Frisbee Golf!

I got caught up in some other stuff today and didn't use the new camera much. But I promised to annoy you, and the weekend is almost over, so annoy you I shall. Here's my pal David on the 6th hole of the UC Irvine disc golf course this morning. We play every Sunday. This picture shows off the burst mode of the Lumix, which my old camera didn't have:

That was David's best shot of the day. The disc landed about a foot from the pin. Here's a full-frame crop of a penny in macro mode. Not bad, but nothing special:

And here's a flower at UC Irvine, just because:

Here's a look at new job creation over the past six years. The trendline has been steadily downward since 2014. Perhaps the Fed should have second thoughts before deciding that the February report was strong enough to deserve an interest rate hike.

Panorama!

Exclusively for my weekend readers, here's the first-ever panorama shot showing the nerve center of this blog. Impressive, isn't it? Phone, computer, TV, the whole nine yards. And convenient to the refrigerator. Sort of like Air Force One.

I would have shown even more, but this was the most I could coax out of the camera. I'm not sure if this is some limitation in the Lumix, or if it expects you to hold the camera very, very level, and I didn't.

Bokeh!

As you'll recall from yesterday, bokeh refers to the blurry background in a photograph. It's a word taken from the Japanese, probably because blurriness didn't sound very professional. Besides, every profession needs its own jargon to refer to simple concepts in a way that will confuse outsiders.

This morning was bokeh test day. I chose flowers for my subjects because they don't move around as much as some other subjects I could name. All of these shots are full frame, with a small bit of exposure compensation in some cases but no other retouching.

First up is a succulent of some kind, precise name unknown. This was taken very close with a sunny background in the far distance. The round white circles are typical of bokeh, so this shot makes an excellent test subject:

When professional photographers talk about bokeh, they mean more than just the blurriness itself. They're talking about quality of the blurriness. Is it nice and smooth? Is it pleasing to the eye? Are the circles round, rather than cat-eyed? I'm not experienced enough to judge bokeh at a deep level, but this seems pretty good to me. However, anyone with more expertise is welcome to comment. Don't worry: I won't be offended if it's not actually all that great.

For comparison, here's the same shot with the old Canon. I couldn't fill the whole frame, so this picture is cropped. It was also tricky to compose because the Canon doesn't have as much focusing flexibility as the Lumix. It's not bad, and you might actually prefer it to the Lumix version. But more to the point of this exercise, the amount of blurriness in the background is far less than the Lumix with its bigger sensor and longer lens. The Lumix can easily be set to provide less blurriness if you want, but the Canon can never get more than this:

Next up is a salvia. It's similar to the picture of the succulent (i.e., taken up close with the background far away), but shot away from the sun:

Next is a calla lily. This one was shot at medium zoom. It turns out the Lumix can focus pretty close even at longish focal lengths, which helps produce bokeh even when the background is fairly close:

Ditto for this one, a pretty flower that I don't know the name of:

Thie next shot shows how you can use a narrow depth of field to highlight a single subject in a field. This was shot at maximum zoom, so the background flowers are out of focus even though they're only a few inches away from the foreground flower:

In theory, all of these pictures were shot at f4.5, which maximizes the bokeh. However, the Lumix randomly changes aperture on me for some reason, even though I have it set to aperture priority. I'm not sure what's going on with that. However, I've downloaded the full manual, so I'll study up on that today.

Finally, here's a cat:

Why? Well, why not?

Every couple of weeks I like to post the latest Pollster aggregate of Obamacare's approval rating. It's been rising for months, and it's now a solid five points in positive territory.

And as long as we're on the subject, a friend reminded me the other day of just how infuriating Democrats have been on Obamacare. They've had seven years to extol its benefits, which they should have been doing at the top of their lungs. Instead, most of them have done their best to avoid being associated with it. This is one of the biggest own-goals in party history. Is it any wonder that the public has been lukewarm about Obamacare when one party has attacked it relentlessly and the other has mostly twiddled its thumbs and stared at the ceiling?

