The Bruce Lee of the Insect World

I’ve been wanting to get this post out of the way for awhile now and it turns out that this is an opportune time based on the fact I need one more post to make my quota and it was a difficult time accomplishing this since my wife and I have been on vacation for the last week.  Note as you are reading this we should already be safe and sound back in boring Illinois.  More about our trip in an upcoming post, but for right now it’s Enter the Dragon time.

I have always wanted to know exactly how these creatures got such a scary name especially since they are quite colorful and quite frankly have never bothered me in the least regardless of the situation or proximity.  Maybe it is some nod to the Chinese celebration dragons that are definitely colorful.  Or possibly someone felt such a delicate animal needed a strong name to help it survive.  This would be the same concept I use in naming our toy poodles – who are named after mythological gods if you are curious (nobody wants to mess with the three headed dog that guards the gates of hell).  This particular set of images came as a side project while my dogs were running in an agility show at the State Fairgrounds in Springfield IL.  Basically those days go like this.  Up at the crack of dawn, drive to agility location, set up all the crates and tents, sit, sit, sit, sit, sit, get up for 30 seconds while your dog runs, sit, sit, sit … you get the picture.  It makes for a pretty long day so given the chance I’ll try to drift off and entertain myself with photographing odd things or playing on the Internet.  These shots are the result of this boredom.  The fairgrounds has a nice arrangement of outdoor flowers which I noticed on my way to get some food with my parents.  That warranted a trip back with the trusty macro.  A lot of nice pictures came out of that shoot which will eventually make their way to the blog.

hit the jump to see a couple more pictures of this dragonfly

Continue reading The Bruce Lee of the Insect World

Introducing Phoadtography

It is going to be a struggle to make my blog quota for this month.  I only have one to go after today’s entry, but currently in the midst of something that is limiting my access to the Internet which quite frankly is a pretty important component to blogging.  I will try my best, but the Life Intrigued Complaint Department might get a little busy on Dec 1st.  I did want to pull away from my current activities and introduce you to one of my new favorite pastimes (and provide a lead-in to some future posts).  Let’s get right to the topic shall we?  I would like to introduce you to:

PHOADTOGRAPHY: The fun activity of taking photographs of various interesting subjects while cruising down the road usually at a high rate of speed.  This pastime can be performed by anyone in the vehicle except the driver and only requires a digital camera with high shutter speeds and/or high ISO capabilities.

Pretty clever eh, combining two nouns representing the two key components of the activity and forming a new word.  Okay, admittedly it is kind of lame, but there is one key aspect of this …. no one has taken it (yep, I checked Google) which means it is ALL MINE (true to copyright rules, the act of putting this concept out for public consumption today makes me the rights holder!).  Note, the name is unique, but others already have galleries out there with snaps from the road … I just have a new not-so-clever name for it.

As a little background, I have been twiddling around with this for a number of years in a desperate attempt to put some fun into long vacation rides. It really started by trying to take pictures of various state signs as I crossed the borders.  This had a side benefit of putting a place holder in my digital image cards so I knew at least what state I was in when a group of pictures was taken.  It then evolved into a little game trying to get the sign centered on the frame as I flew by at 65+ mph.  From there it evolved into trying to capture other interesting things discovered in our cross-country jaunts.  Due to some inner ear issues, my wife prefers to stay off of planes as much as possible, so our vacations tend to have a lot of car travel in them, giving me plenty of time to hone my craft.

Every activity is a little more exciting if you are trying to reach some kind of achievement/goal.  In the process of refining phoadtography, I have set a context (guidelines if you will) that hopefully make this a little more entertaining and potentially more challenging to boot.

Rule #1: A little blur is okay, a lot of blur is not:  Clearly it is going to be hard to get anything really tack sharp when you are shooting from inside a car traveling down the road.  Not only do you have the motion of the vehicle to worry about, you are often shooting through a window, typically spotting subjects, focusing and snapping in under 2 seconds and with all that trying to compose around other moving objects.  Do your best and I highly recommend fast glass.  My preferred glass is a Nikon 2.8 end to end zoom

Rule #2: Grain is the name of the game:  There is really no way around it unless you want to take a mortgage out on your house to buy the mega-glass and if you are like me, that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.  To compensate, you have to jack up the ISO to help freeze the image and we should all know by now what that does to the overall quality of the image… GRAIN.  Learn to love it and at worst case, employ a little noise cleanup software (the new Lightroom 3 does a pretty awesome job by the way).  On the highway on sunny days, my ISO is usually set on 1600, but off the highway it can go down to 800 without issue.  This changes during the day which just adds to the challenge.

