• Adventures in Panorama, Checkerboard Edition

    I regaled my weekend audience with the results of my attempt to learn how to do panoramic photos using Photoshop. In a nutshell, you can take several pictures from left to right and then stitch them together horizontally or you can take several pictures from bottom to top and stitch them together vertically. But then I wondered: can I take a grid of pictures and stitch them together both horizontally and vertically? Just how smart is Photoshop, anyway?

    Pretty smart! I tried it out today with a 2×6 grid of our new kitchen remodel and Photoshop breezed through it:

    The red area is the best I could do with a single shot using the 24mm setting on my camera, and a wall prevented me from moving backward. The only two ways to show the whole kitchen are (a) purchasing a pro camera body and a $3,000 prime 12mm wide-angle lens or (b) using Photoshop. I think my choice was pretty obvious.

    Panoramic stitching works best with, you know, panoramas. That is, scenes that are fairly distant, so that the distortion isn’t too bad to begin with and can be corrected fairly easily. Interior scenes are a whole different thing, and there’s really no way to avoid distortion entirely when objects are so close. You can see it in this picture in various places because I had to pick and choose which distortions to try and correct. I’m sure a pro could do better, but it’s not possible to correct everything. Also, I probably should have taken the picture in the morning to get truer, less ruddy lighting.

    Anyway . . . green lower cabinets and cream upper cabinets. Some kind of engineered quartz stuff for the countertop, which is white with light gray flecks. New flooring throughout the entire house, a light brownish-gray that has coloring similar to old reclaimed wood. And a bunch of new appliances. Marian managed the whole operation, and my main contribution was the suggestion of green for the lower cabinets.

    You love it, don’t you? You better. All negative comments will be ruthlessly deleted.

  • I Know Why Trump Suddenly Hit Brazil and Argentina With Tariffs

    President Trump suddenly announced new steel and aluminum tariffs on Brazil and Argentina today, which he blamed on the “massive devaluation of their currencies.” Vox’s Jen Kirby calls Trump’s reasoning “confusing,” which is very charitable indeed. Both the real and the peso are freely traded, which means they get weaker or stronger depending on their countries’ respective economic conditions, not because their governments have devalued anything. Both currencies have indeed weakened, but that’s because they’re both in pretty bad economic shape:

    So why did Trump announce the tariffs? There’s no telling why Trump does anything, but my guess is that it’s mostly for domestic political consumption. Tariffs have fallen out of the news lately and the China talks appear to be going poorly. So he picked a couple of countries that compete with our farmers and announced tariffs. It makes him look tough and that’s all he really cares about.

    This is just a guess, but a pretty good one, I suspect.

  • Health Update

    My M-protein number is down a bit this month, which means the cancer is being kept well under control:

    Since we started back on the Evil Dex, my M-protein level has dropped significantly and stayed there for several months running. This is good news! But . . .

    It’s also annoying. As you may recall, I quit the dex early this year and my number increased. Sadly, this meant I needed to start back up, but my doctor wanted to add Pomalyst to the mix when I did so. I know nothing about chemo treatment, but I was raised to believe in apple pie, the American flag, and changing only one variable at a time so you don’t get confused about which things are having which effect. My doctor argued strongly for the Pomalyst, however, and I caved in.

    Last week I had an office visit and reported that (a) my fatigue was getting much worse, and (b) I had noticed in the past month or so that my breathing was getting very shallow. Hmmm. The fatigue is basically a side effect of the dex, but Pomalyst can make it worse. And Pomalyst also causes shortness of breath in 36 percent of patients. Hmmm. The problem, my doctor said, is that we don’t know for sure what’s causing this since I started up both the dex and the Pomalyst at the same time.

    You will be proud of me for not reaching out and throttling him. Anyway, he agreed that we should stop the Pomalyst for a few months and see what happens. We should have done this back in June, but better late than never, I suppose. The first half of 2020 will tell the story.

