Archive for the ‘From the Road’ category

Scenes from the Rest Stop

July 24, 2012

Beth, Owen, and I are on a road trip to visit some friends and family. Many rest stops in Maine are nicer than some camp grounds I’ve slept at. Most of them feature a variety of signs suggesting stretches to do while you’re out of the car. Is there anything like this in your neck of the woods?

Some of the “stretches” can even be done while you are actively driving, as this next sign illustrates. I think that the singular buttock is a much funnier word than its more commonly heard plural form. I do this one whenever I have to get toll money out of my wallet.

The next sign suggested having a “healthy” snack. I had to wonder why the quotation marks were necessary. Are they implying that the pictured apple is not truly healthy, or that if you have a snack, you should at least call it healthy to make yourself feel better about your between-meals-pick-me-up.

I further investigated the “healthy” snacks inside the rest area building. The green dot on this note reminded me of the one I’d seen subconsciously on the sign outside.

I looked over the contents of the vending machine and noticed that not a single snack item featured the green dot of health.

The machine next to this one offered nothing but wall to wall Red Bull. Fortunately we brought some green dot type snacks with us.

Move Successful!

July 10, 2011

Thanks to help from many friends on both ends, we had a very smooth and successful move, although our cats might not describe it that way. I was driving the U-Haul, and Beth the Corolla with the cats. One of them never stopped meowing and was hoarse for a few days after we arrived (Hint, it wasn’t Beth). I wish I’d taken a photo of the cab of the truck. It was pretty well packed with curtain rods, a 16″ pizza, back packs, our spinning wheel, and a carboy of 5 year old cider (seat-belted and wearing a fedora and a jacket). In reference to the wheel, one man at a toll booth said, “Nice spinner you got there!” The back of the truck was quite a sight as well, having been packed by a crew dominated by physics PhDs. Nothing budged on the road. Here are a few pictures from the journey:

We got a cool viking truck for the journey! It was a 20 footer.

One Sleeve To Go

December 2, 2010

Sorry I haven’t posted anything in a while. I couldn’t find my camera for the last few weeks. I eventually realized that maybe I left it on a bus. I took the bus back from the airport in Boston after a recent trip to Chicago for a plasma physics conference. I called the bus company yesterday, and found out I was right. They’ve had the camera behind the counter at the bus station all this time. Hooray for not losing the camera forever! Here are a few pictures of Chicago that I downloaded from the camera on the way home before forgetting it on the bus:

I saw ‘Cloudgate’ or ‘The Bean’, a sculpture by Anish Kapoor in Millenium Park, just a few blocks from my hotel. I’d seen pictures of the bean before, but I had no idea how big it was. You can easily walk under it. The vaulted, mirrored ‘ceiling’ is actually pretty high underneath. This picture is a composite of three exposures, each taken 2 stops apart.

The hotel was also close to the Wrigley building, which is indeed named for the chewing gum company.

I have finished up one sleeve on my orange Rogers-esque cardigan, but haven’t been to the bus station get to get the camera, so here is very low quality picture taken with the tiny built-in iSight camera in my laptop. Sleeves account for a much larger fraction of the surface area of a sweater than I’d thought about. I’ll mass the sleeves and other parts and report on the percentages accounted for by each part before I finish it up. I’ll also post better pics after blocking, seaming, and getting my Canon back:

What kind of buttons do you think would look best on this sweater?

Feral Kittens

October 31, 2010

My brother rescued some feral kittens two weeks ago. Beth and I were fortunately visiting for my Dad’s 58th birthday just 2 days after they were rescued, so we got to meet them.

The kitties hid inside the space under the dishwasher for some of their first 48 hours indoors. Apparently new kittens hiding inside a dishwasher is common enough that numerous people have posted questions about such a situation online.

My dad constructed a kitty scooping device using a candy cane lawn decoration, but it was not very successful.  I think leaving the kitties alone with the room quiet and a source of food, water and litter outside the dishwasher is the best approach.  They’ll want to come out eventually–and so they did; From the dishwasher they migrated to the under-space of the refrigerator. Here they’ve been blocked from getting back in there again, but they still liked hiding next to the fridge. They climbed around back there for a while, alternating which kitten was on top. I couldn’t tell whether they found it preferable to be on the bottom (and therefore protected by a feline shield), or on top and more mobile. After a while, I moved them to an alternate safe space—a pet taxi with food and water plates and a towel to lay on. They seemed to realize it was a preferable haven compared to the canyon next to the refrigerator. Here they are munching on some chicken in there:

I’m amazed that wild kittens can know how to use a litter box the first time they see one. They understood what it was for right away. After a meal, we put the orange tabby in the litter box, and he scratched around then stood up on two legs to relieve himself—a bizarre technique. I wish I’d captured it on video, although perhaps you will be glad that I didn’t. He’s quite good at standing. The calico cat liked to hide behind the litter box when she wasn’t in the pet taxi, as Kanye is pointing out here:

 

After all the offering of fingers to kitties, we made some mushroom/asparagus risotto. Kanye was not invited:

End of story.

