More Macro Madness

Posted in Photography Tricks on April 22nd, 2012 by MadDog
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Life continues to be far busier than I imagined it might be here in Sedona. In fact, my hope of “simplifying” seems to be dashed. I sometimes thought that living in Madang was overly complex, considering the physical and social environment.  Our most common refrain was, “It’s always something!”, implying that just when things seem to be in control some forgotten detail or requirement rears up and makes its obnoxious presence known. It would be ungrateful of me to complain, so I’ll just make the observation that simply maintaining an existence in America is far more demanding of time, immensely more complex and requires the absorption much more information than does drifting through life in Madang. I’m barely keeping my head above water. I find that I barely or not at all understand much of what I’m doing. Most of the time I’m following the instructions of someone who’s paid to guide me through some thing or another and signing on the dotted line when required. I think I’m managing the big picture, but I’m being dragged along by the nitty-gritty.

Fortunately, I can escape the circus once in a while for an hour or so of  clear thinking and working my craft. It’s an amazing thing to have my hands on the kind of equipment I’ve always dreamed of. The title implies that this post is all about macro stuff, but I have some other images today. My Canon 70-300 zoomer has been neglected lately. It’s a workhorse lens with no particular glamorous features, though it performs its mundane tasks superbly, as this shot of a full moon rising behind a dead tree across the street attests:

Luna is partially obscured by a thin Cirrus cloud layer, softening the details of its topography and creating a soft halo. The tree is about 150 feet away and the moon is about 24,000 miles from the front of my lens. I might have stopped the lens down to ƒ32 and gotten them both in focus, but that would have required a tripod and a long exposure. This shot was taken at 300mm, ƒ22, 1/13 second with image stabilization. This combination just barely allowed me to capture the image hand-held.

Another task for which this workhorse lens excels is bird watching. Serious bird watchers will want more powerful zooms, but for my modest efforts this glass is my ticket to ride. We have some lovely birds visiting our back yard daily. One of my favorites is the Western Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica).  I tossed a handful of peanuts on the ground near the bird bath in the back yard, set up the Canon on a tripod and started recording HD video while I went about my business with other things:

The Western Scrub Jay from Jan Messersmith.

After about forty minutes I copied the video file to my laptop and edited out the blank spots, added a little public domain music and some titles. You can listen to the song of the Western Scrub Jay here.

Changing lenses now, I’ll blather on about my new favorite, the 100mm macro. This piece of glass is not simply a microscope for the little things. It’s a great all-round lens for many situations. I like the flattening effect of the mild zoom for portraits and its tack-sharp images and very wide range of apertures make it my favorite carry-around lens. Here’s an example of a “normal” shot in which the lens excels:

In the full resolution image from the camera the level of detail in this image is amazing. Even in the 2000 pixel wide shot, it conveys a lot of visual detail. A lens like this is really wasted on web images. It takes a full magazine page printed well to make it shine. I wish I was still in a position to sell some articles.

The shot above was taken at Red Rock Crossing, one of my favorite places for a calm walk in the woods. While walking down the shore of Oak Creek we came across an amazing example of fossil ripples in the red Schnebly Hill Sandstone formation:

After doing a little Googling on the subject I conclude that this example of fossil ripples is one of the best which is easy to visit. Here is a shot of another location nearby:

The 100mm focal length of the Canon macro lens is perfect for this shot. The slight foreshortening of distance accentuates the effect of the ripples in the red sandstone. We found three examples of the ripples within an area of a hundred feet or so.

Green being my favorite color and the high desert being particularly short of this shade, I’m snapping everything green that I can find:

Spring is coming on strong. I’m waiting for the rains which will hopefully paint the desert with flowers. I’m wishing for scenes reminiscent of the old Oscar-winning Walt Disney The Living Desert movie which I remember seeing when I was about ten years old, a very long time ago.

While I’m still showing big things shot with the macro lens I’ll show you a mysterious (to me, anyway) series of holes in a Schnebly Hill Sandstone layer at Bell Rock, a famous formation just on the edge of The Village of Oak Creek where we live:

It’s interesting to speculate what might have caused these holes. Being lined up in the same strata implies that whatever caused them was fairly brief in nature and rather unique, since I see no other examples in the area. My personal favorite explanation is that some event caused a large number of stream-rounded boulders of soft rock to be deposited more or less at once on the flat layer of material which later became the red sandstone of the area. When the Schnebly Hill Sandstone eroded, these soft rocks eroded more quickly, leaving the cavities. If you can do better than my guess, please wade in with a comment.

Here’s a nice shot of an ancient looking tree on the side of Bell Rock. The 100mm macro is a great lens for this kind of shot:

But, of course, the raison d’être for this chunk of glass is the little stuff:

Popping up everywhere in the desert are a variety of tiny blossoms which appear to me to be daisies of some kind. I’m hopelessly uninformed about the local flora. I’ve come from a place where I knew quite a bit to a place where I know nothing. (UPDATE – Within minutes of posting this I got word from my friend Anne-Marie Gregory in the UK that this is a Blackfoot Daisy – Melampodium leucanthum.)

But I I can appreciate the beauty and capture the images:

That will have to be enough for now. (UPDATE – Inspired by Anne-Marie, I found a good site for local wildflower identification. This look to me to be the Spreading Fleabane or Layered Daisy – Erigeron divergens.)

Cacti are mysterious to me. I never realized there are so many kinds:

There is no shortage of new things to learn about here in the high desert.

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The Perfect Imperfection

Posted in Mixed Nuts on April 9th, 2010 by MadDog
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Get ready for some day tripping, because I’ve got only a few images left from this week which are mumbling to me. Don’t try to follow any thread of thought here. You’ll just hurt yourself. The title came from an unlikely source.

I’m greeted every morning by these lovely flowers which I have dubbed The Harmonious Daisies.  Yeah, it came to me in a dream:What I like about this image is that it is flawed. It is flawed in a most perfect way. It is perfectly imperfect. As my mind careers (or careens if you’re a Yank) around iconosynclastic infundibulums and tumbles down an endless staircase of giant pickled herring, I sometimes fall upon incongruous congruities. Why does this flower make me think of humans, individuals, I mean, specifically me? Possibly is is because my imperfections seem to be perfectly suited to me. I behave erratically and improperly in manners which, observed by my friends, are perfectly predictable in the case of erratic action and perfectly excusable (in most cases, anyway) in the case of impropriety. Thus it is with the flower with the missing petal. It is a perfectly perfect imperfection. Nothing more can be said. Therefore, I shall say nothing more.

Except that this is what friends are for.

Might as well throw in a sunrise while I’m here:Actually, the astute observer might notice that the image above is simply the very centre of yesterday’s sunrise. This morning it was raining cats and dogs.

When we arrived at the office we had to wade ashore from our truck because Lake Madang was overspilling its normal banks:Our perfectly imperfect Town Government seems still unable to dig a hole. Well, what can we expect from people who apparently get paid to maintain the status quo? Hah, if only they could do that much!

To prove to you that no detail is so insignificant and devoid of meaning to escape my scrutinous eye I present to you the Mysterious Curly Thingie in the Ants’ Nest:Please to click to enlarge, please. Thank you. See it down there in the lower left under that ant’s bum? It looks like an itsty-bitsy teensy-weensy coil of rope. What in tarnation is it, for pity’s sake? I’m gobsmacked. Anybody got any ideas?

Not to change the subject too abruptly, but I’ve been harping for an office with an actual door on it for years. Since I’m one of the oldest dudes in town, and poor misguided souls sometimes reckon that I might have actually learned something while staggering through my long and adventuresome life, I end up doing a lot of counselling. Hey, I’m the only game in town. People desperate enough to seek me out prefer not to come to my house, lest they find me indisposed or otherwise unable to respond. They prefer to come to my office where, one presumes, I might be found to be more alert. On the door I have a sign which announces, “The Quack is In”.

So, having cajoled the administration into allowing me to modify the IT Dungeon, I’ began today to plan my new office with a door. I thought that you might be amused to see the miraculous state-of-the-art equipment which I used to calculate the dimensions and specifications of this complex project: I carefully measured the room and the placement of the current door and measured all of the furniture and fixtures. Then I “inputted” this data into my Architectural Design Computate-o-Matic Machine (which I invented). The results indicate that now, instead of one  door for one  office we will have five  doors for two  offices. All I can say is that my boss made me do it. She said I wouldn’t be happy with only two doors since I’d been whining for one door for thirty years, so she’s giving me five doors to head off future crying jags. She sleeps with me, so she understands me better than anyone else does.

There’s nothing like hearing someone snore all night to get you into their head.