  • Melania Trump’s Problem Is Not Her Coat

    Robin Givhan, the Washington Post’s fashion critic, has some harsh words for Melania Trump’s outerware:

    First lady Melania Trump unveiled this year’s White House Christmas decorations in a gauzy video in which she strolls through the public rooms marveling at their holiday luster….For her tour, Mrs. Trump wears all white: a dress with a simple jewel neckline, white stiletto-heeled pumps and a white coat. The coat is draped over her shoulders as she strolls through the White House.

    The coat looks ridiculous. But more than a silly fashion folly, the coat is a distraction….As Trump gazes pleasantly at all that her staff and a host of volunteers have accomplished, her attire suggests that she’s casually passing through and has little affinity for the occasion. She’s not getting comfortable, so why should you?

    I would never argue with Givhan over fashion, about which I know nothing unless my sister educates me, but can I suggest that this isn’t really a fashion question to begin with? Take a look at the video:

    The reason it looks like Melania is casually passing through and has little affinity for the occasion is because Melania is casually passing through and has little affinity for the occasion. She could be wearing bib overalls and a MAGA hat and she’d look the same way. During the entire video, she displays virtually no enthusiasm for anything other than periodically straightening something that the lazy servants apparently didn’t get quite right. I’m not sure whose idea it was for that to be the theme of the video, but it does her no favors.

    And one more thing: what cowards the Trumps are! Nowhere in the video does it say Merry Christmas. It simply says nothing at all.

  • Did the Woke Propel Donald Trump to Victory?

    ABC News

    I’ve periodically pointed out that Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory didn’t depend on rising levels of racist sentiment among voters. Racism has actually been declining slowly over time in the US, and in any case Trump got about the same share of the racist vote as Mitt Romney did four years earlier. In the Washington Post today, Sheri Berman points out that this is not unique to the US:

    Empirically, there is little cross-national correlation between levels of racist or anti-immigrant sentiment and [right-wing] populist success. Swedes score extremely low on measures of racism and anti-immigrant views, yet the right-wing Sweden Democrats are the country’s third-largest party. The Irish and the Spanish, meanwhile, score relatively high on such measures, yet right-wing populism has not been particularly potent in either country. Populists have become more politically successful over time, but racist and anti-immigrant sentiments have actually decreased over time in Europe and the United States over the same period.

    This seeming paradox is explained by the salience of racist and populist sentiment. Racism may not be increasing throughout the population, but it can become a more important voting issue to those who already harbor racist feelings if politicians appeal to it. Obviously Donald Trump did this, and the Republican Party has followed suit. But Berman says that it’s not just Republicans who are at fault:

    As Maria Snegovaya and I argue in a recent article, the left has played a role as well….By the late 20th century, economic differences between left and right diminished as the former accepted much of the neoliberal agenda. In Europe, as the left and the right converged economically, politicians tended to focus more on sociocultural issues “so as to be able to display meaningful programmatic differences.” With fewer economic differences between left and right, voters had reason to pay more attention to noneconomic factors as well. In the United States, Sides, Tesler and Vavreck found that along with Donald Trump’s pivot, Hillary Clinton focused more on race and immigration than Barack Obama. The 2016 campaign was thus particularly focused on these issues and the candidates particularly divided on them, raising their salience and thus their effect at the ballot box.

    Berman notes that progressives may do better in the future “if they sideline the issues on which populism thrives.” To put this more bluntly, she’s saying that if liberals are consumed with identity politics because they don’t really have a strong economic agenda to offer, they’re just playing into conservatives’ hands.

    In one sense, this is an ancient argument: is the real dividing line between workers race or class? Or gender? Or something else? FDR worked hard to keep the New Deal about class and Democrats dominated politics for four decades. LBJ made it largely about race and Republicans eagerly took him up on this, dominating politics for the subsequent four decades. Today, Democratic candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are trying to downplay race and focus instead on a newly potent economic agenda. Meanwhile, candidates like Kamala Harris and Cory Booker are trying to keep a strong spotlight on race and have been dragged only reluctantly into supporting Sanders-esque economic agendas. Which is most likely to be a winning formula in November?

    I think the best answer is somewhere in between. Warren’s blizzard of plans may go too far for some, but it’s certainly useful to remind people that sluggish middle-class wage growth is no accident. In fact, it’s precisely what Republicans have worked hard to achieve. At the same time, there’s no harm in talking about, say, illegal immigration as a problem that deserves a humane but still vigorous response. The former doesn’t turn you into a socialist and the latter doesn’t turn you into a racist.

