I have made some updates to the http://eurotravel.photos site where I put up the travel reports and photos. Check it out!

At some point, you want more

At some point, you just want more. For the last few years, I have been riding with an Autocom intercom system hooked up to a Kenwood PMR radio for bike2bike communications. I don’t really needed the intercom part, but it was the only way to connect my Garmin Zumo and a bike2bike PMR radio together so I could hear both.

The Autocom Super Pro AVI did well. Sound quality was nothing exceptional, and ok, but it all worked well. I killed one, because the Autocom boxes are not waterproof (these things are designed for motorcycles and they are not waterproof? What where you thinking Autocome??) I replaced it with a second hand unit of the same type and continued using it happily for the next few years.

But at some point you want more. More space underneath the saddle, as modern bikes get less and less space for stuff under the seat and it is always a struggle to find a place for these things. And then it is a struggle to get to the stuff if you need to. Better reception and clarity of speech. Better music quality.

So when I found a shop (www.partsonweb.nl) that offered the excellent Baehr Capo 3, new in box, for just 299 euro, I jumped on it. Baehr equipment is good, but it is also pricy. The Capo 3 system normally costs 639 euro, so this was a more than excellent deal. Don’t worry, they are fresh out and don’t sell it anymore. Happy

The Baehr system is waterproof, so no more worries something is getting wet and your intercom is getting fried. It’s only one small box, with the PMR radio integrated into the device which makes it a lot easier to stow away somewhere on the bike unlike having an intercom unit and a separate PMR radio. The sound quality is much clearer than the Autocom, it really is a step up. It’s more like putting up your headphones. The PTT button doesn’t just let you talk, but it also allow you to change the transmitter channel and change the volume up or down. And it lets you switch OFF the bike2bike transmitter if you don’t use it. This is great. The only thing I have not been able to test so far is the bike2bike reception and clarity, but so far it has ticked all the boxes.

I’ll keep you posted with updates as I get to use it more.

Introducing: European Travel Photos

I am launching a new website called European Travel Photos. I wanted to create a better means to display my photos from all over Europe and show them full screen on your computer. You can turn off the menu system and just watch the photos slideshows full screen, or you can click the info button and read about the trip. It replaces the travel reports section previously on here. It is not finished and not all content is there yet, but I like where it is going. I hope you will too.

You can find the new site in the menu to the right, or by clicking this link.

ESA Rebuild: Initial impressions

On several forums there has been some discussion in the past about ESA, alternative ESA systems etc. Contrary to popular belief, our ESA shocks can be rebuild. And to already spur controversy in sentence 3, despite what some believe, these shocks do not suck and they are not bad quality parts. They are however setup to BMW specifications, which does not necessarily corresponds with the best setup.

My K is from 2007 and by now it has more than 50,000 miles on the clock (most of which are mine) and my shocks were getting tired. Not feeling like spending $2500 per shock to replace them, and not wanting to give up ESA either, I did some investigating on rebuilding my ESA shocks.

As it turns out, about an hour from where I live there is a little company called [URL="http://www.jjsuspension.nl"]JJ Suspension[/URL] that rebuilds these shocks. The guy who is running this little suspension shop is actually an ex-WP engineer who was part of the original ESA design team. After WP was bought by KTM and subsequently moved to Austria, he quit and started his own company.

Anyway, first week of January I removed both shocks and drove over to drop them off. A week and a half later, I got the call to pick them up again. Price: 459 euro for both shocks combined, full rebuild, all wearable internals replaced, new shim stacks for a proper setup and of course fresh oil and a new filling of nitrogen. For the last btw, he has build his own tools so he can fill the shocks with nitrogen without needing to uglify the shocks by welding things to the body.

Next step was to put everything back together again and get the bike ready. Let me tell you, BMW does not think up the most user-friendly solutions. I think they do it on purpose.

Today I got a chance to ride the bike for a short while, despite near freezing temperatures. The change is quite apparent. The old Cadillac mode (with free motion sickness), ie 'Comfort' mode does not exist anymore. It is replaced by a setting that is just above the original 'Normal' mode. An excellent and usable setting now.

On the other hand of the spectrum, the 'Sport' mode is much firmer and gives clear feedback from the wheels. At the same time, it does not get harsh or uncomfortable like the original 'Sport' mode and the damper doesn't hydro-lock on you if the roads isn't perfectly smooth like the original makes you feel.

The adjustment range has become smaller, but ultimately significantly more usable. They now feel like proper shocks with a proper setup. As they should have been from the start.

I have only been able to do about 50 miles and mostly highway at that, so this is a very limited first impression, but so far I like what I am feeling. These will hold out a few more miles.

Scott Kelby’s Adobe Photoshop for Lightroom Users, a reader review

Just a couple of days after I saw the introduction from Scott Kelby about his new book, ‘Adobe Photoshop for Lightroom Users’, I got the ebook version. There was no stock yet on the paper version, and I didn’t feel like waiting for the shipment anyway. Happy

But let me start off with a little bit of background history.

Back in the day, me and all of my friends had Adobe Photoshop on their computers. Not that we could afford to pay for that software, nor did we have any clue about how to use it. But since all the pro’s used it, it was mandatory to have in case you needed to edit an image, right? It didn’t matter that the only thing we understood was the crop tool and the saturation slider.

Today, some things have changed dramatically and some things haven’t changed a bit. I appreciate the hard work software developers put in to create amazing software, so every piece of software on my computers is properly licensed and paid for. However, Adobe Photoshop is still intimidating, probably even more so than it was more than a decade ago. It has so many options and possibilities that it is virtually impossible to learn how to use it properly and effectively without some sort of training and education.

