Double-Duty Lumiquest SoftScreen & IR Filter

I am beginning to read through the outstanding and extensive off-camera lighting tutorials on David Hobby’s ”Strobist” blog, so that I can take better photos with my Nikon D90. The way I understand it, Strobist is a philosophy of DIY, using found or inexpensive materials over bespoke, and no-brand over brand.Lighting is a complex subject, and it takes a while to study up on the terminology and terms. For a while, you swim (drown?) in TTL, CLS and Guide Number soup, until it starts to make sense. There are many decisions to be made, including whether to go Strobist (i.e., manual), automated Nikon CLS (Creative Lighting System) or some combination, whether to trigger your strobes optically or via wire or via transmitter, and so on. I have a Nikon SB-900 speedlight. It is Nikon’s latest, a big mother of a flash, and I want to use it off the camera so that I don’t fry the eyes of my subjects (only half joking). You can use the built-in flash of the D90 DSLR as a “commander” for the SB-900 and other modern Nikon flashes (SB-800, SB-600, SB-R200). The SB-900 can also act as the commander in either the fully-automated Nikon CLS scenario, or, in a more Strobist-like SU-4 optical-master / optical-slave scenario. One problem I read about is that when the built-in flash is acting as the commander, of say an SB-900, it will emit pre-flashes to check exposure and so on, and these sometimes can have a negative effect on your exposure meter-wise, or by causing your model to close his or her eyes, or in the case of critters, spooking them away. So, your alternatives in trying to take care of this problem are: Get a Nikon SU-800, which is a dedicated commander module with no flash capability. It is sold separately and as part of a macro photography kit. Get the 12 dollar bracket-and-screen set from Nikon called the SG-31R, which blocks the pre-flashes. This is just a bracket you slot into your hotshoe, and a connected black screen that hangs in front of your on-board flash. Wire up your SB-900 speedlight using a SC-28 or SC-29 cord and use it as the commander tethered to the camera.Put a bit of 35 mm film over your built-in flash since it is supposed to allow IR to pass through but block light. Kodak 120 Ektachrome processed unexposed should do the trick.Use “flash value lock” to get an exposure monitor pre-flash first, before taking the shot. Less chance of squinting or blinking.Cogley - Lumiquest SoftScreen IR Filter 20081021Cogley - Lumiquest SoftScreen IR Filter 20081021Cogley - Lumiquest SoftScreen IR Filter 20081021Or you can do some creative, space-saving DIY, and use an inexpensive IR gel filter to block visible light while allowing IR to pass. I recently bought a Lumiquest SoftScreen, which is a compact diffuser sheet designed to make your on-board flash’s light softer. It hooks into your hotshoe, and then you hook the other end of the screen onto the housing for the on-board flash. The on-board flash’s light will shine through the SoftScreen’s white screen and get diffused. This seems to give better results than the somewhat harsh light from a direct hit from the built-in. When I heard about the purpose of the Nikon SG-31R screen, though, it occurred to me that I could somehow jury-rig the SoftScreen to hold an IR filter using its case, doing double-duty and saving me from having to carry around yet another contraption. Cogley - Lumiquest SoftScreen IR Filter 20081021Cogley - Lumiquest SoftScreen IR Filter 20081021Cogley - Lumiquest SoftScreen IR Filter 20081021Cogley - Lumiquest SoftScreen IR Filter 20081021In the end, I bought a 900 yen (about 8 dollars) Fuji Film #92 IR Gel Filter (actually, it filters the light and lets the IR through), at Yodobashi Camera in Shinjuku, Tokyo, on the 3rd floor of the Camera Kan near the large-format equipment. It even has a little paper holder so you don’t mess it up with your grimy mitts (perfect for me, what with all that bike grease on my hands!). ### The Steps to Pre-Flash Squelch Nirvana Here’s the steps I took to rig up the SoftScreen with the FujiFilm IR Filter:Buy a Fuji Film IR Filter at Yodobashi camera in Shinjuku, Tokyo. It was on the 3rd floor, with the large format film cameras. Open the filter, and install it in the little paper holder (two cardboard squares with a circle die-cut out). Secure the edge of the filter with a little Gaffer tape. Make a cut with an Xacto knife in the bottom of Lumiquest SoftScreen’s plastic case (the side furthest away from the flap side), long enough to fit over the housing of the built-in flash (not the flash itself but its cover). Cut through both sides of the case, and secure the edges of the cut with some Gaffer tape to make sure it does not rip. Test that the slit fits over the flash cover.Insert the SoftScreen’s white screen portion into the case, so that the case flap drops over the black back of the screen, facing the photographer-side of the camera. Align the hole in the screen with the slit in the case.Put the Fuji Filter in the case with the SoftScreen.Mount the half-encased SoftScreen on your on-board flash. Test that the pre-flashes are cut down, but that remote Speedlights still get fired. Try also just propping the filter behind the SoftScreen, without the case. I am not sure which is better and YMMV.At any rate, I hope you Enjoy it!

