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J. Daniel Ashton

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Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, —Ecclesiastes 9:10a NIV
The LORD God has told us what is right and what he demands:
"See that justice is done,
let mercy be your first concern,
and humbly obey your God." —Micah 6:8, CEV
With all your heart you must trust the LORD and not your own judgment.
Always let Him lead you, and He will clear the road for you to follow. —Proverbs 3:5,6 CEV

see also — My Homepage

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Name: Daniel Ashton
Location: Germantown, Maryland, United States

Any links with a dashed underscore probably point to Amazon.com

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Photo Excursion: Glen Echo & US Botanic Garden

This afternoon we took our cameras into the city to practice picture taking. Our first stop was Glen Echo Park, where we noticed an antique car and watched a potter at her wheel. This picture is a link to my Glen Echo album on Picasa Web.

Glen Echo

From thence we continued down the Clara Barton Parkway and Whitehurst Freeway to the national mall, where we visited the United States Botanic Garden, where we took scads of flower pictures. The album linked below contains nearly all that I took there. These are pretty much unprocessed, just as the camera saw it.

U. S. Botanic Garden Flowers

I also took a few sets of bracketed JPEGs, which I plan to try as HDR shots sometime soon. But not now.

Ambilobe Panther Chameleon

For some reason chameleons seem more interesting to me than any other type of lizard, and that's saying something. We saw this chameleon in the Lizards special exhibit at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium, and Vicki grabbed a 19-second video clip for me to remember it by.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

HDR, um, Results?

I've been messing with these HDR tools for several days now, and the thing I've learned is that I haven't learned enough yet, nor practiced enough. Here's a link to an album of these pictures.


First in the album I show you the picture as the camera wanted to take it, i.e. the middle exposure, neither over exposed nor under exposed. After that you can see the HDR results, all but two of which have a watermark of some kind. The Photomatix watermark is readily identifiable: the pink cross hatching is the watermark for FDRTools. The two HDR shots (the Blue Iguana and one of McMahon's Mill) with no watermark were created using Photomatix with the Tone Compressor tool, which doesn't leave a watermark. And both of the programs only leave a watermark because I'm still using the trial copy.

The pictures are presented in the order they were taken, which is not the order in which I tried the HDR techniques, so you can't see my progress over time. That might be for the best, as I prefer some of my earlier attempts anyway.

I'll add comments "soon" describing the sources, how many frames contributed to the picture and so forth. Please feel free to comment on these, add tags or whatever Picasa Web Albums makes it easy for you to do to interact with these pictures.

After all this time, . . .

After all this time, I finally got around to (re)connecting my phone to my weblog.

Monday, April 23, 2007

We're Stuck In An Elevator

Our train reached Rockville around 2:30, about two hours late. We waited for the train to pull out, then crossed the tracks and took the elevator to street level. Except that we never arrived!

** Continued **
[It's difficult to edit weblog posts from my phone, although it's fairly easy to create them, at least picture-based posts. But now that we're home and I'm at my computer, I can finish the tale for you.]

We were stuck in that elevator for something close to 45 minutes, the four of us and the Indian lady in the picture above. Some CSX workers who had been installing or repairing the pedestrian crossing signals on the platform finally walked by, and started trying to get us out. In the elevator was a call button, and we had used it early on to call for help, but the repairman they sent didn't arrive for quite some time. Finally one of the CSX workers phoned the fire brigade, and they and the Amtrak/MARC repairman arrived at almost the same time.

So we're out now, grateful for fresh air and comfortable places to sit.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

I'm Being Eaten...

The line for tickets at the Shedd Aquarium is shaded by a giant, inflatable Komodo Dragon.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

And the results . . .

The Triadelphia Sparks persevered and landed a second-place finish. That would be a very satisfactory result if William and Beth's sashes didn't already hold eleven gold bars representing every other event in this club's history.

I'm glad that we don't have to rush away this evening. It will be good to give a little time for the natural disappointment to ebb.

I mentioned earlier that we had expected the last question to be to list some of the 31 kings from Joshua 12. Beth had spent hours focusing on this list, and had written it out every day for the last few weeks, so it was a big disappointment for her to not get that as the last big-point question. But while we were waiting to hear the results, Pastor Dodge invited Beth ("one young woman from Triadelphia") to come on the platform and recite the list. Many other young people joined her, and here's what it looked like:

There were 23 teams in this event. Of those, 13 placed in first, i.e. within 10% of the highest team, and 9 teams in second, i.e. within the next 10%.

