AI will be my downfall

I always swore that I’d keep up with technology, at least consumer-level technology. I never wanted to be that old man who had to call his son to fix something on a computer or streaming device.

Artificial intelligence has my eyes glazed over. For the most part, I just don’t get it. I’m never going to be creating apps or even writing code with AI. (I don’t rule it out for “someday.”)

But I recently tripped over Windows Copilot’s image creation abilities.

The website tfrog.com has always featured an image of a toad in the header. As a photographer, I have plenty of pictures of toads, NONE of frogs. And, especially, none of treefrogs.

There are plenty of images of treefrogs on the internet, but, as a photographer, I respect copyright and couldn’t just copy one for my own use. That’s why I used my own photos of toads. (And nobody ever questioned why I used a toad on tfrog.com.)

website banner with a toad

In particular, the cartoon character of a Purple Treefrog (PT) has followed me since my days in grade school and doodling when I should have been paying attention in class.

Playing with Copilot, I asked for images of toads and green pond frogs.

north american green pond frog created with Windows Copilot
north american toad created with Windows Copilot

Utterly beautiful images. Taking it a step further, I asked for a toad in a suit sitting at the desk in the Oval Office.

north american toad wearing a brown suit and sitting at the desk in the Oval Office, created with Windows Copilot

Okay, now I see possibilities.

It finally occurred to me that I could also create an image of a purple treefrog for the website, an image that I’ve wanted ever since I put up my first domain.

a purple treefrog with green eyes clinging to a vertical stalk

Good, but let’s try for a more specific image: “create an image of a purple treefrog with green eyes clinging to a woody stalk in a tropical rain forest setting”

then…

“add a gold crown to the treefrog’s head”

a purple treefrog with green eyes clinging to a vertical stalk and wearing a gold crown

So I had my base image. Copilot spits out four variations of an image, each 1024 x 1024. I wanted 1920 x 1080 as my laptop wallpaper, and the Word Press website required 1000 x 288 for the header image.

a website banner for tfrogdotcom featuring a purple treefrog

I used Adobe Photoshop to resize the image and then expand the canvas area. Photoshop’s “generative fill” added in matching vegetation perfectly, seamlessly. Magic!

Where has this been all my life? (I know, I know, it’s all new.)

With artificial intelligence, I can not only create a purple treefrog, but I can put it in all kinds of environments.

a purple treefrog clinging to the side of a building in a postapocalyptic cityscape

Let’s put the purple treefrog in a red suit of armor and insert him into medieval England. I have no idea where the library came from, but I’ll accept it. Photoshop matched it perfectly when it filled in the expanded canvas.

a purple treefrog wearing a red suit of armor and brandishing a large sword while standing in a home library

Purple treefrog gets a manicure in preparation for his job search.

purple treefrog getting a manicure

Purple treefrog takes public transportation, since it can’t drive a car.

purple treefrog waiting at a bus stop

Purple treefrog interviews for an office job (he’s an excellent typist).

purple treefrog interviews for a job

And that’s how it starts.

I’ve made a few of my creations available at Smugmug.

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Lively 2 Pro Hearing Aids

NOTE: Throughout this article, I refer to Lively and the Lively 2 Pro hearing aids. Shortly after I bought my new hearing aids, Lively joined with Jabra to become Jabra Enhance. The Lively 2 Pro model is now the Enhance Select 200. The Lively team remains intact, and the hearing aids themselves are unchanged.

I just ordered a new pair of ears.

I’ve had hearing loss for some years now. How many years is a guess, since the loss is gradual and slow, such that I didn’t even notice it at first.

I’ve written about this before in my post “Now Hear This.”

I’m at the point now that I’ve lost an entire octave at the top of my piano keyboard and understanding conversations is harder. I miss too many words and struggle to understand what’s being said. My brain hurts.

Lively 2 Pro rechargeable with charging case

And I’m far, far from alone. About 30 million of us could use a little assist in hearing, yet the majority don’t have hearing aids and aren’t even considering them. One reason is the prohibitive cost of hearing aids. On average, a pair will set you back $5,000, and it’s a rare health insurance policy that covers hearing aids (Medicare does not). Hearing aids had to be prescribed by a professional audiologist, too, which ain’t cheap.

October 2022 marks the beginning of a new era in hearing aids. The FDA has now authorized a new class of Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids, which should be adequate for a lot of cases and much, much less expensive.

BEWARE cheap “hearing assists.” Legally, they can’t be called hearing aids, since that’s a recognized class of devices governed by the FDA. You can get a wide range of assists that “look” like hearing aids, but most just raise the volume. Louder doesn’t necessarily address the problem.

