Dead Man’s Curve

NH Route 16, looking north, 30 second exposure.
NH Route 16, looking north, 30 second exposure.

Seriously. They call it that. It’s dodgy even in summer, but the view at the turnout (looking the other way) is pretty nifty.

Andromeda Galaxy (M31), NASA photo.
Andromeda Galaxy (M31), NASA photo.

Unfortunately, not only was it cloudy looking south, the trees have grown in so there’s not much to see for another couple of months when the foliage thins out.

I’m still trying to work on my wide angle focusing for shots like this. Stars are either in focus or they aren’t. I did so-so tonight. I like that a few late-night travelers were heading toward Gorham or points north, east, or west. I notice that one of the cars’ brake lights is flickering. Maybe all taillights do that, and it takes a long exposure to see the pattern that our eyes miss.

My favorite part of a north-facing summer sky shot is the Andromeda Galaxy, shown here above and a little to the right of the mountain peak. Stars in the frame are anywhere from, I don’t know, 20 to 1,000 light years away; after they trail off, there’s another 2.3 million light years of empty space before we run into Andromeda, itself about 150,000 light years across.

Below Average White Balance

Tree in field outside Bethel, Maine.
Tree in field outside Bethel, Maine.

I was shooting some little stuff at the dining room table last night, using my new 100mm Canon macro lens. I didn’t want the overhead light to turn everything yellow, so I adjusted my camera’s AWB settings for indoors. I forgot to change it back, which is unfortunate for what it did to an otherwise lovely photo opportunity. I saw this tree driving to Falmouth this afternoon and made a note to try and shoot it when I was driving back.

The bad AWB setting screwed with the color. It’s kind of interesting in an off-world way, but I would have much rather just captured the light that I saw. (I tried using Photoshop to fix it, but the video tutorial went over my head; I have no idea how people figure that thing out.)

Still, the macro has some really sweet capabilities. The narrow depth of field makes it hard to focus, of course, but I like how I can blur backgrounds now without cheating on the FocusPro app.

I really, really like my new lens.

New Glass

Last night, Mrs. cpb made me open my birthday present two days early. She got me a 100mm Canon macro lens, which will allow me to take closeup photos of small objects without having to use my zoom lens. The zoom served me well, but that kind of focal length can lead to distortion and blurred images, especially if you can’t keep your hands completely still.

I knew an honest-to-God macro would improve my closeup stuff, but wow, was I unprepared for the difference. I have a lot to learn—the depth of field is about the diameter of a hydrogen atom—but even these crummy photos are light years better than the stuff I was taking before.


Thunderhead over western Maine from Gorham, NH
Thunderhead over western Maine from Gorham, NH

IMG_8490When we set sail for the East Coast, the prospect of a regular thunderstorm was one of many things I looked forward to. While we get more here than we got in Portland, it appears to be five or six a year instead of one or two. Still, that’s better than no fireworks at all.

I got this photo today in a hardware store, looking northeast about thirty miles. That mature anvil top is definitely not something I got to see back in Oregon. The line of storms continued to the north all evening. I went to school and got a few frames, but had had to fire off almost a hundred 1/10th exposure, five or six at a time. Let’s just say my reflexes are not on a part with lightning. Lots of “black Wyoming” on the SD card. The one to the right is the best of the bunch. I’d love to get something like this someday, though. Even once.

Rocket Man

Late Friday afternoon, I strapped a keychain camera to an Estes model rocket and sent the mother up:

Not bad.

Incidentally, I used some music from Gustav Holst’s The Planets as a nod to a great sequence from The Right Stuff, the part where John Glenn is lifting off on his orbital flight. They used footage of a camera aimed down the fuselage of a rocket, just like mine was, switching from “Mars” to “Jupiter” at that point. I’ve loved that clip since I first saw it 30 years ago:

Anyway, here are the specs for my flight:


  • Estes Riptide model
  • Price: $29. Includes launch pad and launcher. Battery and engines not included.
  • B 6-4 engine (Pack of three, $10-ish)


  • Agent Spy 007 Sniper Mini Spy Camera
  • Price: $25
  • 8 GB memory card
  • HD Video High Resolution (yeah, no—cpb)
  • PC and Mac compatible (yes, probably on the PC part; “quirky” on a Mac—cpb)

My results:

Not a bad way to videotape a rocket launch. I tried the old Estes photo rockets long ago, two, in fact, and never got a single useable frame out of either. Twenty years later, yet another miracle of the age: $25 will get you a lightweight, almost indestructible video camera. Frankly, i’m surprised that the whole thing worked as well as it did. I’m surprised not just because the camera worked in this rather unintended use **, but also because I attached the damn thing to the side of the rocket with masking tape. I didn’t affect the flight in any way that I could see.

