Monday, January 7, 2013

Happy New Year 2013!

Our little family unit.Вот и наступил Новый 2013 Год. Честно говоря, не очень чувствовалось предпраздничное настроение. Может быть из-за того, что в этом году, так же как и в прошлом, совершенно не было снега?

А отметили мы очень хорошо. Традиционно у Даниных родителей. Кроме них с нами там были тётя Лиля, Лина с Лёней и Игнат с Викой и Алиской. Вобщем, народа собралось довольно много. Еды наготовили просто ужас сколько — одних салатов, наверное, штук 10 если не больше, плюс три горячих блюда, плюс блинчики с икрой, плюс холодное! Вобщем, я даже всё и не попробовала.

Кстати о еде. Лично я готовила три салата (пока Даня и Арошка гуляли), и получилась очень удачная шуба. Чтобы не забыть в чём секрет, быстро напишу какие были слои: картошка, майонез, селёдка (но тонким слоем!), сладкий лук, майонез, морковка, яйцо, майонез, свёкла, майонез.

Papa and mama.Начали ужин мы где-то в 20:30, но не в полном составе. Лёня работал допоздна, и они с Линой пришли уже после 22 часов. Пили шампанское, провожали старый год, вспоминали что в нём было хорошего (плохое-то какой смысл вспоминать). Главное, что вспомнилось, это отпуска, рефинансирование квартиры, ну и в принципе отсутствие каких-либо новых серьёзных болезней. Арошка с Алиской тоже пили “шампанское”. Мы хотели купить им десткую безалкогольную версию, но не нашли; суррогатом послужил газированый розовый лимонад. Алиска-то, конечно, знала что именно она пьёт, а вот Ароша думал, что в фужере у него было то, что надо. Пластиковые фужеры для детей мы купили заранее, Арошка сам выбирал — себе зелёный, Алиске красный.

Aunt Lilya.Мы решили не дожидаться полночи, и вручить детям подарки пораньше, пока они еще не такие уставшие. Д. Боря переоделся в костюм Деда Мороза и с мешком подарков позвонил в дверь. Алиска сразу поняла в чём дело — она еще до представления услышала, что мы планируем сделать. Ароша не был уверен кого же именно он видит. Видно, в его детскую душу закрались смутные сомнения, потому что он практически сразу же начал спрашивать: “А где наш дедушка? А где наш дедушка?”, и успокоился только тогда, когда мы сказали ему, что дедушка устал и прилёг отдохнуть. Алиска была очень рада подаркам, а Арошка пока что был к ним довольно равнодушен (все подарки были запакованы в праздничную бумагу). Единственное, к чему он сразу проявил интерес — это конфеты. К его счастью, в коробочке оказались не только нелюбимые шоколадные, но и вкусные карамельки с леденцами.

Alisa, Ignat, Vika.В этом году Арошка дождался-таки 12 часов. Правда, едва-едва. За 5 минут до Нового Года он совсем подкис и начал проситься спать, но я взяла его на руки и под мои рассказы он встретил его вместе со всеми. Спали мы у Даниных родителей, так что после питья шампанского мы сразу отправились укладываться. Несмотря на поздний час, мне пришлось просидеть с Арошкой почти до часа ночи (я пробовала выйти пораньше пару раз, но он вставал на кроватке, сильно плакал и звал меня).

Mama and Lina.Потом раздавали подарки взрослым. Я в этом году, как и хотела, получила кучу всего полезного для кухни — чугунный казан (La Crueset signature enamel cast iron dutch oven), чугунную же сковородку, рисоварку для сладкого тайского риса, разные стаканы (а то у нас их всего 2 дома оставалось), многоразовую пробку для бутылок. Еще мне досталась маечка, зеркальце, качественное мыло, фигурка змеи, календари. Дане подарили разноцветные носки (он сам хотел) и линзу для фотоаппарата (некоторые из мелочей, перечисленных как мои подарки, были для нас обоих).

Даниному папе мы подарили iPhone, чему он был очень рад, а Даниной маме пару тёплых тапочек от Ugg (к сожалению они ей не подошли, так что мы сейчас в процессе подбора нового подарка). Лине с Лёней от всех нас достался пылесос Dyson, т. Лиле мы подарили сковородку, а Вике с Игнатом соковыжималку. Арошке мы в этом году угадали с подарком — набор для игры с пластилином ему очень понравился, и детские (не игрушечные) вилка с ложкой тоже оказались очень удобными (еще мы подарили ему книгу про одного из полюбившихся ему героев, слонёнка Бабара, но не могу сказать, что он ей сильно впечатлён).

Alena and Daniel.Спать мы пошли где-то в 2:30. Арошка, несмотря на позднюю укладку, встал в 7:30.