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I Left My Money in a Leaky Boat

Posted in Dangerous, Humor, Mixed Nuts on September 30th, 2009 by MadDog
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When I woke up this morning and turned on CNN, the first thing that I heard was that I might soon be getting wet. The earthquake in American Samoa (8.3, so they say) was making big ripples. CNN wasn’t helpful, since they haven’t discovered Papua New Guinea yet, so I had to wait until I got to the office to find out that it was due to hit Madang at 10:41. My office is about a hundred metres from the ocean and about one metre above sea level. I decided that I was too busy to be bothered. Anyway, it’s now 11:28 and my feet are still dry, so, I guess I’ll stop thinking about it.

Well, it’s a gloomy subject today, so we may as well begin with a gloomy sunrise:Gloomy Sunrise

To transition into my subject of the day, here’s another sunrise as seen from our veranda. This boat may or may not be leaky. It was still afloat when it went around the corner into Dallman Passage:

Leaky boat sunrise

I only wish it were the same for the next one. Here is an image of a very leaky boat. My only comfort being aboard this leaky boat is that I have a lot of company. I’d brave it alone, if only I could help others, but that’s not to be. It makes me think of the Minnow  and the “three hour cruise”. What you are looking at here is the rapid and terrifying demise of our financial future:

The Leaky Boat Graph

The graph starts out in 2006. The red line is our Charles Schwab investments. The blue line is our PNG shares. The upward kinks are when we made deposits. The downward movements are all, except for one, the leaky boat syndrome. As you can see, our lifetime savings are now about half of what they were at their peak. If you start thinking of what might have been,  it’s only a fraction of our projection. It’s interesting to note that PNG shares were still climbing even as world-wide investment values were imitating lead balloons. It’s dropped now, but holding steady. Cash under the mattress will do as well.

It’s obvious that my daily interest in recording share values evaporated when hitting the ticker on the web only produced additional depression. You get to the point where you just don’t want to know. You feel like shooting the messenger, and then maybe yourself.

The big  drop on the right in the red line is when we pulled out all of our cash from the Schwab account to pay down the mortgage on our last remaining property. It’s in falling-down condition, but there is a renter there covering the mortgage payments. I want to get out of debt. In two or three years, except for incidental credit card charges, we won’t owe anybody a dime.

We’ve followed the “best advice” to the letter to try, on our pathetic income, to be as responsible as possible to provide for our future when we may no longer be able to earn (like now).  What’s it done for us? Nada, zip,  zilch!

When it was advised that our best bet was to buy houses, leveraging each one to get another, we did that. Well, we all know how well that  went. We’ve sold them all but one now. We didn’t lose much, but we didn’t make anything either. When the best advice was “buy and hold”, we did that. How’s that working for you?  I’m not so happy with it.

Our new financial plan is to ignore everybody’s advice. I’m through with the “Talk to Chuck” philosophy. I can look back now and see a dozen times when I went with the “best advice” against my gut instinct and got zapped for it in the end (pun intended). We’re smart enough to manage our own money. Right now, it’s going into cash and paying off debt. If we’re able, we’ll invest in the future in things that we control with our own hands and our own brains.

Rage spent. Tirade finished. How about some flowers?

Here’s a pretty little orchid only about the size of your thumb. There is a huge spray of about a hundred just down the steps of our veranda:

A front-yard orchid

And the magnificent Harmonious Daisy which I have featured several times since our visitation by Swami Monty:

The Harmonious Daisy

Hey, it’s only money.

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Faking It

Posted in Photography Tricks on July 9th, 2009 by MadDog
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There are few things that I can do with a computer that I enjoy more than faking it. I’m not a professional faker or a “faker for hire” (today’s Top Gun types) such as you can see on Worth1000.com, but I’d say I’m an enthusiastic amateur.

One of the easiest ways to make fakes that still look realistic (depending on your tolerance level) is to modify the colours. In Photoshop you can use the Replace Colour gizmo under Images / Adjustments. It’s pretty intuitive and can produce spectacular results:Sunrise faked by replacing colours
You saw a tamer version of that sunrise here.

A step beyond colour replacement, but still very easy, is image overlays.  Here is an original sunrise shot from the same post as is pointed to by the link above. It has a bit of reflection of the town and clouds in the water, but not enough to suit me. So, if I could just copy the top part of the picture, flip it top for bottom, and then overlay it lightly over the bottom part, I’d have just what I want:
Original sunrise shot
A it turns out, this is a surprisingly easy job with Photoshop. It’s as easy to do as it is to say. Draw a marquee around the part you want to copy, copy it, start a new file, paste the copied bit into it, flip it over, copy it again, go back to the original and paste it, then position it properly and adjust the opacity and fill levels. That is it – finished:
Faked 'reflection' sunrise

It looks surprisingly real.

