Archives for November 2009

Dealing With The Holiday Pitfalls

Now that Thanksgiving is over, most of us are thinking of the upcoming Christmas holiday (especially we teachers that get 16 days off!). However, this time of the year is generally bad for your health. Well, perhaps I should say that the choices we often make during these days are bad for our health, which, when coupled with certain naturally occurring conditions (like winter), make matters worse. There are a few things I think we should all keep in mind as the season of holiday parties and treats approaches.

First, let me start with a little philosophy. As a Catholic, I believe that life consists of both feasting and fasting. Christmas (which, as a Church holiday, begins on December 25th) is a time of feasting. Advent, which runs roughly four weeks before Christmas, is generally a time of restraint and simplicity, and in some traditions, fasting. So keep in mind as I share some of these ideas, that I most certainly believe in both fasting and feasting properly!

– The first pitfall to watch out for is gainig too much weight around the holidays. The average person gains 7 to 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This is really quite a lot of weight to pack on in such a short time, and stresses the body physically and mentally. We have compiled ways to lose and maintain weight that are applicable any time of the year, including the holidays.

– The second pitfall is holiday-related stress. Money, travel, family visits, etc, all create stress, and this is in addition to the daily stresses we encounter. Studies show one solution to stress is to simply smile. Using the facial muscles necessary for smiling tells the brain that it is happy. You may look crazy randomly smiling, but you’ll be happier.

– The third pitfall is winter depression. Winter is a rough time for a lot of people. Add holiday stress, and holiday eating to this, and many people are less than joyful around Christmas. One way to beat the winter blues is to get some sunlight. As simple as it sounds, it is true: sunlight triggers the brain to produce serotonin. Unlike Vitamin D, whose production requires sunlight to hit the skin during a limited range of months, simply looking in the direction of the sun with one’s eyes closed triggers serotonin production. This can even be done from the inside. In the winter, I make it a point to go to the window and soak in some sun during planning periods.

Crazy Vitamin D Deal From Swanson

Swanson Vitamins is currently running a buy one-get one deal on Vitamin D 2000 IU. Right now, the price is $6.39 for 500 capsules. That is right, for 500 capsules! I thought the normal deal, $6.39 for 250 capsules, was pretty good itself, but this is just amazing. 

I don’t know how long this deal will last, but I can tell you that I ordered 3 of them (for a total of 1500 capsules) yesterday. I should note that Swanson tends to be conservative on their estimates of expiration. From my observations, they seem to say their products expire 2 years from the date of manufacture. This seems too conservative to me.  Based on the expiration dates of other reputable companies, I have concluded you can effectively add 1.5 years (18 months) to Swanson’s expiration dates without worry of major potency loss. This means that taking full advantage of this sale (i.e. buying 1500 capsules) will safely last you for awhile!

PS – We have only updated this blog sporadically as of late. We hope to start posting regularly again, but alas, life happens!

10 Essential GIMP Plugins and Scripts

ducks and lake

The GIMP is a powerful open source (free) graphics editing software program. I use it frequently, since I can’t afford Photoshop and like the idea of open-source software. I have collected quite a few plugins and scripts over the years which make GIMP even more powerful. While the GIMP is not quite as powerful as Photoshop, plugins and scripts help take the GIMP closer to the professional level of Photoshop. Below I have listed 10 plug-ins and scripts, and collections of plugins and scripts, that make GIMP very powerful. These are the ones I use a lot and hope you enjoy. Obviously I have left out some, and may post on these later. I have linked to Windows versions if separate Windows versions exist, because I figure Linux users already know how to get the scripts and don’t need their hands held.

To install plugins on Windows, simply place the file or files (usually .exe) into the following folder:

c:Program FilesGimp-2.0libgimp2.0plug-ins

To install scripts on Windows, place the file or files (.scm) into the following folder:

c:Program FilesGimp-2.0sharegimp2.0scripts

Below are my favorites in no particular order:

1. Darla Purple Fringe – This script fixes purple fringing, an aberration in which some parts of  images have a purple outline. This is common on images shot on many digital cameras. This script helps fix the problem. I usually have to de-saturate blue to -80 to get the best result. Play around with the settings until you find what works.

2. GMIC for Gimp (Windows) – This plugin is a powerful collection of artistic, color, and other tools, which supercharges GIMP. Tools include soft focus, old photo, CMYK color mixer, fish-eye lens, additive noise, and many more!

3. Shadows and Highlights – This is a helpful script that allows you to lighten the areas that are too dark, and darken the areas that are too light. This is very useful in bringing out the details in regions of images that are too dark. However, it won’t “find” details that weren’t there to begin with; make sure you are taking photos that are properly exposed. The image above was enhanced using this script. The stumps on the far left of the image were practically black before I used the script.

4. Re-Focus – This is a nice plugin that sharpens an image in a smart way. I find that sometimes “Unsharp mask” (which comes with GIMP) gives good results, and other times, re-focus does a better job. Both, when used properly, sharpen an image without giving that over-sharpened look.

5. UFRaw – This is a program that runs separately from GIMP, but that is also integrated into GIMP. It allows processing of RAW files, before they are sent to the 8-bit GIMP editing environment. It is a nice program that allows for white balance correction, noise reduction, editing with curves, among other things. I wish it had a sharpening feature, but otherwise, I really like it.

6. FX-Foundry – This is a nice collection of scripts, which includes a lot of helpful tools. There are over 15 color tools alone, and many more in other categories. The one I use the most is “Contrast Overlay” which adjusts the contrast so that dark areas are brightened, and very bright areas are normalized. It also allows for the blurring of a layer, creating a nice “glow” to the image.

7. Technicolor 2 – I like the way this script turns a normal image into a more exciting one.  It makes an image look older and mysterious.

8. Eg Black and White – This script allows you to turn an image into black and white, and filter this based on color. UF Raw and GMIC also have tools for this, but this is a nice, easy-to-use, tool to do the job.

9. EXIF Viewer (Windows) – EXIF data is that information from the camera that tells you shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and a bunch of other information. GIMP doesn’t allow you to view this information without this plug-in.

10. Darla Blue-Sky Gradient – Sometimes the sky in a scenic image can be overexposed (losing detail because the area is too bright), which ruins an otherwise nice image. This script does a good job of fixing that, and making the sky blue (or whatever color you like) again. It does a nice job of knowing where the sky stops and the scenery begins.