А вообще хочется пожелать нам всем счастливого 2013 года. Пусть все будут здоровы, пусть сбудутся заветные мечты (или хотя бы одна мечта), пусть будут интересные путешествия, пусть будет много удачных и радостных дней. Побольше нам любви, терпения, доброты.
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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G Lens

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G lens.I’m happy to report that I’ve become an owner of a portrait lens that I coveted for several years now — Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G. Over the years I’ve read multiple reviews and saw a lot of images taken with this lens. But the price is quite steep, so we waited, pretty much since its release in August of 2010.

Alena. On the fly shot taken at f/1.8.Portraiture is what this lens was made for. The focal length of 85mm is great for rendering faces in a flattering way and the maximum aperture of f/1.4 is perfect for separating the subject from the background and washing out said background into a milky smooth blur. This is my first 85mm prime lens and my first f/1.4 lens. I think it will solve a number of issues for me in certain situations.

Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G vs Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AI-S.I have a great manual 50mm that I love, but it’s not always ideal. First of all manual focus limits the number of quality shots I can take of Arosha — he is too quick. Also it makes me uncomfortable asking to take somebody else’s photo knowing that I’ll have to fiddle with focus for too long. Another issue is that it measures the exposure only at the center, making explaining to other people how to properly take a shot is close to impossible and is also a time constraint on when I’m using it.

Daniel. Taken at f/1.4 with +9 AF tune. Check out that bokeh.All in all, I got the lens from B&H fairly quickly and had to exercise a great deal of patience before getting my hands on it — it was my New Year gift from Alena and my parents. The lens itself is quite a lot bigger than my 50mm is. It also is quite heavy as it turns out. I saw the technical specifications on the lens beforehand, but it’s hard to know how it will feel until you actually touch it. It does pair up quite well with my trusty Nikon D700.

Cyclist. Taken at f/16. The blur on the cyclist is my hands shaking. Has nothing to do with the lens.However nothing comes easy. Soon after I had a bit of a disappointment. When looking through some experimental shots I took I noticed that the lens exhibits an obvious front focusing issue. In simple terms when you try to focus on the eye you end with focus plain falling on the nose and eyes are not sharp. The issue becomes quite a bit less noticeable by stopping down to f/1.8, but if I wanted to shoot at f/1.8 I would’ve gotten a lens that costs 1/3 of the price of this one.

LensAlign test target.Luckily D700 allows one to performing auto-focus fine tuning. And while it’s something that becomes quite complicated for a zoom lens a prime is much easier and more practical. I did some quite unscientific testing and arrived to +9 adjustment on the scale of -20 to +20 with 0 being default. But to make a final decision of whether to keep it or try to exchange it I placed an order for LensAlign kit — something that I wanted to get for some time now anyhow. I also bought of copy of their FocusTune software. FocusTune1 in itself is a great tool allowing one to tune the lens not by eye and not from a single sample, but from a bulk of shots.

One of FocusTune chart.I took a large number of test sets — each set consisting of 100+ shots and actually ended up with fairly consistent test results2. The recommended value that I arrived at on multiple instances is +6. I also read that pretty much everyone of these lenses will need to be tuned due to variations between the bodies and lenses — which in reality are extremely small, so exchanging the lens is as much of a gamble as anything. On most lenses it will just not be noticeable, but when you deal with a long and bright lens — you want it to be very precise.

Family. Taken at f/1.4 and +9 AF tune. Great bokeh again.Either way — our testing at +9 produced some nice shots and we won’t know how well +6 does until we go out on the upcoming weekend and do some testing in the wild. But if practice agrees with theory — and I don’t see why it wouldn’t — the lens is a keeper.

Arosha's BMW. Taken at f/1.4 with +6 AF tune and focus point on the plate.

  1. FocusTune actually doesn’t need LensAlign target to work. It can be used with a number of targets that can be printed out by the end-user himself. []
  2. I will not go into detail of properly setting up for a good end results as the author of the system provides great info on his site. []
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Friday, January 11, 2013

Our Day in Milan

Milan Cathedral.Milan. The commercial and industrial center of Italy. One of the fashion capitals of the world. We were not sure if we wanted to visit you. There are some people, who think you can be easily skipped on the first trip to Italy, but we did not, and we have no regrets.

Milano Centrale Train Station.We arrived to Milan on Wednesday (November 21st) afternoon by train. Before we boarded the train, I was secretly hoping that our travel companions will be as much fun as Lorenzo was. No such luck. First of all, they took one of our seats, which apparently is not a big deal, but we did not know it and felt uncomfortable at first. And secondly, they had no interest in communicating with us, which I absolutely expected, but still hoped for something more fun.

Streets of Milan.We ended up changing our sitting arrangement so that we would have no travel companions at all (there are usually two pairs of seats facing each other). The ride itself was relatively short, just under two hours. I think that one of the reasons why trains are so popular and well-scheduled in Europe is that distances between major travel destinations are not that great.

