Our musings about landscape photography, outdoor travel, hiking, gear, technology, politics, and other topics we find interesting
This is an update to my previous post, based upon changes in the market and the products. I removed Malwarebytes v2 and CryptoPrevent v8. I added Microsoft Bitlocker drive encryption and OpenDNS Umbrella Prosumer. I also added some additional Microsoft Windows 10 hardening actions.
There are now 8 Actions to secure a Windows 10 PC from malware, up from 6. These 8 Actions will make a Windows 10 PC almost unhackable.
1. Browser (Isolation) Sandbox. A browser sandbox, properly configured, prevents malware from downloading from your browser to your PC. The best option for home users, by far, is paid Sandboxie. Sandboxie needs to patch about one vulnerability per year, compared to hundreds of vulnerabilities per year for Firefox, Chrome, IE11, and Microsoft Edge browsers. Configure Sandboxie to force Chrome and IE11 to run inside of Sandboxie. $75 for 5 lifetime Sandboxie licenses
Good Alternatives: Authentic8 Silo ($10/month/PC)
Avoid: Most of the rest. Especially avoid Comodo
Side Note: I used to use the enterprise version of Sandboxie, which is X by Invincea, and was impressed by that. X by Invincea is no longer available to small business users, however. Another excellent enterprise (-only) product is Bromium Endpoint Protection
2. Antivirus (AV). I recommend Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus. It tests comparably to the best AVs tested by AV-Test, AV-Comparatives, MRG Effitas, PC Magazine, and NSS Labs. However, it easily has the lowest (best) attack surface of any consumer AV, thus making it my AV of choice over other good performers. Webroot is free if you have an Ally Bank savings account
Avoid: Most of the rest. Especially avoid any Chinese, Russian, or Eastern European AV, which may include hostile government backdoor trojans
Interesting Options Not Yet Tried: Cylance Protect (managed, which means the provider configures it). $60/year/PC
Good Alternative: Zemana AntiMalware
Good Alternatives: Windows Software Restriction Policy (free; Windows 10 Pro only; complex to set-up). I no longer use CryptoPrevent for some PCs because it has proven to be not that effective
Avoid: VoodooShield (too much interaction required), and most of the rest
5. Operating System Hardening (free). Microsoft Windows has a lot of native programs, settings, and functions that the average home user does not use nor need, and that make Windows (more) insecure. I turn most of these off or disable them. Hardening is a key way to improve email security if you use Microsoft Outlook. Key hardening items:
Accounts: Work from a Standard User account. Use an Administrator account only for software installations and updates. Set User Account Control to "Always Notify"
Microsoft Office: ActiveX Settings: Disable all controls w/o notification. Macros: Disable with notification. Block RTF files
Group Policy Objects (GPO): Disable AutoPlay/AutoRun, Desktop Gadgets, 16-Bit Apps, Application Compatibility Engine, Remote Desktop Connections, LLMNR, Remote Shell Access. Turn off Live Tiles. Force GPO Refresh
GPO can be edited in Windows 10 Pro, but not in Windows 10 Home
Windows Registry: Disable Windows Script Host, WPad (partial), Elevation for Unsigned Executables. Mitigate DLL Hijacking. Block Untrusted Fonts. Outlook: Block 600 file extensions, Force OST Path, Hide OLE Objects
Computer Properties: Enable DEP
Windows Features: Disable Powershell 2.0 and SMB v1
Windows Firewall: Block Regsvr32.dll outbound
Network Adapters: Disable all services except IPv4
DNS Setting: Set to OpenDNS - 184.108.40.206, 220.127.116.11 for the PC's LAN and WLAN adapters
Chronically Vulnerable Programs: Uninstall / never install Skype, Adobe Reader, Java, any Java-based programs, Microsoft Silverlight, and any Bittorrent clients. If you don't really need it, don't install it
PDF Management: Force PDF files to open in Chrome, and force Chrome to run inside of Sandboxie
Other Hardening Steps: We have many additional hardening changes, but the ones outlined should be pretty good for most home users
6. Encryption. Use Microsoft Bitlocker (free) to encrypt all data drives
7. DNS Security. Use OpenDNS Umbrella Prosumer ($20 per year / 3 devices) to encrypt and enforce DNS. This is primarily used for travel computers, to prevent Man-in-the-Middle attacks from compromised wi-fi hotspots
8. Patching. Patch (update) all programs once per month
However, these eight actions, in combination, make it almost impossible for your PC to be hacked or to be infected.