Japan Cycling Route - Totsuka, Mekujiri, Sagami, Ebina and Back

This last weekend I researched and tried a new cycling route, which turned out to be about 59 km. The route goes through Totsuka, Shonandai, Up the Mekujiri River on a bike path (“jitenshado” 自転車度), across Zama to the Sagami River, Down the Sagami on some trails, and back across to the Mekujiri River bike path via Ebina. I entered the route on Google Maps so other English-speaking cyclists in Japan can enjoy it.

Riders should note, that the Mekujiri RIver Bike Path has sections where every 100 meters there is a “gate” you have to swerve through ostentatiously to keep speeds down. If you want to just ride straight and fast, the Yamato Fujisawa Jitenshado is better. Also, the Sagami River bike path is not so much bike path but rather more trail, and is still underdeveloped and so would not be appropriate for a road bike. I read online that they are building a proper bike path along the Sagami River, which is due to be complete in 2011. I tried to pick routes where if the route was along a road, at least there was a decent sidewalk available to use, for riders who are still a little nervous about riding on the road directly.


Auto-update Presence Info and Twitter

One challenge a person who uses various “Social Networking” web-based applications to network and share information faces, is how to keep them updated. Often, they have application programming interfaces or API’s, that a programmer can use to automate various aspects of the system.

A good example of API use is Google’s ”Statz” application. Statz allows you to update the status or presence information of various applications such as Adium, Colloquy, Conversation, iChat, ircle, Skype, Snak, Tumblr or Twitter. When you change your status in Statz, from “On the Road” to “In a Meeting” and so on, it updates the status of all the applications you have added to the list of apps Statz is meant to update.

Now let’s drill down into one of the apps that can be updated via Statz, called Twitter. Twitter is a popular “micro blog” system, in which the concept is you enter what you’re doing now, a “tweet”, which gets fed into the twitter “stream” along with probably millions of other tweets. Twitter is not a chat system per se, but has that nuance. Statz lets you put “In a Meeting” or “On The Road” or “Away” in Twitter, but another type of “what are you doing” information that might be good for Twitter is when you blogged something or uploaded a photo.

Enter Twitterfeed. Twitterfeed monitors your Really Simple Syndication or ”RSS” feeds after you enter them into your Twitterfeed account. RSS feeds are lightweight text files that automatically show site content updates and are output by many types of websites including blog, photo sharing, and forum systems. Here’s how it would work:

Create a Twitter account, supplying your email address and then setting up Twitter as you like.

Sign up for Twitterfeed, using an OpenID. I used my Google Blogger ID, but many others are available to choose from.

Now you can enter RSS Feeds into Twitterfeed. For example, Blogger, Flickr and Smugmug all have RSS Feeds that you can use. When you enter an RSS feed, you tell Twitterfeed how often to check it, and what prefix text it should append when it feeds your Twitter.

When it is set up, Twitterfeed will check your designated feeds, extract the latest feed update and appropriate URL, and post these to your Twitter stream with the text prefix. As a bonus, it uses TinyURL to help you keep under Twitter’s Tweet length limit of 145 characters. TinyURL shortens any URL into an URL like

The resulting Tweet looks something like this:

Post: Finding Photos within a Date Range in Aperture: A friend using Apple’s powerful Aperture ph..


Google Statz Interface on OS XFlock Browser <abbr title= RSS Indicator Icon" />Twitterfeed <abbr title= RSS Feeds List" />RSS Feeds in the "NetNewsWire" <abbr title= RSS Feed Reader Application" />RSS IconYahoo's <abbr title= RSS List" />Twitter Autoupdated by Twitterfeed

Crumpler “Sinking Barge” SLR Camera and 15” Laptop Bag

To protect the Nikon D90 and allow me to maintain my sanity while commuting with my computer equipment as well, I bought a black and grey Crumpler Sinking Barge bag, which holds a 15” laptop like a Macbook Pro (not the 17” version, though), an SLR and medium-sized lens, one extra lens, and has enough room for a flash, cables and so on. Today I am carrying all that plus a change of clothes.