Rule #3: Horizontal trumps Vertical:  When you are at a shoot with your tripods at the ready and your assistants fluttering about, composition separates the men from the boys (and of course the equipment bank account).  On the road, it is a different story.  If you have time to compose, you are probably holding up traffic.  Instead, the task is horizontal centering.  The goal is to hit the shutter at the exact moment in time that is centered horizontally on the frame.  This can be made easier or significantly more difficult depending on the glass you happen to be using.  Over the years, I have become pretty good at the required timing and actually use a 70-200 zoom usually at the extent.  When you are just starting out, you might want to use a wide glass or pull that zoom all the way back to give you more frame space to work with.  One critical requirement comes into play here.  If you are going to be showing off your centering skilz, no cropping allowed in post processing (and yes, we can tell!)

Here is an example of horizontal centering.  Admittedly the car wasn’t going 65 at the time, but this is a good shot of a well centered sign snap (from a lettering perspective).

hit the jump to see the rest of the rules and some examples from the road

Continue reading Introducing Phoadtography

2′ Away from Freedom

Might as well get this out of the way now.  It’s time to put the Um with the Yang and bring this day to a close.  The celebration of 160 was put to the side this evening due to an unfortunate situation my wife experienced earlier tonight while on her way back from the dog show.  She was likely having a similar good day thanks to a couple of good runs from the little ones.  Unfortunately, those same dogs found themselves looking up from the  floor mats on their way home thanks to this:

Before anyone panics, everyone is fine. Well, everyone but the SUV and the dumbass deer that decided to play Frogger. In the deer’s defense, this is the first weekend of shotgun season so they are all probably running for their lives and throwing caution out the door. I just wish they were smart enough to stay in the woods out of sight being that it was after sundown and the hunters should have already called it quits for the day. As it turns out, Linda was driving by the Jubilee College entrance which is about halfway between Kickapoo and Brimfield IL. This is essentially big buck region and this particular corridor is deer alley. Most of the time they stay to the sides and tend to heed the roadways to the faster and heavier vehicles. You can always tell those not from the area because those are the ones who unknowingly have a death wish by speeding through these parts. Apparently this particular deer decided to test fate on a dead run and almost made it. By my estimates, it was probably less than 2 feet from freedom when it was clipped by the SUV bumper. Luckily, that particular area had a reduced speed due to a small subdivision. Linda said she locked them up but wasn’t able to avoid the impact. Guessing this sudden deceleration is what sent the boys for a thrill ride. It was a pretty big deer and fur ended up flying from the impact, but those deer are tough. I totaled a Daytona on one and it was still alive afterwards (broken legs, but still alive). I took a walk in the dark, but couldn’t find any remains so guessing it is nursing a pretty sore hind at the moment.

Catch a couple more shots after the jump

Continue reading 2′ Away from Freedom

Project: Thinner by Design

This has been an very odd day.  I actually woke up without any plans for blog entries and as it turns out, I now have two.  Unfortunately it is a situation of the Yang and the Um in the sense that a joyous blog topic was countered with a bummer of an entry.  After an internal debate as to which topic to lead with, the decision was made to go with the order in which they occurred in the day.  This means we’ll be starting with the happy event.  So most of this year was spent rehabbing my messed up hamstring.  With the exception of a few important races, there wasn’t a whole lot of opportunity to hit the pavement for any extended time.  In fact, after the Bix7 in July I don’t think there was one run over 3 or 4 miles until October.  Definitely nothing up to race pace which means it was difficult to keep the weight in check.  By the middle of October I’d managed to gain 6 pounds putting me at 166 (one pound over marriage weight and 19 under my martial arts weight).  This was pretty depressing and the scale was nagging at me every single morning.  Something had to be done.  At the same time a friend of mine (Pakage) had made a personal (and probably doctor approved) decision to reduce his weight and had employed an iTouch app called My Fitness Pal to help him do that.  I was totally impressed when he showed me this app because it had an extensive DB of foods both from restaurants and grocery stores.  Through a simple interface you were able to track your calorie intake, exercise along with a breakdown of key indicators like sodium, fats, vitamins etc.  Oh, and the most important thing is …. it was FREE.  All this brings us to October 20th when I made the personal commitment to getting myself back in running shape again.  There was something coming up the week of Thanksgiving so decided that was going to be the target date to eliminate the unwanted 6 pounds.  The software asked me a few questions regarding my lifestyle and goals and set a target calorie consumption of 1710 per day.  From October 21st to present I documented every meal, every snack, all drinks and detailed my workouts as much as possible.  First thing every morning I stepped on the dreaded bathroom scale and updated the app with the result.  Curious as to the results?  Let’s cut to the chase and show you the weight graph.

