Sunday, December 21, 2008

All Hail Crokinole!

On Friday afternoon I received a long-awaited, very pleasant surprise in the form of a "Crokinole" board dubbed "Blue Bayou" after the Ray Orbison song.  Crokinole is a game that was invented in Canada, or at least someplace North on the compass where long months are spent inside and where such games are conceived, refined and invented.  Or so I'm told...

 
Artsy Glamour Board

So, Crokinole is a game similar to shuffleboard that is played on circular, highly polished surface.  The object is to "flick" (with your finger) a small lacquered disc into a recessed hole in the center of the board and at the end of play have more of your 12 discs in scoring position than your opponent.  Surrounding the hole are 8 pegs that will confound you.  Further compounding the confoundment is that your opponent is compelled to hit one of your pieces with each of his IF you have a piece in play on the board. Game play alternates, one flick followed by another, until all pieces are exhausted.  Sound simple?  Well... it is, but there are some other rule nuances (such as you have to remain seated in one place for the duration of the game (can't position yourself for the optimum shot every time) and there is a fair bit of skill involved too. 

Kim ok'ed the board purchase in November and I contacted Stan Hilinsky of Maryland who makes them with his brother.  These are fine pieces of hand-crafted woodwork, and are priced as such. The Hilinsky Bros. have a huge gallery of images on their website at www.crokinoleworld.com.  Others make the boards, but after seeing one owned by my buddy Matt Kardos, I was dead-set on having a Hilinsky Bros. board.  The boards are in pretty high demand, so you either have to place a special order and wait until they get around to making it, or be damned ready to jump on a purchase if one should come available.  Luckily, Stan is pretty plugged into email and responds pretty fast to questions.  He knows you're serious when you PayPal him the cash.  LOL.

So far, the board has a prominent place in our living room and everyone is enjoying it very much.  We've had wicked competitions already and both Ethan and I are vying for the title of family champion.  Age & Guile baby...  ;-)

Friday, December 05, 2008

Self-portrait

A colleague at work recently showed me a picture he took of our UI designer who hails from Luebeck, Germany.  It was a stark black and white, with high structure and a gritty feel. 

I think I've come close by using a few of our Nik filters, namely Silver Efex Pro and the "Bleach Bypass" filter of Color Efex Pro 3.0. Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

BMW Xplor Gives Me a Gift

Imagine my surprise this evening when I got home to a wicked heavy box sitting on the dining room table.  Return address of NY, but no clear Sender info.  OK, I was curious.  Herewith for your pleasure, dear reader, is a blow-by-blow recap of the unveiling (in video).

 

 Thanks BMW XPLOR!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Epic Ride

Prior to the 5-day Thanksgiving holiday, I channeled a huge amount of positive universal energy into the goal of taking a long solo ride. I figured if the weather held, and the kids were reasonably occupied, I could get a solid 5 hours in and a couple hundred miles. Seven and 1/2 hours and 320 miles later, I rolled back into Buckwheat exhausted but deliriously happy.

