Thursday, April 19, 2012

New Camera: Sony DSC-HX200V

Yesterday the new camera arrived and over all . . . yeah, I'm happy with it. 

The zoom is incredible.  And it is fast for multiple shots.  So fast, in fact, that the first time I thought it was doing something wrong.  This is going to be an incredible camera for wildlife.

This is really good for bracketing where you take a shot a different settings (Normal, more light, less light).  For those of us who play around with HDR (High Dynamic Range) pictures, this looks very good.  Oh, but look -- the camera has a setting for HDR to do the work itself.  That might be handy too, though I enjoy the HDR programs I own.  There are other in-camera tricks you can do, but I have all the programs to do those out of camera and with more control, so I'll likely not use them often. The camera has good bracketing controls, and because it's so fast, you probably won't need a tripod for most bracketed pictures. The fast part is great for capturing action, too. 

The colors are fantastic.  The pictures look sharp and many of them don't have the smudge problem (see below).  This is a great close up camera.  I went crazy looking for the macro setting and then discovered the change is automatic:  If you move in close to a subject, it switches to the macro lens.  Yay! You can also do manual focus, so you don't need to worry about not having the choice No more switching over to macro and then forgetting to switch it back and wondering why you can't get something in focus.

I keep having a problem finding some of the controls which is just a matter of learning the menu system.  My fingers keep moving to do 'Canon' stuff, but I'll get them retrained soon. 

The camera has GPS tagging, but I have not turned it on.  It will drain battery power and until I leave the house, it's kind of useless.  However, with Russ coming home this weekend, I'll be on the road a bit!  Yay!

There are a couple things that bother me.  One is the very small viewfinder.  I'd gotten used to using the viewfinder instead of the live screen on the Canon.  I could hold the camera steadier that way.  But I can get used to it.  This live screen doesn't have as much tilt-and-turn as the Canon.  I keep wanting it to bend a certain way, and it won't -- but I knew that, and I'm just trying to get used to it.

The second thing which is a bit more of a problem is a smudged appearance when using the extreme zoom, but usually noticeable only when you blow the picture up larger.  There is also some of the smudging when it takes multiple shots to make one picture, too.  This occurs when the scene is too dark and you're not using flash.   This is really not much of a problem because you don't normally see the effect in the size you would normally view anyway.  If I were doing huge prints, I might be upset.  As it is, I'm not doing any prints at all.  This makes the camera quite good for online picture sharing, which is about all I do these days.

I'd read reviews on these types of cameras (not just the Sony version) and saw the smudge description on many, so this is not something unusual.   I suspect the only way to get away from it is to go to a DSLR with individual lenses dedicated to the vast range of this single lens bridge camera.  (Bridge cameras are the ones that are not the normal point-and-shoot, but aren't DSLR cameras, either.  They're the step between.)

This would be a problem if I were trying to enlarge the picture to get something specific in there.  However, the zoom itself works so well that this might be a very rare occurrence.  I'm not certain yet how much this might affect me since I haven't had much of a chance to get the camera out and about.  I've also noticed that I can fix some of the problem in Adobe Lightroom (which I adore) and Photoshop CS5 . . . so I am probably not as worried about this as I would be in other circumstances.

The pictures I've posted here are resized from the huge originals, so even if you click on them, you should see some nice pictures.

If you are going for large prints and such, this is likely not the camera for you.  For people like me, who have extensive on-line photo collections, but very little print at all, I think it is an excellent choice.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

No Pulitzer Prize? Blame Indie Authors

Of course this was bound to happen.  I have already seen three people who have decided the lack of a Pulitzer Prize is because of the surge of indie authors and the poor quality of some of the work.  These people don't seem to realize such a link would only work if we thought the jury read those indie books and judged them with the others or if traditionally published authors were being influenced by indie authors, and their publishers were going along and allowing poorer quality material to be published.

The unfortunate truth is that the traditional publishers simply didn't publish a work the others could agree was worth the prize.  It's happened before: 1941, 1946, 1954, 1957, 1971, 1977 and now 2012.  None of us can say why they didn't find any of the books worthy.  I'd been hoping for Swamplandia!   They decided none were worthy of the honor.

