Saturday, November 15, 2008

How to Take a Really Memorable Photo.

Bill Owens (Dolly Parton's Uncle) at the American Chestnut Foundation's 25th Anniversary Celebration in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Bill Owens is Dolly Parton's uncle. He is a songwriter who performs in the shows at Dollywood*. He is a supporter of the American Chestnut Foundation and provided the entertainment at the ACF's 25th anniversary celebration.

I bought my Sigma f/1.4 30mm lens for my Nikon D40 with events like this in mind. The ballroom in the Reed House Hotel in downtown Chattanooga seemed well enough lighted to my eyes but the light was quite dim for most cameras. Hotels are a horror show for existing light photographers. Lights are dim and oddly-colored and reflective surfaces are everywhere.


The Sigma was doing more or less what I had bought it for. I was shooting full auto and the D40 was doing 1/25 of a second at about f/2.8 -- an acceptable compromise for depth of field, hand-holdability and subject motion blur.


Mr. Owens was moving around a bit and the camera really liked that couple on the right side as the subject. I had a bit of a struggle getting it to ignore them and focus on Bill.


Add to that the facts that he had set up on the far side of the stage, I wasn't sitting that close to the stage and a 30mm lens is pretty wide at that distance and I was starting to get a bit frustrated. It didn't help that Mr. Owens was interacting with his slide show which kept his back mostly to me.


This shot above is probably the best I was going to do with the normal lens. I had convinced the camera to focus on the subject and I got a nice profile shot. But I wasn't completely satisfied. So, as he finished his last song I put on my longer but slower zoom lens and changed the setting that was keeping the camera from using the flash. I don't usually like photos taken with an on camera flash but they do generally have the advantage of being sharp and well exposed.

When Mr. Owens stood up after his set I also stood up and snapped the photo below.

It costs me a bit to admit that this is the most memorable photo of the group. The teleospouse still remembers the cost of the Sigma lens and my argument that it was my patriotic duty to go out and spend that economic stimulus check tends to fall on deaf ears. But she does react well to existing light photos. Unfortunately, this time it was the flash photo that grabbed her attention.

Looking at the shot on the LCD screen on the camera she told me that I really ought to show it to Mr Owens who was packing up his equipment.

I should have shown it to him. I'm sure he would have enjoyed it.

The problem is that I am a bit shy.

And I was already feeling a bit embarrassed by the Teleospose's howl when I showed her the photo. People were looking at us wondering what was going on.

Here's what she was looking at.


Entire Image

*I know what you're thinking. Dollywood, huh... But you're wrong. Dollywood is a class act. It's one of the nicest non-Disney theme parks with a wonderful mix of terrifying rides for teenagers, decent shows and traditional mountain craft exhibits. I recommend it.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Elephant


In the aftermath of the election, and Barack Obama's solid victory, there is a great deal of speculation about the future of the G.O.P. There is a widespread consensus that the Republicans lost the presidency, and lost seats in congress, because they deserved to lose. This comes not just from the places you'd expect -- the Democrats, the Libertarians, the Greens, the, um, whatever Naderites call themselves these days -- but also from a large number of Republicans -- perhaps a majority. So many people are saying it, indeed, that it has become quite the cliche and it is with some reluctance that I admit that I am one of them.

Conservative pundits have looked at the demographics of the recent vote and are feeling quite glum. This is not so much because they lost -- the Republicans were sailing into a sizable headwind this election and nobody was offering even money that they could win it -- but because they lost votes in all the demographic segments where they usually do well. It wasn't just the Democrats get-out-the-vote program that whelmed them, they were leaking votes in the demographic compartments that were supposed to keep them afloat.

The popular meme in the mainstream media is that there may have been a sea-change in the country, precipitated by war-weariness and the bad economy, and that the US is now a center-left country instead of a center-right one. This meme is on all the networks, presented rather gloomily on Fox News, cheerfully on CNN and CBS, and gleefully on the Beeb. There is, to be sure, some debate about it -- the talking heads on one side of the screen will point out the shift in voting patterns and assure us that the world has changed, while the heads on the other side of the screen will point to several ballot initiatives that suggest otherwise and say not so much, but the notion is never dismissed and the change in the vote is never explained away.

This leftward lurch meme is bunk, of course, and the reason is is never explained away is that the obvious explanation is something that the talking heads can't say -- a taboo subject. It is the elephant in the room that nobody is talking about.

