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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Pattern Recognition

If one reads enough science magazines, one absorbs the idea that a key evolutionary survival characteristic is the ability for animals to recognize patterns. The hominid process of elaboration on this particular ability has resulted in things like superstition, the ability to recognize patterns where they don’t really exist.

Spring at Smith and Bybee Lakes isn’t a clear cut process. Trees rooted at the edge of an uncertain lake can’t decide if they’re waking from winter slumber or drowning. Yet life displays its exuberance to propagate in forms besides budding tree branches, like this head-start patch of Irises schooled in vowel forms.

In one of those annoying coincidences that are used by people to prove there aren't any coincidences, I had been told about Zen masters who spend inordinate amounts of time, painting and repainting Zen circles just days before venturing out to the lakes. Like most things about Zen, the importance of painting simple looking circles over and over largely escapes me. Regardless, I was primed to see circles almost everywhere after thumbing through a book that was filled with pictures like this one. (I apologize. I haven't been able to find the source for this picture ... I'm still looking) It won’t be long before the winter’s moratorium on growth is broken and ‘life’ will begin again to write its green ‘O’s of promise, another well known pattern that addresses rebirth and hints at eternal life.

As Spring wore on into Summer and Summer slid into Fall, I would periodically visit and chronicle nature's repeating expression of birth, death and rebirth. Representative photos of this process can be seen at,

Sunday, December 24, 2006


Last year (2005) at the end of October, my supervisor at work told me about a program called Hawkwatch. The Hawkwatch people set up a tagging operation at Bonney Butte, a place in the cascades where because of geography - valleys and mountain ridges - three major raptor migration paths converge.

The peak in the background is Mt. Hood. The location of the Hawkwatch blind is approximately several hundred feet beyond the big tree in the upper right hand corner. Outside of the blind is a stunt pigeon dressed in a little leather vest. It is the pigeon’s job to act as bait for the eagles and hawks that happen to pass by on their way to warmer climates. In much the same way that a herring can be tied to fishing-line to attract bigger fish, the pigeon is also tied to a line. Whenever the pigeon attempts to fly away, a Hawkwatch specialist inevitably yanks on the line and causes the pigeon to crash awkwardly, making it appear to be embarrassingly clumsy. This evidently is too tempting of a target for hungry raptors to pass up. The leather vest isn’t just stylish. It preserves the pigeon’s life when the birds of prey strike.

The day I arrived at the blind, the Hawkwatch people had just finished capturing and banding a goshawk and were ready to release it.

You can see how humiliated and angry this goshawk is about falling for the old decoy pigeon trick. It couldn’t stop screaming.

Just as the Goshawk was being released, a golden eagle stumbled into the same trap. The Hawkwatch team spent considerable time measuring various aspects of this large bird and eventually decided it was a candidate for carrying one of their radio transmitters. They fastened the transmitter on with a little leather harness that I’m sure the other eagles will laugh at.

Most of the Hawkwatch personnel seemed to be either volunteers or interns. They were learning how to do most of the things they did from the old guy in the tent in the putting-the-radio-transmitter-on picture above. This crew seemed to be awestruck by the birds and appeared to me to be in a quasi-religious state of ecstasy (Yes I'm slightly exaggerating, but I hope in a good way) as if they were becoming one with the animal totem.

It was clear to me that you should have skills if you want to hold a golden eagle.

After I got a chance to look into the eyes of a golden eagle, I was kind of wishing that it was MY animal totem.

This is the picture that made me decide I’d have to get a SLR digital camera with easily accessible manual controls - because I couldn’t control the shutter speed of my little Nikon and though I had kind of gotten used to the time lag between pressing the button and having the shutter open and close, it still wasn’t exact enough and consequently, this isn’t the picture I wanted.

The release of the eagle marked the end of the tagging operation for the day, and the Hawkwatch personnel began packing up and heading down to their campsite. I hung around at the top of the butte until dusk and watched a weather front come in from the West.

(If you are interested in seeing the satellite tracking data for golden eagle #21260c, I've provided a link to the Hawkwatch web pages in the list of links.)

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Pondering 'Depth of Field'

I was monkey-ing around with depth of field the other night.

FIGURE 1. In this image, the aperture value = 29, and the shutter speed , = 30 seconds under these dim lighting conditions.

FIGURE 2. Here, the aperture value = 4.5, and the shutter speed = 1.3 seconds.