Departed Buckwheat Manor at 7am with fog surrounding - I figured like the weekend before that I'd be out of the fog soon enough, but it was still chillin' to the bone. I was wearing Neighbor Scott's Difi riding suit - it's not the Aerostich by any stretch (pun intended), but better armored and comfortable enough. Temp was in the high 40's and my gloves were soaked wet by the time I hit Bear Valley Parkway about 10 mi up Hwy 15. Here's what went down:
  1. Bear Valley Pkwy to Valley Pkwy to Lake Wohlford - the ride around the lake never disappoints; distractingly beautiful and the sweeping 180 degree turn by the Cafe is so sweet
  2. Around the Lake to Rincon, then down S-6 to the 76 heading right to Palomar where I noted about 39 degrees on the on-board computer - yeesh - that's why my fingers were tingling and cramping
  3. Around another lake (this time Henshaw) to Hwy 79 through Warner Springs past the Glider port, right on Hwy 371 up through Anza, where I warmed up with a cup of coffee
  4. I was feeling kinda "froggy" about now, so I decided to head left and cruise by Lake Hemet, Hurkey campground and on to Idyllwild where I picked up some gas. The mountain community was just waking up, it was crisp and there were many good folk walking dogs in the cool air.
  5. I headed back to Hwy 74 - the Pines-to-Palms highway with some of the finest curves in SoCal. Luckily a fair number of slow-goers used the turnouts and a couple of us were able to put up a respectable pace. I did make a brief stop and a nice fellow in a sweet Lotus Elise snapped a photo of me, the Difi and the F800GS.
  6. Once down to Palm Desert, Indio, La Quinta, and the Salton Sea, it was a flat, hot, boring drag of stop lights through strip-mall lined streets. Disgusting really. I found myself wondering how so many lame nail salons and mexican food restaurants could stay in business.
  7. My stomach was growling by now - it was after noon and I'd only begun with a bowl of Raisin Bran (maybe a good testament to RB - I can see it now: "Choice of recreational GS riders everywhere!"). Seeing no viable restaurant in the Salton Sea area (save for mini-markets selling beer to off-roaders), I turned on S-22 heading to Borrego Springs.
  8. Pleasant surprise! I cruised at high speed on a road bisecting a bunch of off-road campgrounds - lots of buggys, quads, cycles and such. Even saw some totally built Jeeps heading into some gnarly ravines on a 4x4 quest of the landscape. Borrego was pleasant, albeit crowded.
  9. I ate at Carmalitas in Borrego - a tasty chimi - and left a message on the home answering machine before jetting up Montezuma Grade at approx. 1:35. WOW. I lucked out and had *nobody* in front of me for about 8-10 miles up what is definitely one of the top 5 twisty roads in SoCal. Really incredible. I hadn't been on the road in probably 10 years, so this was a real treat.
  10. Heading back to town I wanted to be home by 2:30 - didn't think it was possible, but rolled into Buckwheat about 2:40pm (see first paragraph about the exhausted part).
All in all, a fine day! For instructions and a map to "rinse & repeat", see below. Cheers.


View Larger Map

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Palomar Jaunt

Ever since I picked up the F800GS, I've dreamed of cruising up to Palomar Mountain northeast of San Diego via the Nate Harrison Grade. It's a twisting 10-12mi graded dirt road that climbs 4000 feet and deposits riders into the State Campground at the top. A hop, skip and a jump away is Mother's Kitchen, an all-vegetarian restaurant that has on any given weekend 20-40 sport-bikes parked in front. Tasty chile, tasty cookies, and some darn good coffee too.

The day started off misty and cold; heading up Hwy 15 where I was to meet Mark (Suzuki DR650) and Conrad (Kawasaki KLR650) I kept thinking that if it stays this cold, and drops as we gain elevation, I'm going to be a chilly boy.

The plan was to take all back-roads to the mountain, starting with Bear Valley Parkway to Valley Parkway to Lake Wohlford and on up through the Rincon Indian reservation (punctuated by the huge Harrah's Rincon Casino black-eyeing the landscape). Luckily, by the time we got to the sweepers by the Wohlford cafe, speed was up and so was the sun.

The singles were keeping up well at all sane speeds so prudence was the order of the morning, up to and including my decision to let them lead up Nate Harrison. The grade was named after a black man who settled in the area with the Indians and was a local fixture for many years around the turn of the century. A pretty complete history of the era can be read in the "Valley Roadrunner" online. For our purposes, the road was dandy with a hard-packed grade, somewhat steep at times, not too rocky, and with nicely bermed switchbacks. We stopped several times for pictures, not wanting to let this moment pass. One such picture spot was a sharp curve where Mark's Suzuki exercised it's freedom to act of it's own accord and simply laid down. A few scuffs and a bent brake lever was the toll of the road. We paid and were off again!

