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.

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.

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))

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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.

Drops

IMG_3392I’m on Day 4 of a self-imposed 10,000-steps-a-day program. On the exercise spectrum, this places my lazy butt somewhere between senior center tai chi and being an inanimate object. I guess it’s better than not exercising at all.

It rained pretty hard today. For a while there, it looked like my streak was in peril. But I got home from work and the rain had stopped, so we walked out by the airstrip. I really thought we were out there for while. But the 2,500 steps during my working hours plus the walk only got me a bit past 9,000. As I write this, I’m already in my robe and 400 steps short. I have less than two hours to get up and pound them out. Hope I can summon the will.

Anyway, it was a pretty good drenching this afternoon. Water was definitely a motif in today’s photos. But it’s New Hampshire, which means nothing stays wet for very long—thanks, two inches of topsoil!

Wildflowers are everywhere. So were the gnats. I got home and was getting in the shower when I felt the familiar tickle of a tick getting ready to give my back a love bite. I stayed on the road 99 percent of the time and only stepped in grass for a combined thirty seconds. Ticks can go to hell.

I got another shot of a spider skulking around on a flower. That makes three in two weeks. I didn’t even see the latest one until I got home and started going through the pictures.

Glace

IMG_0097
Full moon over frozen yard, Gorham, NH; Jupiter visible through branches, far left; Sirius at upper right.

We own a double lot, and the one on the right is mostly empty. After an unusually warm Christmas vacation (temperatures ranging from the upper 40s down to the 20s or so), winter has slithered in, cold and nasty.

We’ve had snow, then rain, then freezing rain. It may get down to -21°F Thursday night; whatever the windchill will be, I want to miss it, inside, asleep. Last night, I noticed that the light from the houses and the full moon was glimmering beautifully off the ice in the side yard.

I possess zero common sense, so I decided to leave my perfectly cozy, weatherproofed house and take a bunch of digital photographs, most or all of which I’d probably end up deleting. I knew I didn’t want my footsteps to foul the scene. I walked around out of frame, punching through the ice and sinking down into the snow as I lugged my camera and my tripod. My feet quickly went numb, then my hands, gloves be damned.

As I hunted for a decent spot to frame a photo, I had my fur-lined parka up, feeling like Kurt Russell in The Thing. Air temperature: 5°F. The wind was howling and pushing me around like I was a kite. I had to stand over my camera’s tripod to keep it from getting knocked over. The 20 second exposures felt like they took 20 years, the camera’s little progress light blinking and reflecting off the ice at my feet.

Meanwhile, the wind screamed through that bare tree in the distance and sent little shards from my footsteps skittering away from me across the ice. I love this place, but at times like that, I don’t know if humans are supposed to live here.

I Built a Sweet Model Airplane and I Want to Beat My Friends

My model of a B-58 Hustler medium bomber, which is part of a five-way model building competition with me and my dork friends (plus my non dorky son). The B-58 was a Mach 2 nuclear delivery vehicle—and also a sweet model built by me, Chris Blair.
My model of a B-58 Hustler medium bomber, which is part of a five-way model building competition with me and my dork friends (plus my non dorky son). The B-58 was a Mach 2 nuclear delivery vehicle—and also a sweet model built by me, Chris Blair.

So my friends and I started a model building contest. I won’t deny that we occasionally are complete spazzes. And yet, we are upstanding men who have careers and aspirations. We do not live in anyone’s basement, we are respected by family and friends, and, unlike many adult men who assemble model kits, we have known a woman’s tender caress.

But none of that is important! What’s important is that my friends challenged me to a contest and I couldn’t back down. So if you see this before 3 a.m. EST on Tuesday, Jan. 6 (midnight Monday for the other competitors on the West Coast), please click HERE and take a look at the site, look at the slideshows, and cast your ANONYMOUS vote. (It only lets you vote once.)

I’m not asking for you to vote for me, specifically. That would be unethical. If my model of the B-58 ‘Hustler’ is to win, it must happen on the skill of my build alone. I can’t ask you to vote for me just because you’re a loyal visitor to my page.

See, none of my friends has a blog. That would be unfair. They just… run entire newspapers and have bigger extended families and more Facebook friends than I do. But again, not important. HOWEVER, if you happen to be a long lost friend or former student who’s been Google-stalking me, feel free to remember all the good times we had. You know, in case you can’t figure out who to pick.

UPDATE: I lost.