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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It’s Me Again

Posted in On Tthe Road on July 22nd, 2011 by MadDog
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Early tomorrow morning we are up for a road trip to Dallas. It’s about a sixteen hour drive from here, so we’ll be staying over in Amarillo, Texas, a town which I never expected to see. Life seems to be teasing me lately with constant surprises. At least none of them are bad. I can’t help thinking about how miserable I was only a few months ago

Last October, only a little over a month after Eunie died, I took this self portrait of a man overcome by grief and loss:

When I looked at it, I kept seeing the expression as “pensive”. Now it looks terribly sad. A great deal has changed since then. Though I still grieve for Eunie every day, I’ve traveled half way around the world staying with wonderful friends along the way who have helped me to heal and see that there is a future for me. I’ll never get over the loss of my wife and best friend of forty-seven years, but I’ve been given a vision of a future in which life can be good again. Whereas death once seemed a total loss, it now feels more to me as a change of condition. In my present situation, staying with Grace, Eunie’s life-long best friend, She is not physically present, but nevertheless alive in our memories. She seems close to me now, whereas before I could not even unlock the treasure chest of memories.

So, as life unfolded day by day and month by month, I was guided to a place where I could find peace, comfort and healing. It feels very strange that only three years ago Eunie and I were here together visiting Grace. I remember being stunned by the incredible landscape. Nothing has changed my impressions of it. Here is Bell Rock. I see it every day when running mundane errands to buy groceries or post letters:

Every place you look here you find some outlandish display of handiwork. Here is the view from the parking lot of the local hardware store:

Ridiculous, eh?

Still skeptical? How about this:

Really, it sometimes gives me the giggles.

It appears that I’ve traded fish for birds. There are precious few fish around here. This is a pair of European Collared Doves (Streptopelia decaocto) resting high at the top of a huge pine tree in back of Grace’s house:

I can’t account for all that’s happening to me. It seems as chaotic a process as that which put me into the depths of despair less than a year ago. There is no explanation or rational for it. Grace says that the universe is being nice to me. I suppose that’s as good a summary as any. I tend not to blame things on God. It’s a useless notion. What I do believe is that everything of significance which “happens” is really part of some big plan, the details of which I am not privy to. Things which do happen are somehow necessary to keep the big plan on track. Being born and dying are critical events in the plan and we humans have little control over the timing. We do have a lot of control over many of the details of our lives, so it pays to live wisely, otherwise we waste what we are given.

I could not understand the plan if it were explained to me. God operates on some higher plane than my intellect can envision. I’m reminded of the old Simon and Grafunkel song, Slip Sliding Away:

God only knows
God makes his plan
The information’s unavailable
To the mortal man
We work our jobs
Collect our pay
Believe we’re gliding down the highway
When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away

All I can do is play my part with as much patience an good humor as I can muster. I think that I’m finally doing that again. I don’t think I’m slip sliding away any more. I think it shows in my face:

This is no longer the face of a sad man.

It’s the face of a man who has stopped trying to figure things out so much and is just enjoying the ride. I’ll eventually get to where I’m supposed to be.

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Lights

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Photography Tricks on August 24th, 2010 by MadDog
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Today’s post won’t be windy. I’m winded. I had no idea that I was going to be so busy and feel as if I’m accomplishing so little. Yesterday evening was our last night with Trevor and Karen, who came down to Cairns to visit us. It was, of course, bittersweet. We left Eunie alone for a while to get pizzas to bring back to the room to eat while we watched a couple of movies.

Naturally, I had my camera with me and there is no such a thing as killing time if you have your camera in your hand. You can divert your attention to creating something, even if it is inconsequential. As I saw the variety of lights on the Esplinade, I got to thinking about lights. Brilliant, eh?

Man’s lights and the lights of nature – both illuminate. Some of man’s lights are beautiful. Think of the streams of glory from a stained glass window or the adrenaline beauty of fireworks. Others are horrid, such as the deadly flash of a thermonuclear bomb. Nature too provides a variety of lights, benign, such as the moon, or nurturing or deadly as chance may be in the sun’s rays:

Some of man’s lights are open to a wide range of artistic interpretation. Here I captured the tail lights of passing cars in a fifteen second exposure with the camera rather shakily balanced on top of a post:
The cars are mere streaks. Most people have blurred into non-existence. As I looked at the image in the preview, the title came to me instantly. Watch Long Enough – Everything Changes.