    Now then: are you still wondering why Joe Biden continues to have strong, steady support among both blacks and whites and among a wide range of ages aside from the very young? You shouldn’t, really.

  • A Brief History of Malarkey

    Inspired by both Matt Yglesias and the launch of Joe Biden’s Malarkey Express, this Google ngram demonstrates the impact Biden has had over his 50-year political career:

    Does Biden deserve credit for this boom in the popularity of malarkey? I don’t know why not. It’s only his preferred spelling that’s taken off, after all. Science™ has spoken.

  • Social Media Is Bad

    Dominic Lipinski/ZUMA

    Rebecca Jennings writes today that Instagram makes us, individually, look wonderful all the time. Twitter, by contrast, makes us, collectively, look outrageous and appalling all the time. What happens when you follow both?

    Beats me. But I am becoming ever more convinced that social media provides us with such a distorted view of the world that we would all be better off without it. Each of us may be convinced that, of course, we take all this into account and don’t believe everything we see, but I’m skeptical that any of us can really do this no matter how hard we try. Twitter in particular provides a view of the world so massively distorted that we can hardly help but come away from it convinced that society is about to collapse any second now.

    That’s my cheery thought for Monday morning. And now I’m off to get livesaving chemicals dripped into my body. Have a nice day!

  • Adventures in Panorama, Vertical Edition

    Yesterday we went out to Yorba Linda and browsed the Christmas sale at our local Danish church, built in the traditional Danish style and complete with the runes of Harald Bluetooth outside. The church itself gave me a nice opportunity to do a vertical panorama. It was remarkably easy. I didn’t have my tripod, but I steadied the camera on a railing and took five shots from floor to ceiling, showing far more of the church than I could have gotten in a single vertical picture. This provided a good look at the ceiling, with its beams modeled after the keels of old Viking longboats. Photoshop stitched everything together perfectly, and then I applied a bit of perspective correction. Færdig!

  • Adventures in Panorama

    I decided to spend Thanksgiving weekend learning how to use Photoshop to take scenic panorama photos. This is something I haven’t gotten around to before, and I figured it was time to get better at it.

    After a bit of practice at home, I headed down to Lookout Point in Newport Beach and set up my tripod. Here’s a plain, full-frame shot taken at the 24mm setting, which provides an angle of view of 52° (horizontally). The advantage of this is that it’s easy and requires no special effort to keep everything straight and level. The disadvantage, obviously, is that it’s not really very panoramic.

    Like most cameras (and smartphones) these days, mine can shoot a panoramic picture in-camera. The is a quick and easy way of getting a wide shot, but it has problems. First, it’s generally a low-resolution image, which may or may not be a problem depending on what you want to do with it. Second, it’s very narrow in the vertical direction. In this case that’s not too bad (the palm trees on the left are cut off), but in other cases it makes it difficult to capture an entire scene.

    Next up, then, is to use Photoshop to produce a panorama. Put your camera on a tripod and then take a series of pictures while rotating from left to right. Then use the Photomerge feature to stitch them together. This works remarkably well, especially when there’s nothing too big in the foreground. On the other hand, our palm trees are still cut off.

    Finally, you can do the same thing but with the camera turned vertically. This requires more pictures, of course, but that’s no real problem. Here’s the original shot after Photoshop has finished its merge.

    In all these cases, the original picture will display a fisheye effect, but you can play around with Photoshop’s warp and distort filters to get what you want. In this case, I chose to make the horizon line as level as possible, which means that the palm trees and the clouds are distorted a bit. Alternatively, you can retain the fisheye effect for the horizon, which keeps the rest of the picture less distorted. In this case, I don’t think the distortion would really be noticeable if I hadn’t pointed it out.

    Not bad! This is probably an angle of view of 120º or so, and it looks pretty good. This works best with a tripod, but Photoshop is pretty forgiving even if you shoot handheld and then stitch everything together. I shall keep you all posted as I produce ever more panoramic shots.