The video quality was less than ideal. But given that the thing weighs about three ounces (and that’s the shipping weight, including the box and the cable). I wasn’t expecting GoPro quality. You could use the head of a pin as the lens cap.

That doesn’t mean I was 100 percent satisfied with the experience. The two-button setup, plus one tiny LED light, made it tough to know what the thing was doing. It took about twenty tries to figure out that steady light, followed by blinking, followed by the light going out meant that it was recording. (Then you have to follow that up with two quick button presses to end the session. Not easy to do with a device taped to a smoking piece of rocket.)

Even before that, though, getting the thing to record—and knowing that it was on at all—took a lot of practice. It’s a little inconsistent, and mine didn’t work the way I’d seen in the instructions or on several YouTube clips. Two flights before this one, the thing apparently didn’t record at all, which was really disappointing. I was on my last B engine when I got everything squared away.

Also, the interface with a Mac takes some getting used to. Sometimes the Photos app recognizes it when you plug it in and immediately converts the videos to something usable. Most times, though, you need to use a third party website to convert the .avi format to Quicktime.

I might fly again later using the three C engines I bought originally before chickening out and going with the B’s. C’s would give me a longer ascent and a better view of Gorham and its surroundings. As I wrote in the video, though, altitude = risk. One, I’m a stone’s throw from Mt. Washington. The winds here are as constant as they are unpredictable. Higher flight means longer descent under a parachute which could mean my rocket landing somewhere in Maine. And two, I just don’t have a large enough launching space here in Gorham. My school’s playground is about as big as it gets, and it really needs another three hundred feet or so on either end to be a good idea.

Oh, and the flying part: The Riptide is the perfect base rocket for something like this. You don’t need anything fancy to make a rocket video. The Riptide was essentially a three-piece deal. No gluing of fins, no cosmetic parts interfere with the camera. Plug and play.

Final verdict: I’d recommend this set-up. If you’re already into rockets and you haven’t videotaped yet, do it. Model rocketry is interesting the first few times you do it, but you get diminishing returns after a while. You can only be entertained by a whoosh and a flash of smoke two or three times before it all gets a little repetitive. I’m still dubious about the benefits even to education, other than as a “motivating” feature.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a great way to liven up your next launch, give this a go. Cheap thrills.

** I don’t want to know what most people use miniature keychain cameras for.

Tiny Cog

Cog railway train, Mt. Washington summit, NH
Cog railway train, Mt. Washington summit, NH

I got this photo of the Cog Railway at Mt. Washington last week. I tried to make a fake mini out of it. The more I come back to it, the better I think I did.

The Cog is a unique means to get to the summit. I can say that before one day last summer, I never had climbed a mountain inside what was essentially a toy train. I still prefer driving. The Cog was interesting, but kinda slow. Meanwhile, there’s the challenge of the Auto Road. It can be unnerving. You drive between huge drop offs, often with no guardrail to keep you from rolling down all the way back down to Route 16.

But best part about driving up? Rolling up your window. Mt. Washington can be 80 degrees and muggy at the base, and mid-November at the top. The Cog Railway trains are basically open to the elements. Poking your way up into the cloud deck reminds you that clouds form for a reason: wet, cold, hurtling air.

The Basin

The Pemigewasset River does really cool things on its trip through Franconia Notch, as you can see.

I can’t say that this is my best work, since we were heading home from a trip to Manchester and I was a little rushed. Also, it was getting dark, and I learned that shooting long exposure times doesn’t help as much as I would have liked.

This is a spot called The Basin. Fortunately, it’s right off Interstate 93, so you can pull off the road and five minutes later be in the middle of all this. Unfortunately, it’s right off Interstate 93, which means one of these images had to have whooshing cars cropped out of it.

