Thursday, May 24, 2012

Talking photography and photographs

A few weeks ago I was browsing Facebook when a photo that appeared in my news feed grabbed my attention. It was a very nice picture of sunrise over the Homer Spit that had been posted by a friend of one of my FB Friends. The weird thing was that it belonged to me - it was my photo. Apparently someone had been looking through my Alaska Scenes Album on Facebook, took a liking to this particular photo and decided to Share it on their own wall. This friend of a friend liked it and also shared it. Neither person claimed it as their own but I nevertheless felt somewhat slighted.  Many people who include their own original photographs in their blogs watermark them with their name and copyright info. I've always been reluctant to spoil the looks of a nice photo with such legalese nonsense — I'm a believer in the concept that "information wants to be free" and I reckon that includes photographic information. But then again ...

I'm happy that someone liked my photo enough to appropriate it for wider use but not overjoyed that I didn't get credited for it. In this much wider circle of viewers it received many more positive comments than it did when I first posted it. This motivated me to re-appropriate it  as my own.  You see it now as the new cover image on my blog. Btw, for those of you who aren't familiar with Homer or where it is in Alaska, here are some coordinates you can copy and paste into Google Earth or Google Maps. This location will put you right over the Spit. (N59.624274, W151.466733)

The day I captured the first three photos you see in this blog entry, including the image at top, was a fine day for photography. It was a cold, crystal clear winter solstice morning, Dec 21, 2008. I was living in a borrowed house just after the breakup of my marriage of 10 years. It had been a hard winter — a winter filled with much soul searching and many blue days. Just before the split my wife and I had bought tickets for a month's vacation in Fiji, a vacation we had hoped would heal the growing rift in a relationship that had bridged more than 20 years. Long story short and not surprisingly, she decided to stay home and take a refund for the tickets. After a lot of vacillating I finally decided to take a chance that I might be able to enjoy an exotic, mid-winter vacation on my own. I kept the tickets and began making plans. Part of those plans was the purchase of a camera to replace my venerable Nikon Coolpix 995. The new camera was a Canon G10.

That's how it came to pass that on that cold winter morning I found myself scraping the windshield of my old Camry in the dark so as to get into a good position up on West Hill Road to watch the sun rise over my beloved Kachemak Bay. I wanted to check out the G10 to see what it was capable of and to learn how to use it to make the coming trip to Fiji more fun and more memorable.

I've always enjoyed photography. My cousin Don and I had darkrooms in our basements back in the fifties and together developed many rolls of Kodak 620 film shot with our Kodak Hawkeye cameras. Then 20 years later, with my girlfriend Jean at our apartment on East Avenue in Rochester, New York, I put together a full featured darkroom in a second bedroom where we developed lots of Panatomic-X and Tri-X film from our 35 mm SLR cameras. We both had Nikkormats at the time. I sold mine to my good friend Joseph when I left New England for Alaska back in 1983; the last time I talked to him he still had it.
Brownie Hawkeye
Nikkormat 35mm SLR
But that was back in the day. Digital photography has changed all that. No more darkrooms, no more Dektol developer, no more tedious washing of prints or yellow boxes of enlarging paper for high and low contrast negatives, no stinky fixer baths, and no ferrotype plates. Now there's only Photoshop — it's darkroom, airbrusher, color-balancer, beautifier, post-processing, photo manipulator par excellence, rolled into one magnificent computer program. As I've remarked on many occasions, there is probably not a single image you've ever seen in a print or web publication that hasn't been run through Photoshop. The following photos are no exception.

The G10 can shoot in a mode called "camera raw". This mode produces a large file, on the order of 15 MB, that contains 16-bit color information recorded by the camera's sensor. Your computer monitor by comparison can display only 8-bit colors. Having 16-bits of color data to play with means one can minimize exposure errors, adjust color balance, and a host of other things before the in-camera firmware has transformed the sensor data into the standard 8-bit JPEG format you see at the end. By shooting in camera raw you're working with image data without having to sacrifice anything to the camera's internal JPEG algorithm. Now, the G10 is not a high end DSLR but it can produce images with a fairly high quality. Luckily when I shot these, I captured them in camera raw. (clicking on them should load a larger version.)

