Ben's Photo Blog

Photos from my various adventures

Archive for December, 2009

New Toys

Posted by Ben on December 28, 2009

It’s been another busy week here at home, preparing for and then celebrating Christmas with the family.  I had asked for a couple of new accessories to go with my camera for Christmas and have had a lot of fun playing around with them so far.  The pictures below come from a drive my dad and I took through the country around Raleigh, specifically from a place called Perry’s Pond a little ways north of Zebulon.

One of my new toys was a Neutral Density (0.9) filter.  The two pictures below were shot at the same shutter speed (1/10 second), aperture (8.0), and ISO (200).  The one on the left is with a circular polarizing filter and the one on the right with the new ND filter.

The ND photo is exposed much better than the polarized one.  The filter basically works by reducing the amount of light (of all colors) that reaches the sensor.  It lets you use longer exposures even in daylight without overexposing most of the shot.  Here’s another shot of the dam with the ND filter (1/5 second this time):

I also got my hands on a copy of Photoshop CS4 Extended Student Edition.  I’ve really been wanting to play around with a copy of this for a long time now, just to see what I could do with it.  Here’s my first real attempt at modifying an image from the other night.  This was also taken out at Perry’s Pond.

I think it turned out pretty well (I know it’s not straight, but I liked it better this way 🙂 ).

In addition to these two things, I also got a nice full-size tripod, which I look forward to using.

Overall, it was a very nice Christmas.  It was good to see family and friends again, and I’m still enjoying being able to relax at home for a couple more weeks.  I’m definitely looking forward to going back to school, seeing all my friends again, but I’m not quite ready to get back to work yet.


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Looking Back

Posted by Ben on December 24, 2009

Well…classes are over, exams are finished, and grades are in.  It’s been a rough couple of weeks, but I made it.  I’ve been home for a little less than a week now and I think I might finally be getting caught up on all the sleep I’ve missed.  Anyway, I figured this would be a good time to look back and reflect a little about the past semester.

The picture above was taken out at the duckpond around sunset a few days before this semester began, which I thought was fitting.  What happened here was that I was focused on the sky in the background but used the flash to illuminate the foliage in the foreground.  Without the flash, it was just silhouetted, which was kinda neat, but I really like the way this effect turned out, though the leaves in the top left are a little washed out.

Academically, I knew I was in for it this past semester.  Operating Systems was looming on the horizons for the CS major, and I figured I should go ahead and get it out of the way.  I knew it was going to be a lot of work, so I scheduled a fairly light (for me) semester with 17 credits, five courses and the TED Talk Colloquium.  I found out a couple of weeks into the semester though that I had severely underestimated the amount of work that I’d be doing, both from OS and from my two math classes, which were both a lot harder than I had originally anticipated.  Eventually, this led me to drop my course on Jason and the Argonauts, which I was pretty upset about having to do since I really enjoyed the subject matter of the class.  In hindsight though, it was almost certainly the right choice.  I know I complained about it here a lot, so you all know I had a ton of work on my plate for most of the semester.  But I made it through, and somehow managed a 4.0 for the semester, which was a pleasant surprise for three of my classes.  Luckily I can put most of this behind me for a couple of weeks at least.

I also ended up doing a lot outside of the classroom as well.  My duties as an officer in the salsa club definitely kept me busy.  Though I can’t really complain about getting to dance three nights a week for most of the semester.  Towards the end of the semester, I even got to teach a couple of lessons, which I had a lot of fun with.  I definitely look forward to doing more of that in the future.  About three-fourths of the way through the semester, we took a trip as a club down to Durham for a couple of nights and had a blast.  I also served as a member of the “Dean’s Team” for the College of Engineering, meeting with prospective students and telling them all about my experiences here at Tech so far.  It was definitely a rewarding experience and I always looked forward to giving the information sessions during the week.

It was a little weird coming back to the dorm at the beginning of the semester this year.  A lot of really good friends had moved on, both graduating and moving off campus for one reason or another.  I did my best to keep up with as many of them as I could, but I still missed them every now and then.  But a new year brings plenty of new faces, as well as the chance to catch back up with people I hadn’t seen in a couple of months.  I’ve made a lot of great new friends over the past couple of months (including those from the trip this summer).  Unfortunately, there are also a couple of people that I know I’ve drifted away from this semester.  Whether our interests simply diverged or we were just too busy to really spend any time together, I’m sorry to see it happen.  Hopefully the coming semester will give us a chance to reconnect and make up for the time we’ve lost.

Hindsight is always 20/20, and it’s easy to look back into the past and pick out things you’d like to change or wish that you had done differently.  I’d be lying to you (and to myself) if I said I didn’t have any regrets about the last semester.  There are always things we’d like to take back and things we wish we hadn’t kept to ourselves.  I had gone into the semester with a plan in mind, a way to, I had hoped, make things come out just the way I wanted.  Of course, things rarely go according to the script we write for ourselves beforehand, and this was certainly no different.  Things happened to change my plans that I had no control over whatsoever, and when I realized what had happened, I was less than thrilled about it.  I feel like I spent a good month or so at the beginning of the semester trying to come to terms with the idea that my “brilliant” plans had fallen through.  And I think that it took that impulsive drive through southwest Virginia at the end of September for me to realize that I spent way too much time trying to plan out events that hadn’t happened yet; that sometimes I took so much time thinking about things that by the time I had made up my mind and convinced myself to do something, it was already to late to do anything.  I’ll tell you though, it is a hard habit to break oneself of, but I’m working on it.

