13 February 2021

Iridescence in flat light

A bit of a science project here. I was out yesterday when I saw a Bufflehead swimming on a river. I enjoy these small ducks, which somehow look particularly playful as we see them in the winter. The males are noted for the iridescent colors in the plumage on their heads, as in this example from last year, but that's usually only noticeable when they're viewed in sunlight from the right angle.

My weather yesterday afternoon was cloudy. Flat lighting. Still, I enjoyed taking pictures of the Bufflehead. When I uploaded and processed them, I was surprised to see that colors were still present, as shown below. It's a noisier image and the lighting's clearly less appealing, but I still found it interesting to be able to see and distinguish the magenta, green, and blue areas around the bird's head.

 Nice to know that iridescent color isn't wholly extinguished in shadow!

22 January 2021

US Capitol flags for inauguration

When I watched this week's inauguration, I noted that there were five flags hanging from the US Capitol, but that only one was the current 50-star version. I wondered why, and was intrigued by the explanation I found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betsy_Ross_flag. Apparently, every presidential inauguration displays Betsy Ross' 13-star flag, with its stars arranged in a circle, and there were two of these. There were also two copies of another 13-star flag, though. What were those about? It seems that each inauguration gets a flag of the version that was current when the incoming president's home state joined the union, and Delaware was one of the original 13 colonies. Barack Obama's inauguration, in contrast, featured a 21-star flag reflecting Illinois' later admission. I had not known that. 

24 December 2020

Details from the depths

After returning from a photo shooting session yesterday, I found that I had a sequence of a few shots in the middle that were drastically underexposed, though those before and after were fine. I believe that I inadvertently pressed the AE-Lock button for a few seconds, holding the exposure that would have been appropriate for reflected sun on a patch of water. The results manifested with auto-ISO sensitivity at the camera's minimum ISO setting of 100, while surrounding frames auto-set to ISO 400 or 500 along with a similar shutter speed and aperture. In any case, it's hard to identify the birds in this image as Black Scoters because, well, almost everything is black. 

Was there much data collected within the darkness, though? I opened the image in RawTherapee and applied 3 stops of exposure compensation, yielding the following:

Quite a bit more to see there. I'm impressed. There's some noise to be seen, and I certainly wouldn't make a intentional practice of underexposing by 3 stops, but it's nice to see that it's still possible to extract a decent image.

24 October 2020

Later fall colors

Nice stop here, enroute from vivid to barren. At least there'll be winterberry to see in the colder months. 

24 September 2020

Did I photograph the bird? Did I see it?

I was out on a (masked, size-limited, socially-distanced) birding trip yesterday, and the group was looking at gulls and other birds by the shore. There was discussion that a relative regional rarity, a Black-headed Gull, had recently been sighted there but no one spotted it before we left the site. Among other pictures, I took this shot with the Great Blue Heron in the foreground and Bonaparte's Gulls in the background.
Later in the day, I got home and uploaded the collected images from my camera. Hm. What was that unfamiliar bird that's flying in towards the top of the frame, with that unusual red beak? Let's look closer.

Field guides and online references suggested that this unexpected frame-crasher was in fact the Black-headed Gull that hadn't been seen in "real time" on the trip. (And, yes, its head wasn't Black as viewed, though it could have been if viewed in the different season and plumage for which it was named. Bird names are like that...) The group leaders, with far more years of birding expertise than I, agreed that it was. 

This raises an intriguing question of just what it means to see or photograph something. The Gull in question was clearly in the frame of the camera that I was holding and aiming when I pressed the shutter. I'll conclude that I did "photograph" it, at least in the sense of collecting its image. I don't recall being consciously aware of its presence, though. The first time I distinctly "saw" it was later in the day, when I viewed the digitized bits on a screen. I do appreciate its surprise visit, though!

Photo-geeky PS: as I think about the image more, I'm increasingly amazed by it. This was taken with a long lens with aperture almost wide-open, for about 900mm full-frame equivalent focal length. The larger version as shown was itself cropped to about half the width of the entire image as photographed. All these factors mean a lot of magnification, with not much depth of field. The autofocus locked on the heron in the foreground. Still, the Black-headed Gull is in sharper focus than the Bonaparte's Gulls in the background. So, not only did it decide to fly in at the right time to appear above the heron in my image, but did so at the relatively narrow distance range that would cause it to appear other than as a blur. How improbable?