If there is a decline in the quality (and not simply a year when the proper book didn't appear), then perhaps people might look towards the school system and the deplorable and declining state of education over the last 40 or so years.  While imagination is an aspect of individualism, training makes the writer.  People who come out of the school system without a clue how to write a sentence, let alone a book, start at a massive disadvantage -- and yes, many of them leap into self-publishing, which is unfortunate.   Most don't even realize they lack the proper education because they've been told they learned everything they need to know.  After all, they passed their grades and they graduated.  Many went on to college.  They still can't write a proper sentence.

They can learn, but this might take them longer, and only if they finally come to realize they lack crucial knowledge.  Perhaps we're dealing with a backlash in the educational system because, honestly, there is no reason why indie authors can't write well if they knew how.  The technical side can be fixed.  Imagination may not always be up to story-telling, but that has to be judged in an entirely different light.

I can't help think blaming a lack of good material in traditional publishing on indie authors is like saying apples aren't as sweet because oranges exist.  They're both fruit and they both grow on trees.  There is no way the existence of oranges creates bad apples. 

While it is common to blame some other area for a (perceived) fault, at least try to be logical at where you put the blame, if there is any blame to be given.  Maybe all we are dealing with is a change in style that the jury didn't like.  Perhaps the style of literary fiction is reshaping itself, and old standards will eventually pass away. After all, The Magnificent Ambersons is not written in the same style as The Grapes of Wrath and neither read like Beloved.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Influence: Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour #10

Like many writers, I am influenced by everything I read and especially what I enjoy.  There is always the little 'how did the author do that?' moment when I finish a book and try to analyze how everything came together and why it affected me the way it did.  For actual story generation, I'm more likely to be inspired and influenced by nonfiction history and science books these days.  However, for the types of stories I write there is one author who has had the most lasting influence on my writing.       

Andre Norton.  

I started reading her books after I'd already read a number of Heinlein's works, which I enjoyed . . . but Norton's adventures and characters appealed to me more than Heinlein's did.  I believe the difference is her stories weren't always so human-centric as Heinlein's and Norton's characters were often outsiders a trait I frequently find myself using.  (So does my favorite author, C. J. Cherryh . . . and yes, she has influenced me as well, but Andre Norton was the first.).  I am fascinated by characters who don't fit into the surroundings and have to learn the rules of the game, so to speak.

Some of her earliest works are rife with Red Scare backgrounds and odd bits of strange science like genetic memory regression.  We are all influenced, in one way or another, by our times.  The books are still interesting to read.  I often see Norton's work as less about science and more about characters.  Aliens and alien worlds, space travel . . . those were the stories that drew me.  I came later to her fantasy novels, but I can trace my most lasting influence to books like the Solar Queen series, especially Postmarked the Stars.

Other influences from her work?  Hmm. . . . Forgotten alien civilizations like the Forerunners?  You bet, and with all the secrets humans perhaps shouldn't know.  For that matter, I have also gathered the idea that all the stories can take place in the same future universe and have certain ties to one another.

Oh, and let's not forget the impact of learning Andre Norton was a woman.  And she wrote science fiction. At the time, the shelves were filled with male authors, and many of them quite good writers whom I still enjoy.  However, I remember the little thrill I felt when I learned Andre Norton was not one of them.  The moment of 'Oh, it's not just a boy's club after all!'  Sure she had to have a male name to start with, but that game was already over by the time I was reading the books.

Ah, and prolific!  You could always count on a great new Andre Norton novel before too long!  The shelves of stores had a long line of them to choose from, both sf and fantasy.  I loved the moments of looking at all those wonderful books.

I will never write like Andre Norton.  The times have changed and the world has new worries and fears of the future.  Too much of science fiction has moved into an age to dystopian futures and darker days.  A little of that sort of reading goes a long ways for me.  I also feel we've unfortunately lost a great deal of our 'sense of wonder' which was such an essential part of the golden age of science fiction.   If the future is so dark, who would want to go there?

I'm still holding on to my sense of wonder and looking for adventures.  Yes, many of the places will be dangerous . . . but not every stranger or strange thing will be an enemy and not every advancement will mean destruction.  I treat fantasy in the same way.  There are places I want to see and adventures I want to have so I continue to write them.  I'm willing to take any of you along who want to join me.

