Prime Suspect – my plastic fantastic

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Nifty Fifty

It’s cheap, plastic and it wheezes. But it’s by far my favorite lens. My precious is the Canon 50mm f/1.8 II lens.

Eschewing such luxury developments as USM focusing or full-time manual (and don’t even think about image stabilization), this $70 lens – known variously as the ‘nifty fifty’. ‘thrifty fifty’ or ‘plastic fantastic’ – produces amazing results.

It’s in no way a pro-grade ‘L’ lens, but Canon have been working on this classic for decades – 50mm is seen as the standard focal length for 35mm film cameras – and it does one thing very well.

Bought on the strength of the recommendations (Amazon reviewers in their hundreds sing its praises, and even the picky crowd over at Fred Miranda can’t say enough good things about it), I was anxious to see how it compared to the competent but not amazing 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 consumer zoom that I’d transferred from my old film SLR to my new Canon Rebel XT.

The nifty fifty felt like a toy, with its plastic mount and worrying lack of heft. But when I looked at the first shots I took, I was amazed.

They were murderously sharp with faithful color rendition and an overall feel so much better than you’ve a right to expect for $70. If this was what it meant to use primes, I was hooked.

It’s small and unobtrusive, while also fast enough for low-light shots of my constantly moving 2-year old daughter. And the necessity of zooming with your feet makes me think harder about framing and composition.

With the 1.6 crop factor, it’s a reasonably long 85mm, so it works well as a walkaround lens outdoors. But its real strength is in portraiture, where its sharpness and creamy bokeh production really shine.

The autofocus is slow and grinding, and you wouldn’t want to shake it too hard, but when it finally breaks (or if I lose down the back of the couch), I’ll run out and by another one instantly.

(Originally published in JPG Magazine, August 2007)

Posted by David in
Blog closed for business

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The personal blog here at is now suspended indefinitely.

I just had too many websites and not enough time, especially as my photography is taking up the bulk of the limited free time I get.

That said, the site will remain up with the blog archived, and also as a place to find all the articles I’ve written over the years. That section will still be updated as and when there’s something new to put up there.

But it’s not all bad news, there are still two main places to keep up with my doings:

Tech blog on the Moore Consulting site

Photoblog at Clearing the Vision



PS: Or there’s always the Flickr fun:

Posted by David in
Moore Consulting

Teaching User Experience at Highlands University

As the new academic year begins, I’m happy to say I’m now an Adjunct Instructor in the Media Arts department at New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas.

I’ll be teaching a course on Designing for User Experience to upper-level undergraduates and to postgrads, covering the basics of user experience, usability and user-centered design.

It’s a nice to be back teaching (in Dublin, I devised a delivered a series of one-day training workshops as part of the iQ Content Boot Camp series), and the students are a good group.

I’ll be posting PDF versions of my presentations when I get the chance, for those who are interested, and while they might not mean much without my explanations, you’re all more than welcome to follow along.

Moore Consulting

Memorial Day Update

A quick note on what’s been happening at MC Towers recently — I’ve been a little lax with the news, because there’s been so much of it.

Santa Fe Prep site launched

This was actually a while ago, but we’re still filling out the range of content, so it’s never clear exactly when the site’s due for an announcement. As well as the planning, design and construction of the new site for Santa Fe’s premier independent school, we designed and set up a new email newsletter system for them, to keep all the parents, students, alums and other interested parties informed. You can visit the site now, and I’ll post more detailed case study in a while, as it was a complex but rewarding project.

Breakthrough Santa Fe

In another project for Santa Fe Prep, we built a sister site for their great tuition-free program in which talented high school and college students teach middle school students with limited educational opportunities the academic, organizational and social skills they will need to succeed in competitive high schools.

Latest Articles

In my ongoing writing gig for Dublin-based web consultants iQ Content, I’ve recently looked at Irish political websites, and how your website reflects your corporate culture (whether you like it or not). Worth a quick look, and while you’re there, check out the always-illuminating group blog they run.

What’s in the pipeline?

It’s busy busy over here, as we do work for architects Ellis Browning and Richard Martinez, and law firm Simons and Slattery. The New Mexico Community Foundation are getting an update on a site they maintain, and right now I’m also doing some rush work for the International Folk Art Market. After that I’ll likely be working with a renowned photographer on his site, which I’m really looking forward to.

And in the fall, I’ll be heading back to the world of academe to teach a semester-long class on user-centered design approaches in the Media Arts department at NM Highlands University. More news (and possibly presentation material and the like) nearer the time.

Any time for sleeping?

Not much, but I did get to drop into the NM Adobe Users Group‘s inaugural Santa Fe meeting — cheers to Damien for organizing that. And I’ve been taking a lot of photos — one of which illustrates this post. You can see some of the better ones on my Flickr stream.

Blog Santa Fe and New Mexico

Going Digital

Friday, March 16, 2007

Durango omelette, please

Back in September, I wrote about how the explosion in digital photography had created some bargains for film SLRs. I benefited from this myself, when my mother in law upgraded to a new Canon digital SLR, and gave me her old film camera.