Solstice sunrise over Kachemak Bay, 9:50 am

Alaska and Kachemak Bay are very photogenic  —  I'm sure many gigabytes of images have been collected of scenes similar to the ones I've shown here. For those of you stuck in cities in the lower 48, take a gander at what for many years was the view I had from my car window during my short commute into town. Most of the mountains over there have no official names and with the exception of the tiny town of Halibut Cove practically nobody lives on that side of the bay. It's part of the allure of living in Alaska. I reckon the mere idea that there are no people, towns or shopping malls anywhere in one's field of vision is an attractive idea for most Alaskans, myself included.

Later that morning I caught this bull moose grazing peacefully in a meadow above the town. Moose cows and calves are quite a common sight in our neighborhood but bulls like this one are rarely seen, at least by me. Looking at these images now I'm asking myself why I don't get up early more often to take photos when the lighting conditions are so nearly ideal.

Solstice Bull, December 21, 2008 10:23 am
I don't work that much in camera raw anymore seeing as what I do with most of my photos is post them in my blog, on the web. Larger image files are harder to download and slow things down significantly. The JPEG format sacrifices some image quality as a means of reducing file size. The JPEG format was, in fact, developed to make it easier to load and use high quality photographs on the Internet and with computer monitors. (Exactly the same rationale pertains to the MP3 format for music.) Consequently most of the images I have are stored in medium size JPEG format and take up between 3 and 5 MB each. Here are a couple more Homer photos to complete this story.

Ashfall from Mt. Redoubt fills the sky over Kachemak Bay
On the morning of April 4, 2009, Mt Redoubt was active, spewing smoke and ash into the air. There was ash falling, the sky was almost black and one could see lightning flashing now and again. The mountains across the bay from Homer took on this weird reddish hue that I captured in the image above.

Magnificent Kachemak Bay
I'm enjoying my last couple of days with Tuli and Harper. I'll be sad to leave them but I'm getting stoked about being back in Homer too. Spoke with Nut today on Skype. She has just now gotten back to our place in Chiang Mai after an extended visit with family in Bangkok and Betong. Her daughter Dui Dui presented her with a granddaughter, her first grandchild, back in March so she was off being a grandma while I was playing grandpa here in Eugene. We both enjoyed it.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

An amazing material - D30

I have never written about motorcycle safety gear but I happened upon a very interesting product the other day at the local Cycle Gear shop here in Eugene and wanted to tell my motorcycling buddies about it. Rather than write an email to them I hit on the idea of posting it here where it might get wider circulation. The reason I think that is because my little discourse on Vespas has garnered an astounding 270 pageviews since I posted it back in March. (Another post, Maiden Voyage: Conclusion, about our first ride on the CBR250, got 300 hits!) I know I don't have that many dedicated followers out in cyberspace but apparently what I write about motorcycles and motorcycling gets read by more than my few I'm Outta Here faithfuls. Thanks are due to some other bloggers who have listed my blog as one they follow. No doubt some of their readers have decided to give my blog a look now and again. Anyway....

Last spring I bought some gear for the tour of the southwest on my VStrom; a Nolan N30 helmet, tough knuckle-armored biking gloves, waterproof armored riding boots. Seeing as I was heading into what I thought would be a hot, sunny desert climate and that in any case I'd soon be riding in tropical Thailand again, I bought a pair of open mesh cycling pants from Cycle Gear in Sacramento. Cycle Gear is a nationwide motorcycle accessories chain whose in-house brand is named Bilt. They offer a wide selection of fairly good quality gear at reasonable prices. The Bilt pants I purchased have conventional armor, that is to say plastic, knee protection and an external padded area on each hip to help prevent injury in the event of a fall. But I was never impressed with the sturdiness of those little buffer pads.