I’ve seen movies at an IMAX theater where the volume levels were downright painful, but I still couldn’t understand dialogue in a lot of situations. If you’re at a bar or a wedding, you know that the cacophony of voices around you makes hearing someone across the table impossible. Situational hearing varies. A good hearing aid accounts for this by dimming background voices and focusing on the voice you want to hear.

I’ve been looking at Lively. (NOTE: Lively is now Jabra Enhance. Same people, different name.) I’ve been ignoring their TV ads for a couple of years, but Wirecutter just listed them as “Best if you’re new to hearing aids.” And I like their set-up.

An online hearing test helps to identify the problems. It won’t replace a professional audiologist, but it’s a good starting point. The Lively (now Jabra Enhance) pros adjust your new hearing aids before they’re shipped, according to the results of the online hearing test, and they should make a great improvement from the first day of use.

As time goes by, I can talk to Lively audiologists, who can then adjust my hearing aids on the fly through the connected app.

With a tap, I can switch between all-around setting, crowded room (restaurant, bar), listening to music, or outdoors (filters out wind noise). Each of these quick settings has different buttons to enhance different sounds or filter them out.

A handy little 3-band equalizer is available to adjust bass, midrange, and treble.

I can also adjust each hearing aid separately. Over time, I can work with Lively audiologists to fine-tune my hearing aids to my personal hearing weaknesses.

Also, take note, I can return them within 100 days for a full refund if they don’t do the trick.

I ordered the Lively 2 Pro model (now Enhance Select 200) which tucks behind the ear, runs a wire into the open dome hearing elements inside my ear canals. A good number of various tips in large, medium, and small are included. These work via Bluetooth with the cellphone app and can even serve as streaming headphones for music and audio from my phone.

The small hearing aid tucks behind the ear, with only a wire showing.

And if you have an iPhone, these will also function as your phone headset. (For Android, I still have to use the cellphone’s microphone.)

Of course, the Pro models are rechargeable and come with a case that will recharge the hearing aids if I’m away from home. In fact, the case is good for three full charges of these hearing aids, which is plenty, even if you can’t get to an outlet. They also include cleaning and maintenance tools.

Charging cord and block included.

So. How do they work? Right out of the box, they help me hear normal conversations. Boosting the high end frequencies fills in the parts of speech that I’ve been missing. Of course, this will take some getting used to. If you wear glasses, you remember when you first had them – they could be a bit disorienting. Same with these hearing aids, which let me hear the high end that I haven’t heard in years. I would describe the sound as super-crisp. Not tinny, but sound now has an edge to it. Wood floors creak. I can hear my slippers hitting the floor with each step. My pants swish as I walk. Little things like these that I forgot existed are back in my world now.

And, of course, I can talk with my wife without the occasional “huh?” or “eh?” or “what?”

On Day Two, I left them in for almost the entire day. At times, I even forgot I was wearing them, until I crinkled a snack wrapper or made lunch with clanking dishes and the sound of an iron skillet hitting a glass stovetop. All of these sounds were previously muffled, now crisp and clear. I’m anxious to try them out in a crowded setting with loud conversations.

On Day Four I got my wish. A small family gathering with people talking over each other. I was able to listen to and understand multiple speakers at once, almost as if my hearing was not impaired. A couple of folks remarked that I was talking more than usual, actually joining in the conversation. Before, I would sit quietly and just listen. I was always able to hear voices, I just couldn’t fully understand what they were saying. That’s over. I found that switching to the “restaurant” setting on the app helps. I guess that any venue where multiple people are talking at once is going to need this “crowded bar” setting. It really makes a difference.

I just had an orientation appointment booked with a Lively audiologist. She took her time going over the operation of the hearing aids, the cellphone app, and care and cleaning of the hearing aids. At one point during the Zoom meeting, she measured the wires going into my ears and offered to send slightly longer ones. I described the sound of the high frequency sounds I was hearing (crinkling a paper bag was painful), and she sent an adjustment to me while we were talking, helped me download and install the adjustment through the app, and sounds became much better immediately. I also said that I’d be seeing a local audiologist for a proper hearing exam and she walked me through how to upload the resulting audiogram to Lively, so that adjustments can be made according to the audiogram. And, finally, if I need to reach out to Lively at any time, I can call, use the app, or simply text.

So far so good.

I’ll add to this product review over time. If you’re thinking about getting help with your hearing, see an audiologist, talk about a hearing exam. But don’t put it off like I did (for too long). It will make a big difference.