Canada Goose at Sunset

Here's a Canada Goose at sunset. Based on comments, I downloaded a trial copy of Lightroom, but I couldn't make heads or tails of it. I suppose I'll have to RTFM or something. But no matter. He's a pretty nice looking critter even without a lot of retouching.

If everything goes according to plan, I intend to annoy you all weekend with the fruits of my new camera. I have to get my money's worth somehow, after all.

Looky here:

House Republicans are proposing legislation aimed at making it easier for companies to gather genetic data from workers and their families, including their children, when they collect it as part of a voluntary wellness program.

The bill, the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act, introduced by Representative Virginia Foxx, a Republican from North Carolina and the chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, would also significantly increase the financial costs faced by someone who does not join a company wellness program.

And here I thought Republicans were opposed to mandates for health care. Only from the government, I guess. When it's corporations doing it, everything is just ducky.

As far as I'm concerned, this is just another good reason to ditch employer health insurance and move to a true national health care system. I suppose Virginia Foxx doesn't see it that way, but then again, I'll bet Congress doesn't have a wellness program either. She might feel differently if she were the one being badgered into taking yoga classes.

UPDATE: This is even worse than I thought. Eric Levitz has the grim details here.

Earlier this week I noted that one-tenth of the Republican health care bill is taken up with a provision that denies Medicaid coverage to lottery winners. I figured it was just Republicans being Republicans, ever watchful for some poor person who's gaming the system and getting something they don't deserve. But no. The Rude Pundit point out—very rudely!—that the real reason is more prosaic. Here's a snippet from a CBO report released a couple of years ago:

It turns out that Republicans aren't just being dicks. They're also playing the CBO scoring game. Half a billion dollars may not be much over ten years, but it's better than nothing. And if you can help your CBO score and stick it to some poor schmoe who won the lottery—well, that's just a win-win, isn't it?

OK, BUT SERIOUSLY FOLKS: This isn't quite the real story, though it's true that Republicans really are sort of obsessed with making sure no poor person ever gets a penny more than they deserve. Michigan was the trendsetter here. After the great midterm landslide of 2010 gave Republicans total control of the state, they passed a law requiring state agencies to automatically cross-check lottery winners with people receiving welfare benefits. The result was a lovely report about the "truly needy":

Now, you may be thinking that this is pointless since Medicaid has an income test, and lottery winnings count as income. So if you win the lottery, you don't qualify for Medicaid anyway.

But no! Not anymore, anyway. For complicated reasons—explained here in unbelievable detail if you really want to torture yourself—Democrats were forced to change the Medicaid rules in Obamacare so that lottery winnings counted as income only in the month they were received. That means you'd be ineligible for Medicaid that month, but then you'd go right back on Medicaid the next month even though you had this huge pile of lottery cash available to you.

Fixing this rank injustice became a hobbyhorse of Rep. Joe Pitts (R–Penn.), who introduced multiple bills designed to change Obamacare's rule. Pitts retired last year, but no matter: other Republicans are now selflessly carrying on his work. And the complexity of this rule explains why lotteries take up six pages in their bill. It's not just a matter of kicking lottery winners off the Medicaid rolls. Republicans have to define in detail how lottery income is handled. Lots of detail:

A State shall...include such winnings or income...as income received in the month in which such winnings or income (as applicable) is received if the amount of such winnings or income is less than $80,000....over a period of 2 months if the amount of such winnings or income (as applicable) is greater than or equal to $80,000 but less than $90,000....over a period of 3 months if the amount of such winnings or income (as applicable) is greater than or equal to $90,000 but less than $100,000....over a period of 3 months plus 1 additional month for each increment of $10,000 of such winnings or income (as applicable) received, not to exceed a period of 120 months (for winnings or income of $1,260,000 or more), if the amount of such winnings
or income is greater than or equal to $100,000.

