Saturday, April 26, 2014

Announcing a Weekly Series: Favorite Images from my Career and the Stories Behind Them

Hi folks:

Thanks to all of you who have been following my blog posts here at
As of today, Saturday evening, April 26, 2014, this blog has accumulated 64,500 hits.  I'm impressed that there have been so many readers of my blog posts, especially considering that I have not made much effort so far to advertise the blog (hey, I am still new to all this social media stuff). 

Starting this week, I hope to start posting my favorite photographs from my career.  I will announce new posts of photographs on my Facebook "Norbert Wu Productions" page which can be found at:

I invite readers to post questions here or on my Facebook page.  I will strive to answer most if not all questions, and I hope that the discussions will cover photography techniques, locations, business issues, and philosophy.   Once or twice a year, I hope to informally offer the series of images as a screensaver for a small fee.  

Here's the first in this series.  I've been thinking about doing this series for a while, but an email I received today got me thinking that I should start this today.  Here's the email: 

      Dear Norbert
I live in Australia and I enjoy seeing the daily Bing homepage photo and today I saw your amazing photo of fluorescing coral at Palau - it's a stunning shot with beautiful colours.


Thanks Barry!  I always welcome kind words on my work like this.  
Microsoft's search page, found at, features outstanding photographs each day.  They featured my image of flourescing corals today, April 26.  Unfortunately, by the time most of you see this post, it will be the next day.  You can see an archive of images at this website:

 Fluorescing coral off the coast of Palau (© Norbert Wu)


I've been licensing images to Microsoft since the 1990s when Encarta was put out as a CD-ROM.  Am I dating myself?

This image was taken on 35mm film.  This image was taken with ambient light, with the camera on a tripod (or I may have held it very steadily, using a wide aperture and slow shutter speed).  I only used ambient light in order to show the fluorescence of this coral.  The blue of the image is due to the fact that nearly all red and yellow colors have been removed from sunlight at 80 feet, the depth that this image was taken.

I attach a photograph of this same coral head, but in this image, underwater flash units supplied the light.  The colors in the attached image are "realistic"; these are the colors you'd see if you brought the coral up to the surface and viewed it in sunlight.  The fluorescence is there, but the strobe light overpowers it so you don't see it.

Bing has a very good write-up about flourescence.  Here's what the US site had:

At 80 feet below the surface of the Pacific, in the reefs off the coast of Palau, some of the coral fluoresces in what little natural light reaches it. The coral absorbs light of one wavelength—which we perceive as a given color—and emits the light as a new color.

Scientists still understand very little about the function of fluorescence among corals.  Theories range from suggestions that it’s a defense mechanism against predators to a form of sunscreen to guard against ultraviolet rays.

Palau, a chain of islands in Micronesia, has some of the world’s best snorkeling and scuba opportunities for swimmers interested in exploring life on the reef. During the past decade, the government and citizens of Palau have made major strides in helping to preserve the coral habitat off the shores of the islands. Not only are the reefs a source of tourism, they’re the foundation of the broader ecosystem, sustaining daily life for the islands’ residents. 

Next week: another image, one of my favorites (and a favorite of my good friend and "angel" Emily Seifert, who happens to be the  wife of awesome underwater photographer Douglas Seifert), of orcas in Antarctica.  There's a funny story about that image!  

Reducing Size of PDF Files

I often end up, by "printing" web pages to PDF files (which you can do with Macs easily, and with Windows machines fairly easily also), with large PDF files that are too large to email.  I try not to send any files over email that are larger than 3 Mb in size or so.  This is because some email servers will filter out and refuse to deliver large attachments; and I've had one friend complain vehemently about people sending him large attachments and thereby tying up his phone line for hours.  Yes, he was still on dialup, and yes, he did not know that most decent email programs like Thunderbird or Entourage have a setting so that emails over a user-specified size would only be partially downloaded.  For instance, if I am traveling and don't want to download large emails on my MacBook, I just set my Thunderbird email program (which is awesome) to not download emails over 100Kb in size.  I can later download those large emails when I am at home or at a wifi spot where I have a fast internet speed and am not being charge for data usage. 

