Albedo

Schoolyard basketball court, Gorham, NH
Schoolyard basketball court, Gorham, NH

Albedo is a term I learned from astronomy. It refers to the percentage of light reflected off a surface. A theoretical perfect mirror would have an albedo of 1, as it would reflect 100 percent of the light that hits it. (There’s no perfect mirror; you always get a dimmer image in the reflection.) Conversely, I  would have figured this blacktop would have an albedo close to zero.

Apparently not: It turns out the albedo for “worn asphalt” is 0.12, or 12 percent. That’s much higher than I would have expected. Once I learned that, I began noticing that headlights reflect off of roads quite brightly, even during the day.

I guess the light is winning.

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Labor Day

Photos from a Labor Day hike along Snyder Brook in Randolph.

Distance

Milky Way (Sagittarius) and path of Boeing 777-300 airliner behind elementary school, Gorham, NH.
Milky Way (Sagittarius) and path of Boeing 777-300 airliner behind elementary school, Gorham, NH.

I tried this shot last fall, my first at this school. My focusing then was terrible (and didn’t get much better for this one), but the biggest problem was the pair of lights in the vestibule. I just couldn’t find the switches to turn them off. For the 30 second exposure necessary to get the stars in the background, the lights overwhelmed just about everything.

With the beautiful weather of the past few weeks, I wanted this shot again. I asked one of the custodians where the light switch was, and he informed me that there aren’t any. He said I could unscrew the little jars covering the bulbs, then unscrew the bulbs themselves as long as I put them back when I was done. I asked, “Can I do that?” He shrugged and said, “Sure, you’re the principal.”

I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that.

Anyway, the red streak is the exposed lights on a Qatar Airways flight from JFK (about 300 miles south west of us) to Doha. The plane had taken off in the past hour and was just settling in for a 10-hour voyage to the Middle East. So we have the school, 30 feet away; the plane, 30,000 feet away; and a little farther back, the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, 1.4×1017 feet away.

Give or take.

August

Ten minutes into the first interview I had with my current boss, he was telling me about the weather in Gorham. He carefully walked me through all twelve months and what they would deliver to the area in which I was seeking employment.

“And then in late August,” he said, his eyes suddenly becoming far away, “the light starts to change…” Right about then, I swear I heard a ghostly tinkling of distant chimes. This did not sound good.

He was right, of course. The light has changed. The sun is lower in the sky and already you can tell something is amiss. Fall is coming. Every hundredth or so tree on north-facing hillsides has a faint yellow cast. Afternoons are still warm, but this morning had a bit of a snap to it.

The coming of our second autumn is difficult to describe. It’s like that stinging aura you feel the night before you get the flu. But it’s pleasant. Of course, the winter that comes after is long and can be unpleasant. Whatever. You get what I’m trying to say.

To hell with it: I’ll just defer to my boss. The light has changed.

Hummingbirds

A few days into the last school year, our Life Skills teacher handed me her phone. Playing on the screen was a movie that I couldn’t believe was real. A cloud of hummingbirds was buzzing a bird feeder like electrons orbiting an atomic nucleus. The teacher had shot the movie through her kitchen window.

Today, she invited my wife and I over for lunch, and suggested I bring along my camera. For the next hour, we ate salads and watched the little birds feast at the feeder. Between bites I switched lenses and mostly failed to catch the little scamps in action. I shot almost 600 frames, and wound up with these four.

The challenge is not just in their speed, though that is a problem. They really don’t stop moving for more than a half-second or so, and are in and out of the focal plane before you can get a bead on them.

The real problem, though, is shooting fast enough to stop their wings, while also allowing enough light into the camera to make a decent image. I would have loved to have shot these images at 1/4000, but it was cloudy and even rained for part of the time. It was just too dark. And shooting with any speed at all meant cranking the ISO to 3200 sometimes, which made even the decent images a little too grainy.

Still, they are fascinating creatures. One thing I’d heard about but never seen was their aggressive behavior to each other. I guess if I had to get through the world eating liquid sugar all day, I’d be a little cranky, too.

Bethlehem Art Walk

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Me at the beginning of the show, before hours of sitting through the slow slog of mercantilism crushed my spirit.

Just returned from the Bethlehem Art Sit Walk, where I had my first ever booth, from which I tried to sell photographs and fine photographic accessories.

For my first time, it was a good outing. The rain stayed away and I sold many cards, sets, and even one print, which I didn’t expect.

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.

Nimbus

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:

Rocket

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

Camera

  • 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))

IMG_7561
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.

Mallardjusted

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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Scramble

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.