Sunday, June 27, 2010

Don't They Ever Sleep?

A couple of weeks ago, my husband phoned from the department store, asking if he should buy a tent.  The kids and I answered "NO".  He bought it anyhow, along with a second air mattress.  Then next thing we knew, we were setting it up in the back yard, and the 2 kids & I all slept in it that night.  It's a huge tent, with an optional divider in the middle which makes it two rooms, each with its own door and two windows, and with plenty of room for a double air mattress on each side.

I know when we keep our windows open at night, I sometimes need to close them by 4:30 or 5am, since the birds are so noisy it is hard to continue sleeping.  But I was surprised that in the tent, the commotion starts much earlier.  At 3am, I already heard swallows flying.  Then at 4am, a small bird started singing in earnest.  By 5am, the crows were on the move, and calling loudly to each other.  We were all quite ready to get up by 7am.

This weekend, our nephew stayed with us, so we set up the tent again on Friday night, and the 2 boys slept on the one side, while we girls slept on the other side.  Same story.  By 3am, sounds of birds stirring.  (If anything else had wandered by earlier, I must have been sleeping and didn't hear it.)  The weather had also changed from a clear sky (and view of the full moon!) at midnight, to totally dark and overcast by 3am.  Good thing it didn't rain, so allowed us to take down the tent while still dry the next morning.

I was just about to go to sleep tonight, when I noticed a bird singing outside.  He's been singing for over half an hour, since I noticed him (it's now past 11:45pm).  I'm wondering what he's thinking.  It got dark at about 9:30pm.  Or are there enough lights in the city, that he is staying up a little longer than he should?  Anyhow, even though the "camping" is fun (and we hope to do more of it this summer, maybe invite some of the kids' friends over), I'm happy that I'll soon be crawling into a warm, comfy bed.  And if this poor confused bird keeps singing, I can close the windows.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

New Look for My Young Lady

A while back, my daughter asked me to cut her hair real short for the summer.  I am very impressed with her, that she will take chances with new looks and trying new things.  I am also glad that she still has confidence in my ability, to ask me to try it.  I have never had any training in hair cutting.  I've never really been one to fuss with or style my hair, it's pretty much tied in a ponytail and that's that.  But ever since I can remember, I've always cut my own hair (my mother in law trims the back now that it's too long for me to reach), and since we got married, have cut my husband's, and the kids' too.

I guess I just take the approach that in the worst case, hair will always grow back.  That takes off the pressure, and allows me to experiment without too much fear. And so far, I've done a pretty decent job, I think.  But this one was a bit of a challenge for me, since I don't have any experience with short hair styles for ladies, and didn't want to cut it to match the two men in the house!  So it took a bit of thinking, and searching the internet for inspiration.  I think this Meg Ryan photo on right was my main inspiration (no, I was not specifically looking for any "stars", but that's who seemed to show up in my searches for hair styles).

At 11 years old, my daughter April is already becoming quite a little lady.  Smart, determined, concerned, responsible...  I think the short hair will suit her personality.  Not to mention that we are always annoying her by asking her to brush her hair - again! - since it still looks messy.  Here is her "before" photo tonight:

The bangs have become too long to be bangs (she wants to grow them out again), and the curls go wherever they wish. (I love curls, since my hair is completely straight, but now I also appreciate the challenge they present.)

Here she is "after".  The aim for the new style is that she will no longer need to brush it, just brush the back straight, and push the top with her fingers, maybe add a bit of gel if necessary (a bit more height on it may look even better):

We'll find out tomorrow and in the next few weeks whether the decision was a good one. But for now, I'm pretty happy with the new look.

Masked Visitor to the Garden

The kids and I were eating at the kitchen table the other day when something passed within inches of our sliding glass door to the deck.  A raccoon!  I jumped up to get the camera on the counter, and looked out, but didn't see him anymore.  Then a moment later, the kids shouted that he was along the fence, so I slid open the door and caught his attention for a photo, before he hopped down into the upper neighbour's yard.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Skimmers, Raspberries, Fuzzy Navels and Magical Garden Lights

I somehow managed to hurt my left shoulder today, so decided to be careful and not go into the garden after work. But then I saw this little beauty sitting on my retaining wall, and next thing I knew, I was walking about, then doing a bit of weeding. I believe this is some sort of "Skimmer" dragonfly. It is not common in my yard.  I think I've only seen it once before.  I hope he visits more often.
My son David was anxious to try out his gardening gloves we bought on the weekend.  He was the one asking me today whether we could go into the garden. He enthusiastically pulled a LOT of weeds and some very large horsetails. He is a wonderful helper for me.  I hope he continues to enjoy gardening.