For me, as a libertarian-leaning conservative, there is a bitter-sweet aspect to Obama winning the presidency. It is an historic event, an overdue milestone in our history, and a real accomplishment for our society. The slight bitterness arises from the fact that I had hoped -- and expected -- that the first black president would be a Republican. As an individualist, I try to resist identity politics -- to vote for the man and his policies, not for his ethnic identity -- but in resisting I can't deny that there is something to resist. History was there to be made on Tuesday and I could feel its pull. I didn't vote for Obama. I am enough of the Buckleyite to have stood athwart history on Tuesday, not so much yelling "STOP", as saying sadly "Not this time." But, since I am channeling William F. Buckley, I can't really criticize those, such as Buckley's son, Christopher, who were carried away by the flow.

My point is that having elected the first black president we all feel a sense of accomplishment -- even those of us who voted against him and fear that his policies will be a disaster -- it is a pleasing sense of something overdue which can be checked off of our lists. Vice-President elect, Joe Biden -- whose mouth is only loosely coupled to his brain -- inadvertently captured this sense during the Democratic primaries when he said "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy... I mean, that's a storybook, man."

I contend that the factor that cost McCain those missing votes in the safe parts of his base is that some people saw the election not so much as a contest between Democrats and Republicans -- or a contest between Barack Obama and John McCain -- as a referendum on the question "Is America ready for its first black president?"

The elephant in the room, which everyone is studiously ignoring, is that people voted for Barack Obama because he was black. Or more precisely, people felt ready to vote for a black president and there was Obama -- "articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy" the first presentable major-party black candidate for president. Biden was exactly right, it was a storybook moment.

The good news for the G.O.P. is that it is a one-off deal. In four years this historic moment will be merely history. The short attention-span media will have lost some of its infatuation, and Obama and the Democrats will need to run on their accomplishments. During their well-deserved time in the time-out corner, the strategists for the Republicans should ignore the illusory leftward movement of the voting public and focus instead on the basics -- having a message that makes sense, having candidates who can present the message, and generally generally acting like they have part of a clue about running a political campaign.

Photo Credit: The photo of an elephant in the rear view mirror is a creative-commons licensed photo by a flickr user named exfordy. The original photo is here:

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Belated Halloween

Jack-o-lanterns 2008

Didn't have any time to decorate for Halloween this year. I've been busy at work and the wife has a cold. The cold may be the same one that caused the host of our pumpkin-carving party to have to cancel his party last week. The pumpkins never got carved and, when I got home from work on Halloween night there was no time.

So... Since I wanted to do something, I grabbed a desk lamp and hid it behind a potted plant to illuminate the pumpkins and then decorated them with bits of black duct tape cut out with scissors.

The nice thing about using black tape is that it leaves the pumpkins intact so you can remove the tape and use them for your non-spooky autumnal decorations and, possibly, make a pie out of them later.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Update:Like many nursery rhymes this one turns out to be a fantasy although details of what actually did happen remain sketchy...

Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, mugger man

Give my your dough as fast as you can

I'll bat you, and roll you, and mark you with "B"

And put you in the hospital for Barack and me.

While it is unfair to blame to Obama campaign for this I would like a brief hiatus in the reporting of the hateful things that McCain supporters may (or may not) have shouted at a McCain rally.

A 20-year-old woman who was robbed at an ATM in Bloomfield was also maimed by her attacker, police said.
Pittsburgh police spokeswoman Diane Richard tells Channel 4 Action News that the victim was robbed at knifepoint on Wednesday night outside of a Citizens Bank near Liberty Avenue and Pearl Street just before 9 p.m.
Richard said the robber took $60 from the woman, then became angry when he saw a McCain bumper sticker on the victim's car. The attacker then punched and kicked the victim, before using the knife to scratch the letter "B" into her face, Richard said.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Panchronic Chameleon

Creative Commons licensed photo by Martha de Jong-Lantink

Pictured above is a Madagascar Chameleon, from the Greek for "ground lion". Cameleons are best known for their ability the change their color at any time in response to changes in their environment. The Madagascar Chameleon is Nonpanchronic Chameleon in that, while it can change color, the fact remains that it was previously a different color and may be yet another color at some time in the future. This is distinct from the Panchronic Chameleon which, when it changes color, changes its color over its whole history, past, present and future, so that, if it has changed color, not only is it the new color now, but it always was that color and it always will be that color.

Panchronic Chameleon.

How the recent vice-presidential debate is scored tends to depend on whose team the person doing the scoring supports. Those who are committed to the Obama/Biden ticket -- which includes almost all of the major media outlets -- tend to give the edge to Biden for his "greater command of the facts" although they do acknowledge a slight disappointment that Palin failed to be as bad as they had hoped. I, on the other hand, find the Obama/Biden ticket alarmingly liberal based on their voting record and tend to support McCain/Palin as the lesser of two evils -- I liked Palin's performance. But I do agree that Biden had the greater command of the facts. His command was so firm that he could command the facts to be whatever he found convenient.

I learned a lot from Biden while watching the debate. I learned, for instance, that Barack Obama never said he would sit down to talk with president Armadinajad of Iran without preconditions. Funny, I woulda swore I remembered him saying just that again and again and again. Something wrong with my ears, maybe, or my television, or my memory. And all those times Palin accused Obama of voting for this bill, or against that one -- why, it turns out that John McCain voted the same way! Has anyone told the Congressional Record? ...because they have apparently got it wrong.

And that bit about the vice presidency and the Constitution, I didn't know that the relation between the vice presidency and the Senate was so controversial. Presiding over the Senate and voting there in the event of a tie are the only day-to-day duties of the Vice President that are mentioned in the Constitution. When President Kennedy wanted Vice President Johnson to head some executive agencies Johnson, worried that the Constitution granted him no Executive authority, sought a Constitutional opinion before he accepted the responsibility. But the Constitution is a living document, deeply mysterious and filled with emanations and penumbras; and we are lucky to have experts like Senator Biden to interpret it for us. And how convenient for him that his Constutional fugue allowed him to work-in a mention of Dick Cheney, who the Democrats have worked very hard to vilify, and it allowed him to use the term "Unitary Executive" which appears to be a topic of grave concern whenever a Republican is in the White House.

Here is Biden on the Vice Presidency and the Constitution. The relevant part starts at about 3:50.

When you are playing Scrabble a word that had been played must be challenged immediately or it doesn't matter that it is illegal. Similarly, in a debate, making things up on the spot can be a winning strategy against a less knowledgeable opponent. Palin probably suspected that Biden was pulling some of these facts out of his ... er, let's say his hat ... but she couldn't be sure enough to challenge him on it and risk losing her turn. So she wisely decided to let it go and move on. A wonkier opponent -- say, Newt Gingrich -- might well have called Biden on some of his improvisations, and even then it might have been a mistake, but for Palin to take the bait would have been disastrous.

Of course, since the purpose of these debates isn't to establish who is the more-skilled debater but to give the public a sense of the philosophies of the candidates I am not sure that the public was well served that Biden was given a pass on his inventions.

But, then again, I could be wrong. It could be that Joe Biden really is the likable, centrist everyman that he suddenly appears to be, and that his 35 year voting record in the Senate is an anomaly. And Obama, who has worked to make this election a referendum on color, really may be the red-blooded, red-state, red white and blue-draped regular guy -- with, to be sure, an environmentally-responsible tinge of green -- that he now appears to be. If that is true then the rightist wingnuts ( such as you humble author) who worry about the few hints that leak out through the heavy media blockade around Obama's career -- hints suggesting that until quite recently he was a pinkish, blue-blooded leftist surrounded by radical reds and black-power extremists -- are worrying about nothing. It could be that Panchronic Chameleons really can change their colors in the past as well as the present and the future if you just believe.

I'd like to believe. It would be comforting. Joe Biden sure was likable during the debate. You could tell that Palin genuinely liked him. I did too. If only I could get over my old-fashioned ideas about the one-way flow of causality in time.

Some of Biden's reasoning can be a bit abstract and hard to follow, so here is an alternate explanation of the same principles from the World's Foremost Authority.

Come to think about it, Corey and Biden have a lot in common.


Professor Irwin Corey, The World's Foremost Authority, is a brilliant comic. I went looking for clips of him on YouTube for this piece and was delighted to find that at 94 he is still performing, and more impressively, as you can see from the above, he is still funny as hell.

Here's another clip of the professor from thirty-some odd years ago on the Smothers Brothers Show. I remember him doing this bit.

