Friday, December 18, 2009


Originally uploaded by bowtoo
I heard of a new trend from some friends of ours recently where little girls get these correspondences going with fairies that visit them at nights.

In one town (Nahant) the fairies are their dolls animated by magic but in others they are garden fairies or pixies that come into their homes and strike up a penpal friendship.

It sounds like a lot of work to me.

I was asked to employ some of my photographic skills to capture one of these and with the help of the parents came up with this. The fairy will be instantly recognizable to those of your who know our family well - although her pointy spock-like ears may have eluded you before. Here she is sitting on an ornament over the fireplace contemplating her next tome.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A gift of a portrait

Just tell me where this is happening in Boston. You'll find me there...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Inflatable street sculptures

A colleague sent me this link.

This is very cool - inflatable sculptures that are triggered by exhaust from subways.

Monday, October 26, 2009


We moved into our house in 2005 and noticed a small hand-built cat house with a window and an electrical cord outside our neighbour's back door.

This was Lily's home. She had lived with our neighbours for 10 years until their other cat had kittens. As the kittens grew they (and their mother) began to ostracize her to the point where it looked likely that they might kill her. Our neighbours had no choice but to move her out of the house.

Originally uploaded by bowtoo

New England winters are bitter and our property is on the edge of a wood, so Lily had some pretty tough obstacles to face. A fisher cat that wandered around near the house and, of course the winter snow and temperatures that frequently go below 20F (-6C).

Our neighbour came up with a pretty cool central heating idea - a naked lightbulb in a can in the little house kept the temperatures reasonable, but of course Lily was not able to stray very far when the days were miserable. She lived this way for 6 years. In the summer roaming fairly freely and more or less house-bound in the winter. She became fairly wild.

At one point, a kindly friend of theirs offered to take Lily in, but the cat crawled in under her bed and scratched her arm to pieces when she tried to coax her out of there - so Lily was returned.

After the first winter of seeing how Lily lived, I (not a cat person by any means) suggested to Anne that we ask our neighbours if we could look after Lily.

They warned us about their friend's arm, but said if we were up to it, they would love to have Lily in a home again....

Lily was pretty wild by this time and would not come anywhere near us, so I had to wait until she was in her house and hold the little door closed as I brought her in through our back door. When I got to the door I realized that the cat house was not going to fit and in the process of tipping it, Lily escaped and was gone for hours! We put her house back where it had been and waited for her to come back before managing to get her more carefully into our house.

She would not come out of her cat house for days and spent many hours stuck under one of the beds, but we let her be and after a few weeks she started coming out briefly to greet us.

Our black Labrador is so unconcerned about other animals that she was pretty disinterested in Lily - of course the first time she had the cheek to sniff at Lily she almost got her face ripped off - so they pretty much kept out of each other's way after that.

She has lived with us for 4 years now and turns 21 in Feb 2010. This picture is of her lying on my wife's lap... a rare occurrence - she will come to you for a few minutes but hardly ever lie on you. Anne can pet her for ages now.... and Molly the Labrador can walk by without threat of injury.

Update: 10/12/2010 Lily died today - sweet thing. We will miss her - this independent survivor and early morning loud greetings and complaints to be fed.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Scientists find virus link to chronic fatigue - The Boston Globe

I came across this article today in the Boston Globe.

It describes a newly discovered virus that is implicated in chronic fatique syndrome and some cancers.

Scientists find virus link to chronic fatigue - The Boston Globe

Posted using ShareThis

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A day at the faire

We went to the King Richard's Faire in Carver in Autumn 2003.

We had been in America for almost 3 years by then and were amused and intrigued by the homage to English Renaissance characters and scenes.

There is a strong fetish undercurrent at the fair - I say undercurrent, because you wander around and into the stalls and see wonderful crafts in leather, cloth and steel and after a while you begin to notice the odd fetish item interspersed: collars, harnesses and something that looks like a horses' bit for people.

That aside, a surprising number of people who visit dress up for the part and womens' attire is definitely bold.

This year we went to photograph Cranberry bogs with the photographic club that I belong to and two friends and I decided to stop by at the Faire on our way home.

Apparently these renaissance fairs are fairly common in America and are a treat to visit. They are colorful and full of buxom lasses all willing to pose for photographers.

You can view a slide show of the images that I took of many of the colorful people that I met there this year.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Have the honeybees recovered?