I wish there was a way to change the scale on the myfitnesspal website, but you should be able to tell that the goal was MET!  Today’s weight was indeed 160 and even a few days short of the self imposed duration.  In celebration I hit McDonald’s on the way into town and ordered sausage and egg bagel and a medium hot chocolate.  That was one of the best tasting breakfast sandwiches ever.  For now, I’ll transition to maintain mode and with the hammie finally coming around, the runs are already in the 4-5 miles range which means the daily calorie count will need to increase a little.  There are some more details after the jump, but a lot of the graphs and such are more for me to analyze how things went.  Honestly, this was not the easiest thing for me to do.  We eat out a lot which makes healthy choices a little more difficult and there were some sacrifices which led to some frustrating moments.  Swapping out my tasty muffins for oatmeal every morning was hard enough, but giving up some of my favorite desserts and reducing the portions on some of my favorite meals was a true test of the willpower.  At this point, the hammie feels a lot better, my cardio is getting back to par (think there may have been only 2 or 3 days that I didn’t get a core workout in or a run) and can pretty much work out in the lot for hours and hours without tiring.

Some analytics after the jump

Continue reading Project: Thinner by Design

Biology Apology – Now We’re Even

My fingers are still sore from the last mega-post so decided to go with a quick one today.  I do not know what the weather was like in your part of the world, but the US Midwest experienced a rather wet Spring and Summer season.  In fact, it just started raining a few minutes ago.  As a well owner, this does not bother me at all and takes a few worries off the daily list.  This rain does have an interesting side effect.  Some validation research is still ongoing, but the preliminary results indicate we have a ton more frogs and toads hopping all over the place in these conditions.  By the incredibly loud croaking that fills the night ambiance, the guess is they are at near plague levels this year.  You know about our stream in the back lot by now, but we also have a couple of ponds near our property that provide a perfect environment for them.  Over time you get pretty good at locating them especially late at night when they are hopping in desperation to escape the car lights and their frantic leaping out of harm’s way from the mowers.  As a personal favor to the reptile gods I try my best to allow them time to make it to safety – a small token of appreciation for helping me get through Biology class.  Every once in awhile, we uncover some nice specimens and usually head straight for the cameras.  Actually that isn’t entirely correct.  First we have to make sure our youngest dog (Rizzi) will leave them alone.  He has an uncanny ability to locate these creatures whenever they visit our porch and makes a bee line to them in order give them a thorough sniffing.  A running joke is our dog needs his frog licking hallucinogenic fix.

To finish cleaning up for the Halloween party, I needed to relocate a bunch of leftover boards from the bridge project.  While lifting up one of the boards, I noticed this amazing frog.

This was clearly worth stopping what I was doing and hunting down the camera.  Slap on the macro glass and off to the shoot.  In an effort not to disturb it much, a decision was made not to bother putting my hand or foot close to it for a better sizing perspective.  For reference, it was sitting on 1″ driveway rock so by that estimate it was probably 4-5″s long and had a pretty beefy 2″ sitting height to it.  It never moved the entire time I was snapping pictures either due to being there the whole time I was working on the wood or simply scared completely out its wits.  In either case, a stationary subject is always a good thing with the macro glass.  There was also some interesting lighting I was trying to play with.  Here is one of those experiments.