I couldn't find any clips of him on the Tonight Show. That is a pity because from these clips you don't get to see that he could make this stuff up on the fly. Johnny Carson would ask him a question and he would make up a five minute answer that would just kill you. He's a funny, funny man.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pre-election Short Films.

Update: Belmont Club readers, see update below.

I have a number of friends who are planning to vote for the Libertarian candidate for president to express their displeasure with both of the major party candidates. Here's a short film posted by a pro-Obama group that might give them something to think about.


Note: This video was pulled briefly by its source but appears to be back up.

Johah Goldberg posted it as a sort of political litmus test.

My reaction? I am reminded of this:

Update 1 October 2008: I read The Belmont Club blog every day but I very much doubt that Richard Fernandez (aka. Wrechard the Cat) reads The Teleoscope. So it is quite a coincidence that he has a posting today that is almost exactly like mine yesterday. His posting is "Sing for Change" which is the title of one of the songs in the video.

In addition to the two videos I embedded he added a third which I find amusing so I'll add it here, too. It's quite short.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The price of gas.

Here are two news stories that might interest you: Tempers flare at pumps; Easley says gas coming. from WCNC in Charlotte. And Three More NC Gas Stations Issued Subpoenas from WFMY in Greensboro.

The upshot is that Hurricane Ike disrupted the fuel delivery system that provides gasoline to North Carolina from refineries on the Gulf coast. Some gas stations, worried about their supply of gasoline, immediately raised their prices, in some cases before the storm made landfall. Other gas stations kept their prices the same, and the public, also worried about the supply of gas and expected price increases during the shortage, all filled up their vehicles. Pretty soon the stations with the original prices started running out of gas.

When Hurricane Ike was declared a disaster, North Carolina's 'Price Gouging' laws kicked in and the gas stations that raised their prices started getting subpoenas. This, of course, depressed gas prices (running out of gas and losing sales is cheaper than lawyers) and most of the rest of the stations ran out of gas, especially in Charlotte and Ashville where the supplies were particularly limited.

Since the prices were held low and gas was scarce, there was no incentive for drivers to limit their purchases. When they saw gasoline they lined up and filled up, not knowing when they would see gas for sale again since most of the stations were out. Similarly, since the price the gas distributors could get for delivery in Charlotte, where they were running out of gas, was the same as the price they got in Raleigh, where the supply held up better, there was no economic incentive to send gas there first. This isn't to say that the gas distributors are unsympathetic, only that there were gas shortages everywhere and with the pricing signals of the market muted it was difficult to prioritize.

But wait! Our beneficent Governor has acted to fix the problem. Hooray! He has gone, hat in hand, to beg the oil companies for more oil. Of course, he had to stand in a long line with other governors with equally sad stories -- and the oil distributors still have no clue where to send that next tanker.

It might seem like the whole "keep the prices low and run out of gas" thing could have been avoided but then, how would we know that our state government cares about the little guy? Besides, gasoline is too important a commodity to count on mere competition to hold down prices. It's not like there's a gas station on every corner.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Ring around the moon (Lunar halo) and moondogs. This is not lens flare.

This is a photo of the moon taken in front of my house Sunday night. I noticed the ring around the moon while I was walking the dogs and it was impressive enough that I called the Teleospouse on my cell phone to tell her to go outside and look at it. When I got home I took this photo. This is a wide angle shot; the ring occupied a big chunk of sky (44 degrees across). I had to go half-way down the block to get enough open sky to get most of the ring without trees. I overexposed the moon to bring out the ring around it and the moondogs to the left and right.

Rings around the Sun or the Moon are caused by ice crystals high in the atmosphere. Ice crystals are hexagonal and the strongest internal reflections bend the incoming light rays approximately 22 degrees. If they are randomly oriented this gives you a ring around the Sun or Moon. There will be some ice crystals above the moon bending the light 22 degrees down and some below bending the light up. Left, right, a bit above or below, everywhere on the ring 22 degrees out from the Sun or Moon there will be some crystals oriented to bend the light into your eyes. Rings are easy to explain.

The dogs are harder to explain. They are visible in the photo as bright spots slightly above the moon just outside the 22 degree ring. They are always to the left and right of the Sun or Moon -- never above and below or at any other orientation. I am told that they are cause by pencil-shaped ice crystals that are falling and line up vertically so they only refract light to the left and right.