If interested, see www.jabraenhance.com.

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GoPro Hero9 Black

I don’t know why, but I had to have one.

The Hero10 was the current model, but the Hero9 was available at a great price. (And I didn’t know that the Hero11 would be out soon.) I picked up the Hero9 with a good number of accessories. GoPro thoughtfully provides a 32GB microSD card, but you’ll want more. I picked up a couple of 256GB cards, the maximum size for the GoPro.

The main role for the GoPro was for my rides on the bike trail. Nothing exciting, nothing glamorous, just a record of my slow pedaling and a showcase for the Chester Valley Trail.

I also wanted to have it for our vacation stay down the shore. As it turns out, I never went into the ocean, but the GoPro did. I picked up the floating orange surround and the floating handle with orange accents. Turns out I never used them. But I could!

There are a ton of GoPro videos out there, and YouTube is a good place to start. But here are a couple of short videos, one from the bike trail, one from the shore. Oh, yeah – the GoPro is complete waterproof, immersible to about 30 feet or so.

These two videos open in new windows. Both were shot at 4K resolution, 30 frames per second, which is my go-to setting for these videos. And I should point out that the GoPro also acts as a capable little camera for still photos, too. Click either image below for the full 5184 x 3888 original (a full 20 megapixels).

Several video clips covering 3 miles of the Chester Valley Trail are compiled here as part one (the trail runs more than 13 miles). When viewing on YouTube, the video settings should be 4K (2160), not just HD.

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At Last

Real World Lens Test: Canon’s 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM

This is one of Canon’s absolute best L-series lenses, superb glass. This is also the level of lens that I dreamed of when I bought my first digital SLR camera, the Rebel XT back in 2005. And it’s true what they say, camera bodies come and go, but lenses are forever.

Canon’s 70-200mm L-series telephoto zooms come in four flavors. Basically, it’s available as either f/4 or f/2.8, and both are available with or without image stabilization. The pick of the litter, then, is the f/2.8 IS version. But if you’re on a tight budget, the f/4 without IS is no slouch, assuming you’ve got plenty of available light.

f/2.8 IS III = $2,099
f/2.8 = $1,349
f/4 IS II = $1,623
f/4 = (no longer listed?)
(all prices US at Canon and B&H websites 8/30/22)

After years of lust, I finally bought the f/4 IS II. B&H PhotoVideo has a nice overview of the lens at their site, as does DP Review, and the reviews should convince you to buy one. In this price range, I’d recommend renting one for a week – try it before you buy it. RentGlass.com or LensRentals.com are two shops that I’ve used to check out lenses I was thinking of buying.

I’ve been pressed into shooting two weddings and had rented the f/2.8 IS on both occasions. The f/2.8 versions perform better with less light, obviously. There are nothing but glowing reviews about that lens and it has never disappointed me. For my own purposes, and because I’m cheap, when I decided to pull the trigger, I went with the f/4 IS II version you see here. (And it was on sale.)

Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS II with Canon EOS 80D

Let’s get to shootin’. A few photos from this lens, untouched other than cropped from a larger image and resized, all taken with the EOS 80D. The deer was about 60 feet from the back door. The cardinal was taken through a patio door at a distance of about 25 feet. The pod of dolphins was off of Cape May, NJ at quite a distance. Each photo links to a version at 1920×1080.

deer in the back yard @ f/4, 1/125sec., ISO-200, 150mm
male cardinal @ f/9, 1/80sec., ISO-400, 187mm
pod of dolphins @ f/8, 1/1000sec., ISO-100, 200mm

One reason I decided to upgrade to the EOS 80D was for high def 1080p video, through whatever lens is attached. Here’s a short clip taken with the 70-200mm on automatic setting. This is just a typical tourist shot on the fly, but it’s a good example of the clarity of this lens. (Untouched, unedited.)

surf at Cape May, NJ

Next is a compilation of short videos of a birdfeeder at a distance of about 15 feet. EOS 80D is mounted on tripod with remote shooting by app over home WiFi. The large woodpecker is an infrequent but welcome guest.

EOS 80D with 70-200 f/4 IS set up on birdfeeder (about 15 feet)

Canon, you know I love you, but these tripod mounting rings for the L glass are ridiculously overpriced. (Currently $168.) And it’s a necessary accessory, to boot. I also ordered an additional mounting plate for my tripod, because I’m too lazy to keep swapping it out between cameras and lenses.