This, together with the natural desire to take lots of pictures of my young daughter, rekindled my interest in real photography – after I’d been distracted for years by the ease of digital point-and-shoots. And I got some shots I was really happy with.

I was right – getting hold of cheap (or in my case, free) film SLR is a good way to start taking more pictures, and now is a great time to get hold of one. But I was also completely wrong, in ways I’ll now describe.

Cheap Camera, expensive running costs

The problem is that if you’re interested in photography, you want to take a lot of pictures, and film doesn’t really make that very easy.

Sure, you can send your films to Shutterfly or the like, and only pay to print the ones you like, but that takes a while, and there’s a hidden catch I wasn’t aware of immediately. I thought that if Shutterfly developed the film and put the digital versions online for you to see (which they do), then you could download the hi-res versions for no cost – since you’d paid for the developing.

In fact they show you a lo-res version that you can use to decide if you want prints or not, but the hi-res versions will cost you the price of an archive CD – in my case nearly $20 for 150 images or so.

Grass is always greener

Welcome to Santa FeThe other thing working against film is that the lenses on most SLRs are ‘cross-platform’ – working on that brand’s digital SLR bodies too. So the nice Canon 28-105mm USM I inherited would fit on the Canon digital bodies I soon started ogling. That meant it wasn’t going to cost as much as I thought if I wanted to go digital.

After a lot of research, and much pained inspection of my bank balance, I was the proud owner of a Canon 350D (or Digital Rebel XT, as they insist on calling it here in the US), bought without incident from Beach Camera.

So now I can shoot like a crazy person, and sort out the keepers later, without fussing with film and delays and all that. And I’ve greatly enjoyed the who experience – supporting it with a useful 4-class course at the local community college to fill in the gaps in my basic knowledge.

Birthday Photowalk

As the camera was technically a birthday present, I took some time on Tuesday to walk around town a bit (and take some shots of my subject, Finn). The results are here.

I’ll write more later about the learning curve, and about the search for software to help on the computer side of things.

Posted by David in • Santa Fe and New Mexico

Blog Life Santa Fe and New Mexico

Making a vow

Monday, January 08, 2007

OK, so it’s a resolution, but that’s just so, January, you know?

I’m going to ride the Santa Fe Century this year. The last couple of years I’ve sort of been meaning to do it, and then sort of meant to just do the 50, and then sort of didn’t do it all.

Which is no good. So I’m making it public in the hope that now it’s out there I have to do it.

I went to my first spinning class in a couple of weeks this morning, and feel like I got flattened by most of the Irish rugby union back row. Which is a pretty good reason for going more often.

Then, when the streets are finally clear of slushy icy cinder-brown piles of snow, I can get back out on the bike, which is currently buried behind house extension-related boxes in the garage.

I’ve done a couple of centuries (both in Ireland), and some other long day rides (starting with a 75 and then 50 around the Sonoma Valley in 2000), so hopefully the legs haven’t completely forgotten about those (or the 2000 miles in 2 months I notched up in 2001 and 2003 for the long trips, but that’s sort of a different thing).

Firstly, I need to flick through Marci’s cycling training books and build myself a plan.

Then I have to stick to it – basically, I’ll be trying to get all the necessary training by riding only two (or towards the end, three) times a week. Time is tight with work and my Fionnuala-minding duties, so the biggest problem will be just getting the necessary miles done.

But the benefits in terms of fitness, energy and general good humour should be good to see. I’ll keep you posted.

Blog Life Santa Fe and New Mexico

Getting dumped on

Saturday, December 30, 2006

crazy snow on our patioSo what did you do between Christmas and New Year? I stayed in and got stir crazy because we got 2 feet of snow in 36 hours.

The interstates were closed, which I always enjoy, because it seems so unlikely. Coming from Europe, the worst we get it is a couple of exits closed due to a jack-knifed truck, but here I-25 was closed from Albuquerque to the Colorado border (over 225 miles), and I-40 closed from Albuquerque to the Amarillo, TX (that’s 285 miles).

So, despite being the state capital, Santa Fe was completely cut off for most of the day.

Even though we weren’t planning on going anywhere, this makes you feel claustrophobic on a philosophical level. On a more physical scale, watching the snow climb up the windows has a similar effect.

One benefit has been that I now appreciate how several older men from the Mid-West die every year while shoveling snow. Making a vain attempt to clear our steep driveway proved a huge workout.

Marci had a better idea – she strapped on her cross-country skis and slid down the (uncleared) driveway and along our road to check out the situation.

The snow has stopped now, and we can finally see across town (although the mountains are still shrouded in cloud).

We’re going to brunch tomorrow if we have to use tennis rackets as snowshoes. Another day in this white prison, and we’ll end up like ‘The Shining’.

Arts reviews Blog Life

‘Studio 60’ – Smarter than your average show

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Aaron Sorkin’s new NBC show ‘Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip’ is hitting its stride, and showing there’s mercifully some room for intelligent primetime TV.

Amid the smart-talking and wisecracks, there are some heavyweight references. In recent weeks the show’s namechecked Pericles and Strindberg, and this week there was a sensitively-handled storyline involving the Hollywood blacklistings of the 1950s.