Another little step toward effective fakery is laying on of bogus images. Here’s a daisy. Nothing special, just a daisy:
Original daisy
This is a daisy after dropping some acid. This is why we don’t take dangerous drugs, kiddies:
Daisy with Glowing Outline filter appliedI got that effect by using one of the outline filters in Photoshop. I think it was the “Glowing Edges” filter.

The next step is similar to the process for the reflections, but we don’t flip the image. We just lay it directly over the top and adjust how strongly it overlays the original:
"Venusian Daisy" composite
Now, miraculously, we have produced a Venusian Daisy.

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Mystery Object of the Month

Posted in At Sea, Humor, Mixed Nuts, Photography Tricks on March 29th, 2009 by MadDog
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Oh, the sky was looking mighty fine when I got up this morning. Made me feel nearly human:

Sunrise Panorama

But, let’s get down to business. I told you before that I was invited on an Australian warship after taking a couple of sailors out fishing. I took only one photo while on board. In one of the main control rooms where the ship’s technicians hang out, there were two little stainless steel objects attached to a railing on the ceiling of the compartment. I asked about the curious devices and was told that they are little floats with magnets on the end. They float in a fluid filled chamber close to a sensor and the position of the magnet indicates the level of the fluid. Clever, eh?

Mystery objects found aboard an Australian warship

But, that’s not the interesting part. When not busy doing their normal work, they are put to another very important task involving the morale of the entire crew. When two spares are hung side-by-side as you see here, the configuration takes on a  special title. I wonder if you can guess what they are called. Sorry, there is no prize for the correct answer. It’s too easy to just examine the file name when you look at the bottom of your browser while your mouse is hovering over the photo. Personally, I think it is very funny. Your mileage may differ.

We have plenty of these flowers in my garden. I think they are some kind of daisy. I do particularly like the colour. Only yesterday, I showed you a white blossom that was just beginning to open.

Magenta daisy

By the way, these are the “Harmonious Daisies” that we planted in anticipation of the visitation of Swami Monty.

As I sat on the steps leading up to my veranda this morning, looking around for tasty fodder for my camera, I spotted this grumpy crab sitting on a Pandanus leaf. It’s usually difficult to get close to them. They are quite skittish. This one held fast while I captured him for you:

Grumpy looking crab on a Pandanus leaf

The detail on the crab is pretty nice, if you care to click to enlarge.

This shot is actually my favourite of the day. I like ants – as long as they stay out of the house. They are so inspiring. Busy, busy, busy.

Nevertheless, they always have time for romance. I’ve written about ants falling in love before:

When ants fall in love

I’ve also warned the world about the hideous plot by the Ant Body Snatchers to steal all of our precious ants. As if that’s not enough (you can never do enough for ants – nag, nag, nag), I’ve told you about Muli Ants and the effects of Weird Gravity.

After all, who would you rather have cleaning up after you, ants, or cockroaches?

For my parting shot, let me inform you that there is someone (Jungle John) who actually holds the Guiness World Record for lying with live cockroaches.

Yes, kiddies, it is sadly true. He is also one the few human beings to be eaten by a balloon and survive.

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A Little Garden Magic

Posted in My Garden on March 28th, 2009 by MadDog
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My garden was a pleasant place this morning. the light was subdued. This pumpkin flower, as big as my hand, stood out as brightly as the sun:

Pumpkin Flower

It rained just before dawn – not unusual this time of year – and this reproductive gear of a hibiscus flower was dripping wet:

Hibiscus reproductive gear
I have a compulsion to take photos of water droplets. On this Pandanus leaf, you can see the reflection of my camera in the larger drops on the left:

Water Drops on Pandanus leaf

These checker board winged flies are crazy about these yellow flowers:

Checkerboard wing flies on a yellow flower

Flies and bees are always interesting subjects – if you can get them to hold still.

A daisy bud just broke open this morning. It looks strangely like something fancy that you might find on your plate in a very expensive restaurant. In the unfocused background, you can see how the blossom will look when it unfurls:

Daisy bud

Other gardens entice me. Nevertheless, though my garden is so small, I’m always amazed that every day that I explore it I find something new.

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