L to R: 100mm with EOS 50D, 17-40L, 70-300, 70-300L, 70-200L with EOS 80D

For the most part, the L lenses have been outstanding for me. The 100mm macro needs to be on a tripod for close-up work. The 17-40L is a wonderful walk-about lens, always sharp and suited to a wide range of subjects. The 70-300L replaces the older 70-300 (non-L), which was largely a disappointment. And the 70-200L instantly becomes my favorite. You would think there’d be some redundancy with the 70-300L and the 70-200L, but the latter is sharper, cleaner than the former. (Oh – hiding in the back somewhere is the 50mm f/1.8, the Bang for the Buck Canon lens that every photographer should have.)

As advertised, the 70-200 f/4 IS II is very quiet, very fast. I tend to shoot a little dark – my exposures are usually a couple of ticks to the left of dead center on the light meter. This lens responds well to that, so that backgrounds aren’t blown out and skies are still blue.

User Manual here

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Pixel 6 Pro

Where do I start?

Smartphones in America are coming down to a choice of two: Apple or Samsung. At the moment, Apple and its iPhones make up slightly more than half of all smartphones in the U.S. Samsung is holding a bit over 30%. That leaves the other manufacturers fighting over the 25% or so that remain.

I’ve been a fan of HTC’s smartphones for years. HTC, of course, made the first Android phone and continued making great phones right up through the One M7 and One M89. My latest was the U12+, reviewed in these pages, a gorgeous all-glass phone with great cameras onboard. But HTC seems to have left the smartphone market high and dry.

After a disappointing start to the Pixel line, Google bought up half of HTC’s smartphone division and set to work on the Pixel 2. That phone was very well received. My wife and son were both using the Pixel 3a phones. (My son has since upgraded to the Pixel 6a, and my wife is now sporting the new Pixel 7 Pro.)

When word came out that Google was working on a Pixel 6 with its own inhouse processor and possibilities for new camera tricks, I was very interested. My U12+ had a cracked screen and was nearing the end of its useful life. I really didn’t want to buy either of the two giants in the field, Samsung or Apple (just my own bias against monopolies – I’m sure they’re both great phones), so I kept watch on every leak that came out about Google’s new phone, as they were the “successor” to HTC.

By the time Google made the official launch of the Pixel 6, it seemed that the public response was greater than even Google anticipated. The Google Store crashed under the weight of so many pre-orders. After multiple refreshes and attempts to put a phone in the shopping cart, I was able to order a “smoky black” Pixel 6 Pro, unlocked, with 128GB. Success. The phone arrived on the earliest availability date, October 28, 2021. It is everything that I’d hoped for.

A slippery bar of soap

The phone is beautiful. The front display curves around the edges in its new Gorilla Glass Victus covering, while the back is also fully coated in Victus. The look is one of a slab of glass in your hand. As beautiful as it is, PUT A CASE ON IT. The phone really is a slippery little devil. It will fall out of your pocket, it will slide off a couch, it will undoubtedly hit the floor the moment you stop paying attention.

I ordered this Crave Slim Guard case before the Pixel ever arrived. I also ordered the Google case, which has a “barely there” feel to it. The Crave cases are available in several colors; this is the Forest Green. The case fits the phone perfectly, nice and snug, and wraps around the edges without killing the look of the front display. Best of all, the case is NOT AT ALL slippery.

The display is also a beautiful thing, adapting to ambient light or you can set the brightness manually. The display measures 1440 x 3120 pixels. It also features an adaptive display that picks up colors from your background and applies it to text, icons, etc. (In my case, green, of course.)

The phone ships with Android 12. And, being an unlocked phone direct from Google, I receive security updates and new versions of the operating system first, before all of the major carriers can apply their own stamp and bloat to it. I’ve had Android phones from AT&T and Verizon, and both came with a lot of nonsense apps that I didn’t need or want. Buying direct from Google avoids all of that pre-installed garbage and I’m now dealing direct with the manufacturer. My carrier at present is Verizon, but there’s no sign of them on the phone. BTW, I was able to transfer the SIM from my HTC phone to the Pixel 6, and it worked perfectly. Up and running immediately. (My phone has since updated to Android 13.)

Okay, the phone is gorgeous, the display magnificent, and Android 12 has all kinds of new tricks and usefulness. But that’s not why I bought this phone.

Take a picture.

The current Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max owns the camera segment in cellphones. But Google is giving them a run for the money. Tom’s Guide has a good review of the Pixel 6 Pro v. the Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max.