The return of pedeconferencing

An ensemble cast of clever characters walking down corridors having sharp conversations (“pedeconferencing”) was Sorkin’s stock in trade in ‘The West Wing’, but now his TV show is about a TV show (it’s set in a thinly-disguised “SNL”), he can explore the perils and opportunities facing his own medium now.

It’s a return to familiar ground for him – his first TV show was the lauded but overlooked ‘Sports Night’, set in the studio of an almost-ESPN.

Just as The West Wing’s Martin Sheen was the president many of us wished we could vote for, so Amanda Peet plays the head of a network we wish we could watch. She refuses to buy a reality TV show that subjects the competitors to media intrusion until they crack, and supports ‘Studio 60’ as it runs a sketch guaranteed to upset the Christian rIght.

In reality of course, no-one ever went bankrupt underestimating the public’s appetite for down-market TV, and the challenge facing both the show itself and the show-within-the-show is to prove that a smarter approach can also be a success.

Clever but flawed

One way to do this is to wear your learning lightly, and ‘Studio 60’ is careful not to take itself very seriously while making serious points.

The characters are clever, but they’re also endearingly flawed. Matthew Perry plays a version of Chandler (or is that Sorkin?), this time reborn as a neurotically talented head writer.  Bradley Whitford again gets to be a wry and loyal lieutenant. We’re in safe and crucially likeable hands here – and there’s good support from Nate Corddry and D L Hughley (who must be delighted finally to get a script worthy of his stand-up talents),

So, the characters feel real, and the plotting is tight and interwoven. But it’s the script itself that sparkles, without a word out of place. You know you’re watching something out of the ordinary, when the show finishes and you still hear the rhythms of the dialogue in your head.

A real imagined world

With The West Wing, Sorkin’s was an alternative reality that he could never make real. ‘With Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip’, he’s imagining an alternate world of good TV, and creating a little bit of it for real at the same time.

Posted by David in • Arts reviewsLife

Blog Life

Another year, another disappointing England performance

Monday, July 03, 2006

I checked the blog entry I wrote after the European Championship a couple of years ago, and damn it’s happened again:

It seems my adult life has been punctuated by the England football team losing on penalties in important competitions. We think it suits us, that we’re dogged and sturdy, but I think it just lets us off the hook.

Its as if, if we really tried and went all out for a win, and believed we could do it, and then failed, that would be much worse. Because we’d put everything into winning, and come up short.

This time it was Rooney’s disgraceful sending off that let us be plucky losers – disgraceful because no professional footballer playing for his country in the World Cup has any excuse for losing the head and stamping on someone’s crown jewels.

But where was the real spirit when we had 11 men? And the lack of will and guts when it came to the penalty shoot-out was horrible to watch.

Hargreaves (the only one in a white jersey who looked like he cared) ran his legs off during the game and scored his penalty. But Lampard and Gerrard (anonymous during the game) bottled it from the spot.

I’m not sure what it is in English culture, or at least the culture of English football that creates a team of such potential that always fails to deliver.

At least in Spain and Brazil (where the same conversation is no doubt going on today), they can take comfort from the fact that they played some great football during the tournament and were beaten by a team playing very well.

Posted by David in • Life

Blog Life Santa Fe and New Mexico

Ride ‘em Cowboy

Saturday, July 01, 2006

So the last post was about a jazz concert by an Englishman. This time it’s something more local – the Rodeo de Santa Fe. Since Marci’s architectural education took place at a university with a big ag school component, and I lived 18 months in Kansas, it shouldn’t really have take so long for her to take me to the rodeo. But I guess we were a bit busy this time last year.

The rodeo sits in its own grounds out on what used to be the edge of town, but it’s now been overtaken by low brown sprawl. But once you’re sitting in the old-fashioned grandstand with some lemonade (with real lemons in it) and a quesadilla, you forget you’re in the 21st century.

There are more boots being worn by the audience than I’ve ever seen before – kids are wearing wranglers, stetsons, boots and spurs; and so are the dads. There’s a sub-group of aging hippie audience members (this is Santa Fe, after all), and a weird Footballers’ Wives meets All Creatures Great and Small thing going on in one of the boxes. Scantily clad young girls with Jackie O shades are in danger of getting a mouthful of dirt during the team roping event – who knows how they came to be here.

The pageantry was great – an arena full of horses being nonchalantly ridden one-handed is always worth seeing – and the Rodeo Queen did her cool gallop and salute thing, but what I’d forgotten about all this was that it’s a professional sporting event.

The guys trying to ride broncos or bring down the calf in four seconds flat are competing against each other for money, and the chance to go to bigger events in the rodeo world. This might be minor league stuff, but there’s a (hard) living to be made if you’ve got the talent and bravery to do it.

We’d just watched Brokeback Mountain, which put a slightly different spin on things, and you could just see Jack Twist scraping by at rodeos like this. But that aside, it gave me an insight into a different slice of Santa Fe life, away from the galleries and spiritualism and over-educated blow-ins like myself. The sponsors were a Dodge truck dealership, a ranchwear manufacturer, and a propane company – all things you need if you’re living out on a ranch, but not things that get a lot of attention in town.