As I was stashing the pants in the closet before returning to the states I noticed they were fitted with two internal velcro-flapped pockets, one over each hip, that I had overlooked before. The pockets were empty but obviously designed to hold armor pads. Strange to have pockets with nothing in them, I thought.  But then, I only paid 100 bucks for them. What should I expect for that price? Once here in Eugene I decided to visit the local Cycle Gear shop in search of some genuine hip protection, ideally something made to fit those pockets. With the help of the friendly staff there I discovered D30. After a short and convincing demo in the store I ordered these hip pads and then did a little research. Here's the main d30 site.  And here is a Wikipedia article.

D30 pads, left one is in its velcro equipped holster - $25/pair
The orange, spongy pad is light, very flexible and soft to the touch. That is, until you hit it or try to poke something through it. Then it instantly stiffens to take on the consistency of hardwood or metal and becomes virtually impenetrable.
Here's some folks from "testing" some D30 armor
While I don't know how long the video links I've included below will be available (videos sometimes disappear quickly and without warning) short of testing the armor on yourself they are possibly the best intro to the properties of this amazing material.

Apparently D30 has found wide application as a lightweight and comfortable body armor for snowboarders, police and corrections personnel, even in cases for smartphones (naturally). The first link below is to a short YouTube video from the online motorcycle store "Go AZ Motorcycles" out of Scottsdale, Arizona.
Video: In store demo from
I tried the demo with a hammer on my own hand and I can tell you, the D30 works as claimed. I felt force and pressure but nothing that would bruise or break a bone.

This next one isn't about the trademarked product "D30" in particular, at least as far as I know, but about an amazing combination of a polymer, polyethylene glycol, and silica that has found its way into body armor of all sorts. The claims are similar to the ones made for D30 and I'm assuming this the same product or a precursor. And it's cool. The video is also a bit longer but if you have any interest at all in body armor it's certainly worth the 9 minutes you'll spend watching it. Towards the end you'll see some fabric reinforced with liquid armor that repelled a sharp, steel tipped hunting arrow with  impunity.
Video: Liquid Armor.
Here are just a couple more:
On the properties of D30 before shaping into a pad: How does D30 work?
D30 was originally used as a protective layer in ski caps. Watch "Smack me on the head with a Shovel."
In one of the videos you can see entire sets of pads being offered to replace the ones that came with your old gear. That might be a good investment. I hope I never have the need to test these pads "in the field" but if I do, I bet they will help defend my tender parts against a bad case of road rash.

Now that I've spent a bit of time writing this, I'll probably learn that many of you already knew about D30. If so, the laugh's on me. Please consider leaving a comment if you got anything out of this....

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Springtime in Eugene

I'm in Eugene visiting my son Tuli and grandson Harper. The weather here after the first few days has been almost perfect with sunny, blue skies and warm lilac-scented days. Everything's a-bloom here, unlike Homer where winter is still rearing its ugly head every few days to confound those with hopes of starting their gardening or other outdoor projects. It was a long hard winter up north, one of those that make me glad I've become a snowbird. I know if I were in Homer right now I'd be cursing the snow and the difficult hike to the little cabin up on the ridge at David and Jenny's where I spent the past three summers. That place was a wonderful summer hideout and I'll miss it a lot. However, I will not miss snowshoeing in and living without running water.

I've lucked out and found a terrific place to stay. I put out an APB by email to my Homer tennis friends asking if anyone knew of a place to rent or house sit.  Within hours I had a reply; the offer of a house to use for most of the summer. It's also up on the ridge north of Homer, near David & Jenny's, but a bit closer to town. And as a huge bonus it has satellite TV (think tennis and Wimbledon), broadband Internet (a major addiction satisfied), and running water. With that email the last of my concerns about the summer have been put to rest and I can be free to totally enjoy my time here in Eugene. Thanks to Betsy and Marsh who will be in Portland preparing for the arrival of two new grandchildren. My congrats and thanks also go to Lyric and Lyra for their most excellent timing ^_^.