The ratings for the Pixel 6 Pro have come out at DXOMark with an impressive overall score of 135. That puts it right up there with the iPhone 13 Pro in image quality. The nod for the camera and video go to the Apple, but not by much. And for those interested mainly in selfies (you know who you are), the Pixel is now king of that hill. (I am ignoring the smartphones from Huawei and Xiaomi, since I cannot recommend them at this time.)

As with all smartphones, the Pixel does a whole lot of processing before it spits out a JPG. In most cases, the colors are highly accurate – what you see is what you get (wysiwyg). Even shooting into the sun, the Pixel applies a bit of HDR (high dynamic range) to even out the lighting or to capture the intense blue of the sky without sacrificing the other colors.

I’m sure you’ve heard about the Magic Eraser® software that comes with the Pixel 6. This is a software trick that allows you to remove unwanted elements from a photo, AFTER you take the photo. In this example, I’ve removed a few folks from the lower left corner of the photo. The Eraser left some artifacts, certainly, but if you weren’t looking for it, you probably wouldn’t notice. You identify the unwanted portion of the photo, and then the Eraser predicts what would have been behind the portion to be removed. It doesn’t always get it perfect, but it does a fairly good job. The more uniform the background, of course, the better it works.

While I’m at it, here’s a telephoto on that arch. The Pixel 6 Pro includes a 4X optical telephoto lens that you don’t get on the Pixel 6. The Pro model also zooms out to an impressive 20X digital zoom. Digital zoom is almost always garbage, but Google’s software produces fairly good results. Still, it’s the optical zoom that counts. This is at 4X.

Another example of the Magic Eraser® removes a small post in the foreground of this landscape photo. If you know where to look, you can see imperfections. Another reason I post this photo is to show the true-to-life colors as captured by the Pixel 6 Pro. You can always play with light and color saturation after the fact, but I like my photos to capture what my eye sees.

The Pixel 6 Pro also shoots in RAW, if you want. This will give you the standard output JPG along with the “negative” RAW in .dng format. This is the image as it hit the sensor, without any sharpening or color saturation or any of the other processing that the camera normally performs. In some cases, the Pixel will spit out a JPG that is over-processed, to my eye. A bit too much sharpening, a bit too much color saturation. Here’s an example of what the sensor caught, as opposed to what the camera puts out as JPG.

One of the main options is the Portrait mode. Smartphone cameras try to get EVERYTHING in focus, near or far. Most digital cameras will offer a bit of blur to the background subjects (see: “bokeh”), as does the Pixel 6 in Portrait mode. Here are a couple of selfies, one with the background in focus, and the other in Portrait mode, with the background blurred out.

I should also note that, at the time it was released, the Google Pixel 6 Pro had the highest-rated selfie camera on the market, according to DXOMark.

Here’s another neat trick called Night Sight. The Pixel enhances a dark scene, making full use of available light. The shadows are lit up nicely throughout. But you’ll have to hold the phone steady for a while. It’s almost like shining a huge flashlight on the back yard here.

I’ve put up a gallery of images at my smugmug pages. Have a look!

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My New Addiction

For the Sake of a Princess. Or, “Tell my wife I love her.”

I had to do it. I was contemplating the purchase of the new Nintendo Switch® system. When I decided to push the button in December 2019, both Amazon and BestBuy were sold out of the version with two dark grey controllers. (Nintendo calls these controllers “Joy Cons,” but I won’t.) My only option was the neon red and blue, which I hated. One site even had the dark grey as “discontinued.” So I emptied my shopping cart and moved on.

Very soon after, I saw that the dark grey WAS available, so I swooped it up. And I also ordered (of course) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. As always happens, the game arrived two days before I eventually received the system, itself. There are more components inside the box than what you see above, but we’ll talk about the tasty bits.

This is the dock. The display panel sits inside the dock, which is connected to A/C and my large-screen TV via HDMI. While it’s in the dock, the display and any connected controllers are charging.

The picture is pretty damn good. This is a photo of Zelda on my 52″ screen. I sit in my La-Z-Boy® and play for hours. The controllers work with the dock wirelessly, while the dock sends the picture to the TV via HDMI.

For the most part, I was using the handheld adapter. The two controllers slide into place on either side and the adapter fits the hands naturally. There are, of course, a multitude of after-market adapters, so you can personalize to your heart’s content. The two controllers can also be used (with other included adapters) by two people for two-person games, much like the Wii setup.

I also later bought this pair of neon green controllers by Nintendo (because they’re green, of course). I had one pair charging in the dock while I used the other pair in the adapter. Non-stop play!