12(y = cosh(x))

Suspended chains, Gorham Hydroelectric site, Gorham, NH

We found a new place to walk the other night, toward the east end of town. There’s a canal off the Androscoggin River that leads to an operational dam, which is actually churning out a couple megawatts of power. Past the dam is a spot where the canal rejoins the river. When fall comes, the leaves will be spectacular.

I’m not entirely sure how much two megawatts is, but I’m pretty sure it could power a whole bunch of houses in town. It’s nice to know that when the zombies come, we can drive to Errol and stock up, then drive home and watch ESPN.


Mallard, Crawford Notch State Park, NH
Mallard, Crawford Notch State Park, NH

I met this fine fellow earlier this week, swimming at the Willey Home Site. Jaunty, stylish, and more than a little full of himself, he served as a reminder that college football season is but six weeks away. I hope Oregon’s new quarterback gets his act together so he can play on time.

It’s funny: A year before I graduated from UO back in the ’92, you better believe I had my classes lined up. Who screws up a graduation timeline?

I like The Sporting News’ headline: “Vernon Adams’ Oregon status in question thanks to academics.” Like, once again it’s the fault of this horrible “school” thing they make college athletes have to deal with.

Mrs. Clinton Comes to Gorham

Hillary Clinton visited our little town yesterday and marched in our Fourth of July parade. I don’t know how I’m going to vote yet (and when I do, I won’t talk about it here, because I’m not stupid). But Mrs. Clinton seems like a smart, tough lady and probably is just as qualified as anybody else to be President of the United States.

Mrs. cpb isn’t sure who she’s going to vote for, either. But my wife is very sweet and thought it was pretty cool that a major political figure would be walking right by us when we stood on Main Street for the parade. She wanted to make Mrs. Clinton feel welcome. Before I had even gotten out of bed yesterday, she’d made two signs to welcome the former First Lady to Gorham.

A few other locals made signs of their own. They were asking questions about Benghazi and accused Mrs. Clinton of being a liar and (for reasons I didn’t get clarified) “anti-woman.” My problem is not that I agree or disagree with what they’re saying (though I’m pretty sure that Mrs. Clinton likes women as a group, and that she was cleared on the Benghazi thing in, like, November). My problem is that I just don’t understand why they’re so mad.

Before I present my photos, I will ask a general, rhetorical question about modern Right Wing politics. And I ask this as someone who has some conservative values and even registered as a Republican not terribly long ago.

So here’s my question, Right Wingers:

What is your deal?

You don’t have to like Hillary Clinton, obviously. In fact, you’re free to dislike her quite a bit. Her husband—though he was undeniably a good president—had the unfortunate taint of scandal hovering around him even before he took office. But like another reasonably decent president whom you guys really despise for some reason, there seems to be no rational reason for the intense, vocal, bitter hatred that you sling her way.

Back in January 1993, Bill Clinton was giving his first State of the Union address. I was a young newspaper reporter in the Southern Oregon city of Roseburg (My proposed motto for Roseburg: “If there were a ballot measure to make enslaving black people legal again, no more than a third of us would vote ‘Yes’!”). My editors asked me to go around while Clinton’s speech was going on and get people’s reactions. At about the point where Clinton was talking about universal health care, I wandered out of the rain and into an appliance store. There, the lonely proprietor was watching Clinton on a wall of TV’s. I asked him how he thought the speech was going.

I don’t remember his exact words, but they were really angry. According to him, the country was going to hell, America was about to be taken over by the United Nations, and Bill Clinton was the first in a long line of leaders who would rule us with a mandate handed down (up?) by the Antichrist. Then he said a bunch of Bible verses.

At this point, Clinton had been in office for twenty-eight days.

I wish I could say that he was atypical of people who hate the Clintons, President Obama, political pragmatism, etc, etc. But he wasn’t. I’ve run into dozens of people like him while working both in journalism and education. The first thing I notice is that they’re really vocal. The second is that they don’t really seem to care whom they are vocal with.

