DNA Testing

I’m becoming more and more fascinated by genealogy and tracing my family history back to wherever it might go. In playing with Ancestry.com, I’ve found many lines of people going back to Virginia and Maryland of all places – now, it seems I’ve come full circle.

In order to get a better picture of the line, I’ve decided to get a DNA test. I’m rather interested to see what it might show. Especially since I’m having some difficulty locating the Native American people in the line. I’m pretty sure I found a few in Laura’s lineage, so her DNA test should show that. I’m hoping mine will show some too, but it looks more and more likely that it will be smaller than I previously believed.

I hope to find connections to the Phillips line all the way back to England. I may have found the link, but without corroborating documents or any evidence, I may not know. But if I can link my tree and DNA results to someone else’s tree who has stronger documentation, then maybe I can nail down that long-lost ancestor – and it won’t be a dead end in 1739 with Solomon Phillips. I have good documentation up to that, but then it all falls apart.

But, 1739 is nothing to sneeze at – the family has been here a long time. Longer than I previously thought.

I’m kind of excited to see what the test shows.

One Million Miles

Not yet, but that’s what I’m shooting for.

After almost 10 years at my last job, travelling to the work sites every week, and my propensity for travelling any place that I can, I’ve racked up just over 904,000 miles just on United alone. Most of those were on Continental before the merger, but I’ve added a good amount since.

If you want to count ALL my miles, I’ve done well over a million total on various airlines. At one point I had 240,000 on American, but they cancelled my account for lack of use (good riddance, I say).

With my new job, I don’t travel nearly as much. In fact, NOT travelling every week was kind of why I took it. After all – I rather enjoy spending time with the wife. The new job is mostly local, with occasional travel. I travel maybe 4 times per year, usually half of that is vacation.

So, where I used to accrue 75,000 or more miles per year, I now sometimes don’t even reach enough for elite status. Of course, I have a way to maintain the lowest tier if necessary, and I’ve put that to use a few times.

What I need now is a way to cheaply and quickly earn 96,000 miles. Based on miles, I think I can do that with 5 round trips to Bangkok. (Or maybe only 3 with some business trips to Seattle scattered over the next couple of years.)

Hmm… maybe I’ll pop over for a dinner of green curry a couple of times.

New Underwater Development Process

In order to make better pictures underwater, I’m not only fitting out a used case for my 5D, but I’m also learning a new technique for developing the underwater raw photos in Lightroom to better reflect what they should look like.

Normally, pictures you take underwater are extremely blue:

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Previously, to fix this, I would import the file into Photoshop, run a custom action which would add a red layer, do some magic and then, I’d save the PSD file and adjust it some more and maybe it would look okay:

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Now, I don’t know about you, but that looks a bit strange what with the purple water and all. So, I’m now working in Lightroom using a technique that uses white balances and black levels to make corrections. It’s non-destructive, doesn’t require a second PSD file and is very flexible. Much faster as well. Here’s that same picture with the new method:

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Blue water, proper skin tones, over all, much better.

New Underwater Direction

After some setbacks and issues with the EOS M, I had an epiphany. We have two “old” EOS 5D cameras. Why couldn’t I just find a used housing for one of them? Sure enough, I found one for half price of what I would normally have to pay for a new case for a new model. I picked it up and have been finding used or on-sale lens ports to go with it.

This idea has several advantages as well as several disadvantages. First, the speed and responsiveness of the camera are incomparable to even a high-end mirrorless. Second, the pixel quality is one of the best in the industry despite it being a bit long in the tooth. The dynamic range is also much better.

The down side, though, is that the housing weighs eight million tons, and with all the accessories, it will be difficult to carry on a dive trip.

Well, I’ll just have to try it out and see.

Travel Updates

I’ve updated my travel maps to reflect the new countries I’ve visited: Iceland and Norway. I didn’t add any new airports to the ever-growing list this time since we got there by boat, but I have to say that I will definitely want to go back to both places in the future.

We are currently parsing through the thousands of pictures we took and will eventually post them on the gallery.