I’ll cover home network (firewall and router) and Internet of Things (IOT) security in a future post.
PS: Don't buy Lenovo or other Chinese company PCs. Buy Dell (preferred) or HP, for which the Chinese government is less likely to be able to install malware at the factory. In case you've not figured this out, the Chinese are not our friends. They are our enemies
I used Topaz Simplify to create a few "paintings" from the Purcell Mountains aerial photos. The only slider used was "Simplify Size", which was set to 0.25 to 0.40, depending on the photo. To see more paintings from the Purcell Mountains aerial photos, go to our Purcell Mountains - British Columbia gallery, and scroll to near the end.
I've been slowly processing the open-window aerial photography tour photos of the Purcell Mountains. These were hand-held on a Nikon D800E (no stabilization), shot at ISO 1600 (moderate noise), 1/2000 second shutter speed. Almost all of them are quite sharp. 1/2000 seems to be my workhorse shutter speed for handheld aerials. Most were underexposed by 1-2 stops, which was fixed in post-processing. These settings were a trade-off between sharpness (shutter speed), noise (ISO), and exposure. I preferred to underexpose while getting a sharp photo with manageable noise.
I used DxO Optics Pro's Prime Noise reduction algorithm, which is head and shoulders above all the other noise reduction algorithms I've used. Settings (in the Advanced Menu) were Luminance = 0, Chrominance = 10 or 20 (10% or 20% of of maximum).
Here are some of the latest processed photos. Great flight. See more in our Purcell Mountains - British Columbia Gallery.
I cut short my 2017 Canadian Rockies expedition due to the wildfires and the smoke, and headed home on August 4. I had experienced six straight days of moderate to heavy smoke. See my previous post. The scores of British Columbia wildfires were not abating. The weather forecast indicated at least 8-9 days of heat and sun before any significant rains that might wash the smoke out of the air. I drove ~300 miles north to south; the entire drive was smoky. There seemed to be no place to go. Would some days be clear until my planned return on Aug 24? Probably. But my best guess was one quarter or fewer of the days. Meanwhile, my costs to stay in the Canadian Rockies mounted because I was not backpacking. And, I would have simply expended unnecessary energy and gasoline driving around. I decided that August probably was not going to be a good month to do photography in the Canadian Rockies.
On the positive side, I did get to do a very scenic open-window aerial photography flight of the Purcell Mountains, during which I took 700 frames. I also did two days day-hiking in Kananaskis Country and a night of astrophotography; both were gorgeous. In all, I took 1100 frames.
It's a very bad wildfire season. I am concerned for Canada, for the world, and for mankind.
Well, yesterday was supposed to be the start of my 4-night Brazeau (Jasper NP) backpacking trip. I prepared my backpack, drove to the trailhead, and decided not to go. After all the planning and prep I did for this trip, that decision did not come lightly. Simple reason: the smoke in the air. It was moderately smoky at the trailhead, and Jasper had been moderately to heavily smoky for the previous 3 days. I could "clearly" see the haze obscuring trees only 1/4 mile away. Mountains ~3 miles away showed no color, just shadows.
Yes, I could have done the backpacking trip. But for me, carrying a 38 lb (12 lb camera gear) backpack for 50 miles up and down a few thousand feet is worth it only if I have a good chance of coming back with spectacular photos where the beauty of the landscape can be clearly seen. I'll shoot in foggy or rainy weather, but smoke obscures details and color, the two things I value most in the photos that I take. August 1 was the only day I could start the Brazeau: the backcountry campground permits sell out months in advance. I couldn't just wait a day to see if it would get clear. It was go or no go.
It is August 2. I've not shot any photos since the night of July 28, so 5 days down-time and counting. The forecast for the next two weeks is for mostly sunny weather and for very little (almost no) rain. I would normally love such a forecast. But little rain means low probability that the smoke will be washed from the air. Unless the wind changes from westerly to northerly, I expect the smoke to continue to blow in from wildfires west of the park. The high heat and dry conditions means that new wildfires are likely. From time to time the smoke clears somewhat to a light haze for 1-3 hours, but it is impossible to predict, and it has been rare. British Columbia has air quality advisories out for most of the province. This morning my car was coated in soot.