If you look between the Moon and the dogs you can see a faint arc that runs through the Moon and the dogs. That is, the dogs are actually part of another ring that runs through the moon all the way around the sky with its center directly overhead. That ring, parallel to the horizon, is called the Parhelic Circle if it runs through the Sun. I dunno what to call it with the Moon -- Parselenial Circle, maybe? I think the Par-whatever Circles are caused by reflection off the shiny sides of the vertically-aligned pencils of ice.

On exactly one occasion I have seen a full Parhelic Circle on a sunny winter day twenty years ago. I also remember a second full ring around the Sun outside the 22 degree ring with very bright sundogs appearing where this ring crossed the Parhelic Circle. Here's a drawing of the sky as I remember it.

"Z" marks the zenith -- the point immediately overhead.

The dotted green line shows the part of the rings/circles/etc. that are visible in my photo of the moondogs above. I think that the outer ring that I remember is caused by the same pencil-shaped ice crystals that cause the Parhelic Circle only not vertically aligned. The discussions I have seen of ice halos don't mention this outer circle but I remember it vividly from that twenty-year-ago winter day and it does explain the position of the sun/moon-dogs outside the 22 degree ring (which my moondog photo does show.)

The Parselenial Circle is interesting because it looks curved but, thanks to the brain-hurting properties of non-euclidean geometry, it is also parallel at all points to the horizon which appears straight. This means that the moondogs which appear higher than the Moon aren't really. If I had turned my camera to place one of the dogs in the center the Moon would have appeared higher than the dog. Here is an explanatory diagram which I offer to deepen the mystery.


For more information about ice crystal halos, see Les Crowley's Atmospheric Optics Site or Steve's Atmospheric Phenomena

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I think it's the Haircut.


Nobody thinks that Bush and McCain have a real answer to the challenges we face. So what they're going to try to do is make you scared of me. You know, `he's not patriotic enough, he's got a funny name,' you know, `he doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills.' -- Barack Obama

As a conservative* I am skeptical of the Marxist notion of history as a process that responds to deterministic dialectic forces that control its flow and make it extend into the future as certainly as it extends into the past -- skeptical, but not altogether immune. There is a sense in this country that we are ready to turn the corner on the race issue -- that out of an understanding of our admittedly-racist past, and an appreciation of the more recent achievements blacks have made in society, we are ready for a new synthesis in the form of our first black president. I feel it. I share it. But I think our responsibility as citizens of our democracy is to choose the man we think will do the best job and then, if he turns out to be black (as he inevitably will some day), so much the better. Sadly, I don't think Barack's the guy.

But the news media apparently don't share my point of view. People will tell you that the media are in the tank for Obama but that is simply not true. It's not Obama they are enamored with, it is history. They are simply captivated with the sense that the moment for the first black president has come... and Obama is the candidate at hand. Here is the Rolling Stone cover I stole Obama's mug from to put him on the Twenty.


I chose the Rolling Stone's cover because it has Obama facing more or less the same direction as Jackson is on the twenty and because it has him looking rather Jacksonian I think. It is only right now as I type this, having just pasted the image into the text, that I notice the subhead of the Stones' endorsement: "The Candidate and the Call of History." What a perfect example of my thesis here. [Note to self: track down this issue of the Stone and see if it makes me look like an ass.]

The reason Obama keeps mentioning his blackness is not so much to accuse his detractors of being secret racists as to remind people of the flow of history and his appointed place in it. This is not to say that some of Obama's supporters don't think that all Republicans are closet racists; of course there are such people in Obama's base but there is simply no reason for him to campaign to them right now; he can take them for granted (and he does) since they have nowhere else to go.

Obama's not-so-secret weapon is the undeniable fact that the 'mantle of history' appeal works really well with undecided voters -- it resonates with the people in the middle who both candidates need to win. Independents tend to be less ideological and are much more susceptible to the argument that it is time for a black president.

That is why McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as Vice President is so brilliant. Undecided voters are also open to the idea that the time is right for a female president. Suddenly McCain has as good a grip on the mantle of history as Obama does. McCain's age, which was a big negative before, now adds spice to the "first woman president" angle. McCain is not likely to run for a second term and a Palin candidacy in four years is highly probable. And the fact that Palin is a strong conservative helps shore up McCain's wobbly support in his own base.

With the "mantle-of-history" gap suddenly closed, independent voters are faced with the odious chore of choosing between the candidates based on the issues -- a task which both candidates render almost impossible by making their campaign material indecipherably vague.