Alpine Adventure: GEM 2010

July 7, 2010

Two weeks ago I attended the 2010 GEM (Geospace Environment Modeling) Summer Workshop. This was maybe the fifth time I’ve attended GEM. It is really a fun science meeting because it is always in a nice hikable western environment, and it is much smaller than many other meetings (less than 400 people). So it is easier to talk at length with many other scientists about a relatively small number of topics. I wish all meetings were around that size. The past two years this meeting has been in Snowmass, Colorado, which is a ski town across the valley from the perhaps somewhat more known, Aspen.

I brought my banjo with me to the meeting, despite the fact that I was flying United, and everyone knows that United breaks guitars. At first I wasn’t sure how to pack the banjo because I have just a soft gig-bag, and I was pretty sure I’d be forced to check it at least on the small plane from Denver to Aspen. However, I realized that I could easily pad the banjo if I disassembled it and stowed it in my internal frame travel backpack. It turns out that disassembling a banjo is really easy. I had the thing completely unstrung and disassembled in about 4 minutes. I hadn’t thought about that advantage of an instrument held together by bolts rather than hide glue. Here’s how the Deering Goodtime looked when I arrived in Snowmass:

Within 25 minutes it was strung up and tuned again—tuned to itself anyway; it was about a minor third flat until I downloaded a tuner.

On the first day of the meeting I decided to go on a hike up the mountain behind the hotel. In the middle of an awful headache the next morning I read that “to avoid altitude sickness when traveling to locations above 8000′ one should avoid strenuous activity and alcohol for 24 hours after arriving at altitude”. The views were nice though, and I found an impressive pile of snow at the base of a ski jump:

I also found a deer or elk print in the mud:

Where did this mud come from? It came from this gurgling mountain stream (such as might be referred to in a Coors Light commercial). Taste the Rockies (but watch out for giardia):

The meeting week also featured my favorite phase of the moon, the waxing gibbous:

I’ve always thought waxing gibbous could easily be the name of a primate species.

Photo of the Week #10: UCLA in High Dynamic Range

February 10, 2010

click image to view larger

I was at UCLA a few weeks ago for a plasma physics winter school, a week long workshop for grad students and post-docs. In the evenings we had homework sessions on the roof of the physics building, and one evening I took several shots of a building across the street. The above photo is a “tonemapped”, high dynamic range (HDR) image compiled from a stack of three bracketed photos with different exposures.

The light was really amazing because the sun was setting to my left as I was taking the photo. However, I knew that no one exposure could capture both the detail in the clouds, and the details in the shadows on the right side of the picture; the scene had too large a dynamic range. So I took three pictures using the auto exposure bracketing  feature in my camera. These pictures (seen below) were all taken with the aperture set at f/8, but the shutter speeds were 1/6, 1/10, and 1/15.

What is Dynamic Range?

Static dynamic range refers to the difference between brightest and darkest things you can see at the same time without moving your eye around. The static dynamic range of the human eye is generally around 100:1.  So, the dimmest thing you can really see when looking at, say, a campfire is about 100 times dimmer than the fire itself. When talking about photography, differences in brightness are typically discussed in terms of “stops.” A stop is a factor of two difference in brightness. So, a ratio of 100:1 corresponds to about 6 and 1/2 stops (26=64 ; 27=128).

Of course the total dynamic range of your eye is MUCH bigger than that. In total, your eye can resolve an impressive 20 stops, or about a 1,000,000:1 ratio of luminosities (brightnesses). That means if you move your eyes around, they can adapt to see a much wider range of luminosities (just not all at the same time).

My camera, however, can only resolve a modest 5 stops in a single scene (stored as an 8-bit per color channel jpeg file; this post really deserves its geek tag, doesn’t it?). Most cameras have a similar limitation. Consequently, when you look at a photo taken with basically any camera (digital or film), and displayed on a typical monitor or on photo paper, the luminosity information has possibly been heavily truncated. This why skies often look white in photos even though they looked blue in person.

What is Tonemapping?

One way to convey more of the luminosity information from the original scene is by combining multiple exposures into an image that contains a wide dynamic range. The luminosity data can then be compressed to a range that can be displayed in a single scene. That compression process is called tonemapping. In the example above, I took 3 photos, each spanning 5 stops and separated by 1.5 stops and combined them to yield a single photo that retains local contrast information in both the highlights and the shadows. Here are the original images:

While the local contrast information has been better retained everywhere in the tonemapped image, the total dynamic range has not been increased and is still limited by the maximum dynamic ranges of the file format and the display device. I used software called Photomatix Pro to do the tonemapping. The free trial version can make images as large as the one above, or larger ones that have a watermark on them.

POTW #9: Poison Frog

January 28, 2010

focal length: 432 mm, aperture: f/3.5, shutter: 0.4 sec, distance: 0.5 meters, location: California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, CA, 16 December 2009.

Our trip to the California Academy of Sciences Museum last month yielded several weeks worth of Photo-of-the-Week posts. This tiny jungle frog is an orange morph of the Golden Poison Frog, which has the awesome latin name “Phyllobates terribilis.” The terribilis moniker comes from the fact that this frog produces the most potent poison of any vertebrate in the world. The Emberá people of northwestern Colombia collect poison from these frogs for use on their blowgun darts. Rolling the dart tip along the frog’s back produces a deadly warhead that remains potent for an entire year or longer.  Dogs have died after having contact with paper towels that these frogs have walked across. (So don’t leave any poison-frog-slimed paper towels laying around in your kitchen).


%d bloggers like this: