Posts from the ‘Personal’ category

Burning through books like they’re out of style

No, there will be no burning of books. My optimism says we’ve learned that particular lesson.

I am however reading books at a rapid pace. I’m guilty of reading little over the last ten years, and I’m trying to make up for lost time. With the tracking of reading lists at the Vancouver Public Library, I’ve managed 50 books in 15 months between June 2013 and September 2014. I’ve slowed down some, and I’m in the middle of another 10.

Books and readers, by memyselfaneye on Pixabay

Books and readers, by memyselfaneye on Pixabay (CC0 license)

In the absence of limitless funds, it’s simply not possible to buy all of the books I want to read. Obviously, a public resource for the public good allows residents to borrow. For that, I have once again a debt to the city’s public library; the debt stretches back to childhood when I discovered brand new worlds through books.

Now, I read mostly from two categories: travel and photography.

I’m reading everything I can get my hands on travel, from guides written in a range of styles by various authors to travel memoirs. I’m learning about voice, vocabulary, and delivery.

I’m devouring books on historical and contemporary photography. Like other human enterprises in the 20th-century, much of the art and business was male-dominated. It’s easy to learn about Atget, Brassaï, and Kertész, but I’m taking my time with the work by Burtynsky, Erwitt, and Salgado. I’ve been reading about Margaret Bourke-White, Dorothea Lange, and Lee Miller; about Bettina Rheims, Vivien Maier, and Francesca Woodman. Recently, I’ve been turning my attention to Laura Gilpin, Jodi Cobb, and Herlinde Koelbl.

Who Cares About Books? Isn’t Everything Online Now?

Aren’t I already reading travel and photography blogs? I’m reading them all the time, so why would I bother to read something as old-fashioned as books?

I’m not looking for specific details directed to a particular niche in mind. I’m on the lookout for a little different, for something on the old we haven’t seen in a long time. If everything’s been done before, I want to learn what we’ve done.

It’s the same kind of attitude and method I once applied to research. I’ll go back to what it was like in the wayback, thrilled with the wait and anticipation, that nuggets of knowledge and wisdom were going to arrive slowly, flipping from one page to the next.

I’ve entered all sorts of bookstores. I’ll pick up a book, and leaf through the contents quickly. Then it’s another, followed by three, four, and more. Ideas pour over me this way, and I’ll let my mind slowly filter and figure things out later.

With books, I don’t have “easy-tech” distractions. A book does not have an audio bell, signaling new mail, a new post somewhere, or a comment on social media. With a book in my hands, the only distraction is not knowing what’s on the other side of the page.

If I’m reading about Estonia in a book on northern Europe, my mind might choose at an inopportune time to know: “well, what about Latvia? Or Lithuania? Or what about a quick ferry across the Baltic Sea over to Helsinki, Finland?” Or I’ll be staring longingly at a famous photograph, and how various circumstances and a thousand random details converged to that one place and single moment in time.

That’s the kind of internal distraction I’m looking for.

Externally, the book is almost a complete experience. The feel of holding a book in my hands. The subtle touch of grasping a page between my fingers, and the delicate circular motion of turning the page over from one side to the other side of the book.

Slow reading, steady dreaming, a lengthy thoughtful process.

I lean back across the couch, book folded over my chest like a wae paperbound tent. I close my eyes, and I let my mind wander, traveling effortlessly from one desired imaginary place to the next.

I’m grateful to memyselfaneye on Pixabay for the use of their photo with the CC0 Creative Commons License. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com.

Germany: back home to visit this fall

… nicht nur Fernweh, sondern auch Heimweh …

In late-fall 2001, I moved sight unseen to the university town of Heidelberg, Germany, equipped with only three phrases in German. When I departed in 2003 to the U.S., I learned some things about myself and about Deutschland; I had also left a big piece of myself behind.

When I’m away for too long, it’s more than possible I’ve a yearning to go somewhere (“Fernweh”), accompanied by the simultaneous longing for home (“Heimweh”). It’s in Germany where I miss friends throughout the relatively compact country, and I miss the little things which are always specific to the big D.