Data!

Seems we have a lot of it. In fact, I feel like we’re going through hard drives like potato chips. [Okay – not quite that fast, but still!]

We finally filled up our actual data drive which was 1.5 TB of storage. That’s our personal data plus software images and such, not virtual machine storage or anything like that. So, I purchased a new 2TB drive to extend our data partition. I previously had 2 1.5TB drives mirrored and I needed to take that storage and convert it to a RAID 5 array using those 3 disks. Now, I tried to find a 1.5TB disk but couldn’t, so I just took the next size up, and turned off the file server. I put the disk in and found that I couldn’t just create a new Windows Storage Space and then convert it from “simple” to “parity” mode. You need a reformat to do so. My RAID card can do this, but it’s a pain to manage and I don’t like the way it works, so I decided to destroy the old disk and build a new one fresh. Once I copied all the data off [and I barely had a enough room!] I destroyed the array and mounted the disks as separate drives to be managed by Windows.

All was well until I decided to reboot.

The RAID software kept locking up on me, so I booted into the BIOS and configured the disks directly, then attempted to boot. Got a flashing cursor. Nice.

After a couple of hours, I was finally able to properly order the disks and fix the boot partitions [even though nothing had changed on those drives!] and it booted normally.

Now, I have created a new storage pool of “parity” mode using those three disks which equates to almost 3TB of redundant storage. I lose 500GB of storage due to the fact that the new drive is bigger, but when I add additional disks in the future, I could reclaim that space.

The data is now being copied back – it might take all day.

On another note, one of the other hard drives on which I stored my virtual machine configurations failed a couple of months ago. Now, I just bought a replacement 2TB drive and stuck it back in and the array nicely rebuilt itself back. However, I was sitting here with this bad disk thinking “I wonder if there’s some warranty…”

Sure enough, there was! The drive will be sent back to the manufacturer and then I can add it to the new storage pool to increase the amount of available space.

Okay. Enough geeky stuff. Back to work.

New Underwater Camera

Over the years, we have tried several digital cameras for our underwater photography, some good some bad, some just passable.

As ironic as it is that the cheapest, oldest, least capable camera has turned out some of our best pictures over time [albeit with the very low resolution of 2 megapixels], I still must strive to have the best equipment that I can reasonably afford to do the job.

The first camera I have used was the Canon PowerShot A20 – a 2mpx camera with almost no manual settings and a hideously long shutter lag. Knowing when to shoot the picture meant pushing the button about 2-3 seconds before I expected my subject to be in the frame. That’s much easier when standing [floating] still. Even so, some of my best pictures underwater came from this camera. Either because of it’s limitations which I subconsciously took into account, or because of the environments in which I dove – which is more likely. The places we went with that camera were deeper and darker, which lent more to flash-based lighting and that just makes things look better underwater.

Ever wanting to be on the technological cusp when it comes to gadgets, I “upgraded” next to the Canon PowerShot S80. For a camera that was technically superior [it was 8mpx and allowed us to shoot in RAW format], it performed in a most substandard way. We had thought it would make better strides in shutter lag, but while a bit faster, it still had serious delay problems. Of course, when we took it diving, we didn’t go very deep or do night dives with it, so I couldn’t get the lighting to do what I wanted and it really didn’t perform any better than the old A20 did. It didn’t last long.

Next up is our current camera, the Canon G9. Now, with this one, I was determined to do better on properly planning the equipment. I at one point wanted to go with a low-end SLR, but the cost of the case alone (over $10,000) fast decided me against that. At the time, the G9 was the top of the line small form factor camera. I picked it up and the Ikelite case with strobe to go with. This is the first time that I had that setup, previously relying only on the built-in flash. Having the strobe off camera makes for better, more clear pictures free from underwater particulates. This camera did much better.

However, there are still some shortcomings, the focusing speed, the still present shutter lag, and most importantly, the sensor limitations of noise, ISO, and dynamic range. I was still getting blown out sections of my pictures in the highlight areas – the kinds of problems that don’t normally present themselves topside. All told though, it’s still a decent solution and even does some low-res underwater video.