But some lights are different. They illuminate, but not through the sensations of the eyes. They illuminate the soul.

I positioned myself quite a distance away for this shot, so I think that I can honestly say that it is candid:Trevor and Karen dropped everything that they were doing, blew a bunch of hard-earned cash, and came to be with friends to share our suffering, cheer us up , provide necessary counsel, cry with us, laugh with us and shine some much needed light on the subject of hope. This is not to mention the practical details which Karen helped Eunice with – ones which I am not yet ready to face.

How many friends can you count that would do that?

This is the light of treasure.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I wish that I had some news today. Eunie stayed up late last night watching movies and went to bed happy. Her colour seems to be improving – she’s less yellow. Her appetite has also improved. These are good signs for her strength which she is going to need in the future. We have not yet heard from the oncologist about our move to Brisbane, but it is only Tuesday afternoon as I write this. My own condition is fragile and I know that I cannot allow this to continue. I know that I will be better able to cope when we are in Brisbane with our friend Val, because she is a strong, take-charge woman and takes no nonsense from me. I will have to toughen up considerably to keep her from beating me up for being a wimp.

After decades of softening myself, sensitising myself, growing absurdly empathetic and always, always, learning that the more I give the more of what I need that I receive, I find myself now suddenly weak and ineffectual in situations where I need to be forceful and decisive.

It is a puzzlement.

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The Sun Rose This Morning

Posted in Mixed Nuts on July 7th, 2010 by MadDog
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When I roused from my nightly coma this morning, I was strangely refreshed and ready to get on with it. “No more whining!” I sternly admonished myself. “Whinging is for the losers!” Yeah, that’s what I was saying to me. And then, I went into the bathroom to brush my still gorgeous teeth – tobacco stained to a rich, mellow yellow. And, to my sudden disgust, my brand-new tooth brush, for the second day in a row, deposited a dislodged bristle way back between the exact two molars where it had shed a similarly wayward shred on the previous day. Did I mention that it happened two days in a row?

So, out come the tweezers to poke around and try to grab the end of the offending nylon torture device and extract it with much contorting of face and popping of elbow joints. Finally dislodged and held glistening with drool in from of my stern glare, the blue strand mocked me.

Well, when something like that happens what can one do but scream into the mirror? It does absolutely no good, but it makes one feel much better.

And then, my mind went blank. Not the Fiji blank – the other kind. The kind of blank that comes to a writer who is mentally unprepared to write. I’m sick of fish for a day or so. I don’t have a single idea in my head, at least nothing that I can release upon unsuspecting readers as If I had crowbarred open Pandora’s Big Box and strewn the contents all over your screen.

So, I got my trusty G11 and went outside into the near dark to wait to see if the Muse would show up.

She did, after a while:

She gave me a somewhat anemic sunrise with some strangely fringed crepuscular rays.

I looked up toward the heavens, imploring for more. What do you know? (That’s a rhetorical question. You don’t have to answer it.) I was given a tiny, fingernail moon to play with:

“Well, that’s better.”, said I.

And then, along came a canoe. I could write a song about this image. It screams for a voice such as Don Ho’s backed by Hawaiian guitars and the soft swish of hula skirts:Okay, I’m on a roll now. Work with me here.

I feel a crescendo coming on.

Not to be teased by a fickle moment, I bravely captured a quasi-glorious Panorama of Sunrise With Canoe:

You may have to click to enlarge the canoe. It’s over on the left. I yelled at the guy to come closer, but when he saw it was just the crazy old white man who lives over on the poor side of the harbour, he just laughed at me. The fact that I was in my underwear probably didn’t help much.

But, then . . . BUT, THEN . . . (come on, feel  it!)  The early Air Niugini flight brought meaning and spirit to the morning shoot. With landing lights glaring as brightly as Satan’s eyes, she banked in over Dallman Passage  and courageously plunged toward the general vicinity of the runway:

I was breathless to see if the bird, which you can see over on the left side of the image, if you click to enlarge, would be ingested into an engine. Not that I wanted  it to happen, of course. Of course not.