Great Circle Mapper, YVR-FRA

Approximate path for YVR-FRA (Vancouver – Frankfurt), courtesy of Great Circle Mapper

I’ve gone “home” to Germany at least once every year since 2003, and the streak continues for the 11th consecutive year this fall. With flights in and out of Flughafen Frankfurt am Main Airport, I have the following itinerary:

  • 20 November : arrival in Frankfurt
  • 20-24 Nov. : Köln (Cologne)
  • 24-26 Nov. : Heidelberg
  • 26-28 Nov. : München (Munich)
  • 28-30 Nov. : Bielefeld
  • 30 Nov. – 9 Dec. : Berlin, with an excellent chance of Leipzig
  • 10 December : departure from Frankfurt

“Only” 8100 kilometres (5000+ miles) separates Vancouver (YVR) with Frankfurt (FRA). I’m looking forward to catching up with some very good people around the country, as well as the following ten of many things:

  1. Back to K-Ehrenfeld, “mein Kölner Kiez” (my Cologne `hood)
  2. Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmarkt) begin the week of 24 November
  3. Seeing my old “hometown” HD, squeezed on the Neckar between two hills
  4. American Thanksgiving, with some fine people in Bielefeld
  5. At long last in L-Stadt, for Bach, Mendelssohn, & largest train station in Europe
  6. Reopening of C/O Berlin, my mecca of photography in the B
  7. Days in Berlin nowhere enough to do all the things I’ve planned
  8. Number of Bratwurst, Currywurst, Döner, Kartoffelpuffer (Reibekuchen) consumed
  9. Number of Glühwein, Kuchen, Plunder, (Obst)Schnecke, (Quark)Tasche consumed
  10. Moments of anticipation, reflection, & loss on Deutsche Bahn’s InterCityExpress trains

Over these three weeks, I’m on trains crossing the country “yet again”. In between gleeful bouts of stuffing me gullet with food and drink, I’ll describe in the next post how I’m saving money with an advance purchase of a 10-day German Rail Pass.

Flughafen Frankfurt am Main, Terminal 1, Halle A : by Sven Teschke (Wikipedia)

Flughafen Frankfurt am Main Airport, Terminal 1, Halle/check-in area A : by Sven Teschke (Wikipedia)

The latter photo is from Wikipedia, used with the Creative Commons license. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com, and is part of the Sunday Traveler series.

My Three Laws to Making Photographs

There are some certainties to making a photograph:

  • seeing or viewing the scene,
  • framing the scene in the camera,
  • clicking the shutter button to expose and capture the scene, and
  • admiring the image of the scene.

But make enough photographs, and three realities make themselves known. These arrive gradually, surprising you with their frequency and constancy. But you’ll eventually recognize the universal truths behind what it really means to make a photograph.

And this is where physics is a useful analogy, without the math.

Hot and Cold

When I was at university, one mandatory course was thermodynamics, the study of relationships between heat (thermal energy) and other forms of energy including mechanical, electrical, or chemical. It’s a way of understanding how heat transfer is described, and the various ways energy can be transformed or exchanged within a physical system.

What does this have anything to do with you? Thermodynamics is a driving factor behind weather in the atmosphere, water currents in the oceans, how refrigerators, heat exchangers, water kettles work, among other applications. Thermodynamics plays a role in our everyday lives.

In words, the Three Laws of Thermodynamics are:

  1. “Energy can be changed from one form to another, but energy cannot be created or destroyed. The total amount of energy and matter in the Universe remains constant.”
  2. “Entropy, a measure of a system’s energy that is unavailable for work, or of the degree of a system’s disorder, in the universe always increases. Heat does not by itself pass from a cooler to a hotter body.”
  3. “It is not possible to reach a temperature of absolute zero.”

The poet Allen Ginsberg created theorems, restating and applying the three laws of thermodynamics to “the game of life”:

  1. You can’t win.
  2. You can’t break even.
  3. You can’t get out of the game.

Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia, fotoeins.com

My Three Laws to Making Photographs

I attempted to photograph large waves pounding the rocks at Sydney’s North Bondi. As I hunted for the “perfect crash,” I began to think a lot about thermodynamics. In a crazy wave of thought, I got down to my “Three Laws to Making Photographs”:

  1. If you want that shot, someone already made it to worldwide acclaim.
  2. That ideal shot is a fraction of a second too early or too late.
  3. You can’t resist the urge to try and try again.

It’s good to know I’ve put some of that physics training to good use, and I’ve been responsible in raising the “total entropy of the photographic universe” by a small amount, after amassing 75000 exposures with a single camera.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time I headed out to continue my futile search and photograph that elusive moment of pure clarity …

I made the photo above from Bondi Icebergs at South Bondi in Sydney, Australia on 3 June 2013. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com.


Minding the Physics

Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman provides a beautiful treatment of thermodynamics in his renowned 1963 Physics Lectures, complete with the math.

Cerro Pachón: on the tall shoulders of the Chilean Andes

It’s a long road to a latitude of 30 degrees South to stand at an elevation of 9000 feet up on the mountainous spine of South America.

Over a period of 11 years, I visited telescopes in Chile to collect research data, before I moved to Chile to live and work there for 5 years. This is a brief look at the journey an astronomer makes to telescopes in Chile.