Banff National Park called me today to tell me that they cancelled the permit for my 2nd backpacking trip, to Egypt Lake, due to the Verdant Creek wildfire which is only a few miles away from Egypt Lake. I probably would not have gone on that one anyhow due to the smoke, but now it is fait accompli. 0 for 2. The road back into the parks from Radium Hot Springs, my current location, is now closed due to that wildfire.
I pray for the people and the environment of British Columbia who are struggling with this record wildfire season.
To see what this area is like when it is clear, here are three more photos from my aerial photography flight over the Purcell Mountains. Seems I was lucky to have a clear day when I did the flight on July 25.
As I drove toward Jasper town in Jasper National Park yesterday morning, my heart sank. About 20-25% of the trees visible from the road are brown / copper in color, and they are dead or dying. It was not like this at all on that road when Kathy and I visited Jasper NP in 2014. Banff and Kananaskis are mostly unaffected....right now. And this is going to get worse, I think. Much worse. As Jasper National Park goes, so goes mankind? Unfortunately, probably "yes", unless we act quickly, and it might already be too late.
The culprit is the the mountain pine beetle, which, due to warmer temperatures (global warming, it seems, caused by mankind), is running rampant in the Rocky Mountains in the USA and in Canada. It only took a year or two for the pine beetles to kill off 20-25% of the trees in Jasper. What suppresses the pine beetle is extended winter temperatures of -40 F. That is no longer occurring in the Rocky Mountains, and the ugly results have been tree browning, die-off, wildfires, and deforestation. The pine beetle is estimated to have already killed 50% of lodgepole pines in the province of British Columbia. No one has yet been able to effectively control the pine beetle, despite some claims to the contrary. Those dead trees are infernos waiting to happen, and those dead trees no longer scrub the air of the immense amount of CO2 that humans are pumping into the air. Those dead trees are contributing to a record wildfire season in British Columbia, which has resulted in smoke in Banff and Jasper at a high level for an extended period. That the dead trees and the wildfire smoke are impacting, and now, probably will somewhat ruin, my landscape photography expedition is just a small "inconvenience" in the greater scheme of things. Those trees, and that awe-inspiring beauty, will not recover within my lifetime. The bigger issue, however, is what this means for mankind. This is, in my lay opinion (albeit a Ph.D in Chemical Engineering), an ecological disaster.
As I type this blog post from Jasper town, I can barely see a ridge line about a mile away due to the smoke, and the sky has an eerie red hue mid-day.
The sad reality, and I've believed this for some time, is that the Earth cannot support, sustainably over millenia (thousands of years), the current world population of 7.5 billion people at anything close to the current standard of living. Due to CO2 warming, some areas of the Earth are hitting daytime high temperatures of 134 F. That number is going to move higher. Plants cannot live sustainably in such an environment, and we need plants for humans to be able to live. Yes, some might call me a Malthusian, but I will be proven right. Only morons and fools take the other side of this argument. We've been "lucky" as a species so far. My guess, at maximum, is that the Earth can support about 500 Million (M) to maybe 1 billion (B) people, at the current standard of living (some poor, some rich), over many millenia, and only if we are smart about it. What does this mean for the future? It is not bright.
* With 100 M people in the world, people could be free. With 500 M, 1 B, or 7.5 B people, people can no longer be free....not if we want to persist as a species. With this many people on the planet, people cannot be free to have all the children that they want. They cannot be free to drive gasoline-powered cars when and where they wish. They cannot be free to fly to work and to places like Jasper National Park whenever they wish
* The deforestation and warming will eventually (soon?) cause the world's crops to crash. People will starve, and nations will likely go to war to attempt (in vain) to feed their people, and so further harming, or even destroying, what is left of the environment
* To get control of population growth and out-of-control resource consumption, there may be an attempt to form one world government. It's probably the only way to get our current (politically warring) nations to cooperate on survival of the species. Depopulation, population control, and rationing, and perhaps other, more radical actions, will ensue.