If you want to get to read about nearly twenty other writers, check out the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour. Be sure to read tomorrow's post by Sharon Kemmerer

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The sort of thing that panics zette

There is nothing in writing which I can say truly scares me.  They're only words:  I can change, rewrite and do whatever it takes to make them into something I like . . . and I know, even then, they won't be perfect.  I've come to accept the fact, but not to let the idea paralyze me.  I also know there is no way I will please everyone with my books.  No one does.

So writing doesn't panic me.  Book releases don't worry me once I get that far. Even cover art, at which I have a lot yet to learn, doesn't worry me very much.

I went through last winter with considerable worry since I had to rely on three space heaters, two of which died in the midst of very cold weather.  But I survived the winter and so did the cats.  I hope not to have to go through another winter where I'm wearing 3 layers of clothing, a blanket, hat and gloves to work, but I know I can survive it.

Spring is here.  We had a thunderstorm this morning.  Lovely stuff.  No, weather doesn't panic me.

So what does?

My camera.

The Canon SX10 IS is my fifth digital camera.  I started with the Sony FD7 back in 1999.  Less than a megapixel per picture.  Before that I was a Minolta SLR person, with two bodies and a number of lenses, plus a fully manual Pentax K1000 as a backup (with the lens for it as well).  Going digital so early was an attempt to curb the photo costs, because the price of processing the film for a three day mini-vacation always cost us far more than the trip itself.  Now I could take pictures to my heart's content.  No, not great pictures, but still, I had fun.  It meant giving up my darkroom (I still have all the equipment), and I loved the work, especially black and white film and printing.  But I did it.

About a year after I got the Sony FD7 I moved up to the Sony FD91, which I think was a 1.2 megapixel camera.  A couple years later I got the Sony CD1000, which was 2.1 megapixel and recorded on mini-cds rather than a-drive disks and had a great zoom.  That camera stayed with me for a long time . . . but I am hard on cameras.  I take thousands of pictures a year, even on a quiet year without a vacation. By the time I replaced CD1000 with the Sony DSC-H1, they were up to 5 megapixels!  Wow!  This was another camera I put through hell, but the pictures were lovely!  Many of my favorites, even still, came from this camera.

I went with a Canon SX10 IS, 10 megapixel, next.  That one has done well but in the last few months has started displaying two worrisome problems.  First, it often gives me a lens error and shuts down.  I restart and everything is fine, but the moment of shutting down and restarting is annoying when it happens at the wrong time. The second problem is that it occasionally can't find the card.  Pull card and reseat it (even if it was working a few moments before), usually does the trick.  However, again, this can happen at the wrong time.  And there is a fear it won't come back.

Last night I ordered my new camera.  No, this is not wise.  I could really use the money for other things.  But Russ will be home in a few days, and the fear my camera would die when I am finally getting a chance to go somewhere (Wildlife refuge!  Zoo!) is really something that panicked me.

Russ and I were on Skype until about 3 am, going over stuff.  If . . . . if everything works right (ha! That should panic me!), then this is probably the best time to have ordered the camera that I could.  Better, we both agreed, to order on-line and have the camera ready to go (and a couple days with the manual), before he arrives.

So, what is the new camera?

Sony Cyber-shot Digital Camera HX200V. 18 megapixel!  Fantastic zoom! Back to the sort of set up that, even after a few years, my fingers still automatically move to, which doesn't work on the Canon.

I've found some pictures (this is a NEW camera) on Flikr, which is what finally decided me on this particular camera.  To be honest, looking back at the Sony pictures and comparing them to the Canon . . . I just felt the Sony produced a more vivid picture, despite the lower megapixel.  This may just have been because I got to use the Sony in a wider range of situations, so I had a better feel for some things.  But I just felt better about going back to the Sony cameras this time.

I can't wait!

Yeah, this is a bit irresponsible, but I'll be paid in about a week (early, at my request -- nice of them!).  Russ gets paid tomorrow and he'll be paid the last day he's here.  (I did mention Russ coming home for a few days, right?  Yay!)  He will also have money coming from the classes he's teaching here the week he's back.  I am waiting for the payment from Smashwords so I can disburse money to the ACOA authors and editor and that should be soon, too.

