d hoped.  My full-time work schedule isn’t 24 hours a day, and neither is my photo editing.  I’m also playing a lot of guitar of late.  😄

I did manage to make a first pass through the entire batch and uploaded the majority of them to my Smugmug account.  I created a gallery named Greek Island Easter Odyssey 2022. It’s still a first pass, as I expect to be adding/updating it further.

So, what is this post all about?  It’s a revisit to the photo tools I’ve used over the years.  I’m a bit of a hoarder collector, and the photo processing software companies are in business to capture dollars like any other business.  I’ve collected a bit of freeware as well as commercial products, and that’s likely where my troubles lie.

Every photo editing tool has a set of core features and its own user interface which attempts to make the program easy to use.  The first problem I have is that they all include capabilities that I either don’t understand, or behave the same way.  For example, I have Photoshop, the granddaddy of all photo tools, but the program baffles me with its use of layers and masks.  And since these feature intimidate me, I tend to shy away from them.  Some are feature-specific, such as easyHDR, which does a terrific job on single photos, turning them into high-dynamic resolution images.  It’s apparently a one-man labor of love which has been around since 2006.  There is a single cost (about $33US) for lifetime upgrades, which makes it a terrific value, in my opinion.

But where my frustration (or anxiety, perhaps) occurs is trying to determine which of the “big three” are the best tools for the job.  For purposes of this article, the Big Three are the various products offered by Adobe, Skylum, and ON1.

Adobe is the market leader and is the target for all competitors.  However, it takes a master craftsman to produce usable photos in Photoshop, so I’ll limit my discussion to its companion program, Lightroom.  Adobe positions Lightroom as a photo cataloging tool, but it has a superb set of editing tools in its own right.  Skylum’s flagship product is Luminar, the latest iteration now called Luminar Neo.  ON1’s premier program is ON1 Photo RAW 2022.5 (as of this writing).  I own all but the Neo program, but I might fork over the money to upgrade to it, as well.

Luminar advertises its Neo program as working as a standalone program, or as a plug-in for Photoshop, Lightroom and Apple Photos.  ON1 provides a means to “pass off” editing to Lightroom, and Lightroom reciprocates by incorporating other programs into its capabilities.

I’ve never found using one program as a plug-in for another useful.  I pretty much get the results I want by using features of one program.  And this is where the real difficult issue comes in for me.  Both Luminar and ON1 are now offering “AI” (artificial intelligence) features, which purport to automate certain tasks.  Luminar is boasting portrait background removal.  ON1 has noise filtering and sky swapping that are quite impressive, as well as an “intelligent” resize capability that allows one to enlarge an older or smaller digital image.  Pretty nifty!

I might not have shaken the tree had it not been for the fact that some of the images I took in Greece appeared a bit lackluster due to the clear skies everywhere.  I started to play with the Sky Swap AI feature in ON1 and it changed my whole perspective on photo editing!  This is the first photo I shot that I tinkered with.  No, it’s not realistic in a very critical sense, but it has a dramatic effect that can’t be denied:

Temple of Athena Nike

The original image, which is yet unpublished, was a bit underexposed and the sky was an even blue.  The second photo I modified was a bit more realistic appearing.

Dusk at the Acropolis

So, now my juices are running and the vendors have done their job:  They have found another way to separate me from my money. Sigh.

But if I can improve even more than above, it will be worth it!

Pics Are Coming…

I have just completed what I think is the longest (in terms of duration) vacation of my adulthood.  Eighteen days aboard a smallish cruise ship, stopping each day at a new Greek island (and a couple of forays into Turkey as well).  As I’ve been telling folks, “Three weeks traveling, and three months of curating the photos!”

Detail from The Erechtheum, Acropolis, Athens, Greece

So, this is the first sample.  Combining three cameras (Nikon D7500, FujiFilm Finepix D45 and iPhone 12 Mini) I shot nearly 1,100 photos.  I will likely be adding the cream of the crop as I go on.

One thing I’m contemplating is creating an album on my Smugmug account of just photos I took of the marvelous little alleys and walkways that are ubiquitous on the Greek isles.  “Μονοπάτι” is one of the words in Greek for “path” (the Greek language is unique and marvelously expressive — no wonder Biblical translations abound — so there could be other words better suited.  For now, I’m going to use “Monopati,’ which translates literally to “one step path.”  Stay tuned!