Then, Canon went and released the EOS M – a new “mirror-less” SLR camera. That just means that it has the guts of a large body camera, with focusing and viewing through the lens, but without the heavy mirror/prism mechanism present in most SLR cameras today. Not that I mind using the optical mirror viewfinder on my big camera, but for underwater, it becomes cumbersome and cost prohibitive.

With the EOS M, though, you have a “full” [APS-C sized – not full 35mm frame, but the more consumer friendly size] sized sensor in a tiny camera body with 18mpx and high ISO range. This means that we should be able to get better shots in the deep with a lower-noise, higher dynamic range, and crisper detail – and use it underwater WITHOUT a $10,000 case premium. Looking at the options out there shows at present one case for $1,500, but there should be an Ikelite one out in the near future. [That’s my opinion not based on any information from them.]

So, we found a used one at B&H for $200 or so off the $799 retail price including the more flexible lens we wanted. This camera also does an amazing high-def video capture and we’ll be using it on not only our future dive trips, but our upcoming north Atlantic cruise. Plus, it’s lightweight and easier to pack.

I’ll let you know how will it performs.

Aliens and the Surface Pro

I’ve been busy for a while with quite a lot of things, so I have not had much time to write [or rant for that matter] lately.

First and foremost, I will tell you that Laura has been painfully making do for the last several years with my “leavings” from my employer. She’s been using my hand-me-down extra laptops when I get a new one.

Lately, though, that wasn’t really working for us. She loves to do photo editing and also loves a good, fast, and stable machine. My old work laptop didn’t quite have a powerhouse of a graphics card [neither did my newer one] and eventually, it has slowly succumbed to entropy and now crashes frequently for no reason. So did my newer one when I put any kind of strain on the graphics engine, like, say, playing a game… If I were to do such things…

It was definitely time to get something configured for her that was brand new and with a warranty. I gave her two options. One: get a super high performance laptop that would do everything, or two: get two purpose built machines (one powerful desktop for home and one ultra-portable for elsewhere). Either option was about the same amount of money.

What she discovered is that the laptops which had the specs that she like were 10 pounds and had 17 inch monitors and were usually “gaming” machines. She also didn’t like the fact that if something breaks with your laptop, you usually need a professional to fix it. I can change parts in a desktop rather easily, so no calling the technicians on that one. She also couldn’t get quite the performance on a laptop that she could on a desktop that was about half the price. So that’s what we decided. All that was left was picking out the two pieces of the Laura Computing Environment, from now on referred to as “LCE”. 🙂

The easier choice was a desktop for the LCE. We’ve both always admired the Alienware computers, and now that they’ve been acquired by Dell, they seem to be more affordable. We chose a strong performer, but without the dual video cards [without a second monitor they are unnecessary], with 32GB of RAM, super fast CPU, and an SSD for the system drive. All of our data files usually are on the network so storage isn’t a problem. We chose speed over space with that disk, but it’s still 256GB.

Then, we had to chose the LCE mobile machine. We looked at several options, playing with them in some stores, but none seemed sufficiently powerful and robust enough when combined with light weight and touch screens.

Anyhow, after my employer gave me a Surface RT, I found that I kept finding it in her hands. Hmm… there might be something there, I thought. So, when availability of the Pro came around, we showed up at the store – to a huge crowd! We were able to miraculously obtain the 128GB Surface Pro [which, it seems, everyone else wants, too] that the manager said had a “damaged box”. Turns out it wasn’t damaged that we could see. Everyone else was now in line to reserve a back-ordered one.

So: the LCE now consists of the Surface Pro 128GB and my old laptop. The Alienware desktop has not yet arrived, but it will in about a week I think.

I’ve set up the Surface Pro for her and even tested it out in a café with Lightroom on it doing some picture edits and uploads for about 3 hours. I’ve got to say: it’s pretty amazing for such a tiny thing!