As the group broke through the treelines, we found ourselves surrounded by an enormous amount of cut wood, remnants of the fire that swept over this part of Palomar Mtn. several years ago. The shadows were tricky in mid-day, and we were all vigilant for potholes, frost heaves from years past, and logs/branches in the road.

We hit paved road near the campground where Mark, Julie & Rosalie spent a weekend back in September, so the route to Mother's Kitchen was totally familiar. He led us to lunch. Many sport-bikes parked in front, but all well-behaved. Lunch varied - Conrad took the last tacos of the day, only because he ordered before me - the rat!! ;-) Mark macked on grilled cheese and I had a salad and club sam'wich. I didn't follow my own advice and was waaayyy too full for a delicious oatmeal raisin cookie! Mark insisted on a pose in front of the Post Office - classic!

While in Mother's I spotted a sign that said the old Palomar Lodge was going out of business and everything (fixtures and all) was for sale. Eureka - our next move!

The Lodge is just down the road from Mother's, a handy left turn off of the East Grade, leading to a tree-lined twisty country lane that nearly "done me in." I was in the lead on a road that seemed to have a lot of leaves scattered about. Only one of those "leaves" turned out to be a fist-sized granite rock that I hit square with the front wheel. (Note to self: don't stare at rocks in the road). The 21" wheel of the GS rolled over it, but was deflected rightward, enough to jerk the bars and nearly throw me at 35mph. Credit some fast twitch reflexes honed on the CRF250X out in Ocotillo Wells to keep me from kissing pavement (thank you Roderick!). Or, probably dumb luck. Just afterward I noted the tenseness in my shoulders and felt like I'd pulled a muscle in my lower back. None the worse for the wear - God bless the "gyro!"

Palomar Lodge was picked clean, unless ya couldn't live without a ratty bear-skin rug, deer racks or a cornucopia of scantily-clad Indian maiden paintings. Fun! Well... not so fun was listening to the proprietor rant about taxation without representation, how California was an impossible state to do business in, and how he was definitely heading to Oregon or Wyoming to "really live." Oh yeah, and a final bit of advice from the fella: "Never let 'em repeal your right to bear arms, boys!"

The East Grade of the mountain, and the start of the trek home, was everything I recalled from distant years past. Wonderful sweepers, decreasing radius corners, pretty smooth pavements, cow grates in all the right places... as bad as Kim reminds me my memory is, it is for these kinds of details I'm pretty spot on. LOL.

We stopped at a "vista point" overlooking Lake Henshaw, and took in more of the scenery. A couple of other bikes were there, including a very cool looking Buell rocket that was a purpose-built cornering demon. It reminded me of a similarly purpose-built futuristic ship called a "Tie Fighter" (you know what I'm talking about!).

We had decided to visit the Chapel at Santa Ysabel as our last stop prior to jetting home. There were only a couple other touristas there on the grounds, which includes a very nicely appointed church, museum, and cemetery. Quiet (and quieting for the mind).

The singles led the way home through Santa Ysabel and Ramona; in the late afternoon, it was a chore chugging along in traffic. But, we stuck to the main highway and others on the road were traveling fairly smartly - no laggards. Probably the right pace for the road-weary.

The total mileage for the day was about 100. Throw in the crisp air, a dusty bike, and some great memories and you have a recipe that shall be repeated soon. Until next time... Press On Regardless!


Webelos Woods-2008

I think I've been waiting for "Webelos Woods" my entire Scouting career! Err... I mean, my son's entire Scouting career. LOL.

He had no idea what was about to hit him! Well, maybe he did, judging by the results from his last multi-day camp!

Camping out for 3 days at Boy Scout Camp Mataguay east of Mt. Palomar about 50 miles out of San Diego is my idea of a good time. I'd taken Friday off to pack and get out there as early in the day as possible I wanted to stake out a good spot in our campsite for Etho and I and generally "fly the flag" of Pack 621 to guide others in. Everything went smoothly as I picked Ethan up from school at 1:45pm to begin the journey on a beautiful sunny day. I'd heard there might be some rain in the forecast, but since it was less than 10% county-wide, I felt pretty good about not wasting a lot of energy on rain protection. More on that later!