Currently the Obama campaign is trying, with little success, to convince the public that Sarah Palin isn't, you know, really a woman, but is instead some sort of Stepford Wives, Republican homunculus who is unfit to claim the mandate of history. It's an uphill struggle but they have to discredit her to make the contest once again a referendum on race relations. If they can't make that work they run the risk that the middle-of-the-road voter will notice Obama's voting record which (for 2007) was the most perfectly liberal in the country.


Although there have been a few defections, Obama still has the media in his corner. Most of them are Liberals and they hate the idea that the forces of history might be co-opted by the other side. But suddenly, with Palin in the race, the coverage is much less about the exciting moment in history and more about good old-fahsioned mud slinging.

*I describe myself as a "conservative" to save time since "hawkish minarchist traditionalist libertarian fuaionist" doesn't mean anything to most of my readers, readers who, if the terms are explained to them, will respond with "Oh, that's some kind of a conservative, right?"

Friday, September 05, 2008

LazyDays in 3D.

Last Saturday the Teleospouse and I went to the LazyDays street festival in our hometown of Cary, North Carolina. I took along my Nikon D40 with my SKF-1 1980s-vvintage, Russian-made 3D adapter (of which I have written here before).

To view these 3D photos requires good binocular vision and a bit of practice. Sit slightly back from you monitor, look at the photo and then relax your eyes so it goes a bit out of focus. Next, cross your eyes slightly so you see three images instead of two. Then concentrate on the image in the middle which should appear in 3D (like a ViewMaster slide). Be sure to hold you head straight up and down; if you cock your head to one side it won't work.

It may help to view the images a bit larger. If you click on the images you will be taken to my flickr page where you can click on the "all sizes" button to pick the size you want to look at. The bigger you make the image the further back you should sit from your monitor. Here are some pirates for you to practice on.


I'm not sure why there were pirates at lazy days. I saw a couple of groups but these two looked the best in their costumes and were the only ones I chased down and photographed. They might have been performing on one of the event stages and I didn't catch their act.

The SKF-1 is not exactly easy to use in crowds. To take a photo that had both pirate and wench in the usable part of the stereo image I had to stand on the other side of the sidewalk half-way across the street. My pirates were very patient holding their pose while we waited for a gap in traffic on the sidewalk so I could grab the shot.

The old 30mm lens that lets me use the SKF-1 on my D40 doesn't autofocus and it lacks the linkage that would allow the camera's meter to work. This means that I was doing everything manually -- focus, aperture, shutter -- and guessing at exposure. While trying to grab opportunistic shots in a crowd on day where the sun was in and out of little puffy clouds I tend to forget to focus half the time, and of those shots where I do focus I guess wrong on the exposure half the time and the few photos you see here were selected from a much larger set of pictures that just didn't come out.

Since I find 3D photography interesting this posting will have a certain amount of technical discussion which some of my readers may find tedious. Feel free to skip or skim the text and just look at the pictures. I won't mind.

Here are those pirates again. Same photograph, different presentation.


Mounted on my camera with the lens I am using the SKF-1 tends to vignette. That is the images fade off into blackness at the edges. This would be OK except for the fact that it fades off at different points for the left and right eye images and it detracts from the 3D effect to see an object with one eye but not the other. In this second presentation of the pirates I have adjusted the vignetting so that it is approximately the same on both sides. I airbrushed out the parts of each image that don't appear in the other image in the pair. This presentation makes the subject a bit smaller (because I left room on the edges to fade to black) but it helps keep the edge of the frame from confusing the stereo effect.

Here's a shot of the crowd in the street. I don't know who the young lady in the photo is. I wanted a shot of the crowd and he happened to be there providing a not-unwelcome foreground element.


If you uncross your eyes for a minute and look at the image normally you will notice that the two images differ slightly in sharpness, focus and contrast. It's interesting that these defects in the photo are less apparent when you view it in stereo. Your brain will tend to take detail information from the eye with the sharper view and ignore the one-eye fuzzy bits. We can thank our soviet-era Ukrainian optics for an opportunity to observe this fascinating effect.

Here are a couple of shots of a local politician out pressing the flesh.



This is my lovely wife in her ridiculous hat.


Notice that she is in focus on the left side and the bald guy in the background is in focus on the right. Both images were shot with on lens shooting through flat glass and flat mirrors. I can't explain why the focus is different on different sides but there you go.

