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Chilly November Morning

Hoar Frost on Leaves (Black & White)Last weekend when I got up to take the dog for our morning constitutional I decided to bring my SLR. The hoar frost was still out - the sun had only started to peek over the edges of the trees, melting away the eastern-most edges.

Frost on GrassThe turkeys had already woken up and left their roosts for the day's foraging, so I focused on the frosty leaves, trees, some grass and - as always - Zada.

Early Morning Sun on Sumac BranchesI'm also still learning PhotoShop - and when I say still learning, I mean the basics - so decided to edit a few of the images from that frosty morning.

German Shepherd Lying in Grass on Frosty MorningIt was a beautiful walk and I thoroughly enjoyed being out in the crisp, cool November morning air. Zada loved it, too, though she was a bit confused as to why I was taking such long looks at frost on the leaves.

Guess Who Finally Got PhotoShop?

Modern Art Carousel HorseLet us give thanks on this day - oh, this day! - in which I not only have PhotoShop (CS3) but have even learned how to use it! Sort of. I'm a quick study but let me tell you, it's no easy thing for me.

I 'went digital' in 2006. Pretty much the only reason was because I was shooting a wedding that summer and I knew it'd be loads easier than film. I got another Canon, so just went ahead and used the editing software that came with my new DSLR - Digital Photo Professional. I thought it was the cat's meow.

Palm Tree Silhouettes with Blue GradientA couple years ago, I was introduced to my beloved Picasa, the free Google software which allows you quite a bit of options for image edits. While I watched all my other photo buddies producing amazing results with various versions of PhotoShop, I continued to think of it as the snobby way to do it - plus I abhorred those photographers who digitally enhanced, altered and completely changed their images into something other than photography but continued to pawn them off as such. I would never, EVER be one of THOSE.

Puerto Vallarta Lifeguard Stand: Silhouette & Sunset GradientOr so I thought. While I still strongly believe that a photograph is worlds apart from a digitally enhanced image (i.e., they shouldn't ever compete in the same category because they're completely separate entities) I can at least appreciate the fact one can do some very cool stuff in PhotoShop.

I have yet to learn any of that, of course. But I've seen examples.

Wine Bottle Macro ImageI'll get there eventually. Crazy thing is, a co-worker gave me this handy little '50 Great PhotoShop Tutorials for Clever Beginners' article the other day to 'get me started.' I appreciate he thinks I'm so clever, but honestly, I learned how to create silhouettes and 'modern art' type images before I even figured out how to lighten, sharpen or change the color of an image.

Okay. So I don't totally "get" PhotoShop yet, but I got it. As in, I have it. And that's a start!

Attention! German Government Not Web Savvy

Google Analytics CookiesWhile catching up on tweets this morning I ran across an interesting article regarding Germany's declaration that Google Analytics is illegal. Was?

Evidently, according to the German government, the use of Google Analytics to track website users' information is a violation of people's rights, since they're not giving their consent to be tracked.

Okay, stop right there, regierungsbeamte, just because you happen to be government officials doesn't mean you know best. Thing is, you don't even have the technical savvy to know that people who use the Internet DO have a choice of whether or not to be tracked.

It's called disabling cookies, FYI. Now, does the average Joe even know a) he's being tracked via cookies or b) that there's an option not to allow cookies in the first place? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I'll venture a guess he doesn't really pay attention, plus there's no danger of sensitive information getting out from the placement of cookies.

Cookies don't work that way - they're placed on a computer for a specific purpose (to track the user as she visits sites on the Web). Specifically, Google Analytics only places 1st-party cookies, so only Google Analytics can 'tap into' the information for that cookie, so to speak. There's a lot more to Google Analytics cookies than meets the eye, but the general lesson here, Germany, is don't "impose fines on companies who use the service to gather detailed stats based on their website visitors’ usage patterns," because they're not doing this "without the explicit consent of those visitors" ... those visitors have the option of not being tracked.

*Image used came from

Recovering Cafeteria Catholic

Last weekend when I was back home, I learned my family has become Lutheran for the winter - partially because of the new mass times, but also due to a dislike for a new priest. Raised with a (strict) Catholic upbringing, this declaration was nothing short of shocking to hear. Of course, it was less shocking than if I were a devout, mass-going Catholic, versus a recovering "cafeteria Catholic."

Let me explain. It's not that I regret having grown up Catholic - I think spiritualism is extremely important - but let's just say over the years I've come to despise the Church's strict, rigid rules more and more.

Take for instance the case of first communion for Haley Waldman in 2004: diagnosed with celiac disease when she was young, she had to consume a gluten-free wafer at her first communion, which the Church declared as 'unofficial' because the Eucharist contained no wheat. Okay, Catholic church - just because Christ might've had bread with wheat in it at the Last Supper, tell me WHY, if this bread (and wine) gets changed into His body (and the wine into His blood) does it matter AT ALL what the damn stuff is made of? I'm not making it up:
The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “Transubstantiation means the change of the whole substance of bread into the substance of the body of Christ and of the whole substance of wine into the substance of his blood."
So that one made me mad. Then there's the issue with the wine - which cannot be non-alcoholic in order to "count" during communion. What about medical issues? Alcoholism? While it's a purely pagan tradition - eating the flesh and blood of a sacrifice - receiving Holy Communion is a very vital part of Catholic parishioners, one in which, if it's denied them, makes a big difference in their faith.