When I started with digital photography, I didn’t like post-processing. I used to say: I didn’t want to develop and print my negatives myself, so why would I want to do exactly that in digital? When I got my first dSLR, a Nikon D70, I quickly found that shooting jpeg cost me a lot of detail. Particularly in the shadow areas, whereas if I shot RAW I could hold on to those details even after I converted them to jpeg. But, since I didn’t like post-processing, that’s all I did: try to set up the camera to produce the look I wanted, shoot RAW and convert 1-to-1 to jpeg and be done with it.

Of course this position was not maintainable, as when you start shooting better images, you also start wanting to get them to look the best when you show them to others. However, while I might have been warming up to the idea of post-processing, I still didn't want to spend exuberant amounts of time processing my images. So when Adobe came with their Lightroom software, I loved it. It let me process my images quickly and intuitively. And each version was better than the previous, letting me do more things quick and easy. Currently, we’re at version 5.3 and I am loving it.

But, as intuitive as it may seem, to get the most out of it, you really need some instruction. I joined kelbytraining.com and NAPP (now combined into one as kelbyone.com, highly recommended), and my Lightroom and processing skills have jumped more in the last year than in several prior years combined. Knowledge is a double-edged sword though: the more you learn, the more you see that you still want to learn. One of the things I found out when watching countless training videos on kelbyone.com is that to really take my post-processing skills to the next level, I needed Adobe Photoshop. Eek! Photoshop is expensive, like really expensive. Like $700 expensive. As an amateur and hobbyist there is no way I can justify spending $700 on a software license I don't use on a very regular basis. As in daily. I looked at alternatives, but they’re not quite the same, and worse, just about all training and tutorials online assume Adobe Photoshop. Then, when I had the chance to join the Adobe Creative Cloud for Photographers @ just $9.99/mo for Photoshop and Lightroom, I jumped on it. $700 may be a bit much in one go, but I certainly can skip two lattes each month to pay for this.

But still, Adobe Photoshop is intimidating. It is so powerful and can do so many different things, how are you going to filter out just the stuff you really cannot do in Lightroom?

This is where Scott Kelby’s book comes in. It is not a huge bible trying to tell you everything there is to know about Photoshop. It doesn’t dazzle you with all the stuff it can do, but you probably will never use. It is just about the things you cannot do in Lightroom, or which are just plain easier to do in Photoshop. This is just such a brilliant idea, I have no idea why it took until December 2013 for someone to publish a book about it.

If you are a member of kelbyone.com or have seen some of Scott’s free training videos from the Kelby Media Group on YouTube, you know Scott doesn’t take himself all too seriously. He’s funny and relaxed and his writing style in this book is exactly the same. Do not let this fool you though. If there is anything he does take seriously, it is his craft and desire to transfer his Photoshop knowledge onto others.

The book is set up very logically. He starts with some of the Photoshop basics that you just need to know to be able to use the program effectively. Things like an explanation of the UI, basic editing features like cloning and patching, transformations, layers (very important) and adjustment layers & filters.

Then he moves on to how you get your images from Lightroom into Photoshop. If you already have a basic understanding of how Photoshop works, then you could skip these first two chapters. Then again, most users buying this book will probably do go going through these chapters regardless of what they think they may know.

In the third chapter, the real stuff is happening. He starts off with smart objects and then goes into how you can stich photos together into a panorama or merge them into an HDR photo. Stitching panos in Photoshop is just too easy to bother with other programs. HDR can be done in a million ways, but they are not exclusive for each other and knowing how to properly do HDR is useful even if you are used to using something like Photomatix. Why? Because Photoshop is pretty amazing lining up the images properly and removing ghosts and it can save the resulting file as a 32b HDR file that you can then tone map in Photomatix if you want. Regardless, more options means more flexibility.

The fourth chapter focusses entirely on portrait retouching. I personally don't do that many portraits, but it is just amazing what you can do and how you can polish 10 years from someones face without it looking like it has been photoshopped.

Chapter five is all about compositing. If you want to be creative with your images or combine/remove features from multiple images into one final one, you need to know about compositing. There are books a mile thick on compositing, and this is not that. This is photography stuff, like removing the background from a subject. Or removing distractions by blending multiple exposures. It’s the more basic compositing you would do as a photographer.

In chapter six, the focus is on adding special effects using filters or text, or changing parts of the image.

Chapter seven is about sharpening and problems like distortion.

The last chapter, eight, is kind of a bonus chapter in which he describes a load of things that you may think you need Photoshop for, but that you can actually do inside of Lightroom.

It really is a great book for people getting into Adobe Photoshop fresh, particularly if they are already using Lightroom. One of the really great features of this book is that all images you see in the book, Scott has made available online for you to work with. So not only can you recreate the results you see in the book if follow the book step by step, but also it allows you to change the sliders and see how that changes the result from the one you see in the book. This is such an important feature and I am so glad he did this. You can do everything you want on your own images but if you don't have a known baseline to which you can compare your own attempts with, it just makes it so much harder to understand what specific tools and adjustments do. But now, you can recreate the result form the book and then start playing with it and it’s like a lightbulb going on in your head.

This book does not pretend to be the be all, end all book about Adobe Photoshop. But it is a great way to learn the basics and get out of the comfortable shoe that is called Lightroom and take a step into a brand new world of Photoshop creativity. The results in your photos will be visible immediately, but at the same time it will probably plant a little seed that makes go and want to learn more and more about Photoshop. I know it did for me.

If you have made it this far, I hope this has helped you a little bit. Thanks for reading.