Here's a closeup of part of a potters display.


The stereo effect is rather muted on this one. The SKF-1 works better with people-sized subjects.

The town had volunteers sitting on beach-lifeguard-style chairs and providing information. Here's one...


...and here's another.


Heres another shot of that lady in the hat.


Here's a guy carrying a dog.


This shot shows the difficulty of shooting 3D in crowded settings. The lady on our left -- in the blue shirt and sunglasses -- appears in one image but not the other. You will see her with your left eye but not your right. In general, with 3D photos you want the same distant background in both images with your foreground subjects in the center of the frame so they don't get truncated by the edge of the frame. Because my subject was standing in a crowd of people it is difficult to find a crop that doesn't truncate someone in the foreground.

A booth with flowering plants.


The tall, skinny format, combined with the need to keep the subject objects away from the edge of the frame made this a less-than-compelling image.

A display of hand-made neckties.


I wanted to get the man who made the ties, and his ties, and my wife in the mirror, all in the same shot. But because of the tall, narrow shape of the image I couldn't get it all in. You can see just a bit of the tie-maker on the left side of the photo. He was wearing a red t-shirt.

Here's a shot of a statue in front of the Cary Public Library.


It's a fairly successful example of making the vignetting symmetrical.

Here's a little girl playing around the same statue.


It's not a particularly successful stereo photo. The girl is nicely exposed but the background is so dark that you don't get much sense of depth. Pity. I like her pose and her outfit.

Here's the last photo. It's the same random young lady we saw before.


That is the end of the main session, so to speak. For those who are interested I will briefly go over the process for taking the images as they came from the camera and processing them to be viewed as a cross-eye 3D picture.

Here is the image above as it came off the camera. (Note: this is NOT a cross-eye image and can't be viewed that way. If you have a parallel-image stereo viewer that would work but crossing your eyes won't.)


The first step in preparing an SKF-1 3D image for crosseyed viewing is to take the left half of the image and put it on the right and take the right half and put it on the left. This image has had the sides reversed and it can be viewed by the crosseye method. It is not a particularly satisfactory 3D image, however, since the field of view differs between left and right and several ghost images caused by internal reflection are visible near the center of the image. More steps are needed to correct these problems.


The next step is to sharpen the image and correct the contrast and exposure.


The SKF-1 3D adapter I used to take this shot tends to get ghost images on the edges from internal reflections within the adapter (especially when shot with a large aperture). These will need to be omitted from the final crop but, fortunately, they fall outside of the area where the left and right images overlap so we won't lose any stereo information.

Here I've circled the ghost-images of tents to our left and right.


Next we find left and right crop locations.

The SKF-1 is a bit walleyed. The right-eye image includes information on the right side that does not appear in the left-eye image. Similarly the left-eye image includes stuff on the left that isn't in the right-eye image. In this image I have added arrows that indicate objects that mark the left and right extreme of the area where the images overlap on the distant background details. The useful stereo image extends from the right edge of the vertical sign on the left to the middle twig in the tree on the right.

The arrows here indicate the left and right extent of the useful stereo image.


This image has the confusing extra stuff on left and right removed. It comes together better now as a stereo image. The vignetting at the top is still something of an annoyance since it differs from left to right.


The useful stereo image with the SKF-1 consists of two tall and narrow images. Since this photo had rather more sky tan we needed, and since the vignetting at the top of the image was a problem I cropped it at the top as well as the sides.


Taking our reversed, corrected and cropped images and mounting them side by side gives the finished product (which we have seen before).


Saturday, August 30, 2008

By Request: More Cicada Shots.

A friend who read my blog was complaining the other day that I haven't posted anything in months except a few "photos of that bug." So, always looking to satisfy my readers, I have more pictures of the same bug. Or more precisely, pictures of a different individual of the same species of bug.


This cicada is emerging as a winged adult from its old, cast-off wingless juvenile skin. I saw it clinging to the underside of one of our garden sheds when I was taking out kitchen scraps to the compost bin.

Thie shot above was taken with a small flashlight held in my left hand and my D40 in my right. I turned off the flash and used center spot metering.

I shot a dozen or more photos and only a few came out properly lit and focused. I was shooting at the close end of my lens's range and, since the flashlight wasn't that bright and I was hand holding the camera, I needed a large aperture which made for a very shallow depth of field. It was difficult to get the whole insect in focus at the same time.