Webelos Woods is a Boy Scout-led camp, designed to introduce 4th and 5th grade boys all around San Diego to some of the activities they will be doing if they continue on to a Boy Scout Troop. Mataguay Scout Ranch has a long and storied history and is perfect for the mission. It lies on 840 acres which was deeded to the San Diego-Imperial Council Scouts back in the 1950's. There is evidence that prehistoric Indians made the land their home here, being indications of villages and grinding stones for the Cupeno Indians. Groups that use the facility besides the Scouts include YMCA, YWCA, the Royal Rangers, Sheriff's and FBI SWAT groups, and World War II and Civil War reenactment groups.

The campsite slowly filled up with members of Pack 621 as Friday afternoon turned into evening. The campsite itself was situated near the end of the one-way road that circled the entire camp. Cars were parked about 3/4 of a mile away and you had to either walk or get shuttled in to your camp after dropping off gear. We heard later there were over 1900 people at the camp that weekend - wow! There was a very large outcropping of rocks and a steep hill behind the camp that provided boys from all campsites in the surrounding area with a cool "Lord of the Flies" experience. We could have skipped everything planned for the weekend and let them all play King of the Hill and I think the boys would have been very happy. Sad commentary on our suburban society. Rush put it perfectly when they sang in their epic song "Subdivisions":

"Any escape might help to smooth the unattractive truth,
but the suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth"


I was proud to see nearly all of the Webelos-age boys here on Friday, and knew that the balance would be coming in the morning. We were given colored wrist bands on check-in, which governed the activity areas of the Camp that we would be visiting on Saturday. After a quick night hike to check out the stars, folks began to disappear into their tents for a chilly but restful night of sleep.

"Artsy" morning Flag ceremony

Morning did come early though, and the parents got started on eggs and sausage breakfast, while the boys slowly emerged from their tents to search for sticks of war and begin patrolling the aforementioned rocks. A flag ceremony in full dress uniform awaited the boys bout about 8:30am, so we needed to hustle, and did barely make it on time.

The activity areas opened up at 8:45, so after a quick change into pack t-shirts everyone was off and running to the Fort. Highlights there were making rope and fire-building (a crowd favorite).

After the Fort, the Pack headed up to Mountain Man Meadow and sampled the rope bridges and trebuchet seige engines that the Boy Scouts built for our enjoyment. There was also a cool game where two Scouts were blindfolded and shot squirt-guns over the heads of the Cubs crawling under "razor wire" (well... ropes). There was wrist-rocket practice and more fire-building.

The boys pretty much scattered into all corners of the Meadow, none further than Etho and his buddy Sage who bounded into the woods to catch bugs and fill in gopher holes. Later on, they built fires and hot-footed it back to camp early.

We retired for a simple lunch back at camp, then several of us adults took off for some leader training whilst the boys went on a 2 mile group hike, which was activity #3 of a planned 4 activities.

When we returned, the boys had opted out of activity #4 in favor of more rock battles! That's cool because there was a terrific campfire program and show on Saturday night after our feast of a dinner. Many of the Boy Scouts put on skits and songs, as well as hosting a Flag Retirement ceremony. S'mores were on the menu after the campfire, then everyone started buckling in for the night.

*patter, patter, patter* Rain drops woke me up in the middle of the night. Glancing at my watch, 3:15am unemotionally stared back at me. I heard someone stirring out in the cooking area and I went out to help. Jeanette had also been awakened and we silently stashed everything that would "melt" if the rain continued. After falling back asleep, we woke early to a light rain, and the grim reality that it had actually rained continuously since we were out. Coffee tasted good and hot, but nobody was relishing the camp tear-down and subsequent clean-up. There was standing water in the lowest corner of my tent, soaking the foot of my sleeping bag. Several of the parents fixed breakfast and everyone started breaking their individual gear down and stacking it by the road.

Yummy S'mores!

By about 10am, most everyone was gone. It was still raining off and on, and folks like Joe McCaffrey, Ryan Omer, Dave Rose, Jeanette Candelaria, and Thuy Hunyh stayed 'til the end to make sure the camp was clean. I think the boys - especially the Webelos 1 (fourth graders) learned a lot, had a blast, and are looking forward to the next Webelos Woods in 2009. Only this time, they may actually elevate their re-enactment of Lord of Flies to the next level and take over Mataguay!

Monday, November 17, 2008

"Movember" Hullabaloo

Movember - Sponsor Me
I'm constantly on the hunt for legitimate reasons not to shave, and the month of November finally came through! My co-worker Sean has for several years been involved with a worldwide group that encourages men to grow moustaches to raise awareness and money for Prostrate Cancer research.

Like women have designated October as National Breast Cancer Awareness month, so have the men-folk of our good land adopted the month formerly known as November as National Prostrate Cancer Awareness month. It is in that spirit that we grow facial hair, despite the oft-heard protestations of our women. I'm growing a moustache and "bringin' the Mo back" because people I know and love have struggled with prostrate cancer.

All the guys at work are "representing" and it's fun to see the groans as each day we look cheesier. To learn more about Movember, go to their U.S.A. web site.

To donate to my Mo, simply go here and donate online using your credit card or PayPal account. You'll be glad you did!
The money raised by Movember is donated directly to the Prostate Cancer Foundation which will use the funds for high-impact research to find better treatments and a cure for prostate cancer. Here are some other facts:
  • Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in the US with one in six American men developing the disease and more than 28,000 men dying of the disease every year.
  • African American men and those with a family history of prostate cancer are twice as likely to develop the disease and should have regular annual testing starting at 45. All other men should commence testing at 50.
  • Prostate cancer is 90% curable if detected and treated early.
The only big downside? Going without a kiss from my bride for... well, 17 days as I type this. Ouch!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Anza-Borrega 4x4 Trip

It's been a long time coming, but well worth the wait.  A couple of weekends ago, Steve Koenig who is one of the dad's in Pack 621 organized a bit of an offroad trip to the desert.  His co-pilot was Brett Alexander - another Scout dad.  I didn't have a wingman, but two energetic boys in Etho and his friend Josef.  Good crew.

We first highway'ed it out the Interstate eastward ho until the little town of Ocotillo.  A sharp left on to S-2, and we were off!  Steve's got a sweet Hummer H3 which looked as though it could climb like a Billy goat - we found out later it could. 

The plan was to ease in at Dos Cabezos, do some rock bouldering (trucks and kids) at Mortrero Palms, eat lunch near the old Dos Cabezos rail station and water tank, then mosey over through Canyon sin Nombre.  We did all of this, with a tricky little bonus:  the Volcanic Hills, which included a one-way arroyo through Piepkorn Slot that turned out to be a little dicey, but manageable.  Here's the story:

After ending lunch, somehow I ended up in the front of the Hummer as we came through the Volcanic Hills, but soon came to a narrowing of the arroyo.  I knew I was in trouble when I saw a plaque riveted to a rock.

Piepkorn Slot
Anza-Borrego State Park, CA
N32 47.003, W116 08.567

Elevation: 1469 feet

The plaque was a memorial to Mark Piepkorn who died there on Nov. 1, 1996.  We got out and scouted a bit, finally coming to the conclusion that we could in fact make it through 3 different ever-narrowing drops.

We had to be careful not to scrape doors, and there was a little jockeying, but mostly a straightforward drive (easy to say now that I've done it once!).  Here's a video of some other folks going through the same place:  Piepkorn Slot:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNu7VSs5_d4
Once through though, we only had about 150 yards of joy until an uphill scree field followed by a wicked descent into Mortrero Wash.  I'm not ashamed to admit we spent a good 20 minutes moving rocks into the wheel ruts to enable our trucks to NOT high-center.  It was very steep and made for some exciting "wheels-in-the-air" action on the downhill side.  Yes, the children walked down the hill! 