Since then, there have been two things that I’ve been trying to improve about myself.  The first is to take more chances.  And I don’t mean taking stupid risks like running around with a golf club in a thunderstorm.  What I mean is trying to get over some of my psychological stumbling blocks.  For example, in looking back over a lot of my interactions with a bunch of different people, I realized that I have a pretty deep-seated fear of rejection.    I have a pretty good feeling that this is one of the main reasons I’m always so cautious when dealing with other people, especially people I care about a lot.  So when I say “take more chances,” what I mean is to put myself in situations where being rejected is definitely a possibility, but not something that would seem like the end of the world at the time; be it as simple as asking complete strangers to dance at salsa or something with possibly larger consequences like asking a pretty girl if she’d like to go grab a cup of coffee with me sometime.

Secondly, I’ve been trying to get my personal priorities in line.  I’ve talked a little about this before, but for most of my life, I’ve let my schoolwork completely overshadow almost everything else in my life.  A number of things over the past few semesters and years have led me to realize that while schoolwork should definitely be important, it shouldn’t take precedence over everything else.  If I let it do that, I end up with no time to anything that I truly enjoy.  To that end, I have made myself, several times this semester, drop the books and go do something fun and completely different.  Sometimes it was just getting out and going for a run, sometimes it was going dancing, other times it was just hanging out with friends and watching a movie or something like that.  I think I’ve definitely made progress towards this goal, and I’m very thankful for the realization that sparked this change in my outlook on life.

So, looking back, it’s been a fairly eventful semester.  There have been projects, tests, trips, dancing, frisbee, football.  There have been some rough times, but there have also been some pretty amazing times to go with them.  Speaking of which, I turned 21 during exams, and I should thank everybody who helped make that a great day for me, despite having an exam on my birthday.  And thanks to those of you who were there to help me through the bad times and share in the good ones.


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The Calm Before the Storm

Posted by Ben on December 11, 2009

This picture is from last weekend’s snow in Blacksburg, looking out toward the drillfield.

Well, I have finally submitted all of my assignments for the semester.  I had a project and exercise due today in Computer Systems.  So now I have a day or two to relax and breathe before exams start on Monday.  The last few days have actually been quite pleasant for the most part.  We had our Mentor/Senior toasts Wednesday night.  There was the usual mix of serious and funny toasts, but they were all very well done.  I followed that with Salsa dancing for a couple of hours and then went to a party at a friend’s place.  There weren’t any classes yesterday, so I spent a good portion of the day working on the Systems project.  I got in a good run yesterday afternoon, probably one of my best in the last few weeks despite the temperatures being below freezing.    That was followed by an excellent game of Shadows over Camelot and then Ticket to Ride.

Anyway, it’s been nice to be able to catch up on some sleep and just relax for a few days.  The next week or so is going to be rough, I’m not anticipating any of these exams to be easy this semester.  But then it’s Winter break and I won’t have to deal with homework or tests or projects for a whole month.


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Posted by Ben on December 10, 2009

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First Snow

Posted by Ben on December 6, 2009

As you may be able to gather from the title of the post, we had our first snowfall here in Blacksburg on Saturday.  You may then, be confused as to why there’s not actually any snow in the picture to go along with said title.  Anyway, I went out this morning to go take some pictures of the snow, it always seems to look better when the sun is out.  Don’t worry, there will be some pictures of snow, this just happened to be my favorite shot from this morning.  I was crouched down alongside the creek feeding in to the duckpond taking some pictures of the water and some ducks when I looked down and saw this frost-covered leaf.  It was originally in the shade, which is probably why it still had frost on it at 10 in the morning, but I moved it into the sunlight to get a better picture.

The main thing that caught my eye about the leaf was the layer of frost around the outer edge, which when you get this close, looks like a bunch of tiny white hairs.  I really like the way the sun is shining through them on the upturned part of the leaf in the top left corner.  The frost also seems to highlight the veins running throughout the leaf.  It also seems like the sun is hitting the leaf at just the right angle to create some pretty cool shadows from the veins.  I think the soft background is also neat.

Here’s another shot of the same leaf from a slightly different angle.  I’m not entirely sure what the camera was focusing on here, possibly the green plants in the background.  The frost does seem to sparkle a lot more in this shot though.

Strangely, I’ve had both a very productive and relaxing weekend.  My partner and I have been able to almost finish the last big Systems project that’s due on Friday which is a relief.  In addition to that, a group of us in the dorm watched almost the entirety (or possibly the entirety, I didn’t quite make it all the way through last night) of the show Firefly over the past two nights.  Anyway, I’m excited that classes are almost over now.  I’m definitely ready to be done with this semester.


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