Waiting for Results

Well, the last question has been asked. We had believed for many weeks that the last question would be for some of the 31 kings listed in Joshua 12, but we had the wrong list. (The question referred instead to Joshua 3:10.)

It will take some time for the results to be tabulated and the certificates filled out.

Next year the book will be Matthew. Our family goal is for every Pathfinder club in the Columbia Union to have a first-place team, and we think it's possible, since the Gospel of Matthew is far less intimidating than the books in the last two years.

I've registered a website, and hope to have a wiki running there within the next few days. See Matthewpedia.com.


We're just past question 45, which means we have a "five minute" break. Our hearts sank when William reported that the team believes they have missed 15 points out of the possible so far. (I haven't added up the possible points yet.) More as we find out.

** Update **
According to my notes, we've had 79 points in the first 45 questions. If the kids are right that they missed 15 points so far, their score would be 81%, which is not enough to guarantee another gold bar.

To review the scoring: the highest-scoring team sets the top score. Any teams scoring within 10% of that score are awarded a first-place score, the next 10% are second place, everyone else is third place.

Time for question 46: here we go again!

With baited breath

It's a few minutes before three o'clock Sabbath afternoon, and the Pathfinder Bible Achievement teams are finding their assigned places in the sanctuary of Pioneer Memorial Church. The contest, as always, will consist of 90 questions, with 10 seconds of discussion, plus enough time for the slowest team to finish writing their answer.

This year we don't need to rush out to catch a train as soon as the event is over, so I hope to take time to post results when we know them.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Delayed Freight

If one must experience the delays of travel, I can't think of a nicer environment for it than a sleeper car on an Amtrak train. We're running more than three hours late, which is not a problem, as we had left today's schedule quite open. Our seats are comfortable, and it's very refreshing to watch the scenery dawdle past the window.

While riding, I've been experimenting with the features of my new camera, and also with a photo finishing technique called High Dynamic Range, or HDR, photography. You can see some examples in the HDR pool on Flickr, and at the bottom of that page you can find information about HDR and the tools that support the technique.

I intend to post pictures supporting my blog posts, but I finally came to the conclusion that I had better at least post a text message, because photo finishing is one of those tasks that can take as much time as you have, and then some.

We're just a few minutes out of Elkhart, and it's (normally) a 20 minute ride from there to our destination station, South Bend. However, today the rails have been congested with freight traffic, apparently beyond the normal load. We just heard an announcement that the Amtrak train from New York is stopped at the station in front of us, and we'll pull in as soon as they leave.

We're at the Elkhart station now, so we need to start thinking about being ready to leave the train in the next half hour or so. Once we get to South Bend, we'll take a taxi to the airport, where all the car rental agencies are located. We managed to get in touch with Vicki's first-grade teacher, and we plan to visit her sometime today. Beyond that, I'm hoping for a leisurely day of picture taking in parks, or something similar.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

What's a weblog?

A good friend of ours, S, visited over the weekend. (Thanks for singing with us!) As we ate lunch before her departure she asked "What's a weblog? Describe it in three sentences or less, please!" This post is a more in-depth answer to the question than I was able to give at the time.

A weblog is, at it's core, a web site. It is generally used as a public journal (thanks, Dad, for that phrase), i.e. a place for you to express yourself. Many bloggers see their blog as a reason and opportunity to practice creative writing. Some weblogs are specific to one event or experience. For example, Troy created a weblog to document the year he spent in Russia as an English teacher. In general, it's a website with a focus on content updated over time.

Let me point out some of the key features of my weblog, features that are fairly common to weblogs everywhere. Near the top of the page is a header, in which I chose to place some words I try to live by and a graphical widget with some pictures. Under that is my profile information. (In many weblogs the profile is in the left or right sidebar.)

The main column contains the articles. Most weblogs post the most recent material at the top, and continue in reverse chronological order. After each article you'll see reference information, such as who posted it (because some weblogs have more than one author) and at what time. In my weblog the articles are grouped under the posting date. Almost every weblog article anywhere will provide a permanent link, so that you can refer to that specific article without fear of the link breaking in the future. In my weblog, the posting time provides that perma-link.