Here's a video of some trucks going down the hill - I have to say that it's a bit more gnarly now than in the video:  Wicked descent:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JkM_sbW62ME&feature=related

As we cruised through Canyon sin Nombre, I finally took Etho's bluff.  He's been begging me to drive the truck.  I figured I was in for a "pop-the-clutch-and-stall" debacle, but the boy made me proud.  He was able to let out the clutch, ease on the gas, shift into 2nd, and steer all at the same time (with a little coaching from Dad).

Onward to Julian and home.  We did have a quick dinner stop at a BBQ joint in Julian just on the other side of the 4-way stop (really creamy Butternut Squash soup!), then headed down the hill. 

All in all, a very successful trip for all involved: the trucks performed admirably, we hiked and got dusty.  Just what the Desert ordered!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Photo Plus Expo in the Big Apple

My 2nd Photo Plus Expo in Gotham City with Nik Software. Typical first day settling in to the prattling pitchman mode, dogs barking, throat scratchy, wondering what I'm picking up with every handshake and smile. Lovely industry the photographers have created though - mainly workin' folks, keen on their craft. Some egoists, but that goes with the territory I suppose.

The Nik Software booth was steadily jammed with attendees wanting to check out the latest from the firm, or just take a load off their backs in our comfy-seated theater. Sales OK as those things go, but more is better - we'll be fired up for the whole show. Some of us were true "Rock Stars" as this picture of Herr Haftel clearly indicates!

I did enjoy meeting a long time correspondant of mine named Xenophon Beake in the flesh so to speak. He and his wife Frances were very pleasant, and he showed me some nicely rendered images of his excellent black Crown Vic automobile. Tony Corbell and Xenophon go way back...they both claim "oh, we got stories..." ;-)

After the first day, I decided to take a lazy walk-through Times Square (which you already know if you follow my Twitter feed) and have a relaxing dinner at an Irish Pub off Broadway. Got a fun shot of a Times Square cop hassling a photographer for using a tripod with his DSLR - apparently that's not cool without a permit.


Walking back was a tiny bit chilly, but not bad given the Gap coat I lugged out to the East coast.

On Day 2, it was more of the same from the show standpoint, but we hooked up with the good folks from Mitsubishi Imaging & Pictorico Japan for a most excellent meal at Ruby Foo's, an Asian "Fusion" restaurant a few blocks from our hotel. There were 14 people total, including some C-level cats from Tokyo, but $1100 later all was good. ;-) My German co-worker Christian Grosse and I walked around Times Square (2nd time for me) with Michael Gilbert, a professional photographer who is doing a seminar with us next week. Michael is one of our Team Nik shooters and does good work from the studios he maintains in Hawaii and Paris (tough, eh?).

Day 3 was a little more low key - booth was jammed at times and we continued to amaze folks with Silver Efex Pro, Viveza, and our Capture NX 2 demos. Several people asked about Lightroom 2 compatibility, so we'll probably have to take a closer look at that soon.

Speaking of Capture NX 2 (which we developed, but Nikon sells under their own name), it was all over the place at the show. Very strong showing with continuous theater demos in the Nikon booth, free Trial versions for EVERY attendee, and some good-looking literature pieces. Hopefully there is some good recap press coverage coming from the show.

On this final evening several of us went to Don Giovanni's restaurant to celebrate the end of the show and wind down. The food was a gut-pleasing delicious, there was good conversation among work comrades, and a friendly waitress from Israel. I had an amazing lemon-chicken dish cooked to perfection, with capers that set the taste-buds tingling!