So now you know. Republicans are fixated on lotteries and Medicaid because (a) poor people are getting away with something, and (b) the income reporting rule for lotteries was changed by the hated Obamacare. The CBO score is useful not because of the amount of money involved—which really is peanuts—but because it demonstrates that the rule affects the federal budget. That means it can be changed in a reconciliation bill. Which is what Republicans are trying to pass.

All clear now?

It's true: I got a new camera on Wednesday. It's a Lumix FZ2500, which is absurdly expensive for a guy who spends 90 percent of his time taking pictures of cats. But then I thought: Don't my readers deserve the best? Of course they do. Check out Hilbert with the new optics:

Majestic, isn't he? And notice the nicely blurred background. That's called bokeh, and it's what every photographer aspires to in portraits of either humans or cats. Here's Hopper:

Most small digital cameras have small sensors and, therefore, small lenses. This is handy if you want a huge zoom length, but it comes at the expense of both quality and bokeh. Small sensors produce mediocre quality images, while small lenses produce very little bokeh. Just about everything is sharp from a few feet out to infinity. Feline Cannonball can explain the optical principle if you ask nicely. This is why, for example, the new iPhone 7 has a mode that produces a blurred background in software. It's basically a hack to reproduce the bokeh you'd get from a bigger camera. Here's Hilbert again:

In my youth, I had a 35mm camera, a darkroom, and a big bag full of lenses. They produced glorious bokeh. Today I'm just not willing to do that. So that gives me a choice: a small camera that's inexpensive, has awesome zoom capability, but produces so-so images and no bokeh. Alternatively, I could buy a DSLR, which would cost a fortune and produce great images, but would have very little zoom capability. In the end, I chose a middle ground: a fixed-lens camera with a 1" sensor. It's bigger and more expensive than my old camera, but still fairly small and has a pretty good zoom (24-480mm equivalent), which is plenty adequate for my needs. The bokeh it produces isn't as good as a full-size DSLR, but it's way better than my old Canon. Here's Hopper again:

The Lumix also has a bunch of other features I wanted. Its autofocus is way faster than my old camera. It has an articulating LCD screen, a must for cat blogging. It has a very convenient set of controls—much better than the Canon—including a manual focus ring. (Finally! Sometimes autofocus just doesn't work, and the Canon was all but impossible to focus manually.) The Lumix has a good burst mode, which helps to catch just the right moment. You can also shoot 4K video and extract pretty good images from it, which makes it possible to really catch the right moment. I'm a little unsure of how good the metering is, but that may be only because I haven't played around with it enough. I wonder if face-recognition mode works on a cat?

And of course, it's not just for cat blogging. This morning the furballs were next door looking unusually excited about a bush. I have a feeling our lizard might have been over there. However, our squirrel showed up a couple of minutes later and he was in a tizzy. Do you think there happened to be a pine cone buried under that bush too?

Over at EPI, Elise Gould has a roundup of how wages are doing, and for the most part the news is unsurprising. The good news is that wages for ordinary folks were fairly robust last year. The bad news is that the bottom 50 percent has seen no gains since 2000 and income inequality continues to increase. There's a ton of good data in her report, which you should take a look at if you want to take a deep dive into working wages.

However, I want to highlight two of her charts that are just plain peculiar. Here's the first one:

It's no surprise that the 95th percentile is rising faster than everyone else, but the last two years have been breathtaking. According to Gould's data, men at the top have seen their wages go up 17 percent. Women at the top have done well too, but nothing like this. What's going on?

Here's the second oddball chart:

Look at that yellow line at the bottom. The very worst performance has been among men with some college. They've done worse than high school grads and worse even than high school dropouts. Their absolute wages are still higher than the high school crowd, but they're losing ground. Once again, there's a similar dynamic among women, though nowhere near as stark.

I have no insights to offer about either of these. They just seemed peculiar enough to share.