Monday, February 26, 2007

Rain, Water and Digital Cameras

As the guidebook says, digital cameras, “…are not waterproof, and may malfunction if immersed in water or exposed to high levels of humidity.”

Don’t be deceived. If you immerse your digital camera in water, there is no ‘may’ about it, it will malfunction! (Don’t ask me how I know.)

But digital camera owners in the Pacific Northwest face the prospect of never being able to use their cameras outside if they don’t come to terms with humidity in the form of precipitation.

It’s been raining in the Columbia River Gorge for about two straight weeks now and I’ve been thwarted by ‘humidity’ in two ways in my efforts to get pictures at Oneonta Gorge. The first way is by high water that confines me to the mouth of the gorge. The second way I’ve been thwarted is by raindrops on the lens which I don’t notice until I unload my images to the computer for review.

I thought the solution to my first challenge would be hip-waders, but the helpful outdoorsmen at work suggested neoprene bib overalls with built in boots. In fact, Bob had a pair he was willing to let me borrow.

Bob hunts with arrows and also fishes, so it shouldn’t be surprising that he invested in a good pair with an excellent camouflage design.

I then set about devising a means by which to protect the camera from rain.

1. Get a plastic sack.

2. Get a rubber band.

3. Poke a hole in the sack.

4. First place the rubber band at the base of the camera’s lens, then enlarge/stretch the hole in the sack over the tip of the lens.

5. Fasten the sack to the lens with the rubber band (be careful not to interfere with the focus ring).

6. Fold the sack back over the rubber band, creating a plastic-sack-housing for the camera and lens.

7. The sack will help protect the camera from rain. Finally, put a hood on the front of the lens to minimize the number of raindrops that will land on the glass.

Feeling a little bit like Jacque Cousteau, I step into the flowing water and search for a shallow route upstream. I manage to get to the large boulders in front of the logjam, but to get beyond the boulders will require some graceful jumping on slippery rocks over deep fast running water. Though my brain - clinging to idealized memories of my body’s athletic capabilities - suggests that it would be easy, my body reminds me that it hasn’t forgiven me for the snowshoe adventure yet, and my wallet reminds me that a single misstep will likely result in financial hardship, either in camera replacement or medical costs, provided I survive.

Though I know there is a waterfall at the end of this gorge, I settle for this view beyond the logjam.

Even though I have taken steps to protect the camera from water (keeping it in the camera bag, wiping the lens regularly), picture review time on the computer shows me that there continues to be a high correlation between the degree to which I like an image and the number of raindrops which appear on the lens – that is, the more I like an image, the more raindrops it will have.

As a last resort, since I have taken multiple exposures, I am able to use imagery from similar pictures to save the shot I prefer by cutting and pasting to layers within Photoshop.

Detail: Before Photoshop / After Photoshop

Final repaired image of logjam

Equipment Evaluation:

Neoprene bib with built in boots

Pros: These things work. I stayed dry and warm even when I sat on a rock in the middle of the stream to fiddle with the tripod. Also, I'm told that if you should fall into the water, they float (as opposed to hip-waders which act as water anchors).

Cons: You have to have the skills and agility of Harry Houdini to get in and out of them. This has scary implications if you should fall into the water. I felt clumsy with the big boots. They are so comfortable in the water that one tends to become reckless. I think if you ever get a hole in them, they would become instantly useless.

Plastic sack rain shield

Pros: Works briefly to keep rain off camera body

Cons: In practice, after lengthy exposure to rain, the inside of the sack becomes as wet as the outside of the sack. An invaluable tool to have is an old T-shirt to periodically wipe the camera and the inside of the sack. Keep the camera in a camera bag until you're ready to shoot.

Wet/dry bag (Used in rafts and canoes)

Pros: As long as the camera is in the bag and the bag is closed, you don't have to worry about immersing your gear.

Cons: These bags don't have shoulder straps so you have to carry them by hand. In practice, this means that you almost always have the bag open, and when you are using your camera and trying to set up the tripod, the wet/dry bag has a tendency to migrate down river with all of your extra batteries.