Our suite at Hilton Milan.Upon our arrival we took a short walk to the hotel and checked in. Since we only spent one night in Milan, we’d decided that staying close to the train station would be very convenient, and it actually was the case. The Hilton that we stayed in was very nice, and as Diamond VIP members we got our room upgraded to a suite, access to the executive lounge, free internet and free breakfast. The area around the hotel seemed safe, and the added benefit was that subway was close by.

Subway of Milan.After checking in we went to see the famous Milan Cathedral. It was just a few subway stops away, so we spent very little time getting there. The square in front of the church was quite busy — there were a lot of people and pigeons. The cathedral looked impressive from the outside, but I have to say that to me it was a bit less magical than the Florence one.

Inside the cathedral.After admiring it for a little while, we entered the place to check the inside. It looked expectantly Gothic — high ceilings, echoing steps, colorful mosaics depicting biblical scenes, altars, candles. I sat on one of the benches and thought about life; meanwhile Danya tried to take a few pictures despite poor light conditions. We also went to some sort of basement where sarcophagi with the corpses of a few religiously significant people were being stored. It felt a bit creepy.

On cathedral's roof.After that we decided to take a tour of the cathedral’s roof. We found the entrance easily, but it turned out that the tickets were sold in a separate shop, so we needed to acquire them prior to our admittance. The guards gave us good directions, so it was not a big deal (although I still don’t understand why they don’t sell them by the entrance). We opted for the elevator this time around.

Walking on the roof.Walking on the roof was a unique experience. You can’t really appreciate all the delicate details of the sculptures, spires and arches while looking at them from afar, so I am very glad that it’s possible to get so close to them. We also had an opportunity to look at Milan from above, but the day was somewhat hazy, so the view was just OK.

Another view from the top.There were also maintenance repair jobs going all over the place, so Danya was disappointed about the lack of more picturesque views. Oh well. It was still very nice, I am glad we did it. I’ve noticed that many statues had thin long sharp metal sticks attached to their tops. My guess is that it’s done to prevent pigeons from being too comfortable there.

Charleston.When we finished, it was time to eat. We walked around for a bit and picked a place at random. It was called Charleston, and we ended up having one of the best meals of our vacation over there. Since it was lunch, we ordered light — just a buffalo mozzarella pizza and spaghetti with chilli peppers. Both meals were super delicious, and I still salivate when I think about that pizza.

Buffalo Mozzarella Pizza.If I had a chance to eat a single meal from Italy again, it would definitely be buffalo mozzarella pizza. And pasta was just the right firmness. I’ve heard the term al dente so many times, but only at Charleston I understood the true meaning of it. I actually started to make firmer pasta at home upon our return from Italy.

Square in front of Milan Cathedral.We wondered around after lunch for a short while and went back to the hotel. There was nothing much to do, so we just relaxed, read, called Danya’s parents and Aroshka via face-time.

View from the roof.In a few hours we went to the executive lounge for some snacks and drinks. We’ve decided not to go out for dinner and just fill up on the free stuff that Hilton has to offer. And it was actually more than enough, because they had a great selection of snacks (salads, grilled vegetables, bruschetta, fish, olives) and wine was a plentiful as always. We went to bed early to be fresh for our last train ride next morning.

Street leading to our hotel.When we were reading about Milan we saw a lot of references about people gazing and looking at fashionable clothing. However people in Milan did not strike me as extra fashionable. I guess, after living in New York for over 10 years, it’s hard to be impressed.
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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Arosha Video Update

Here is a couple of videos from the last several weeks. One is Santa visiting Arosha on New Year. The first thing Arosha said when he saw Santa was an inquiry as to the whereabouts of his grandpa. He kept asking and wouldn’t go talk to Santa until somebody explained to him that grandpa was tired and he lied down for a short nap.

Second video is Arosha making up a story about himself and his friends. Some parts he takes from his own life, some from the books that we read to him and some are just completely made up. Note his ability to sit “calmly” in one place.
In: Family, Life In General   Tags: , , , ,
Time: 18:35   Comments: 2 Comments   Post a Comment  
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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Haircuts

Before.Today Arosha and I got our haircuts at the place that I’ve been cutting my hair at for the past 15 years. It’s a typical old barber shop where everybody knows your name and a guy who knows how your like your hair cut — Artur. I think a lot of my local friends still get their haircuts from him or used to when they lived around here.

Arosha getting his haircut.Arosha got his second barber haircut here as well — his first ever two were done by grandma. We’re surprised by his patience. He can easily sit there and follow directions given to him by Artur and let him do his job without a problem. He talks and listens about the process. And of course there is an anticipation of a lollipop that all kids get at the end of the cut by the shop owner.

In the process.
In: Life In General   Tags: , , , ,
Time: 15:48   Comments: 1 Comment   Post a Comment  
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