I am but an observer. It’s my job. Let others achieve. I have never wanted to achieve anything except to stay married to the same woman for as long as she can tolerate me. I shall observe and comment. That’s what little people do. An old friend of mine cracked me up yesterday when he said he was going to write his autobiography. He said the title was going to be, Life at the Top of the Bell Curve.  I laughed hysterically. Maybe a little too  hysterically. Then I got him him back.

I said that my autobiography was going to be titled, Modest Expectations.

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Gobbledygook

Posted in Humor on August 13th, 2009 by MadDog
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Have you ever sat back with a cold brew or a nice glass of Chablis and read a contract or proposal? Well, of course, we all have. It’s those quite, oh so pleasant moments in life that pull us through and give us courage to face the daily challenges. I prefer my proposals with an icy cold Chardonnay and a cheap cigar, but hey, to each his own.

Proposals are the most fun to read, because perusing one is akin to putting together a 100,000 piece jigsaw puzzle, except that you have lost the cover to the box. Furthermore, the pieces each have bits of colour on both sides. Not to make it too easy for you, the shapes are all exactly the same, except, of course for the edge pieces, which don’t actually fit anywhere – they are for a different puzzle altogether.

Here’s a picture of the moon, just to confuse you:

My proposal for the target group

What makes proposals so amusing and pleasure-inducing is, of course, the employment of the highest literary form yet invented by human beings, i. e. Gobbledygook. This was brought into the focal point of what passes for my brain today by my good buddy Tristan Clements on my Facebook page this morning.

Scientists speculate that whales and other cetaceans, such as dolphins, have created an even more esoteric and informationless language, but they can’t understand any of it (the scientists, not the cetaceans), so it’s not of much use to proposal writers as yet.

Back when I used to write for computer magazines, I used a watered-down form of Gobbledygook to explain things like “assembly language” and “object-oriented programming.” Of course, I understood nothing at all about what I was writing, much as I understand little of what I’m writing today, but the point was to fill pages and pages with “information” that looked cool and contained nothing useful at all, but eggheads could stand around with a Jolt Cola and argue for hours concerning the fine points. It made everybody feel good and nobody got hurt.

Ah, I see that I’m drifting. Back to the point, if there truly is one.

Anyway, Tristan’s link was The UN Fund for Gobbledygook, an organisation which, appropriately, does not seem to exist. Nevertheless, aside from its non-existence, it does appear to have a mission of sorts:

In this context, the UNFG developed the Program for Capacity-Building in the Field of Language Transparency Impact. The program assists in dispensing with harmful idiomatic practices, and promotes the use of a standardized international framework for document authoring. Designed as a Public-Private-Sector Partnership within the Framework of the Global Compact, and supported through supplemental grants from individual donors, the program has made a significant contribution in this field.

It is strange that the Mission Statement itself is written in a Creolised dialect of Gobbledygook which is entirely too understandable to native English speakers. It might fool the North Koreans, but it doesn’t cut the mustard with us. It’s a shame that they couldn’t have obscured their mission with greater attention to care-of-duty.

The interesting thing about the site is that, if you’re in a pinch for a quick-and-dirty paragraph to fill out a proposal page, you can jut click the button a few times until the Java script poops out something sufficiently intelligible.

Here’s a couple of examples:

In the context of decentralisation, the Chief Technical Adviser will work to unlock clusters, through inter-agency-coordinated governance-related socio-economic policy advocacy activities.

That was nice. I didn’t understand a bit of it. It made my head feel all fuzzy inside.

Here’s some more:

At the national level, exploratory research points to nationally owned monitored cost-benefit analysis frameworks for development assistance planning.

That one actually brought actual tears to my eyes. Here’s an actual picture of my actual tears:

Proposal tears

As you may have noted, my belief is that Gobbledygook should always be printed in pretty pink. Fluff is an intrinsically pink substance, so we should let nature have its way.