Earlier in the spring, I had my landscaper help me clean up my raspberry patch, since it was overgrown with various weeds, had no room to expand, and was getting hard to wade in to pick the berries. Now it is in two neat rows, but the plants suffered quite a bit from being pulled up and replanted, especially since it was a sunny warm week when we did it (unfortunately, I didn't have much control over the timing).

I knew there would be at least a temporary setback in fruit production.  Sure enough, for some while, the plants have looked quite sad, although they did manage to still put out a number of flowers, and the bumblebees have been busy pollinating.  Today I noticed the first few ripe berries.  Perhaps I've been forgiven.  I'm relieved.  Plants are wonderfully resilient.

I'm still anxiously watching my little peaches.  This is the largest one.  I hold my hand close to it for size reference, but I dare not touch it.
My landscaper came and cut the lawn today, and connected the low voltage wire through the path lights I had set up.  Unfortunately, he didn't connect the 3 spotlights.  That will be next time.  But he did plug in the transformer before he left.  I had almost forgotten, and looked outside while the kids were getting ready for bed, and noticed the inviting glow of the lights.  I had to run out to take a photo or two or three...  What do you think, is it magical yet?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Rainbow Mosaic Header

After waiting more than 4 years to create my first header, a photo collage from my garden....
Garden collage header

...only weeks later, I am experimenting with a replacement header (click for full-size image):
Rainbow mosaic header
This one a photo-mosaic made from my garden photos, in rainbow colours. I'm not sure I like this one better, though, it is not as vibrant, nor does it contain as many of my "favourite things". What do you think?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Creatures in the Garden : Centipedes, Cats, Rats

My son is becoming a great naturalist and garden buddy.  On the weekend, he found a really cool centipede (it turns out it is a millipede - see comments section) in the garden.  I don't remember ever seeing this one before:
Pretty black and yellow millipede : Boraria stricta
The day after he spotted it, I was weeding in the upper corner of my yard among the monarda patch, and was surprised to discover the same type of centipede - perhaps even the same one.  This evening, I was again out weeding, this time in my new garden path area, and found that centipede again.  I called down to David, who was in the lower yard, and he said he also had one down there, and proudly carried it on his shovel to show it to me.  So there are at least two of this gorgeous creature in my yard.  I hope to see more of them!

Yellow and black millipede (not centipede) : Boraria stricta
Then after letting the centipede go, he proceeded to pick out the grasses and weeds growing between the concrete blocks of our outdoor chess board. Later he took the hose on "jet" setting, and blasted more weeds out of the cracks.  What a fine garden helper he is growing to be.

My daughter April is less inclined to anything in the garden. But she came out and visited me for a while, with her pet rat, Sam. I like this photo of them, sitting in the new garden path area.  April is excited to have "flip flops" this year (I previously frowned on such "dangerous" footwear but she's now old enough to handle them), so she changes into them at every opportunity.
April and Sam in the garden
Speaking of the new garden area, there is much weeding (when we cleared the area, the horsetails invaded with ferocity!), but I just love looking at it, weeding it, sitting on our new granite bench, and generally admiring that area. It will be even more magical when we get the path lighting connected up. I'm waiting for my landscaper to come and help with that. He's already picked up the transformer, and just needs to come and connect up the low-voltage lights which I already plunked out along the path months ago.
Pretty garden
We had a cat in our garden earlier this evening. I caught a photo of it before my son opened the sliding door, and it darted away. When we first built our house (almost 6 years ago now) we regularly had cats prowling through our yard, presumably hunting, even after we fenced it in. I'm glad to still see the occasional cat.
Cat in the garden
The rain today helped thin our small peach tree, as evidenced by the few fuzzy balls below the tree this evening. Thankfully, the two largest fuzz-balls are still holding on. I'm excited at the prospect of tasting a peach this year - if the rain or squirrels don't remove them all first.
Tiny peach on our peach tree
Tiny unripe peach
I took some photos of the bumblebees buzzing around in the wild roses which are blooming in the upper yard. One particular sequence of photos turned out pretty well, I think. But at midnight, I'm a bit too tired to create a slideshow. I'll try to create and post it another night.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Fun with Mosaics and Collages

I am very excited to be playing with (free!) photo mosaic software, and creating images such as this photo of my son David, made up of 1000 tiles of little David images.  Pretty cool (click the image for a larger view, and also roll back a distance from the computer to see the overall image):
Photo mosaic - portraits within a portrait
Created by AndreaMosaic.