Monday, February 19, 2007

In Memoriam

Time worn stairs to an amusement park ride at Oaks Park. Winter, 2003

There is an old black and white photograph I keep that shows me and my brother, six and five years old respectively, wrestling with my father on the kitchen floor. My father smiles up at the camera (and undoubtedly his wife), and he looks happy. My brother and I are also smiling. Though Dad has twisted us into pretzel shapes, he simultaneously cradles us protectively in his powerful arms (a stealth hug).

Some twelve years later, I wrestle Dad again. Somewhere over the years, it has become a contest. Time after time I try my puny muscles against his, and learn new ways to be beaten. But this time, I have spent a season wrestling for the high school team. I have worked long sweaty hours in the weight room. On the mats, I have practiced a small set of wrestling moves until they are habits.

This time, I catch my Dad in a head-and-arm and miraculously – inexorably – I slowly inch him onto his back and pin him. He struggles mightily. He can’t escape.

I don’t know what I thought was going to happen after all of those years of trying to beat my father. Perhaps I thought I would do a victory dance. Maybe I thought I would tease him and gloat. Maybe I thought he would be proud and congratulate me. But when it is over, when our eyes meet, I see an expression of puzzlement and resignation. It is almost as if he had briefly glanced into the face of death and reluctantly made an appointment for the future. Something changes forever. I almost cry. We never wrestle again.

In retrospect, I understand this event as the ebb and flow of seasons. There is a season of growth, a season of fruitfulness, and eventually a season of decline. By necessity, our parents blaze a trail ahead of us in time – a twenty year offset – that teaches us about the coming winter.

The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost reach consensus. It is par for the course.

The mound of dirt under which my father’s body rests has long been settled and covered with grass. If nature is God’s handiwork, we hope the repeating pattern of the seasons is a characteristic signature - a metaphor for what lies in store for everything that dies. Despite our common sense, we trust that Spring will follow Winter (It always does).

The gospels report that Jesus might have suggested that one good way to think about God is as a father (presumably a good father). Granted, a personified God as a father-figure-archetype is psychologically suspicious, but suspending disbelief temporarily and pondering a God that might cherish my father and wrestle with him on the kitchen floor - cradling him protectively in his powerful arms - is not a bad way to spend a few moments.

It seems beyond belief that a God would care about individual humans – specific meat-beings and their respective bundles of experience and memory – and remember them beyond their physical existence. Yet somehow every human culture seemingly comes up with a version of this story.

Which story is true? Unfortunately, despite all the glowing rhetoric, there is still only one way to find out for sure.

In the meantime, I admire the sentiment contained in a saying my mother found on the occasion of my father’s death. It goes, “Friendship divides our sorrow, and multiplies our joy.”

Someday, when it is comfortable, let’s gather together and tell stories of our fathers and mothers and remember them.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Snowshoes: Another Word for Torture

For a $25 entry fee, $15 dollar snowshoe rental fee, and an hour (more or less) of imitating a duck, you too can see this view of Mt. Hood from the top of Frog Butte.

Halfway through my forties, my body has started to send me subtle reminders that the lease is going to expire – in the meantime, maintenance fees are going up. One of these costs is a disciplined approach to exercise, which I don’t have (on account of the discipline part). So when my sister and brother-in-law invited me to go snowshoeing with them, I thought, “Exercise! What could it hurt?”

My little sister, who incidentally runs every day and actually does have a disciplined approach to exercise said, “It’s only 5 kilometers. You can walk three miles can’t you?”

“Sure!” I finally said after a long thoughtful pause during which I imagined things like long level sidewalks and flat quarter mile tracks. “Of course I can.”

But when we pulled into the Frog Lake parking lot, it became clear that 5 kilometers was a misunderstanding (Substitute miles for kilometers). Also, did I mention that this was a race put on by an organization called X-Dog Events? Neither did my Sister.