In the limited time available to me for this research I could not exhaust the Gobbledygook generator. If did, however, become a little repetitive after a while. I think it may have developed a stutter. This is no big deal, since the fundamental characteristic of Gobbledygook is its interchangeableness. Any given paragraph of Gobbledygook can be exchanged for any other paragraph without changing the underlying meaninglessness a whit. That’s the beauty of it. It makes editing so easy.

I sincerely hope that you have found this instructive and informative.

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Shoot the Moon Again

Posted in Photography Tricks on August 6th, 2009 by MadDog
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When I got home yesterday evening the Moon was full in the still blue sky. I stopped at the front door, bracing my Olympus SP-590UZ against the wall of our house to hold it steady and shot a few frames at the full 26x zoom. Our flame tree has been completely trashed by bugs, so it looks like a wintertime shot with the bare branches:

Shooting the Moon with the Olympus SP-590UZ

This Shoot the Moon image isn’t not National Geographic quality, but it is very nice. I think that the small dark spot in the upper third of the Moon is a little bit of cloud, because it doesn’t belong there. That is, unless I accidentally caught a mother ship passing by. Any major UFO (Unreasonably Funny Objects) sightings recently?

No? Well, let’s move on. The sunrise was a bit of a disappointment this morning. I woke up at the unholy hour of 05:00 and even a valium couldn’t knock me out. So, after a half-hour of laying there with my head doing stand-up comedy (poorly), I got my Canon G10 and tripod and went outside to the water’s edge to wait for some light. I got this shot just as the first bit of sunlight began to show:

Moody Sunrise

It’s a fifteen second exposure, so the water looks nice and glassy. Also notice the stars around the lights. They are usually more prominent when you have your lens opening very small (a bigger f stop number, like f8 or larger). The little blades of the iris of the camera lens cause the diffraction stars. You can actually tell how many blades your iris has by the number of points on the stars.

A few minutes later, the sky was lightening up and I could see that the lame show was nearly over. I grabbed one more exposure with crossed polariser filters to cut the light way down so that I could still get a fifteen second exposure. The funny thing about this shot is (you’ll see if better if you click to enlarge) that I caught the morning flight of Air Niugini coming into Madang:

Sunrise with an Air Niugini flight streaked across the sky

It is the streak of light about in the middle just above the town. In the enlarged view, you can even see the little dots on top of the streak that are caused by the strobe light on top of the fuselage.

Even a crummy sunrise can be fun.

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Australia On My Mind

Posted in Mixed Nuts on March 20th, 2009 by MadDog
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I got this nice shot of the Finisterre Mountains  across Astrolabe Bay  this morning on the way to work. Dirving to the office takes only about twenty minutes and is always a pleasure with this kind of scenery to distract me. It has absolutely nothing to do with Australia, but it is pretty:
A Finisterre Mountain panorama

I received my new Science magazine yesterday. It’s the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, of which I am a member. Long story there. I have no idea how I became a member. I never applied for membership. I somehow became a Professional Member and started receiving the bimonthly magazine about two years ago. I’ve received several notices that my membership has expired, but I can’t afford the US$200+ a year to maintain it. Nevertheless, they still keep sending me the magazine. Go figure.

Australia is on the far side of the Moon
This is a pretty cool error on their part. I pass the magazine on to several other science-oriented friends. Is it honest for me not to tell them? I’ll have to think about that sometime. Maybe after I’m dead.

Anyway, I glanced at the cover and instantly saw Australia. Okay, okay, it’s not perfect, but it’s sort of Oz shaped. The Japanese are doing a bang-up job of getting snaps of the far side of the Moon with Project SELENE. You can find some cool images here.

Did I mention that I once saw Australia up in the sky? Readers who come back time after time for fresh applications of my unique torture methods will have seen this image before:

Australia is up in the sky

Okay, that’s enough of Australia for today.

On the way past the neighbours’ house the other day I noticed that one of the girls had dressed up their very nice red dog in a red dress:

A red dog in a red dress
I’ve always been partial to red dogs. Here’s an interesting read on Dog Coat Colour Genetics. I read on another site that a red coat recessive dog (whatever that is) does not have a single black hair on its body!  Imagine that. It makes me wonder exactly how that they proved it. Did someone examine every hair on a red dog?

How can I get a job like that?

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