Why has it gotten to the point where we now need to save the planet and humanity? What is it about us as a species that led to this? Are we truly any different from a virus or a pine beetle that reproduces until it consumes its food supply (the Earth's environment, in mankind's case)? So far, the record says "no". Will enough people agree to change soon enough? History suggests "no".. I look askance on our Congress, and our political parties, and left-wing political agendas poorly disguised as news (e.g. CNN, Washington Post, Politico,....all of them trash), and Earth's nations, warring (politically) with each other over power and resources. I look askance on the Chinese and the Russians and their plans for world domination and for war. Meanwhile, the world slowly cooks. Perhaps mankind, in aggregate, is not deserving.
Saving the planet and mankind is going to mean very tough choices for everyone.
Food for thought for me. Food for thought for you. What will you do? Will you change? Fast enough?
I decided to forego lodging and tenting the night of July 28 to do astrophotography while transitioning from Kananaskis Country to Jasper town in Jasper National Park. The main reason was that the moon was in the waxing crescent phase, which means that with each successive day for the next 10 or so days, the moon will be getting brighter and will last longer in the night-time sky. Since I prefer no moon (aka "new moon"), it was time.
I was concerned about the smoke (from wildfires elsewhere in British Columbia) in Banff and Jasper national parks: would it impact my astrophotography? The answer was "not really" because although the smoke was and is thick enough to create a very strong haze during the day, it was not thick enough to scatter light that noticeably at night.
I stayed up most of the night. Although sunset was at 9:45 pm and sunrise was at 6:10 am, it did not really get "dark" until about 11 pm, and I noticed light in the sky (which made the Milky Way much less distinct) as early as 4 am. By 4 am, even with two extra large coffees, I was knackere,d and so pulled into a nearby campground to take a nap.
It was a truly beautiful night. The Milky Way was very distinct to the "naked eye". I shot the Bow Glacier, Peyto Lake, Athabasca Glacier, and other points of interest between Bow Lake and the Athabasca Glacier area. I processed a few photos. The best compositions will be panoramas that require stitching...I probably won't process those until 2018 or later.
The last one is the Athabasca Glacier located at near the boundary of Banff and Jasper National Parks.
Hope you like them
I spent 2 1/2 days in Kananaskis Country. I think it is prettier and more accessible than Banff National Park. The trail to Rae Lake was "The Sound of Music" in terms of beauty (That comparison probably dated me. Ouch). I also did the trail to Rawson Lake. And while Banff was shrouded in smoke from nearby wildfires, I was fortunate that the Kananaskis area was mostly smoke-free. Kananaskis is gorgeous, and in the right light, a sort of electric green.
It was uncharacteristically hot: highs in the mid-80s. That meant I did only one hike a day, early in the morning. I can climb 2000' when it is 85 F, but I am really a cold-weather hiker, and these days I often pass on large climbs in hot weather. Below are two photos that I processed, both from the trail to Rae Lake.
Hope you like them.
Day 1 of my 2017 Canadian Rockies tour started off very well: I did a 2-hour open-window aerial photography tour with Kootenay Lake Aviation in Nelson, BC. We flew over the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy Provincial Park and Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park. There were two visible forest fires, but luckily the smoke was not widely dispersing, so we were able to go around the fires. I shot 700 frames in all, albeit many with a lot of overlap. I assessed about 10 photos: all were sharp. Looks like a good flight. Extraordinarily spectacular scenery.
My Airbnb host for the first two nights (Bram in Windermere, BC) kindly let me know of a bald eagle nest 1/2 mile from his house. I drove over to take a look, and just as I pulled up, "Mom and Dad" flew in with food for the eaglets, dropped it off, had a minor "disagreement", and then left in search of more food. Pretty cool.
I developed two photso from the flight, just as samples:
Hope you like them.
Family caregivers can be unsung heroes. Their extraordinary labors and sacrifices are known to only themselves and to a few close family members. I’d like to recognize a truly extraordinary caregiver: my sister, Terry Heath.
Terry has been a nurse by profession for about 30 years. She used to be an emergency room nurse, and now is a Case Manager at a hospital in Jackson, MI. She also has, for more than a decade, labored long and hard to care for and to keep my Grandmother (who passed this year in her 90's) and my Mother alive.