Back to the point of this article -- I used to use Adobe's expensive Acrobat Professional program to reduce the size of my PDF files.  There is a "PDF Optimizer" under the Advanced menu pulldown menu that sometimes does a pretty good job of reducing the file size of PDF files.  However, recently it seems that this tool does a worse and worse job.  Sometimes, I'd use this tool and the resulting file would be even LARGER than the original! 

I looked online, and voila -- there was a great solution.  I only wish that I  had known about this earlier.  The resulting PDF files are indeed smaller, and they are much sharper than files compressed using Adobe's Optimizer in Acrobat Professional. 

Here's what I found:

I found this web page:

Basically, you open your PDF file in Mac's Preview, NOT Adobe Acrobat. 
Then,you do a “Save As…” where you select the “Reduce File Size” Quartz filter. 

I did this, but the article above describes an even better method.

  1. Download and unzip Reduce File Size (75%).  Note that the “75%” relates to settings in the filter, not the amount of reduction you’ll get by using it.
  2. Drop the unzipped .qfilter file into ~/Library/Filters in Leopard/Snow Leopard or /Library/PDF Services in Lion.  (Apparently no ~ in Lion.)  Note: I had to create my own "Filters" folder in the appropriate Library folder in my Mac (I am still running Snow Leopard on my MacBook; Mountain Lion on my desktop Mac). 
Done.  The next time you need to reduce the size of a PDF, load it up in Preview, choose “Save As…”, and save it using the Quartz filter you just installed.

Thanks,!  (Eric Meyer). 

Using a Second Router to Extend a Wifi Network Signal to Two Structures

Most of us have a wifi router in our home now, which broadcasts a wifi signal to nearby desktop computer, laptops, phones, and tablets.  These wifi routers are great and most people have figured out how to use them.

My situation is a little difficult because we have two houses on our property.  The guest house, which we now use as an office, is where our Netgear router is located.  The main house is a good 150 feet away.  I can barely get a wifi signal in the living room and dining room area.  Trying to get a wifi signal in the other rooms in the house is impossible.

I largely solved this problem by installing Powerline Ethernet adapters in several rooms in our main house.  These adapters work really well now (they had problems in the past).   A kit will contain two adapters, which use existing electrical wiring in your home to create a network connection.  One of the adapters plugs into an AC outlet in our guest house; and an Ethernet cable from our router goes to this adapter.  The signal is then carried to the second adapter over our home electrical wiring.  I can use three, four, or even more adapters in the main house to get an Internet signal.

It's dirt simple to install these -- just plug the adapters into AC plugs where you want them, and plug Ethernet cables from the adapters to your PCs, laptops, etc.  I've been using these adapters for many years, and they work great.  The only problem I had was in the beginning; these Powerline adapters worked on some AC outlets in my house worked; and they did not work on others, some in the same room.  This is because some of my wiring is not directly connected and goes through a breaker.  Also, these adapters need to be DIRECTLY plugged into an AC outlet; they won't work if you have them plugged into a surge protector.

I started out using these Powerline adapters:

NETGEAR XAVB101 Powerline AV Ethernet Adapter Kit:
I used these for about three years, then upgraded to faster adapters a couple of years ago:

ZyXEL PLA407 HomePlug AV 200 Mbps Powerline Wall-Plug Adapter (Starter Kit - 2 Units)

I've been using three of these adapters -- one for the router, and two in rooms in the main house -- since then, and they work splendidly. 

In the past couple of years, however, I've started needing wifi access in my main house more and more.  I started using an iPad to read newspapers and my email.  I'd carry it from the guest house to the main house.  This caused a problem: I could start reading a newspaper in the guest house, but then I'd lose my wifi signal in the main house.  I needed to get a wifi signal in my main house, which the Powerline Ethernet adapters were not equipped to do. 

The first solution I tried was a wifi repeater.  I tried a couple of different wifi repeaters, but I was not real happy with them.  One article I read was that wifi repeaters can never be as fast as your main router, because their speed will always be less than half of the speed coming from your wifi router in the first place.  This is because they have to first GET the wifi signal from your router, then TRANSMIT the same signal and data out as a wifi signal.  So any speed of your wifi connection from your router will be much slower when you use a wifi repeater.  (Sorry, I know this explanation is not great). 