A birthday present from my son is this Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, a single wireless unit that works seamlessly with the Switch system. It can charge via USB-C port directly from the dock or from a wall charger. In fact, it’s become so essential to me that I bought a second one, so that I can always have one or the other fully charged and ready to go.

So. “Switch,” because you can use it with TV or pick up the display with attached controllers (above) and go mobile (think larger GameBoy), or you can use the controllers handheld for two-person play. Pretty neat. But let’s face it…

I only bought the system for one reason: The Legend of Zelda. And that game is a whole ‘nother post. It is incredible. Our hero, Link, awakens in a strange chamber without memories. Everything in his world is new to him and his primary focus is the destruction of an evil entity and rescuing Princess Zelda. But does he even remember Zelda?

And this reminds me: you can take all of the screen grabs and short videos of your game that you want. The display has only 32GB of internal storage, but accepts a microSD memory card with as much storage capacity as you want (up to 2 TB). This is also where you’ll store downloaded games that you buy, so think “terabytes.”

Link picks up new weapons and armor here and there, mostly from defeated foes.

My one complaint is that the display, which measure a little more than 6″ wide (and touch screen, BTW), offers screen grabs at only 1280 x 720 resolution, not full HD. The video output to TV is up to 1080p, but not the display itself. Nintendo lets you set up a paid online account for sharing photos and videos. I prefer to remove the microSD card and transfer them to my computer (free).

I’ve tried a few other games, of course, but always come back to Breath of the Wild. Even though the game has none of those “impossible challenges” that you find in other games, it is just so beautiful, so well constructed, so filled with things I have yet to discover after playing for two years.

Early on, I bought Witcher III, but couldn’t make friends with it. It didn’t grab me.

Witcher III: Wild Hunt

I also picked up the Switch version of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, but that seems dated to me now.

Skyward Sword has the famous caves and dungeons that Breath of the Wild does not.
Link launches a drone in an attempt to open a door

Knowing that I’ve played The Secret of Mana and The Adventures of Mana for many years, my son also bought me the new Trials of Mana when it came out. Honestly, I was hesitant to buy it myself, because it looked rather… childish. I know, I know, that’s a totally appropriate description of a video game meant for the younger set, but I was referring to the outfits that the female characters were wearing in the screen grabs.

Women just naturally battle in their scanties, I guess. The male characters are all fully clothed, of course. Getting into the game, I hit a spot where the characters “level up” and change costume. But it didn’t really get much better.

Yep, fighting monsters and evildoers while wearing teddies. Compare and contrast with the costume a male character is wearing:

You assemble a “team” of three characters from a pool of 6 possibles. This is one of the male characters.
Even the male background characters are fully clothed.

I guess it’s only after playing other games that I noticed that all of the women in Breath of the Wild are naturally clothed (with very few exceptions). I mean, character costume is not a reason to NOT play a game, it’s just weird to see women battling monsters while wearing frilly leotards.

In Breath of the Wild, Ivee, daughter of a general store owner, wears clothing typical throughout Hyrule.

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Gated Community

Keep Facebook out of your business.

1. Install Firefox.
2. Click Settings and choose ADD-ONS
3. Scroll down to FACEBOOK CONTAINER (or use Search bar)
4. Click + ADD TO FIREFOX.
That’s it. Now read on.

Now that my life is irretrievably linked to Google, I’m taking steps to separate myself. Google knows enough about me now. Time to keep my business to myself. To begin, my new default browser is Vivaldi, a Chrome-based browser that wants nothing to do with my personal information, browsing habits, or history. It dumps all data every time I close the browser. We’re close friends with really, really short memories.

Vivaldi browser

Vivaldi is an elegant browser, fully customizable. FULLY customizable. It’s insanely customizable. I personally like the greens. Menu can be wherever you want (I have it set to the red Vivaldi icon in the upper left corner). Along the left are pop-open menus for bookmarks, downloads, history, recent pages, and more. I’ve also added Instagram here, which allows me to post photos from my desktop PC. All of this can be placed wherever you’d like. The main start page contains blocks (as many as you wish) for favorite web pages. Or not. Too much to talk about here, so I encourage everyone to check out Vivaldi at their home page. Trust me, it’s a great browser.

Just as Vivaldi wants nothing to do with my personal info, Duck Duck Go is now my search engine of choice. In fact, I’ve deleted all other search engines from Vivaldi to ONLY allow Duck Duck Go. This search engine’s policy is simple: “We don’t store your personal information. Ever.” That’s what I want.