Most weblog systems provide a way for readers to leave comments. (Hint, hint!) The system I use also gives us a way to see other web pages that link to a particular article. And if you click on the envelope icon, you'll be taken to a web page where you can e-mail that particular article to someone.

Most weblogs have a separate page for each article, but also present all the articles (or "10 most recent" or "articles from last two days" or some such) on the first page. Sometimes the front page articles are abbreviated, in which case a link is provided to the individual page for the full article.

In the left sidebar of my weblog you'll find a list of my recent posts in this weblog, and (on the front page) that list is followed by the archive list, so that you can see what I was writing about all the way back to April of 2004. Underneath that are a couple of buttons linking to tools I use (more about these later), and then a list of the other weblogs that I write for or read from time to time. By browsing this list you can learn more about my family and friends, and about the various things that interest me. Both the Family and Friends sections seem a little short, don't you think? (Hint, hint!)

One of the difficulties of reading weblogs is that you can't "just know" when the author has posted a new article. And you may get tired of checking on less-frequently written weblogs. RSS is the answer to that problem. You can research RSS and its history elsewhere: the point here is that an RSS reader (a program or website) can keep tabs on all the weblogs that interest you, and by looking in that one place you can see if any new articles are available on any of those weblogs. RSS readers are also called news aggregators for this reason. I use two aggregators: one is a website called Bloglines, and the other is a special version of Firefox called Flock. Over time I find that I'm using Flock more, and moving away from Bloglines, although I still recommend it highly.

Firefox itself has some basic aggregator functionality, but Flock has several interesting features that make it worth a look. And I won't get rid of Bloglines altogether, because the list of weblogs in my left sidebar comes from Bloglines. Other website such as Google and Yahoo! also offer feed aggregation built right into their main personalized pages.

So, now that you know all about weblogs, it's time to start your own. Of course you can develop your site by hand, but there are many programs and websites that will do most of the work for you. (See the end of the third paragraph here for a sample list.) I started my first weblog using Blogger, and I haven't seen any need to switch to a different system yet. Starting a weblog with Blogger is remarkably easy, and they'll provide everything you need, including the web server and address.

Go for it! And please let me know when you do, so I can add your weblog to my list of feeds.

Digital Cameras

For Vicki's birthday in February we bought a new camera for her. For anyone interested in buying a camera with similar capabilities and price, here's what we got. Since then a newer model has hit the market at the same price.

We didn't do a huge amount of research on this: in short, we discovered that the previous camera had been broken in an icy slip-n-fall accident and, since the birthday was at hand, we walked into Ritz Camera and asked what they had in a given price range.

The salesman there, a very likable chap, helped us to quickly narrow our selection to two models: the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 and the Fujifilm Finepix S6000fd. Because the Panasonic had a slightly longer zoom (12x vs 10x) and an awesome Leica lense, we went with it. The Fujifilm has an incredible photo sensor, so it was a tough decision. In fact, I'm holding out hope that I'll get the Fujifilm camera sometime between now and my birthday. Although the new Panasonic DMC-FZ8 looks pretty awesome too!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

This day was different

I'll go back to days that are the same on Thursday or Friday. But today was a day for pain and anguish: I left shards of two wisdom teeth with the dentist this morning.

I went through this process in Atlanta, too, leaving four teeth there. But I don't remember that operation being quite so difficult. In this case, Dr. Ghafari of Aesthetic Dental Care of Kentlands was skillful and persistent, but my last two lower teeth were quite firmly affixed. I'm counting the seconds until 8:25, when I can take the next dose of painkillers!

Monday, April 09, 2007

New Pix in Flickr Badge

I've uploaded to Flickr the photos I took at Falling Water. You should see them in my Flickr badge (above). Or visit my photo site. These were all taken with my Palm Treo 700p camera phone, and the quality is about as expected, although I still feel disappointed about it. But the visit was great!

I'm still feeling confined by Flickr's "free account" limitations, and not particularly inclined to pay for a pro account. It looks like Google's Picassa web albums are a little more easy to work with. I'll update this post in a few minutes after I upload the same pictures there.

Update: Here are the same pictures on Google's PicasaWeb Web Albums:

Falling Water

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