Crumpler has a zany flash-based website that you just have to experience. It is like a big vending machine, complete with some funny off-color product demonstration vids featuring employees. Good stuff.

What I like about it is that it looks smooth, not like your typical camera bag, has excellent zippers and workmanship, and protects my usual equipment quite well. If I have any criticism, it is that some of the pockets are a little tight to insert a hand, there is no place for a monopod to be clipped (you need to get the bigger Crumpler models for that), and the inside flap is overly long. Overall, it’s perfect for my needs.

Crumpler Sinking Barge 2008 - 1Crumpler Sinking Barge 2008 - 4Crumpler Sinking Barge 2008 - 5Crumpler Sinking Barge 2008 - 2Crumpler Sinking Barge 2008 - 6

O’ReillyMaker - Roll Your Own O’Reilly Book Cover

Ever wanted to bust out a cool book cover just like the ones O’Reilly does? Well now you can, thanks to When you hit publish, you get your very own cover URL to show to all your friends.

No Bikes Allowed on the Bridge to Hakkeijima

I tried the hilly, hilly East route again this weekend, and made it all the way to Hakkeijima Sea Paradise, which is an awesome place to take the family. The trip was about 45 km, and I dragged the Nikon D90 in my quite-rugged Speed Freak waist pack from Think Tank Photo, and took a few shots of the bridges in that area with a wide angle lens.

When I tried to cross the main bridge to Hakkeijima Sea Paradise, thinking I’d get some lunch there, I was greeted with a blasted announcement aimed right at me. “No Bicycles Allowed in Hakkeijima Sea Paradise. Please use the bicycle parking lot behind you on the left.” Actually it was more like “NO BICYCLES ALLOWED!” And of course it was in Japanese. I was so surprised by the volume I nearly fell off! (It was definitely cranked to 11) So much for lunch at Hakkeijima. I got a lot of evil stares (like Ultraman), and then some laughs because I understood the warning fully, and that it was aimed at this helmet-wearing, waist-pack toting white-boy gaijin, but at least I did not get fined 98.00 bucks for my 6 feet.

Beiju - 88th Birthday

In Japan, a person’s 88th birthday is called “beiju” and is a special celebration where yellow- or gold-colored gifts are given. The “bei” of beiju comes from the three kanji characters for eight “八”, ten “十”, and eight “八”, or “hachijuu-hachi” (88), which combined together form the character kome, or rice “米”. You can see one eight flipped upside-down on the top, the other on the bottom, and the ten as the cross in the middle. The “ju” of beiju is the character kotobuki, or celebration “寿”, which is also the su of sushi. Beiju is written out as “米寿”.

Because rice was so important to Japanese, as an integral part of daily life and vital to sustaining life, the 88th birthday is a celebration of importance in Japan. Beiju is also known as “yone no iwai” or Rice Celebration, the yone being another way to say kome or rice. The photo is from great-grandma’s beiju celebration in Sept 2008.

Enabling Labs Tab in Gmail

If you would like to use some of the Google Labs features in Gmail but cannot find the Labs tab, you can enable it by visiting the following URL after you log in:

Now you can just click the Labs tab and start selecting the Labs features you want, like ”Advanced IMAP Controls” to avoid downloading the entire All Mail folder. Gmail will remember you want the Labs tab for next time.

Kintaro-ame by anzyAprico on Flickr

This is typical Kintaro-ame next to kompeito.

Originally uploaded to Flickr by anzyAprico

“Kintaro Ame” Chopstick Stand at Robataya

Went to Robataya in Roppongi last night, and got this shot of some ceramic chopstick stands that look like “Kintaro-ame” candy. Kintaro’s the guy on the right, and he is said to be Sakata no Kintoki, a Heian Period samurai. There is a traditional story about him that Japanese children learn, in which Kintaro, born with great strength, goes on to conquer a group of “oni” or demons. Kintaro-ame is a cylindrical candy produced from the Edo period on, which has the same image of Kintaro wherever you cut it. Kind of metaphorical and suitable for his legendary stature.