It wasn’t until we stood somewhere in proximity to the starting line, at the tail end of a herd of fanatical snowshoe aficionados, that a race organizer described the course. Pretty much what I heard went something like, “Now that we have your money, you must climb 1500 feet of elevation in 2.6 miles, turn around and return here.”

“Is that a lot?” I wondered.

The theory behind snowshoes, I guess, is that the expanded surface area for your feet keeps you from sinking into powdered snow and getting stuck. I couldn’t really find any powder to test this theory out. A light mist filled the surrounding valleys and what ice was left in the trees was melting and dripping off. The snow was packed like a groomed ski-slope.

I had previously thumbed through a How To Snowshoe Book. Somehow, the author of the book had managed to stretch the sentence, “If you can walk, you can snowshoe,” over 200 pages. What it really boils down to is that by strapping oversized shoes onto your feet, you can simulate all the grace and beauty of trying to walk as if you had testicles the size of cantaloupes.

It didn’t escape my attention that everyone was moving considerably faster than I was. “These people don’t know how to pace themselves,” I thought. I imagined in a mile or so, I would begin to make up ground. But as time wore on, I lost sight of the pack, and then eventually, I even lost sight of the stragglers.

The sun broke out from behind high cloud cover. Sunlight glinted off the ice on Mt. Jefferson. I stopped, ostensibly to take pictures, but sadly also to catch my breath from . . . walking. I was now so far behind that, were it not for the hundreds of snowshoe tracks in the snow before me, and the deafening roar of snowmobile traffic, I might very well have thought that I was alone in the wilderness.

Gradually, as I rounded a bend, I saw an opportunity to escape the humiliation of being in last place. Some small distance ahead, a snowshoe participant was evidently struggling with the misfortune of equipment failure. She kept stopping to bend down and adjust or refasten her shoes.

I summoned up what reserves of energy I could muster and concentrated on passing her – on taking advantage of her misfortune - my true competitive spirit reviving. As she bent down once again to adjust her shoes, I managed to pass and in so doing began reveling in my athletic prowess.

The glory of the moment turned out to be short lived. Somehow, my mechanical, jarring, big-balled-like-gait over packed snow had dislodged my glasses from the front shirt pocket I had hung them from in order to peer through the diopter adjusted viewfinder of my camera. I was forced to turn back and find them, ultimately reclaiming my position in last place.

After what seemed like a quarter-mile or so (total mileage from the starting line), I realized that the first place competitors were already on their way back. I studied them in awe and embarrassment and tried to rationalize my own sad performance. That guy in first place was obviously a genetic freak, bred for snowshoeing by obscenely rich parents. Those two guys behind him looked almost as if they might be native Minnesotans. That well toned woman close on their heels must obviously be a professional world class athlete. That high school kid obviously didn’t have to contend with being forty years old. That octogenarian with blue hair striding by with a big smile while talking easily to a sedated man in a wheel chair was, lets face it, kicking my ass.

By the time I got to the top of Frog Butte, a race organizer was already taking down the little orange flags that marked the route. He points a camera at me and takes my photo. “What’s that for?” I ask, afraid that they’ll publish it somewhere with the caption ‘Loser’. “It’s so we can identify you later if you don’t make it back,” he says matter of factly.*

*He didn't really say it. I made it up.

On the lonely way back down, I notice the evaporating/sublimating snow results in the mist I’ve been noticing in the valleys and in the coolness between the trees. Exhausted and weak, I stumble towards the parking lot ignoring sarcastic angels who beckon me to walk toward the light.

For those who might be interested in similar outdoor events, visit the X-Dog Events pages at:

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Self Image vs. Work

It kills me to say this, because I frequently experience frustration there, but I have a cool job. Unfortunately, because of my confidentiality agreement, I’m afraid I can’t really talk about it. The _____ products we make have been important tools in _____ so far, but after considerable development and refinement of our _____, we are making inroads into the ____ industry. What this means is that our products may one day be the essential _____ of _____ that may potentially improve or save the _____ of countless ______. Additionally, I get to work with some admirable people who are exceptionally detail orientated, reliable, good at what they do, and who take pride in their work. Some of them are even funny.