Tomorrow I plan to hoof it on over to Central Park for some sunrise shots if I can get 'em - Tony Corbell turned me on to a good location that should yield some amazing reflective shots into a still pool on the south side of the Park. Then, it's off to JFK and a short 5-hour flight back on Jet Blue, my new favorite airline on the strength of their in-flight entertainment systems. Cheers.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Unleashing (amateur) power with Nik Software

I'm a bit of a digital tinkerer, I admit it. Hey, a guy's gotta dabble now and then! Sometimes in goofy GarageBand compositions, other times video. Occasionally building web sites and blogs, but since I started working at Nik I keep coming back to images.

Up at the Digital Imaging Conference '08, sponsored by InfoTrends, I found myself with an extra hour in the hotel room after the festivities and decided to "tinker" with an image of my son Ethan. Putting Photoshop CS3 and some of the Nik Software plug-ins to work, here's what I came up with - bear in mind, I definitely belong to that not-so-exclusive club of AMATEURS! ;-)

ORIGINAL IMAGE
The original image wasn't too bad, but the face is muddy, the background distracting and there's simply no "life" in the colors of the face. Believe me, there IS life on Planet Ethan!



Original NEF file coming up in Adobe Camera Raw (naturally, I click "open image" without any adjustments - I'll be using Nik Software for that, thank you!).

Default window showing the Nik Selective Palette with each of the plug-ins, ready for action!

Decided first to ensure there was no noise in the image by invoking Dfine 2.0. Dfine analyzes my image automatically and all I do click one button to "make it so." There are controls to more selectively apply noise reduction, but the tool does such a great job at NOT dorking up an image (i.e. making it softer where it shouldn't), I usually just tell it to de-noisify the whole image.

After a Nik filter has been applied, a new layer is automatically created.

Next, I thought I'd brighten Ethan's face, give it a little warmth, redden his lips, blue up his eyes and darken up the backdrop a bit with Viveza. About 6 clicks and 30 seconds!

Here's the same image with a split screen and showing a U Point powered Control Point over Etho's right eye. Control Points are ultra-easy to use: click the mouse on the area you want to enhance and move a few sliders. U Point "automagically" selects the area without any complicated selections or layer masks.

Now that I have Noise and Color/Light corrected, I'll turn my attention to (2) Color Efex Pro 3.0 filters, each accessed through this handy-dandy tool palette.

Ahhh... Glamour Glow, one of my favorites. It produces an other-worldly feel of glow and comfort and wisdom. Note the controls for Glow Temperature, Saturation, etc.in the upper right. Again, move a few sliders to get the look I want and I'm outta there.

Back in Photoshop, you can see the the Dfine 2.0, Viveza, and Color Efex Pro 3.0 layers are visible in the Layers palette on the lower right.

One of my other fav filters is the Bleach Bypass filter, giving Etho a look from the movie "300." How cool is that?!!

Finally, I decided that this picture merited a trip into our Silver Efex Pro, winner of the Best Imaging Software of the Year at Photokina 2008 (awarded by Chip Foto Video Digital magazine, one of Germany's largest). Note the handy presets on the left side for quick results and a myriad of choices on the right that give you infinite control.

In this screen shot, I'm choosing a venerable Kodak B&W film type. The software will actually recreate the image using the grain of the film I select - cool!
THE RESULTS
With a few clicks and sliders, I've been able to dramatically enhance the photo pretty quickly in (4) distinct ways, starting with Viveza which I used as the basis for the following (3) images. Here are the "before and afters:"

Before and after with Color Efex Pro 3.0 (Glamour Glow)

Before and after with Color Efex Pro 3.0 (Bleach Bypass)
Before and after with Silver Efex Pro

Editing images of people I love is very satisfying. It's definitely a new hobby for me and one that any family "memory-keeper" can dig - the investment in cost and time can pay off ten-fold (ego satisfaction, great prints, greatimages to share, etc.).

The Nik Software tools are free to try at www.niksoftware.com/downloads. The free versions work for 15-days, and can be used in Photoshop, Photoshop Elements and Aperture.