"Boppa Dave" at Starbuck's with Tuli and Harper (above and below)

 I have some regrets about my life before I moved to Alaska but chief among them is that I wasn't around to watch and participate in my other grandchildren's lives. I have excuses. Who doesn't? I was working far away in Alaska, I had little time or money, I was single parenting part of the time, my kids are scattered all over the lower 48, etc. But those precious years are past and I missed them. Now that I'm retired and have some time to travel I'm determined that Harper won't grow up without knowing his weird, wandering grandpa from Alaska. That's by way of explaining why all the photos in this post have the little guy in them.

Here in Eugene, Max and Alice are part of Tuli's and my extended family. Both are old and dear Homer friends. Max is in school here and Alice moved down to be involved with Max's double lung transplant a few years ago. Alice is practically a second mom to Tuli and Max and Tuli have been best friends since they were 4 years old. Alice often took care of Tuli when I worked at the library in Homer. I remember picking him up after the late shift on Thursday nights, pizza night at Max and Lance's, where there was usually a slice left for me. Fond memories for which I'll always be grateful. We've all been getting together regularly for dinner since I got here. It's been great to spend so much time with people that are in almost every way part of my family. And now, with Harper on the scene, the whole thing is continuing except that now it's Aunt Alice and Uncle Max connecting with Tuli's boy. The cycle repeats itself ...

Harper with his Uncle Max and daddy -- Go Ducks!
With Aunt Alice at her home in Eugene

Harper in the Work Zone
 I guess that's all for now. I'm simply whiling away the days as the time comes for my trip north. I leave here on the 25th of May. Tuli's home from work with a case of strep throat so I'm doing my best to take care of him, sort of like the old days. I've been cooking his favorite foods and actually enjoying the extra time we're getting to spend together although this certainly ain't the best way to get it.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Family visit - East Coast

I began writing this while in Seattle after leaving there last September on my way west to Thailand. My arrival in SeaTac completed an 8 month long round the world circuit. It was the long way 'round and I doubt I'll ever do it again. Yet, even as I wrote that I thought of the fine time I had just had in Amsterdam. If I want to hang out there for a week, or a month, I'll need to do this very same trip again.

I spent some precious time with my mom, my brother Dale, sister Sandy and nephew Jason in Buffalo. It's always good to visit family -- we usually gather around the family photo collection and reminisce about the old days. My mom is the practically last one left  standing of many aunts, uncles and neighbors -- she's outlived my dad by 36 years and except for my Aunt Marion, dad's only sibling, they're all gone now. Our family was traditional in that we and our relatives always partied together; at picnics, graduations, weddings, holidays, and for vacations. There was always a barrel of beer on hand and tons of German style food -- beef on 'weck and German potato salad were perennial favorites. The photos bring back to us those times and beloved family members.
But only for a moment.

Mom will be 96 in November
The Buffalo contingent - April 22, 2012

With my brother Dale and sister Sandy
I also got together with some good college friends. Carm's wife Kim shot this photo of the four of us who graduated from the Industrial Chemistry program at Erie County Technical Institute (now Erie Community College) in 1963, almost 50 years ago. It's hard to believe all those years have passed. We're all retired now, our kids are grown and have kids of their own. Sheesh!

With Ron & Cheryl and Carmen at the Protocol Restaurant
I left Buffalo for a visit with my daughter Carin and her fast growing family. They live in North Carolina near Greensboro, in the town of Kernersville. My visit was brief because my youngest son, Tuli, had knee surgery scheduled for the 30th. Here we are at Smitty's, their favorite neighborhood restaurant, getting ready to have dinner. I high-fived Smitty on his decision to offer a tasty IPA on tap in addition to those tired old lagers he had last time I visited.

Carin, Kaiyah, Kellen, Jared and Walter at Smitty's for dinner


All the boys drive BMWs, while mom has a Honda van (naturally)
Kellen with dad's 2001 528i, Jared drives their new/used 1998 M3,
Walter poses with his BMW company car, a late model 328i (?)
After our dinner at Smitty's it was off to the airport for another all day, cross country jaunt. I arrived in Eugene yesterday evening and was delighted to see Tuli and my youngest grandson Harper waiting to fetch me. And I was delighted to be finished with airplanes and airports for a few weeks.

Next stop: Homer, Alaska.