An article in a paper in New Hampshire on Honeybees

Have the honeybees recovered?

Posted using ShareThis

I posted some information on this in April but have not come across any more recent articles on CCD.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Super cool photography project

A friend sent me this article on some MIT students who took photographs from space for a cost of around $145.

Very cool project! They had to figure out how to keep it cheap and also avoid FAA regulations that limit the payload weight of baloons - they kept it at 800grams.

The problem of how to find it? A cell phone that sends location text messages.

They found the rig 20miles from where they launched it and the pictures on the SD card in the camera.

Taking the pictures was achieved by loading software on the Canon point and shoot so that it would take pictures continuously and the used hand warmers and a beer cooler for insulation to keep the electronic components warm enough for the flight.

The full list is on their Photographs from Near Space site

Radiation threats from cell phones

A friend forwarded this article to me about Cell phones and their radiation.

Although the article points out that not much is known about the effects of this radiation it would be wise to be cautious about use.

South African's and teenagers in the US will be pleased to see that one of the tips is to text more and speak lest.

Here are the tips:

As part of the report, the EWG also provided eight safety tips for cellphone users who are concerned about radiation. Here is a quick list of the tips. You can click through to the original list for more detail on each of the items.

1. Buy a low-radiation phone
2. Use a headset or speaker
3. Listen more, talk less
4. Hold phone away from your body
5. Choose texting over talking
6. Poor signal? Stay off the phone
7. Limit children’s phone use
8. Skip the “radiation shield”

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Parasites - or "why you love cats"

A couple of years ago I read a book called Parasite Rex. I used to tell stories over evening meals about what I had been reading in the book (much to the horror of my family).

I was reminded of this book recently when I heard this episode of a really good podcast that I listen to every week - the podcast included interviews with the author of Parasite Rex.

The book has absolutely fascinating information about how parasites improve their survival chances by in some cases affecting the emotions or instinct of the animals that they inhabit.

One example that caught my eye and was mentioned again in the podcast is toxoplasma gondii which is hosted in cats. The story is that cat feces contain the parasite. It gets eaten by rats and the parasite goes into some part of the rat's brain and makes changes there that makes the rat love the smell of cat urine and lose its fear of cats so that cats can eat it!

That is weird in itself, but researchers have found that when humans have ended up being the inadvertent host of this parasite (through our contact with cats) the parasite possibly tries to do the same mind control trick that it does on rats - excepting our brains are different so the results are different! A great percentage of Europeans test positive for toxoplasma gondii (I think I remember it being 3 out fo 4).

Some of the speculation is that when you have the parasite your affection for cats may increase, increased promiscuity and being more reckless on the road (6 times more likely to die in a car accident).

If you haven't come across it before, I highly recommend Radio Lab. My favorite episodes are the ones on Laughter, and Musical Language.


Every year around this time flying creatures start migrating south for the winter.

Some migrate all the way from Northern Canada down to Florida or South America and there are some incredible stories of tiny hummingbirds that fly from New England all the way South and then across the Gulf of Mexico. This is one incredible journey.

Raptors migrate too and people go out to hills and mountains around here to watch them fly by.

I have been a couple of times, but saw a blog post forecasting a few good days of Hawk watching coming up.

So Anne and I headed up to Pack Monadnock today to watch for Hawks.

Pack Monadnock is in Southern New Hampshire near Peterborough and has a road that goes all the way up to the top. This means that plenty of people have access to the top and it was pretty crowded when we got there with families on fold-up chairs, a guitarist and plenty of birdwatchers.

I was told that we missed a Hawk that came by and buzzed the artificial Owl that they have up there for the purpose of attracting Hawks closer.

I looked for the couple whose blog I had seen. They are celebrities in the birding world up here having made TV documentaries and published over 60 books on birds and birding and I took a photograph of Don as he was surveying for birds.

The serious birders up there are quite phenomenal. Don was identifying birds that we could not see with the naked eye - which means that they were mere specks in his binoculars.

A few birds came close enough for me to photograph, but we didn't have great shots of them and in the end the photograph that I most liked from the day was a dog snuggling up to his master.

Next week they will be releasing a few captive Hawks and if I can get some time this week I am going to head up there again. We heard stories about over 500 Broadwing Hawks settling down in the trees around the mountain as the sun set at the height of their migration in past years. Now that would be a sight to see.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Great time lapse video

The Longest Way 1.0 - one year walk/beard grow time lapse from Christoph Rehage on Vimeo.