A recent example: I was mailing a package from North Conway last week. The news that Mrs. Clinton was going to be in Gorham had just gotten out, and the guy behind the postal counter wasn’t happy. He popping off about how much he hated Mrs. Clinton to pretty much to anyone who would listen—me, other postal customers, anyone. This kind of thing is constant, and I just don’t understand. I’m confident we’ll reach consensus one day that George W. Bush wasn’t a very good president. He was elected (sort of) in a very bitter election. But after Sept. 11, he had an approval rating north of 90 percent. You don’t get that without a little bipartisan support. I’m not a universal fan of Democrats by any means, but they do seem to want to get everyone together when times are tough.

I don’t perceive the same sentiment from their opposite number.

Now, I am not naive enough to believe that American politics got this stupid and nasty only recently. I remember hearing a story about a couple of U.S. Army officers in Europe drinking a toast to the recently deceased FDR. They weren’t toasting him, they were celebrating his death! (And he was a great president! We were winning the war and everything!)

I also get that the Clintons aren’t perfect people. They’re politicians. They both like to seek office for reasons we’ve all come to expect from the ruling class. But I do believe that Hillary Clinton wants to be president because she believes that she can leave the United States in better shape. If we don’t all agree on the best ways to go about this, and we believe that other people would do a better job than she could, maybe we could go about it in a more respectful way.

Besides: Insulting visitors is rude. Show the lady some respect.

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Teenagers running on rocks, Peggy's Cove, NS
Teenagers running on rocks, Peggy’s Cove, NS

I was taking photos of the lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove, NS, when I heard a joyous stampede behind me. A youth group visiting the cove were given the green light to race across the rocks toward the light house. It was one of those “I know this could be a good photo but I don’t know why” moments, so I just started shooting randomly. It didn’t turn out as good as I’d hoped, but I do remember how happy the kids were.

Eh Cetera

A clearinghouse of my remaining Canada photos:

John Cabot’s Ribbon

Cabot Trail, Cape Breton Highlands National Park, NS
Cabot Trail, Cape Breton Highlands National Park, NS

Cape Breton has some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever witnessed, but it comes at a price.

If you’re taking the counterclockwise route, pump your brakes on the downhill and pull over if they start to smoke. That’s free advice.


I never pictured the Maritime provinces as being colorful, but they are.


I saw not one but two seagull fights yesterday. One was in St. John, and the other in a little harbor town forty miles away. This leads me to believe that gulls do more than just glide passively in front of sunsets. I missed the first fight because I had my shutter speed set too fast for some reason, and almost missed this one because I couldn’t focus fast enough. I mostly got it.

I like this scene because it’s clear they’re fighting over a fish. Not sure if Gull No. 1 stole Gull No. 2’s prize, or if Gull No. 2 was just being a jerk.

Either way, Gull No. 1 with the fish, and the win.

Saint John, New Brunswick

Saint John seems like a decent place. The Canadian port city became a new home for several thousand Loyalists who either bailed on the U.S. after the Revolution or were simply told to GTFO for fighting on the wrong side. There are signs of this Pro-UK feel here and there around town, including a framed print of a redcoat that I saw in a shop.

Anyway, the war is over and we’re all friends now.


Gulf of St. Lawrence, looking west from cliffs west of Pleasant Bay, Nova Scotia
Gulf of St. Lawrence, looking west from cliffs west of Pleasant Bay, Nova Scotia

It rained for about half of the first part of our trip. Then, on Wednesday, it stopped during our circuit of Cape Breton Island. Just in time, too, since we’d just hit the good part of our drive on the Cabot Trail.


Rapids above Still Brook Waterfall, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia
Rapids above Still Brook Waterfall, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia

Much of the water that I saw on Nova Scotia this week—standing or flowing—was stained deep brown. Part of this may have been from the torrential rain on our first day, but from what I’ve read, the old, marshy soil just makes the water that way. It made this brook look like it was fed by some gigantic Coke fountain.


Kidston Island Lightouse from Baddeck, Nova Scotia
Kidston Island Lighthouse from Baddeck, Nova Scotia

I’m trying to get better at identifying “The Magic Hour,” supposedly the time in the morning and evening when the sun is low and makes for pretty picture-takin. We were out walking around the town of Baddeck after dinner, and noticed the clouds breaking up for the first time all trip. The lake shore had been gray and dreary up to then. But I caught a flash of orange from the lake, and rushed down to see if things were any better and they were.