Here's another shot from a slightly different angle.


I don't much like using my on-camera flash. It works fine and gives well iluminated photos but it tends to flatten the subject and make it less interesting. But it does reliably get the shot. Here is a flash photo of the cicada.


It is interesting that you can see that the castoff skin is muddy. Cicadas spend years living underground (up to 17 for some specis) and then molt and become adults almost immediately after they emerge from the ground. This one still had mud stuck to him when he shed his skin.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Cicada Snap Shots

I have promised several of my readers that I will be posting some of my photos from this spring's Alaska cruise 'Real Soon Now.' And I will. But it takes forever to go through thousands of photos looking for the best ones (or, often, any good ones) and I am not done. But, while you wait: a few snapshots of a cicada I found on my front walk.


I found this cicada on the sidewalk in front of my house at about 1 am. I put it on the back side of a piece of shingle I had near the door and took this photo. This insect has just done its final molt to emerge as an adult. Its wings are still too wet here for it to fly.

This isn't much of a photo (direct flash photos always suck to some degree) and a cicada is not an attractive insect. But the colors of the wings are pretty amazing before they dry out.


The next morning the cicada's wings are almost dry. The insect is clinging to the front side of the shingle (Armstrong, Harbor Blue) and the tips of the wings are transparent, having lost their milky-blue color of the night before.


Here is the cicada on the hood of my car. The shingle is gone except for a couple of granules sticking to the wing.

Shortly after I took this photo it flew off.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Whackerman, Spare that Weed!

Whackerman, Spare that Weed!

I was out whacking weeds today with my noisy string trimmer. I edged in behind the garbage can and found this shady tableau. The purple flower is a very invasive, fast growing vine that gets into everything and our wild strawberries are taking over half the yard. But this grouping was so pretty there in the shade that I put down my Weed Whacker and grabbed the Nikon.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Cheap Critic: Northanger Abbey


janeaustenA few months ago the PBS Masterpiece series aired their adaption of Northanger Abbey. I'm sure it must have been lovely -- attractive, witty persons with authentic accents and costumes strolling around in beautifully-filmed period homes and gardens. Very fine I am sure. -- but I didn't see it and that's not what I will be writing about here. Instead, I am reviewing a free audiobook that I downloaded from

For those who don't know -- and you should know -- LibriVox is a repository of free public domain audiobooks uploaded by volunteer readers. You just browse their catalog, listen to a sample chapter or two to see if the reader is up to the task and download the book to your Ipod or other MP3 player. You won't find the latest best sellers there -- most of their selections were written at least half a century ago -- and the quality of the readings is spotty, but if you like old books and are willing to pick through their offerings there are marvels to be had there -- and Northanger Abbey (Version 2*) is one of them.

Northanger Abbey is less familiar to modern audiences than are Austen's other works because most people get their first exposure to Austen's books from film adaptations and Northanger Abbey does not lend itself to easy adaptation. For every film version of Northanger Abbey you can expect to see three or four versions of Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility. They are easier to adapt.

Northanger Abbey is Austen's most explicitly comic novel but almost all of the humor comes from the way it is written -- with layers of meaning and archly dry descriptions of the actions and motivations of the characters -- and almost none of the comedy is arises from the plot, what little plot there is. Our heroine is the ingenue of the piece and, where Austen could put witty words in the mouth of an Emma Woodhouse or an Elanor Dashwood, she could not do so with the simpler Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey so Miss Austen, herself, had to step into the narrative to make the comments. In Nortanger Abbey, more than in her other books, you get the sense of the author as a presence in the story, pointing out absurdities and ironies and cracking the occasional joke.

This playfulness of the prose makes for a delightful read -- and a damn fine audiobook -- but for a difficult adaptation as a dramatic presentation. Fifty years ago you could have used voice-over to maintain that sense of the author's presence but today's audiences have heard too much of it and they find that it reminds them of Walt Disney's 'nature' films (Perry the Squirrel, etc.) which can be a distraction.

* I haven't listened to version one and the fact that I am reviewing Version 2 should not be taken as a reflection on the readers of the other version. The reason I skipped the first version uploaded and went straight to the second is that, all things being equal, I usually prefer a single-reader for all chapters of a book. The other version was a team effort of some 18 distinct readers each taking a chapter or two.