The first time I think I saw a photo mosaic like this, was in 2006 in Disneyland.  They had some beautiful mosaics, such as this one of Walt Disney with his famous Mickey Mouse, made up of tiny Disney character drawings and images:
Photo mosaic at Disneyland
I remember thinking at the time that I would love to one day make a mosaic like that, and maybe there would be software available to help.

Recently, I have been inspired by many bloggers who create wonderful photo mosaics (which are really more like photo collages), many of who participate in Mosaic Monday at Little Red House.  My first attempt at such a collage was through Photoshop, but that was painful and time-consuming.  Then I was told about the Mosaic Maker at Big Huge Labs, and was able to create mosaics more easily and successfully, but the interface still left me frustrated, especially controlling which image would be placed where.

Then I heard that Google's Picasa was useful for creating mosaics.  I don't know why I hadn't tried Picasa yet, since I am a big Google fan, and my husband has been urging me for years to get some software for photo organization (I currently save them in folders named by date - usually month - and topic, but it is a painful process to go back and find anything from previous years).  Since Picasa is free (that price is right!) I decided to try it.  I was not prepared for what I would discover, and have yet to discover in the days to come.

Picasa is the most amazing software.  After I downloaded it, it proceeded to search through all my folders, including connected network folders, to find and index (it doesn't actually move the photos, just index them) all sorts of images which I didn't remember that I had (and certainly not where!).  The result is a set of thumbnails which are organized by date and folder name, and can be scrolled through very quickly to see the images.

Then it started on the face recognition.  Oh my!  It automatically locates all the faces in the photos it indexes, and allows you to name them.  Once you identify the first few people in the face images, it uses feature recognition (oh my goodness, I know this is possible, but this was very amazing for a free program!) to categorize other images of faces that are similar.  The interface is very easy to use.  As it finds faces and guesses who they are, you can click Yes or No and correct it with a different name where it goes wrong, or tell it that you don't want that face named at all (e.g. it will find each separate face in a choir).  The success rate was incredibly high, well over 95% correct.  As it learns which faces are which, it gets better and better at classifying, and automatically classifies from the remaining faces.

I left it chugging away for hours, and checked on it occasionally to correct it.  The results are presented as thumbnails in "folders", one for each person you wish to name.  For example, within hours, it had assembled 1,600 photos of my daughter April and 1,200 photos of my son David.  Each face is presented as a thumbnail image (see sample below of 9 photos from David's 1,200 photos), and from that image, you can easily click to see the whole photo, including Picasa's list of who else is in the photo (which you can update if any names are incorrect), and you can click to go to the image in the original folder.  You can select the entire "folder" or images in the "folder", and export either just the face images only, or the full images, to a specified folder on your computer.

Picasa images
When I saw this, I immediately saw the potential of photo mosaics made up of the little faces.  Sadly, Picasa has a mosaic feature but it is the photo collages, not photo mosaics.  Having said that, the collages were very easy to use, and allowed not only images and collage shapes to be specified, but it was easy to drag the photos around, and the software rearranged them accordingly.

But it wasn't hard to find some free (creditware) mosaic software - AndreaMosaic - which received good reviews, and for very good reason.

AndreaMosaic allows you to specify the primary image, and then a folder of other images which will be combined together in a mosaic to create the primary image.  There are a number of other parameters you can specify, such as how many tiles and in what pattern, what orientations of the images you will allow, what colour variations are allowed to make it a better fit, how many times the same image can repeat, etc (see below):

AndreaMosaic - Free photo mosaic maker
When I first clicked "Create Mosaic" I didn't believe it worked, since it took only seconds to prepare the mosaic, even the one with 1,000 tiles shown at the top of this post.  Even when I increased to 10,000 tiles, it took less than 1 minute to create the image (below):

Photo mosaic made up of 10,000 faces
Created by AndreaMosaic.

At this number of tiles, it takes very close examination to see that those are 10,000 tiny images of David.

Pretty cool. I think this has potential to keep me busy for many many hours. I can't wait for the next opportunity to play a bit more.

PS. Couldn't help but come back and create one mosaic of my daughter April, using this image of her in a floral wreath crown she created, back in July 2007:

Floral wreath crown
Here it is, in 1,000 tiles.  Again, click for larger image, then step back from the computer to view:

Photo mosaic portrait with 1000 tiles
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