Google follows me wherever I go on the internet. Facebook does, too. You can exit Facebook and continue surfing, but Facebook is still watching. Ever wonder why you see ads on Facebook for things you’ve looked at elsewhere? Facebook is watching. Google provides me with a variety of useful services, so I allow them to peep at me whenever they want. Facebook is a social platform. Facebook does NOT deserve to know what I’m doing outside of Facebook.

The Firefox browser

I was about to delete my Facebook account when I discovered Facebook Container. This is an add-on available with the Firefox browser. Firefox, like Vivaldi, is all about protecting your privacy (from everyone else). When you add Facebook Container, you can open a tab to Facebook and this add-on puts Facebook in a sandbox of sorts. Facebook is now unable to access your history, your cookies, or any other information about your web habits. Quarantined!

In the image above, you can see a blue border around the Facebook tab, indicating that Facebook is being fenced in. You also see the icon for Facebook fencing over on the right. This keeps Facebook in its place, and not in yours.

I don’t use Facebook often, but when I do I now use Firefox and its Facebook Container. Apologies to Firefox (a very decent browser), but I rarely use it for anything else, which further ensures that Facebook doesn’t follow me around.

Firefox, like most browsers, has a wealth of security settings. I always set my browsers to dump history and cookies every time I exit the browser. I keep bookmarks and favorites, but don’t store my history. Google and Microsoft already know enough about me.

So, I use Vivaldi as my default browser. I use Firefox to open Facebook. I use Chrome for my email, photos, maps, YouTube, news, etc. And I use Bing on those occasions when I have to communicate with Microsoft. And all of those nefarious advertisers who want to “tailor their advertising” to me can go squat.

My business is MY business.

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ripple effects

The World Wide Web became generally available in 1993-94. This was when my family became AOLers and remained happily so for years. At that time, we had a Windows 3.1 computer with a 2400 baud modem. The sounds of that modem dialing into AOL will forever be etched in our memory. This is also when I began upgrading computers. Two upgrades, in particular, were almost miraculous: a new 14,400 baud modem made connecting to and enjoying the internet a whole lot better, but doubling the internal RAM from the typical 4MB (yes, megabytes) to 8MB was like getting a wholly new, laughably fast computer. And that extra 4MB of RAM cost over $100 at the time!

The 1990s and 2000s were decades of quick and impactful techological developments. Internet access through cable or fiber optics spurred mad growth in the web. Where “wasting bandwidth” was previously almost criminal, it was now encouraged. And just as I went through a series of digital cameras in those years, so, too, I bought a series of ever-more-capable computers and laptops.

I seem to be a fan of HP computers. Their desktops and laptops have served me well, even if I found a sudden reason to upgrade every 3 or 4 years. But things seem to have slowed lately, and there are fewer compelling reasons to buy a new computer.

So I’ve been using an HP Pavilion Slimline desktop computer (6GB memory, 1TB storage) for some time now. I bought this to be the repository and backup for the other computers in the household, as well as the anchor for the household WiFi network. That terabyte could easily handle two laptops and my daughter’s computer and still have plenty of room left over for the music library and my thousands and thousands of digital photos. I also have a networked storage drive with a 3 terabyte capacity as a redundant backup, because, as everyone with a computer knows, computers eventually fail.

I bought a 20″ Samsung monitor with that PC, and later upgraded to a 22″ Samsung. The latter had a resolution of 1440×900 resolution, which was just fine. I “processed” a lot of photos on that machine and it was up to the task – until I bought the Canon EOS 80D digital camera. This new camera spits out JPGs at a whopping 6000×4000 size and high definition video at 1920×1080. Naturally enough, I’ve been lusting after more pixels. My 15″ laptop display is 1920×1080, the big flat-screen televisions are 1920×1080, so I wanted to upgrade the monitor for my desktop. A higher resolution monitor was definitely on the wish list.

on the spur of the moment
adjective: spur-of-the-moment
on impulse; without planning in advance.
“I don’t generally do things on the spur of the moment”
synonyms: impulsively, on impulse, impetuously, without thinking, without planning, without premeditation, unpremeditatedly, impromptu, spontaneously, on the spot…

Without really thinking, I saw online and instantly ordered a Samsung 28″ (HUGE on a desk) monitor with 4K UltraHD – a native resolution of 3840×2160, or four times the number of pixels of the 1920×1080 screen on my laptop. In digital camera terms, I was going from 2 megapixels to 8 megapixels! BestBuy had it delivered the next day.

But when it arrived, I found that I had no way to connect it to my PC.