This guy walked miles and has compiled a great time-lapse video of the self-portraits he took on the way.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Pranksters - where do you stop?

The Smoking Gun has an article on some pranksters who made prank phone calls and then shared the audio and video online.

They were not happy to play the mostly harmless pranks that we enjoyed listening to from radio DJs, they took it a few notches higher.

What resulted over the course of more than a year were prank calls that humiliated people and caused millions of dollars worth of damage. In one incident, the pranksters persuaded someone in a hotel room that a toxic gas had been leaked and they should smash the windows to let in fresh air.

It is mind blowing how the sense of anonymity can give a person permission to ride roughshod over ordinary people like this.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Stage debut

My Fair Lady 2
Originally uploaded by bowtoo
My sons decided at the beginning of summer to enroll for the Summerstage at Manchester by the sea.

It has been quite an interesting experience for them - they both landed lead roles because of their accents, a shortage of male leads and (of course) their talent potential!

The Gloucester Times ran an article on the show and we are going to the last performance tonight.

I saw a dress rehearsal last week and took a number of photographs with my new camera (exercising some of the low light capabilities.....).

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Honeybees sterilise their hives

A friend sent me an article on how bees sterilise their hives.

"Honeybees sterilise their hives with antimicrobial resin, scientists have discovered.

In doing so, they give the whole colony a form of "social immunity", which lessens the need for each individual bee to have a strong immune system.

Although honeybee resin is known to kill a range of pathogens, this is the first time that bees themselves have been shown to utilise its properties."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Well after the initial euphoria I have been getting some reviews that suggest that the 50D isn't quite what it is pitched to be.

Canon released this model soon after the 40D (a year) and it seems was brought out to compete with the Nikon D300. It does stack up quite nicely against the D300 by all accounts, but it seems that it doesn't stack up that well against the 40D.

Most features are the same but Canon crammed a 15megapixel sensor into the camera - and while the 6.3frames per second is impressive considering that the sensor is 50% more dense than the 40D, the speed is a little slower than the 40D's 6.5frames per second.

The camera also has a burst capacity that is lower than the 40D and the image quality is lower in some circumstances. The higher density can apparently hurt you in low light.

The 50D has some features that are very cool for photographers who are transitioning from a point and shoot. For example in live view mode the camera will lock onto faces like the point and shoots do.

The image processor is the same as the 5Dmark II and the Rebel T1L and offers several ISO settings and noise reduction settings. The LCD display on the back has a higher resolution and is brighter. The 40D today is around $130 cheaper than the 50D.

I have a few days to decide whether to return this camera. Still am not sure one way or the other. The 12800 ISO isn't really much to write home about, but at least it is there. The 40D goes to 3200.

Funny - most of the reviewers end up rating the two camera's more or less equal - but here is one reviewer (who owns a 50D) who came down on the side of the 50D.

I really like the LCD display brightness and resolution and the high ISO with built-in noise reduction looks quite promising to me. So the jury is still out for me.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Originally uploaded by bowtoo
Well this is my 50th year and it has been 5 years since my family clubbed together to get my first Digital SLR so it seemed appropriate to go for a camera upgrade.

The boys and Anne contributed to the project and I went to pick up the camera this afternoon.

It was a tough choice. Camera technology has really come along in the past few years. Most camera manufacturers have brought Video into play (imagine HD video with the great lenses that you can put on a DSLR body)!

The direct upgrade from what I had is the Rebel T1i (500D) which uses the same digital processor as their new 5D Mark II. It boasts great low light potential at 3200ISO (with two very high ISO ratings 6200 and 12800). I suspect that 3200 is probably as noisy as the 800ISO was on my Rebel.

A step up from the Rebel (same processor and ISO levels) is the Canon 50D. A more substantial camera (heavier, more solid looking) than the Rebel with many of the same features.

Most compelling in this camera is the viewfinder optics. It is immediately noticeable when you look through it - bright and clear. You can really see when things are in focus. This higher quality viewfinder had me right from when I put the camera up to my eye and looked through it in the store. Add to that a frame rate of 6.3frames per second. For sports and action photography this is incredible. The camera also doesn't hesitate. I don't know how many frames it will shoot before slowing down (my old rebel could do no more than 3), but I was easily shooting 6 or so frames without a slowdown.

