Monday, April 28, 2014

Are you kidding me?

Big Bang Theory

It's your fault. You subscribed, so you have to put up with my ramblings. I was thinking about shooting star trails, so I got on the train of thought about why the night sky is dark, not uniformly white.

In 1823, Heinrich Olber postulated that if the universe is infinite, then there would be no direction in which there would not be a star, so the sky should be completely white. Think about that for a second. Interestingly, the first person to come up with the correct answer to that was not a scientist, it was Edgar Allan Poe! He pointed out that if the universe was so large that light from the most distant points had not yet reached us, the sky would be black.

In 1901, Lord Kelvin calculated that for the sky to be light, the universe would have to be hundreds of trillions of light years broad. It isn't, so the universe must be smaller than that, so it had to start somewhere, and that led to the Big Bang Theory! Not the TV show (which arguably is the most brilliant show on TV ever), the theory of the origin of the universe.

I mentioned Dr. Michio Kaku on an earlier blog. He is a theoretical physicist who had a lot to do with the development of string theory. I don't know how he is regarded in the scientific community, but he has written a number of popular books that discuss such weighty issues. He is definitely worth a read.

If you're intimidated by mathematics, read his "Physics of the Future". It talks about what our world is going to look like over the next 100 years. And it does it without the technical math. Do you have any idea of how many Star Trek concepts have already come to be, and how many others are in development? Nanobots? Transparent Aluminium?

If mathematics and theoretical physics concepts don't make your eyes glaze over, Read "Parallel Worlds". You'll be amazed what you will learn about Einstein and Hawking and black holes. You can gloss over the tougher parts and still know more about our universe(s). Links to both books on Amazon are above.

OK, let's get on to some lighter stuff!

So why does Steel Wool burn?

You had enough science for today. Google it.

But burn it does!

James was trying to do a face! Missed an eye... but tres cool! 

Thanks to Cheryl Smith for organizing it and to James Keller who actually did the burning and mentoring! Great job, guys, a credit to the Haliburton Highlands Camera Club.

Originally I had planned to shoot "people shooting burning steel wool" but it's so cool, I got carried away in the moment! Great fun, we have to do this again!

Are you kidding me?

I happened to click on my Google+ profile and right there it says that I've had 459,141 views! Are you kidding me? If I'm so popular, why ain't I rich?

I clicked on Vincent Versace's profile: he's over 14 million views. Scott Kelby's at 62 million. Trey Ratcliff's at 5 Billion. Feelgood numbers, right?

Cheap stuff

When it comes to the important things, I don't buy cheap stuff. Camera. Lenses. Tripods. Software. Even my Barbecue.

That's not to say I don't shop for a bargain. Once I decide what product I want, I'll search for the most economical and trustworthy vendor, which is why I deal with B&H Photo and sometimes with Amazon. Personal shopping, I favour Costco because of their no-questions-asked return policy. You know that if you have a problem, they'll take it back. Best example: an external hard drive failed, I didn't have the bill but they took it back instantly. My GPS stopped working after a few months, and not only did they take it back, but I was able to buy the same model from them on sale for $25 less!

But I have been known to purchase a few things on eBay that are clearly not original equipment, shall we say. With mixed results.

I go into a transaction prepared to lose. But the prices are so low, it's worth the risk. And except for one or two cases, I've been very satisfied. Those two: (1) I bought an Eyelead sensor cleaning kit from China, all the official sources were backordered and this was about $10 cheaper. Turned out it's a copy not the original. That doesn't mean it doesn't work (haven't tried it yet!), but it's clearly not the original and it didn't say so on the listing. And (2) I wanted a cellphone holder for my car, windshield mount that would hold it in any position so I could use the dash-cam function. It says it's 360°, which to me means it will hold it in any position: it won't. But how can I complain? It cost me $1.99 INCLUDING SHIPPING!

I don't understand how they do it. The lowest cost for shipping a package here in Canada (bigger than a letter envelope) is around $7.00 and that's domestic! Triple it if you want to ship to the US. But these people in the Far East will ship you a $2 product for free!

So what have I bought that I'm happy with? A shutter release cable for my D800 for $4. A replacement battery for my laptop for $17. Two EL-EN15 Nikon batteries (OK, not OEM) for $20 each. A couple of lens caps for $3. And most recently, the keyboard I'm typing on right now for $25. The keyboard is a great example. It's illuminated (sometimes I don't want to turn on the lights when I'm at the computer). It feels pretty good, although I have to get used to it, just got it yesterday! The one complaint: the card that came with it is in Chinese and it took me a few minutes to figure out how to turn on the illumination (it's the Scroll-Lock key. Damned if I know what that does, anyway)! My old keyboard had worn-out markings, I touch-type so it didn't matter much, but the big thing was the intermittent spacebar. The same keyboard at Staples is $70, plus tax so really $90!

Anyway, I won't be buying any external hard drives or Nikon lenses at discount  prices from the Far East, but for the little stuff? You can't beat them. And if something isn't perfect, just throw it out! It cost next-to-nothing anyway!

How do you like your Pines?

I like mine tall, and straight up.

A little zoom action while dragging the shutter for 1/10 second. 

Shooting Stars

The Lyrids meteor shower peaked on April 22. It was cloudy but April 23 was clear so I went out to look for meteors.

So my interest in shooting star trails and star fields was rekindled. There are a couple of images here, but really I'd like to send those of you interested in shooting star pictures to my technical blog where I posted more of the story and lots of pictures. Here's the link.

I went out twice that night, the second time just after midnight. That's when I captured this image (remember, you can click on any picture to blow it up):

Photo details: D800/17-35 f/2.8. Exposure 30 seconds at f/2.8, ISO 800, F=17mm. The golden glow is from the lights of Minden, some 10km away. Now to let the cat out of the bag: the meteor? 5 minutes in Photoshop. A simple brush tool on a fresh layer with black background, with pressure sensitivity, and an extra bit for the head, then a Gaussian Blur and Lighten blend mode. Another duplicate layer flipped and set to low opacity gives the almost invisible reflection in the water.

I shot this on Sunday night.  Completely different technique, merging multiple images using StarStaX, a freeware program that helps you do these merges and has some neat tricks up its sleeves! Check out the Tech Blog to learn more and where to get it. 


Somebody posted on FaceBook that he was having trouble autofocusing on a subject, but because his lens didn't have an AF-M switch, so he couldn't focus manually. He was using a Nikon D3200. I took pity on him, downloaded the D3200 manual to see where the AF-M switch is on the body: there isn't one, you do it in the menu. It was right there in the manual, on page 55 and again on page 62. Took me 2 minutes to find it. Now if he had just read the manual... you don't have to memorize everything, you'll remember that you saw something and know basically where to look. Just sayin'...


* If you don't know what that means, Google it.