A New York Minute: Central Park carousel

I am dropping a short series of snippets in to Youtube from our 2019 road trip vacation to New York, where among other things we went up the Empire State building, visited Lady Liberty, rode the NY subway, took in a Broadway show and met my friend from high school, that I had not seen in over 20 years, in Central Park.

Here’s the first New York Minute.
Enjoy, and if you like, comment. Subscribe. Like.

You know the deal.

Sometimes, it really isn’t the software.

For the last month my home computer has randomly frozen up. Everything seems to be working OK but the screens just go blank. Everything else was OK. I just couldn’t see anything. Very odd.

Browsing and basic daily use, no problem. I leave my machine on for days, even weeks at a time. This issue only happened when I asked the machine do something graphically intensive, like motion tracking drone footage or rendering 3D. I figured it may be a graphics card issue, probably drivers. Many times, I tweaked and tried again, recreating the same video sequences at least a dozen times and rebooting just as many.

Anyone that has spent time working with a customer service team over the phone to resolve issues is all too familiar with being told there is nothing wrong. Usually after several frustrating hours of checking the basics you already checked before calling them. I chose not to follow this path.

Being an old hand at computers, I didn’t worry, just persevered. In my head I blamed Windows, or Adobe software updates, and waited for bug fix and compatibility releases to come along. Many did. None resolved the issue.

I did notice that this only happened on the oldest of my machines – a fact I put down to this 8 year old machine starting to show its age. Like me.

Bite The Bullet

Today I decided enough was enough. Saving every five minutes was not proving practical, and reboots take time. A lot of time. I’ve been fighting this for too long. So I put my tech head on (I used to build and fix computers for money, ironically) and started going through error logs and troubleshooting and reboots and uninstalling drivers and… well, all the usual stuff. Everything an I.T. guy would normally do. After several head scratching hours I gave up. I could find no clear reason for this. Plan B.

Until I could figure this out I needed a machine I could rely on. I went downstairs to the living room and tried to reconfigure that machine as my main unit. For a couple practical reasons, that didn’t work. So, an hour later, I was back upstairs reconnecting monitors and cables.

I was quite… fraught, by now.

The Fix Is In

As I reconnected cables, one of the video connectors didn’t seem to sit properly. I thought a daughter board may have moved, which could cause the issue. I decided to check the graphics card was still properly seated on the motherboard. Sometimes thermal creep (it’s not a band, it’s a thing, look it up) causes things to move and weird things happen. I popped the side off the computer. And saw the two fans on the graphic card weren’t turning.

I had not noticed their silence, as these friction less fans had not made a noise in more than four years – my computer is almost completely silent. Puzzled, I blew them out with compressed air and started them turning with a flick. All good, they kept running. They weren’t seized.

Then I noticed a drooping cable had somehow come to rest on the dual fans, stopping them turning. A simple cause, with a simple fix: A cable tie. Another blast of compressed air, and I put the side back on.

I am pleased to report everything is working as it should. No further blank screens (yet). I recreated one of those test video sequences and piled on some extra effects just for good measure, and the system stayed stable. I was finally able to complete the project and export. Excellent.

Post Analysis

I believe the graphics card was intermittently overheating when tasked with heavy GPU processing, and like a good graphics card should, it turned itself off before it burned out. Hence, blank screens. This explains the intermittent issue. It happened only when working with graphics apps configured to exclusively use the GPU. And why the rest of the computer continued to chug along happily, even though the screens were blank. Only GPU graphics were affected. Well, those and my sanity.

I will spend tonight stress testing the card to see if it holds up, and whether any permanent damage has been done. Along the way I’m starting to clear the backlog of personal video projects I’ve put off due to this. So far, I’m three projects in and not a problem. Fingers crossed it stays that way.

Why is a self proclaimed tech guy confessing to not fixing this sooner?

Because I know many others go through similar issues, and those issues are often blamed on faulty software. First, I want those people to know: You are not alone. Computers are hard. I’ve been doing this for centuries, and was still caught out by what, in 20/20 hindsight, should have been obvious.

I also want you to know that sometimes it really isn’t the software. Those customer service teams may be right. Sometimes it really is an ID 10T issue.

Onward.

Central Park street performer jumps crowd

Hello 2020

January 1st 2020 was spent working through some of my photos from 2019. It brought smiles as I looked back at some amazing memories of the things we did.

Including the trip to New York. It was a whistle-stop tour. We did many things including visiting Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, Bubba Gump at Times Square, taking in a Broadway show, and much more. We also missed many things on our list, and for those will have to go back sometime.

One unplanned experience happened while walking through Central Park. A troupe of street performers appeared from nowhere and started breakdancing right in front of us. A crowd gathered. We found ourselves in the front row of a sizeable audience. They were very slick and very good at what they do, working the crowd, and treating us to quite a show.

As part of the show they leaped over a young boy from the audience, while flirting with his mother and making jokes. They had a good schtick, very entertaining. There was much laughter.

Ready…
Set…

Go!

The finale saw crowd participation as they pulled people into the centre of the circle and lined them up, ready to be barrel jumped by the smallest member of the team. At this point, they joked about his size and passed around their baseball caps for donations, saying it would cover the medical bills if this trick went wrong. A nice touch.

Setting up the shot

I did not want to miss this, especially as I threw $20 into the hat myself. Knowing what was coming I used the warm up time to set up for the shot I had in mind: A multiple exposure freezing the audience but showing the jumper in motion.

Putting the camera into high speed continuous mode I focused on the jumpees (go with it) and locked focus by dropping to manual. That stops the camera ‘helpfully’ trying to refocus when the button is pressed, and missing, because everything is moving so fast. It also stops the camera hunting focus for that split second when you press, which as any parent of an active child can confirm is more than enough to make the difference between getting a shot and missing a magic moment.

I set my aperture to give a sufficient depth of field to catch the main scene sharply while blurring the backround a little, to fix attention on the action and not the crowd. I set shutter speed low to freeze the crowd but blur the jumper, since nothing kills an action shot like freezing it totally.

I was ready. I waited.

The moment of truth

He starts his run. Hold breath, lock stance, aim, click and hold…
Seven shots per second. It took one second from leaving the ground to landing. Seven shots.

I nailed the launch, and the landing, perfectly. Credit to the jumper, he nailed them too. The jumpees didn’t get a single hair ruffled and all went home with smiles. No medical bills were incurred.

The audience cheered and applauded. We enjoyed this performance so much we let them keep the money. The troupe thanked everybody, picked up their gear and left, with a parting announcement they would be back in two hours. They make a pretty good living during the summer, it seems.

The crowd went on their way, as did we. Within two minutes it was just another empty park with random couples walking around with nothing to show that this had ever happened.

Except this.

Central Park street performer jumps over crowd
Click to open full screen in a new window

To say that this was not a scheduled shot, I’m pleased it came out so well. I was in tourist mode so only had tourist gear: One camera, one lens. No lights, flashes, or grip. I made it work. All those seven shots needed was a little post processing in Adobe Lightoom, then stacking and masking in Photoshop.

I love being able to do things like this. 🙂