The camera actually came out in Aug 2008 so it isn't new. The autofocus is pretty cool too and I see that the camera has built-in functions for fine tuning focus dependent on the lens attached to the camera. It will be interesting to see how focus performs compared with the Rebel.

Very cool.... thanks family.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

As American as Cricket?

A friend forwarded this article to me - it makes an interesting read: a cricket lover noting some of the similarities between cricket and baseball.

Mentioning the game cricket in America will almost always bring a smirk and some comment about how long or slow it is.

I have a friend who grew up in Michigan and came to love cricket at college - which is a good thing, because it is great to hear him expounding on some finer detail of the game!

Of course it is really hard to follow cricket here. Buying a series on TV is only possible if you have one of the two satellite services and it costs. I think that the last world cup cost $300 (R3000) to watch on TV.

The games are streamed on the internet now, so have become a little more affordable, but then you have the time difference to contend with as well.... sigh.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Time Binder - antique photographs

I came across Timebinder in the This Week in Photography podcast.

This is a site dedicated to showing antique photographs that this collector has found and researched. He has posted high quality images of the photographs on the site along with notes describing their origin and some background information.

Well worth a visit.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Balloon man

Balloon man
Originally uploaded by bowtoo
in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles far and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and



balloonMan whistles

In Just
e.e. cummings (published 1923)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Acapella - Rain in Africa

If you like acapella you'll really like this.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Smoke and photoshop

The week's assignment for the Flickr group PCA was smoke. The idea to find a way to photograph and present smoke in an image.

We were encouraged to do any post processing we liked and although I originally didn't think of doing a lot of post-processing, it happened anyway.

In he final image the drifting smoke looks a lot like a woman kneeling and looking to the left

The setup was basically an incense stick in a holder set on a small table with one of my sons on a couch in the background. The light was through the window to the left, but since it was overcast it wasn't particularly stark.

I took over 100 images some really close and other further away from the incense stick and when I looked at them afterward there were several that looked pretty interesting - some with smoke around the bottom, one that had a small wisp that looked like a face in profile and one of them looked a little like a female torso. It even had a small piece of the hips and top of the thighs.

I wondered how easily I could put them all together to make a composite that looked like a kneeling woman. My first instinct was to use the overlay techniques that I mentioned last week (for the Coyote image that I did) so I went off looking for an image of a woman that I could overlay in there.... Not much luck - the smoke is too translucent to use in overlay (although I am sure there is a way, I couldn't find it).

The next step was to figure out how to make a composite.

There is an important step to making a composite image that many people don't use and that makes a huge difference in flexibility and how much control you have over the final image. This is to never adjust the original image, but rather the use "masks" for that purpose.

Photoshop Elements doesn't have "masks" per se, but you can fake a mask by doing the following: Get the image layer and create a blank layer below it. Then use the Layer->Group option on the image layer so that it is grouped to the blank layer below.

An example of this is this one with the end result shown next to it. You paint in black on the bottom layer to bring out the details of the image that is grouped above. If you don't like it, you erase the black and it hides it again.

So bringing in three or four of these images and masking parts of them, I ended up with something that looked like a fairly convincing kneeling woman.

The image below is a screenshot from Photoshop Elements showing this and the layers on the right that were used to produce it. You can click on the image to view it large.

All that was left was to fill in some details to complete the image. The hair looked a little sparse and since this is a woman I needed to manufacture a breast profile and put some detail into the face.

It important to do this in a new layer so that if you make a mistake you can erase it and more importantly, after you are finished if you realize that the overall effect of these additions makes the figure too contrived, you can back it off by reducing the opacity.

I have included a screenshot of this adjusted layer - but I changed the color to make it obvious what these last touchup changes were. If you compare it with the final result you will see that I backed off the touchups quite a bit.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Inspecting the bees

Inspecting the bees
Originally uploaded by bowtoo
My wife keeps bees and had a hive opening and meeting at our house this weekend.

Here a frame is inspected. This frame has a lot of capped honey cells.

The first part of the season you allow the hive to build itself up. Then you add extra frames on top with a mesh that excludes the queen but allows workers through. As natural hoarders, the bees will begin to store honey in the frames that the queen can't get to.

The queen excluder prevents her from moving up to lay eggs so that only honey is stored there.

Scary parent

My son told me recently that most of his friends are afraid of me.... which is pretty strange considering how mild-mannered I am.