Oh, and don't forget all those Catholic priests who decided - since they're not allowed to get married and thus fulfill normal, healthy sexual urges - that it's okay to molest altar boys. Ish, Catholic church, ISH. FAIL.

Okay, I'm slightly digressing. Anyway, so I don't attend mass regularly anymore (in fact, it's mainly when I'm back home and Christmas Eve) but I grew up with The Guilt so I do feel bad for not attending masses on Sunday. That being said, I'm much more spiritual now than I've ever been.

So I was excited to head to my first Lutheran service since I was in junior high (I slept over at a friend's house and we went to her service a couple times; I was so naive I headed up for communion not knowing I was committing a SIN in the eyes of the Catholic church) and I remember liking it.

Last Sunday was more of an eye-opening experience than I expected. We arrived ~10 minutes before the service started, only to find there was extremely limited seating left. our Catholic church, people pretty much don't come until 10 minutes before, and many of them slink up the aisle after the priest, staying low and trying to remain low profile.

As we sat at the very back of the church, perusing the hymnal, my mother and I noticed an odd thing...these parishioners - they were talking and laughing. OUT LOUD. And it was okay. Other church-goers weren't "shushing" them, no one was giving passive-aggressive, dirty looks; it was perfectly acceptable to kick back and chat with your fellow Christians.

When the priest - sorry, pastor - stepped to the front, the talk died down immediately and he started speaking. He said 'good morning,' told a couple jokes, and started into the service - which was very heartfelt. The singing was exceptional, the readings were quick and related, and the sermon was not only well-organized, it had a message. I actually had a take-away. I was hooked.

Feeling much more comfortable with "being Lutheran," my anxiety rose slightly when it came time for communion. Ever the gracious host (no pun intended), the pastor told the congregation "everyone was welcome" to come and receive Holy Communion - even visitors. Wow. No judgment, no restrictions, just "come and receive the Holy Spirit." Thanks, I will.

As Mom and I walked slowly down towards the front of the church to receive our host and wine, I could almost feel the scarlet "C" burning on my forehead. Acting like I'd 'been there, done that,' I took my host from the Eucharistic minister (which she handed me delicately, only having touched a small portion of it), and - per custom at this church - dipped it into the wine, ate it and continued back to my seat, none the worse for having accepted this mighty gift while in a sacrilegious ceremony.

Sacrilegious because, according to the Catholic church, the bread and wine are actually transformed (transubstantiated) into the body and blood of Christ. For Lutherans, they believe these are symbols, not actual flesh and blood. PS: if you're Catholic and do NOT believe you're eating true flesh and drinking real blood, then you're a sinner. Can you say human sacrifice and cannibalism?

So, while I'm not a devout church-goer, I do think I'm going to like this new winter church schedule...the parents seem to like it, too. Which begs the question: will we continue on with Lutheranism come springtime, when the Catholic mass schedule changes again? I have to say my sentiment - I sure hope so.

Tweetdeck & Twitter Lists & Transmuted Google News, Oh My!

When I first began using Twitter, I'd read tweets and answer "what are you doing?" right from the site. I soon realized that wasn't the "cool" way to go about it, so I got set up with Tweetdeck (the simple and fast way to experience Twitter). I soon had my favorites set up (for both Twitter and Facebook, a nice touch) and while I still head to Twitter to scroll through the 'general' tweets coming in, I now update both sites' status from Tweetdeck.

Tweetdeck Dashboard
From the dashboard, I can see at a glance what my favorite people are talking about, as well as get direct messages and see any mentions I've received. Pretty neat.

Now enter Twitter Lists. A couple weeks ago, Twitter rolled out their new function which allows users to create their own lists, add people to it, and other people can even follow your lists (and vice versa). So now not only can you choose who you follow, you can lump them into specific groups so you don't have to scroll through all your "Twitter favorites" on Tweetdeck or - gasp, live on the site - you can just click on a list and voilà, you can read what you want to read.

Create Twitter Lists
It's even easy to find any lists you've been added to - and you can choose whether or not to follow those lists.

Bernier's Twitter ListsThis is just one of the many ways it's getting easier and easier to pick and choose the content you want to see online. Yesterday, Google stepped up to the plate and offered the creation of custom news. While not a true function of social media, it is a way to customize content - similar to Tweetdeck's favorites and the relatively new Twitter lists.

I played around with this function this morning and created a couple 'newsreels' - reel-time news, perhaps? - even though I don't think I've ever visited Google News.

Creating Custom Google News: SEOSo why am I trying it? Well...I do subscribe to multiple RSS feeds, and the first thing I do in the morning - coffee in hand - is check out Google Reader. Thing is, I get a lot of articles in there that I don't want to read. Even though I've decided to pull articles from TechCrunch, Mashable, All in One SEO Pipe, etc., the articles contained within those sites aren't always something I want to read.

Google Reader Home
Now, maybe with a customized Google News section, I can get more relevant articles because I've "made" the news topics relevant to me. So, the big question is: are functions like Twitter Lists and customized Google News going to make RSS feeds obsolete?