There seems to be three main factors that affect the depth of field: The focal length of the lens, the aperture, and the distance of the subject in relation to the background and the lens.

Here I tried to limit the variables to just the aperture. For these images the global values are: An 18-55mm zoom lens (in this case the focal length was set at 35mm). I also had the camera set to aperture priority.

The sock monkey was sitting about 3 feet from the front of the lens, and approximately 4 feet beyond the monkey sits the monitor. The depth of field in Fig. 2 is quite narrow. The material in the chair immediately behind the monkey is already starting to blur (compare to Fig. 1)

The monitor sets up a backlighting situation which I tried to balance with my hallway light. I used my spot meter to expose for the monkey’s brown skin tone. It seems that metering with the camera’s spot meter is somewhat hit or miss.

To really increase the amount of fuzziness in the background, I had to adjust the Zoom lens so that its focal length was at the maximum 55mm. In this image, the aperture value is 5.6, the widest value possible for this lens at 55mm. I haven’t really changed my distance from the monkey, though the longer focal length has the effect of bringing one closer to one’s subject matter. Somehow, it seems that the magnification of the subject has a correlation to the compression of the depth of field, but I still can’t visualize the physics.

Even though I'm becoming aware of the variables involved with setting up depth of field shots, I still can't control it. In this picture of a shell, the sand grains show that my point of focus was a little bit too much towards the front of the shell. This is a case where the subject isn't really engaging in a lot of activity, and yet I still wasn't able to get the whole shell in focus (Sadly this is the best of three attempts). In the olden days, lenses used to have distance/aperature markings on the focus ring that worked to show what the depth of field was for a given distance and aperature setting. These markings don't appear on the Canon EFS 18-35mm kit lens that comes with the Rebel.

While the instruction manual details a depth of field preview button, the only thing that appears to happen to me when I use it is that in some cases, the image in the view finder becomes darker, which, instead of helping me determine the range of acceptable focus, just makes it harder to see. I know there must be some kind of a correlation there, but so far, it hasn't been immediately obvious.

Existing in "The Moment".

I was able to visit the coast on the day after Thanksgiving.

I had been dealing with an important audio-visual project and when I wasn’t planning for a trip, I was scanning pictures until early morning and if not, I was worrying about it. Either way, I wasn’t getting much sleep. And then I got blindsided by a cold that I couldn't get rid of.

So, on the 18th, the presentation went off without a hitch and I was finished and then all the details of Thanksgiving were over and suddenly I had a moment when I didn’t have to do anything (not counting a growing stack of dishes) and like I said, I was able to go to the beach.

But it didn’t appear to be such a great day to go to the beach. Snow was threatening to fall in the passes, and rain was enthusiastically falling everywhere else. Once or twice a patch of blue sky hinted at an alternative to November’s moisture onslaught, but mostly these hints proved to be cruel teasing.

By some cosmic gift of timing, I ended up at Oswald State Park in-between cloudbursts.

To the Southwest, you could see a storm approaching and I knew it wasn’t the first one that had paraded up the coast that day and I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to be the last. It was hard to tell how fast it was moving, but it turns out that at this point, it was about 45 minutes away. Thick batches of sea-foam collected around rocks and driftwood or swirled like clumsy ballerinas across the thin film of receding water that was dumped from the last set of waves.

And in the brief burst of light and warmth from a strange sun, opportunistic surfers struck out into the surf paddling in faith toward some big imaginary wave, tourists abandoned the craft stores and bakeries of Cannon Beach in search of nature, and dogs rejoiced in the moment, unaware of clocks and calendars. I tried to imagine being a dog.

As I walked up the beach I saw a little girl, from a distance, wielding kelp like a whip. It reminded me of a story about a little tiger (I think) who claws at the ocean while the tide is going out and at the end of the day believes it has ‘beaten’ the ocean because it looks like the ocean has retreated.You’ve probably seen these giant kelp-whips washed up on the shore. I sense it would not be scientifically sound to say that there is an innate behavior wired into the D.N.A. of every child who ever went to the beach to use kelp as a whip, nevertheless there does seem to be some evidence for a species specific archetypal recognition of the “whip form” and an underlying understanding of the physics involved in its use.

Here briefly, it appeared that the little girl found the secret to existing in ‘the moment’ just as the dog had done.

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