The irony about these truths is that what starts out as inspired creativity – consorting with muses - the unraveling of a mystery – becomes, in its transformation to a means of mass production, a rigid and repetitive system that is intolerant of change or variation. It is easy to see that any variations in production will likely result in variations in the final product. This variation is very bad in products that are carefully optimized to meet specific requirements. Rigid control is necessarily introduced with an eye toward achieving perfection. Perfection is difficult. Robust routines for measuring the fitness of product filter out variation when it creeps in.

I guess the frustration part is that, ideally, I’d like to be Beethoven, but given my propensity toward imperfection, I feel more like some desperate mustachioed man in a circus costume grinding an organ on the corner. Part of my act includes a trained monkey which is really the part that gets the tips, because frankly, nobody likes the music all that much. But all the time I turn the crank on the organ I keep thinking about those Beethoven symphonies and remembering the beauty of them and how it makes me feel.

Using the terminology of psychoanalysis incorrectly, the organ grinder metaphor should be understood as the internal dialogue between the Id and the Superego, and not as a relational schematic between me and my co-workers – that is, I’m picturing the organ grinder and monkey as a single unit and contemplating how controlling one’s monkey is kind of like growing up (or dying).

Taking responsibility for work brings with it a certain pressure. Here we can see Harlem, the director of _______ dealing with the pressures and constraints of particular equipment, which, depending on maintenance issues and the laws of physics, will sometimes dictate what can and cannot be done within a given timeframe despite what may have been promised to our _______. Incidentally, Harlem has a second identity as an Ubuntu-flavored-Linux evangelist/podcaster. Last time I checked, you could find his blog at From the blog you can find links to his podcast. Harlem’s efforts at building a sense of community among people who are switching to an alternative operating system provided the impetus for me to launch The Narrative Image.

One of the cool things about my job is learning to see with the eyes of a scientist. Essentially we take our tools and use them to extend the reach of our physical bodies. We look beyond the visible spectrum and see shadows and reflections cast in the extremes of infrared and ultraviolet. We weigh things lighter than a breath. We string together molecules like chains of paperclips. We supplement our memories with stacks of notebooks. We model small bits of the world within computer spreadsheets, and are willing to gamble on the truth of the resulting predictions. In our efforts to control a manufacturing process, we gain insight into how the universe works.

In this image an unsuspecting technician is secretly being audited by a Quality Assurance representative who is making good use of our new ‘chameleon-suit’ technology.

The hard thing about work, probably any work, is that it shows you your own image as judged in the mirror of free enterprise and capitalism. It’s the place you go to be constantly reminded of how much you’re worth at every pay period. It’s a place where individual desires and an illusion of self-importance are measured in the real world with economical tools. Common aspirations to be unique and valuable and secure often end up in opposition to the concerns of managers who desire workers to be completely interchangeable, easily replaceable, preferably docile and with extrasensory communication skills.

In America, where many of us enjoy a standard of living that is unimaginable to much of the rest of the world, and where much lip service is paid to the importance of individual rights, it is easy to forget that work has always been about survival. In the old days, if you and your colleagues weren’t quite clever enough to kill the mammoth, you died.

For now, I’d like to view the enterprise of work with optimism. I’d like to keep my eye on the horizon looking for the next big mammoth (though not overlooking those curious plants that are often so tasty) and figure out how to communicate with my co-workers (using those complex verbal noises and visual gestures hominids are so famous for) so that none of us get gored. There is much evolving to do.

Because of confidentiality concerns, much of this post has been censored so as not to reveal proprietary information. You may however try to reconstruct the complete text by using the following helpful list of words. (I will neither be able to confirm or deny the accuracy of the resulting manuscripts):

Astrolube (trademark)
Quality system
String theory

Just a reminder:

All text and images appearing here are protected by copyright (unless otherwise noted), s.d. 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013