Domes on ridge of Cerro Pachón, Región de Coquimbo, Chile, fotoeins.com

SOAR and Gemini telescopes on the ridge of Cerro Pachón: view from Cerro Tololo (HL)

Recovering astronomer

I’m both amused and nostalgic for having once been immersed in the “game”: professional research astronomy, a seriously competitive human enterprise carried out in the open arena with public money. To obtain research data, I submitted and chased successful proposals to telescopes at various locations around the world; some of those telescopes are in low earth orbit. Some success meant becoming accustomed to remote locations, beautiful scenery, and the isolation.

The best places to build world-class research telescopes are not necessarily conducive to living conditions. A variety of stations scattered around mountain tops track weather conditions over a period of years. Telescopes are built at locations where there is little rain or moisture; where there is minimal effect of light pollution from neighbouring urbanized areas; and where the air flow overhead is smooth, horizontal, and laminar, producing the sharpest possible image-quality for the study of very faint astronomical sources, from low-mass stars in our own galaxy to the most distant galaxies.

These conditions are met in Chile. A number of telescopes have been built by a number of European, North American, and South American nations in the Andes between northern and north-central Chile along a stretch of the Atacama desert.

Road between Cerro Tololo and Cerro Pachón, Región de Coquimbo, Chile, fotoeins.com

The mirror’s view (HL)

For most, the trip to Chile is neither trivial nor short. Most fly the overnight red-eye flight into the national capital city of Santiago (SCL), followed by a short one-hour hop to La Serena (LSC).

Leaving the airport and heading east, Ruta 41 winds its way into the Elqui river valley. Foothills appear taller, with mountains in the distance signaling the border region with Argentina. Driving past the dam and artificial lake, road signage marks a turnoff onto a dirt road heading south. The manned gate controls the flow of approved vehicles in and out of the area.

I’ve been here countless times. If I’m in the back seat, I slip into a snooze, and every straight-away, bump, turn and bend in the road will be as familiar in sleep as I am awake. I might see a few vehicles in the other direction, returning to La Serena. If I’m lucky to have the wheel, I’ll stop at various places to enjoy the view.

Sometimes, it’s me, the vehicle, and a lot of red-brown dust and dirt. I’m surrounded by smooth brown round-top hills, with jagged snow-capped peaks farther to the east. I’m accompanied by the whistling of the desert breeze; the only other company is cactus, scrub, and brush. This is either blessing for being in a remote part of the world or curse in the solitude for miles around.

Eventually, the graded dirt road comes to a ‘T': one section heads north to telescopes at Cerro Tololo, while the other section leads south to Cerro Pachón.

Road between Cerro Tololo and Cerro Pachón, Región de Coquimbo, Chile, fotoeins.com

Road splits to Cerro Tololo or Cerro Pachón (HL)

Observing isn’t just about the sky

I have to be aware of the road and surroundings; it’s dangerous to underestimate the desert. Knowledge of the landscape is easier over time, and years of living in La Serena have secured memories more firmly.

It’s the middle of the desert, and if there’s an accident, days might pass before encountering another vehicle. Every vehicle must have a working two-way radio in contact with gate control. Sometimes the desert reaches out and kills; accidents have claimed vehicles and lives. These dirt roads can be unforgiving with sudden dips, slippery switchbacks, and blind curves.

Driving can be “breathtakingly entertaining”, especially at night. Winter snow and ice on the unpaved surface can be challenging, and there’s several hundred meters of drop beyond the unguarded shoulder on the other side of the road.

The domes finally appear, indicating our arrival at the observatory. Up on Pachón, walking is a little slower, breathing a little more laboured, the air a little thinner. I’m at 2700 metres or about 9000 feet above sea level.

Cerro Tololo, from Cerro Pachón, Región de Coquimbo, Chile, fotoeins.com

Northwest in late-afternoon light from Cerro Pachón: only road out at centre, Cerro Tololo at right (HL)

Gemini South, Cerro Pachon, Región de Coquimbo, Chile, fotoeins.com
Gemini South, Cerro Pachon, Región de Coquimbo, Chile, fotoeins.com

Dome opens at sunset in preparation for the night-sky: Gemini South telescope, Cerro Pachón (HL)

An “observing run” (or shift) at the telescope can last a few nights. Naturally, most of the work is done at night, with telescopes open to the sky and detectors ready to receive precious photons. For many, there’s insomnia, and some forego sleep in the morning hours to work on their data or their latest paper. Switching from day to night can take a couple of days for adjustment.

Often I’ll see desert foxes sleeping by day, and I wonder whose lives are easier. At the mountain dormitories, I have a room with a warm bed, and the food’s good up top. The view’s pretty damn good, too. I’m more than happy to share the desert and skies with the furry four-legged tenants of the Atacama.