My first mistake – not checking the specs on the new monitor, especially in how it connects to a computer. This one requires either HDMI or a DisplayPort connector, neither of which my PC had. All I had were DVI connectors. A little checking told me that my PC was older than I thought, six years old, built back before people like me envisioned a 4K UltraHD monitor. I guess I ASSumed that it would use a standard old VGA connector, but I didn’t even have that! My desktop had two DVI connectors, no VGA, and for sure no HDMI. I can’t even say that my old machine was capable of sending a 3840×2160 signal to the monitor.

Rather than looking for a DVI-HDMI converter and possibly “dumbing down” the signal to this new monitor, I decided that a new PC was in order, one with HDMI out and a graphics card built for 4K Ultra HD, but I didn’t want to spend a lot of money.

My second mistake – rushing the purchase without “due diligence.”

I picked out a cheap (read: inexpensive) new HP desktop (let’s call it the “fat line”, a hefty silver Pavilion model) which did have HDMI out. My BestBuy app told me this model was not available “within 250 miles,” so I placed the order online and BestBuy, amazingly, had it in my hands within 48 hours. Now, there’s nothing I enjoy more than setting up a new computer (okay, there are lots of things I enjoy more), and what with deleting bloatware, transferring files and updating and installing programs, and then getting the thing networked and friendly with other computers in the house, it can be an all-day event. But when I hooked up that PC to my new monster monitor, the output was GLORIOUS. My photos never looked so good.

The colors and contrast on my new monitor are stunning. Side by side with the previous monitor, the new one is just much, much better. And did I say HUGE? I have room for two or three open programs, easily. Looking at my photos on that monitor is like looking at them framed up on the wall. I can see the original JPG onscreen at 50% size, not zoomed out to 25%. The screen is 28″ diagonal, or about 25″ wide, in a widescreen 16:9 format. LED flat-screens have come a long way, and prices have dropped significantly. This model retailed at almost $400, but was on sale at BestBuy for $279.99. I HAD to buy it. I had no choice! And I don’t regret it for a moment.

There were unintended casualties, though. My old version of Adobe® Photoshop (and I mean 15 years old) appeared tiny on the big screen and the fonts were unreadable. In the end, I opted to buy the Adobe® Photography Plan, which gives me the latest edition of Photoshop, Lightroom, and much, much more for a “worth-it” $9.99/month.

My old favorite game SNOOD is a goner. This little gem dates back to the ’90s, and the cavernous spaces of the new monitor have it crawling and now unplayable. I may opt for a newer version of the game, but the old one simply won’t work on my new computer. (Still works like a charm on my laptop.)

But, then… The new PC is, indeed, a lesser, “affordable” HP model. This was my mistake, buying without really doing my homework, and the new monitor actually reveals the shortcomings of the new computer. With all of 4gig of RAM onboard, opening Photoshop and Lightroom at the same time is a huge effort and things start to crawl. On a hunch, I ordered a pair of 8gig RAM sticks to install, and increasing the memory from 4GB to 16GB speeds things up A LOT. I may end up upgrading the processor, too. It’s an AMD Ryzen 3, low on the list of processors for gamers, but fully capable of displaying my photos in 4K beautifulness. This is the newer generation of AMD processors with onboard graphics capabilities – no separate graphics card needed.

With the added RAM onboard, this new PC is more than capable of showing my photos in their best light.

And this monitor is a keeper.

  • – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

The monitor is Samsung’s UE590 28″ LED 4K UHD model in black bezel, silver stand. Highly recommended. Easy on the eyes with stunning detail.

The PC is the HP Pavilion 590-P0020 with AMD Ryzen 3 2200G processor with Radeon Vega 8 graphics, 4GB memory, 1TB hard drive, in HP’s “natural silver” finish. Unfortunately, not recommended. Kick in a few hundred more $$$ and buy a better model.

Added a Logitech K800 illuminated Bluetooth keyboard. Recommended. Good weight, wireless, illuminated black keyboard.

Added a Logitech 2.1 speaker system (2 speakers + subwoofer, model 980-001260). Recommended, and speakers look really good on the desktop. Reacts well to my software equalizer.

possible upgrades per AMD:
AMD Ryzen7-2700 (Pinnacle Ridge) 8 cores/16 threads
AMD Ryzen5-2600 (Pinnacle Ridge) 6 cores/12 threads
AMD Ryzen7-1700 (Summit Ridge) 3.0 GHz, 8 cores/16 threads
AMD Ryzen5-1600 (Summit Ridge) 3.2 GHz, 6 cores/12 threads
AMD Ryzen5-2400G (Raven Ridge) 3.6 GHz, 4 cores/8 threads (45 – 65 W)

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