07 September 2020

Notes on a personal software development cycle

I'm now taking and enjoying a MOOC that combines lectures and coding projects. I find these to be engaging learning experiences, providing good mental exercise. There's nothing like the sensation of "gee, I've now made this work". That said, I've watched myself do this many times, and observe some patterns. When approaching what appears to be a complex problem, I'll first tend to procrastinate, waiting for just "the right" combination of alert and undistracted time for concentration. Sometimes, I'll get to the point of first digesting the problem statement and contemplating its possible solution, and will then initiate another procrastination cycle. Eventually, I'll get into coding the project, and will become engrossed in populating the needed modules. I'll get to the point of a test run, and will try to deconstruct errors via inspection and by inserting debugging print statements. Sometimes, discussion forums will offer useful insight or pointers. I'll itch to complete the process. Finally, I'll (at least usually) get a set of working pieces together and obtain the desired result. It feels like a satisfying milestone, even as I'm aware that the MOOC authors have crafted the materials with the expectation that their students should be able to reach this point. I'll reflect on renewed appreciation of the fact that such resources are available. Thanks, 2020 Internet!

26 May 2020

Quarantining with history: Churchill and WWII

I've now finished a personal project that I stumbled into during COVID-19 quarantine. I looked at a bookshelf that was partly populated with volumes inherited from a late relative in the 1990s, and thought I'd pull out and try reading The Gathering Storm, whose ominous title turned out to be the first volume of Winston Churchill's six-volume history of World War II. I found it interesting, though perhaps more in terms of political and social aspects than military, and also found that I didn't have any of its successors. A few weeks later, thanks to Powell's Books, UPS, and a small order price, I had the whole set in hand.

Churchill presents the history with a personal and sometimes opinionated viewpoint, offering insight into developments as they occurred within top circles. He's not shy about criticizing decisions with which he disagrees, whether in the moment or by earlier UK governments. He can also be deprecatory of inconvenient factors active elsewhere, like Irish neutrality or the Indian independence movement, when they interfere with UK interests. Sometimes the narrative presents (perhaps for copyright or security reasons?) the intriguing challenge of inferring the content of a dialog based on the messages of only one participant. He cherished his Map Room, which could be a useful adjunct for a reader as well, as when trying to follow the progress of back-and-forth battle campaigns in North Africa.

Strategic planning across upcoming years proceeded alongside immediate tactical actions and reactions. Given the notably broad scope of power that Churchill wielded atop his coalition government, where he personally held multiple roles, it's notable and fortunate that he applied it in a well-considered manner. His confidence in eventual victory, despite desperate challenges, was impressive; perhaps his greatest pessimism was at the end, as Stalin's armies advanced across Eastern Europe laying the groundwork for Soviet satellites while defeating Germans. The collection's final volume, Triumph and Tragedy, so bears this stated Theme: "How the Great Democracies Triumphed, and so Were able to Resume the Follies Which Had so Nearly Cost Them Their Life".

Along the way, it seemed to me that lots of time and risk was devoted to conferences and associated travel, and that various critical decisions were deferred until in-person meetings could be arranged. Teleconferencing might have been useful if the technology were available and the principals were comfortable in using it. I'd known that Churchill had sought and anticipated US support in the war, and that his relationship with FDR was central in cultivating that support, but was interested to see it acknowledged that the attack on Pearl Harbor came as something of a relief by making US alignment against the Axis a certainty. I hadn't known, however, that the Allies formally termed themselves the United Nations from 1942 onwards. I also hadn't been familiar with some of the conflicts among the Allies, as with relative priorities for action in the Mediterranean vs. the English Channel and of regard for China. Even within the British Commonwealth, there was some tension with Australia and New Zealand, who were unsurprisingly concerned with their own security against Japan even as they sent armies to fight Germany in Europe. 

So, I was glad to be able to read and learn. It's a great thing that old books remain available and readable - no worries about conversion from obsolete data formats here! I proceeded through a few thousand pages, each printed before I was born. This was clearly a set that quite a number of people had bought in whole or in part back in its day, though perhaps sometimes one to be shelved and shown rather than actually read. I noted that one of my volumes had a number of uncut pages, but that another displayed an elegant bookplate. Overall, I found it good material to read at this point in time; the idea of positive and effective leadership in response to adversity seemed somehow encouraging and refreshing.