Trouble comes when I leave and say “hasta luego” to the desert and mountain view.

Time and distance have provided valuable perspective after leaving astronomy at the end of 2011. I miss the people with whom I worked, and I miss the panoramic views. At present, the Pachón summit hosts Gemini South and the SOAR Telescope. A one-way drive to Tololo or Pachón is about 90 minutes from La Serena.

Cordillera de los Andes, Desierto de Atacama, Región de Coquimbo, Chile, fotoeins.com

Morning skies over the cordillera, from Cerro Tololo (HL)

Sunday TravelerA modified version of this post appeared on Maptia. I made all the photos above. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com, and also appears as part of the Sunday Traveler series.

My progress with Canon, from 450D to 6D

I seemed to have skipped a step, as I’ve moved from a triple-digit camera model to a single-digit model.

For over five years, I owned an entry-level Canon DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera. Carrying the EOS 450D (XSi) along for the ride, I traveled over one million miles in the air and I made over 75000 exposures.

Canon EOS450D (XSi), by Dr.K on Wikimedia

Canon EOS450D (XSi), by Dr.K on Wikimedia

The shutter finally failed to close properly about a year ago as I stood in front of the television tower in Prague’s Zizkov. I made do with an aging iPod Touch for another five months. When the calendar flipped over to 2014, I’d been missing photography with a camera by a very large mile.

Leaping up to the 6D

I picked up the Canon EOS6D in mid-January under the banner of post-Christmas post-New Year’s sales. I already have the EF 50-prime and EF 70-300 lenses, and I wanted to take advantage of these great lenses with a full-frame camera body; I had the idea of purchasing only the camera body. The bundle with the preferred 24-70mm L-series lens was too far, but the package deal with the more affordable 24-105mm L-glass including an additional padded camera strap, a padded camera carrying case, and an extra battery was a decent compromise.

Canon EOS6D, by Dave Dugdale for Wikimedia

Happily, I’m no longer concerned with the 1.6 crop factor; that is, a shot with the 450D at 50mm focal length has the same imaging area as a shot with the 6D at 80mm focal length. I’m enjoying the camera and I’m a big fan; here is a shortlist of ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ with the camera.

    Pros:

  • GPS, for automatic geotagging of my photographs
  • WiFi, for direct upload onto my iPod Touch (or future smartphone)
  • Much better low-light performance; higher ISO range
  • Large range of RAW and JPG sizes
  • Video capability, though I haven’t used video much at this stage
    Cons:

  • Body heavier and more cumbersome; already knew this for full-frame camera
  • Internal GPS can be slow to connect with satellites
  • Battery drains quickly with GPS and WiFi usage
  • Could use an extra card slot
  • Still no focal length displayed with aperture, exposure time, ISO

At the Digital Photography Review website, you can compare side-by-side an entry-level Canon DSLR with a full-frame Canon DSLR. For example, select and compare the 500D (T1i) against the 6D; the 450D is so ‘old’ it’s unavailable in the listing. You can do your own intrabrand or interbrand comparison(s) here.


8 with the 6D

With this post, I’ve already made in eight months over 9000 exposures with the 6D, edging ever closer to turning over the four-digit image-number counter for the first time. Below are photographs over the first eight months of the year.

(F)Light of the Columbidae, Vancouver City Centre, Skytrain station, Vancouver, BC, Canada, fotoeins.com

“(F)light of the Columbidae”, Vancouver City Centre – 17 January 2014

Chinatown Plaza, Vancouver, BC, Canada, fotoeins.com

“C is for Chinatown”, Chinatown Plaza – 23 February 2014

Caught in a web of TED, Vancouver Convention Centre, BC, Canada, fotoeins.com

“Caught in a web of TED” (by Janet Echelman), Vancouver Convention Centre – 20 March 2014

Parking lot in English Bay, Vancouver, BC, Canada, fotoeins.com

“Parking lot in English Bay”, West Vancouver – 13 April 2014

Drive by, Harbour Green Park, Vancouver, BC, Canada, fotoeins.com

“driveby”, Harbour Green Park – 6 May 2014

Mother and daughter, sister and niece, Vancouver, BC, Canada, fotoeins.com

“Mother & daughter, sister & niece” – 12 June 2014

Holiday sunrise over Burrard Inlet, Canada Day, Vancouver, BC, Canada, fotoeins.com

“Holiday sunrise”, Burrard Inlet – 1 July 2014

Downtown Vancouver, construction, urban commentary, Vancouver, BC, Canada, fotoeins.com

“… at the right price”, Downtown Vancouver – 22 August 2014

What camera are you using? Have you bought a new camera this year or will you be buying a new camera soon? Please leave your questions or comments below!

I made all of the photos above in Vancouver, Canada. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com.

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