I have been scanning in old slides (1400 of them so far), which has also been a lot of fun.  And adding cd/dvd's full of older pictures into the Lightroom database.  I LOVE Lightroom. This is the first program I've found that is easy to use for sorting pictures. I'll need to upgrade to Lightroom 4 at some point, but I'm really happy with what I have.  I already have over 10,000 pictures in the database and I haven't hardly started.  Yes, this is a lifetime commitment just to get the rest of the pictures I've already taken into it!  ACK!

I just got the notice that the camera shipped.

It's on the way!

I'll just go crazy for a few days now.

Monday, April 09, 2012

THAT moment for a writer

Today I was on the phone, which is rare.  Except for talking to Russ, I don't particularly like phones.  However, someone had asked for a job reference and these people don't seem to like to do those via email. (grin)

We went through everything.  Then the woman asked if she could ask me about something completely different.  Sure.

Her niece has been reading my books (which she thought were in print, not ebook) and loved the Silky novels. She was curious about signed copies.

There was a moment when my brain did a 'she must be talking about Holly Lisle's books' and then I realized she said Silky.  My novels.  A stranger is talking about my novels to me.

Now, I know there are strangers reading my books.  Sometimes I hear from them, but never in a case like this where the conversation was about something totally unrelated.

Yes, I'm still quite happy, hours later and even after a rash of house cleaning.

Sometimes it's just the little things that make life good for a writer.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Project Report Eight: Water/Stone/Light

I took part in Forward Motion's March Madness this year and in one week I wrote 40k on Water/Stone/Light.  The book is now close to the end of the first draft.  I would not have been able to do this without the outline because of all the other work I had to do as well (DAZ newsletter, Vision: A Resource for Writers e-zine, updates for Forward Motion and a bit more work for, etc.)  Generally I save such writing sprints for NaNoWriMo, but part of my problem this year has just been writing and not get distracted by everything else I need to get done.

The challenge worked.  I came close to finishing it by the end of the dare, and then a couple days later, I wrote The End!

This will not be the end of the story.

The first draft is 97,016 right now.  Since my first drafts almost always grow in the editing, this means a hefty sized book when I'm completely done.  I also have several more incidents that I wanted to include, and started seeing even more possibilities the closer I got to 'the end' of the book.  So about 10k back I finally made the decision to write a set of books:  Tales of Tygen 1: Water/Stone/Light and Tales of Tygen 2: (Unknown). 

If I had decided to keep this at one book, I would have had something longer than I'm comfortable with (200k or more), or I would have started cutting some of the material.  It's possible I'll end up with either of those anyway by the time I get done with book 2.  However, by giving myself a second book option, I opened up possibilities.

Now I don't have to rush anything story-wise.  This allowed me to find a new traitor in the midst of the mess, and is going to give one set of MC's a chance to do more than merely spend some time on the run before the resolution of the story.  By spreading the storyline out over a few more months, my characters will have a chance to do more, especially the Prince Heir, who needs to grow up a bit before the end of the novels. 

I'm not sure I like where Book 1 ends, with all the characters in a state of flux, but I won't release book 1 until I have book 2 completed, so people shouldn't have too much trouble with it.

Let's talk a bit about outlines, though.  Someone I've known on Forward Motion for a long time had no idea that I don't follow my outlines religiously.  An outline is a potential path for the story, but the more of the story I write, the more divergence there's going to be from the original plan.  I've heard this from several other people who outline as well.  I usually stick to the basics; I know I want a, b, c and d to happen, but they may not happen in the same way as I first imagined.  Like above where I found a new traitor in the midst of the mess.  He actually makes the basic trouble more likely to have happened, even while sitting quietly in the background of the story.  I could work it with the others, but he gives it a bit more authority.  Also, as someone in a place of power, he had more connection with those who needed to help start things moving.

He was always there in the story.  It just came to the moment when I had to decide what he would do after the trouble started and I realized he wasn't going to do what I had always assumed.

This upped the stakes significantly and gave several other characters cascading problems.  It adds a complication to an earlier set of circumstances, too, which will be quite easy to work in at that point.  I can work in all kinds of things when I do the rewrite, but it won't significantly change what I've written since this has to remain in the background until I am ready for him to show his true colors.

I am happy with the first draft of the book.  I'm happy with the additional things I'm getting.  Now it's time to move on to the next story.