She has visited, assessed symptoms and sicknesses, arranged for meds, and orchestrated scores of doctor visits and hospital runs. She has fiercely advocated for family members with hospitals, doctors, nurses, and insurance, nursing, and hospice companies. She has stayed up all night, lost countless hours of sleep, given tough love to, and held the hands of our ill family members to try to comfort them. Not 5 times, nor 10 times, nor 50 times, but literally, hundreds of times over the past decade and more. Hundreds. Of. Times. Imagine that. This year, in addition to working a full-time job as a Case Manager, she has labored almost full-time in a 2nd, unpaid job to help care for my Mother who is battling stage 4 cancer. She has made extraordinary sacrifices.
Terry exemplifies all that is best about the nursing profession.
Terry – You are no longer unsung. The word is out. You are Truly Extraordinary. For all that you have done for our parents and grandparents, thank you.
I’m looking forward to a month long Canadian Rockies landscape photography “expedition”, which I have been planning since December, and doing hill-training since April.
The basic itinerary:
For the first time, prior to one of these expeditions, I’ve done hill training. I've done up to 2300’, 6.5 miles with a 33 lb backpack in as little as 3 hours. My biggest day should be 2800’, 13 miles, with a 35 lb backpack. Now that I am in my mid-50s, my legs were telling I could not just “get up and go” as I have done in the past. I tend to do photography extensively on the trail, so 13 miles can take 9-12 hours with all the stop-and-go.
I did a similar Canadian Rockies expedition in 2014, with Kathy joining me for part of that trip. This time will simply be different locations, different trails.
I have done Berg Lake before, but am going back because on my first trip, it rained most of the time and the cloud ceiling was low. I am hoping for better weather this time.
I will be on my own the entire time. There are risks, as there always are. Chief risks on my mind are falling, wildfires, lightning strikes, drowning, and grizzlies. I’ll do my best to manage them. Last year in Denali was the first year I started taking bear spray and a Delorme emergency personal locator beacon. I will be doing so again on this trip. These trips do wear me down physically. I'll do as much as I can.
I'm ratcheting down my solo backpacking no-go and bug-out criteria: If there are nearby wildfires or smoke from distant wildfires (shuts down my photography), or forecasted lightning storms or high rains for any given backpacking trip, I won't go or I will bug-out.
Right now, the Egypt Lake backcountry is closed due to a nearby wildfire. It looks to be a challenging summer for landscape photography due to the many British Columbia wildfires.
If all goes well, I hope to return with hundreds of beautiful photos of Canada’s magnificent landscapes.
Wish me Godspeed.
For our photography jaunt last spring in Utah, we did astrophotography in various locations of Capitol Reef National Park. This was our final image of of the final night, from a location near the entrance to Capitol Gorge. It is a 22-frame, 254 megapixel stitch from a 35mm lens.
A great way to end an outstanding trip. Hope you like it.
Jeff and Kathy
My parents and my sister smoked almost all of their lives. I never smoked. My Father passed away from the complications of lung cancer. My Mother is now battling her own lung cancer. I will tell you this: Smoking is a hell of a thing.
This is just a small glimpse of what smoking has done to me, and I never smoked.
Smoking is legal because this is a free country. Tell me this: How free was I to not have to go through this? I don't feel free. When someone smokes for themself, they are not the only person who pays a steep price.
Smoking. Smoking has plagued me for 55 years. Smoking is not a hell of a thing. Smoking is Hell.
If you smoke, and if there is anybody in this world that you love: a son, a daughter, a husband, a wife, a brother or a sister, a parent….then please, stop smoking…..if not for you, then for them. Nobody should have to go through this.
I like this photo because it shows the sky transition between morning and night. There is the beginning of a sunrise on the left, and there is the still-visible Milky Way on the right. Kathy and I shared this truly gorgeous morning.
Last year's trip to Utah was one of our best astrophotography shoots to date. On that 2-week trip, Kathy and I spent 3-4 nights, dusk until dawn, walking around the desert and shooting the stars and the Milky Way in Arches, Zion, and Capitol Reef National Parks.
This is one of my favorite photos from that trip. The Milky Way was rising, and as we looked for night-time compositions, I was able to find a spot where the Milky Way appeared to flow into Skyline Arch. This photo is a composite of 25 stitched photos from a 35mm lens, so it shows a huge amount of sky and a lateral ground distance of probably more than a mile. The visible Milky Way distance in the shot is probably about 10,000 light-years, give or take. The stars at the top of the photo were approximately straight up.
Hope you like it