I actually really liked how this turned out.  There is enough contrast to isolate the frog from the rock and the upper shadow helps make it stand out really nice in the frame.  If you get a chance, jump over to the Smugmug gallery and look at it in the largest size available – pick Original to see the image in all its detail.  The eye came out very nice and you can make out the pretty cool toes.  As far as the frog family goes, this is probably the second largest I have had the pleasure of actually coming in contact with outside of the zoo.  The largest was one we found in a basement window well at my brother Dan’s previous house back in Channahon IL.  That frog was a good 7-8″s long and easily had a resting height of 3-4″s.  After some reluctance to actually touch that one, we finally managed to get it out of there and sent it on its way back towards a nearby river.

Hit the link to see another angle of … I shall call him Leo

Continue reading Biology Apology – Now We’re Even

Anatomy of a Pumpkin Carving – A Tutorial

Happy Halloween Everybody!! Yeah, I know it’s a little late for that, but this post was suppose to be done last weekend. I was awaiting a response to an email that has not come yet and decided waiting any longer would be wasting the moment. Those that know me, are aware of my passion for this particular holiday. Of all the big ones, this has to be my favorite. The reasons for this are not entirely clear to me except there are many fond memories of reading horror book after horror book while in my early school years and always had fun carving up the scariest pumpkins my brother Ron and I could dream up. By the way, the former did result in a note of concern to my parents from my 7th grade teacher. Apparently reading Amityville and The Shining is not normal for that age. Never mind those books were huge and I was spending my time reading instead of boob tubing it – oh, and not to mention I haven’t had any urges to ax murder any members of my family – must be all those right from wrong discussions my parents were instilling me at the same time. To this day, the house gets decorated with all kinds of Halloween related items and as mentioned on a previous blog we have an annual Halloween Party.  Every year I also try to add a new pumpkin carving to the collection.  Try is an accurate word since it often requires more time commitment than is available.  The carving concepts have remained over the years, but the implementation has changed significantly since the days Ron and I laid out the newspapers, found the sharpest knives in the rack and splattered pumpkin guts all over the place.  These days, it is all about the foam and Dremel.  The hardest part about spending all the time carving real pumpkins is always watching the shrivel process destroy all your hard work.  Technology has come to the aid of us pumpkin aficionados.  Some genius has developed the fake pumpkin created out of an orange coated thin foam shell.  This shell even mimics the two toned orange found in real pumpkins providing for the same half cut shavings we have cherished from our real pumpkin experiences.  Adding the fact it can be carved with power tools, we are truly living in a golden age.

This brings me to the topic of this post.  This year I took the time to add another carving to my collection and in addition decided to give a little something back to all the up and coming carvers out there looking to branch out from the store bought stock patterns.  For the last 6 or so years I’ve been perfecting my abilities to create unique patterns and scene combinations.  The following is a mini tutorial on how to create that special pumpkin to impress all your friends.  But first off, a quick notice regarding a copyright issue.  Although drawing is a pastime of mine, my skills have a long way to go before being able to capture exactly what images are floating around in my conscious.   When it comes to the horror genre I tend to defer to the absolute stunning talents of others.  As a result, I tend to lurk on Google Images searching on horror related keywords looking for a image that would translate well to a pumpkin.  None of my creations are for sale nor do I market any of the resultant patterns so there is zero monetary gain on my part in this effort.  With that said, I still want to honor any copyrights and bring appreciation to the talents of others.  This year, I stumbled on an image from an illustrator in the UK name Paul Mudie.  It took me awhile to find the owner of the image I based my pattern on, but through the use of Google located his website.  I also sent him an email detailing my use of the image as a base for the carving and even sent him the actual finished pattern as a small token of appreciation.  He has yet to respond (thus the delay in this post), but want to point out that the original image rights remain with Paul Mudie.  Any use of his original image must be approved by him and any monetary use of the images in this particular post must be approved by both Paul and myself.  Thank you for your understanding in this situation.

With that said, you can visit Paul’s site at: http://www.paulmudie.com/index.htm and specifically, the base image can be seen here: http://www.paulmudie.com/werewolf.htm. Enough of the words, let’s get to the carving!.  So this is the subject of today’s tutorial.

To see the details on the tutorial, just hit the jump!

Continue reading Anatomy of a Pumpkin Carving – A Tutorial