 I tried a couple of wifi repeaters anyway.  One was an Edimax.  EW-7438RPn repeater.  This was a small device that plugged into an AC outlet and would indeed pick up the signal from my router and re-transmit it.  At least it seemed to.  I never had much luck with this repeater; it would work initially but later it would seem to have dropped the signal.

One huge problem with the two or three repeaters that I tried was that as I moved from the guest house to the main house, the repeaters were set up with a different name for the wifi network in each home.  For instance, let's assume that the wifi network in my guest house, where my router was located, was named "wifi network 1."  When I moved to the other house, I had set the wifi repeater to retransmit a wifi network named as "wifi network 2."  Therefore, when moving from one house to another, I would have to re-set my iPad so that it connected to the nearest, strongest network.  This was a hassle.

I tried to set the wifi network on the repeaters to the same name,  but this never really worked for me.  The manufacturers don't really address this problem.  When I did this -- so the wifi repeater transmits the same wifi network name as your main router -- sometimes it worked for me and sometimes it did not.  This could have been due to the quality of the repeaters that I used.  I also saw on some forums that I needed to set my router's wifi channel to a set channel, like channel six, rather than allowing the auto selection.  After a while, I give up on stuff like this.  I lately tried the solution below and could not be happier.

I knew from a long while ago that I could set up a second router as a wireless gateway or access point.  Essentially, I set up a second router to accept the internet signal from the first router through Powerline adapters.  The second router, in the second house, then transmits the internet/network signal wirelessly -- it becomes a wifi base station itself. 

My main router is a Netgear 3700 router, which has two bands -- it transmits at 2.4Ghz and 5.8Ghz.  I never used both bands and never realized that they could be useful.  However, having dual bands was useful in this case, for testing at least.   I bought a second Netgear router, an NDR3400 model, for dirt-cheap at  This also offered dual-band wifi transmission. 

Here's what I did to set up the second router as a wifi access point:

1.  I googled "How do I set up a wireless router as an access point" and found a Netgear page that described the process at:

This gives the basic instructions.   Connect the second router and a LAN port directly to the Ethernet port on a computer.  Then log into the router using: or .net.

2.  However, I must always reset the target (second) Netgear router first.  Then enter the router.  Then change the wifi network settings.  I changed the lower band to "access point lower" (different from my first router's first band) and the upper band to "wifi network 2" (the same name as my first router's second band).  The second band has the same name but the first does not.  This was useful to test the bands and see if I was indeed getting a good signal from the access point.

3.  AFTER setting the wifi stations, THEN go to the router's LAN settings.  Turn off "use router as DHCP server."  Change the LAN to (same IP segment of the main router,

An important note -- once making the settings above to the second router, it was impossible to get back into the router.  But I was able to see that this second router's networks were up and transmitting.  I could see the wifi network from the second router's lower band (access point lower) and the wifi network from the second router's higher band, which had the same name as the primary router's higher band network (wifi network 2).  I could also barely see the lower band network from the original router (wifi network 1).

So, in summary, when I set up a second router as a wifi access point, I ended up with the following wifi networks:

Router One  in the guest house/office (original router, getting the internet signal from a Comcast cable modem):
"wifi network 1" transmitting on the 2.4Ghz band
"wifi network 2" on 5.8Ghz band

Router Two in the main house, (second router, getting the internet signal from a Powerline adapter connected to Router One, re-broadcasting that signal as a wifi access point):
"access point lower" transmitting on the 2.4Ghz band
"wifi network 2" on 5.8Ghz band

Now I am a happy camper.  I can walk with my iPad  from the guest house to the main house, all while connected to the "wifi network 2" which gives me a strong, continuous signal all the time, between both houses.  I no longer have to change the wifi network settings on my iPad when I move from house to house. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

I got this email from PG&E today.  This must be some kind of joke.  They are trying to tell us, the customers, how to be safe?

These are the guys who kept such terrible records about their gas lines, that they are still trying to figure out which of their gas lines have been inspected properly, more than 3.5 years after the San Bruno explosion killed eight people (The 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion occurred at 6:11 pm PDT on September 9, 2010).  

PG&E has so far gotten away with a ridiculously small fine and has been trying to pass the costs of the damages, fines, and repairs of the San Bruno gas line to their customers.  It's the age of capitalism, folks, and the big corporations are always going to win eventually these days.