Scary parent

To create this image, I used a photograph that I took at a local Zoo a couple of months ago of a coyote.

The coyote in the cage had a very obvious wire mesh pattern as the background so I used Photoshop elements to select and remove the animal from the background.

Selecting a furry creature in photoshop gets you 80% done - the rest involves finding a way to get the stray hairs and ragged edges to look real - because the selection tends to ignore those finer details.
Once you have the animal isolated from the background you can use it elsewhere. The face is facing a little to the left even though the eyes are looking directly at the camera. So the next step was to get a photograph of a person with the same pose.

I usually try to get my sons to pose for me for these experiments but they were out so I put the camera on self timer and took a couple of images of myself in the back yard with a stern expression. There was a strong side-light in my recent image, with plenty of light from behind as well. In the original as you can see there is a strong backlight lighting the edges of the fur.

I needed to repeat the process with this image to isolate my face from the background and then bring both of these images into photoshop and align them properly.

As you can see, Coyotes' eyes are front facing like ours (trying to do this with an antelope or buck is tougher because their eyes are wider and on the sides of their heads). By resizing and rotating (very slightly because I deliberately matched where I was looking in the more recent photograph) I was able to line up the eyes perfectly. To do this, you put the coyote on a layer below the human face and set the face layer at 50% opacity so that you can see both images at once.

The coyote mouth is lower in its face than mine is so I needed to create a new layer and on that clone my mouth to move it down a bit.

I erased all but the face from the coyote picture and the same from the background human image and set the human face image to overlay which merges the tones of the two. You can dial in more face or more coyote by sliding the opacity slider of the human (overlay) layer. I went for a strong enough overlay so that you can still see the human skin tone through the fur.

The screenshot above shows the layers on the right - I had both the original images as layers as well as the various cloning and adjustment layers. I simply hide the ones that I don't need while I am working.

After you have the face ready you can bring in the background image that you will use. You have to selectively erase the "overlay" layer eyes and mouth so that the eyes and cloned mouth are visible instead.

Now some cloning on the background image. Firstly to hide the top of the head and then to block off all the bright lights that distract from the subject.

Some final touchups on the fur, cloning from the original Coyote where necessary and using a brush to darken the edges of the eyes. I had some trouble with this, but ended up using a brush set to multiply and an opacity of 20% to get the right effect. It still looks as though I have makeup on.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sipping a Honeydew Drop (One More Ant Photo)

Now this is macro photography.

A friend of mine from our local camera club took this image with a ring flash and a macro lens.

It is very impressive.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Big spider for New England

Big spider for New England
Originally uploaded by bowtoo
A word about insects in North Eastern America.

The first thing to know is that most of them are vicious. I think that this is because they have such a short time to be active that they come out in the spring and bite. Most of the insects (especially the small flying ones) bite.

The mosquitoes are almost unbearable at certain times of the year (there is lots of standing water around) and there are blue flies (essentially horse flies) on the beaches from May to June.

There aren't many big spiders though... so tonight when we saw this one it was the center of some attention. Of course I had to record it.... as a photographer it is very important to try to get a "catchlight" in the eye of the person who's portrait you shoot so I was quite proud to get one in one of eyes of this guy.

Shot with my 50mm lens with a macro extension to get me really close.

Catching a Hummingbird

Originally uploaded by bowtoo
We have a hummingbird feeder stuck to the window of our living room.

For two years now a few hummingbirds have returned to this feeder. We have learned that they come back to the same nest every year and need to consume large amounts of nectar to survive - feeding about once every 45min.

They migrate to and from Central America, across the Gulf of Mexico in the spring after consuming large numbers of insects and almost doubling their weight.

The adult bird is very small. Their nest is the size of an American Quarter (South African 50c piece) and the are probably about 3in (8cm) long from tip to tail.

Watching them feed is like magic - they hover and dip their beak into the feeder and then rapidly fly back to hover a foot or so from the feeder before coming in for the next sip. We often sit watching them through the window a few feet away from us as they feed.

If you are outside they sound like large bumble bees as they hover.

I took this photograph from about 10feet away in full sunlight at 1/1600s - even at that speed the wings are blurred from their movement.



"A human kind of human" reminded of the Sunbirds of Africa - I took a picture of one (not hovering) while I was there last October.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bitterness as mental illness? - Los Angeles Times

I came upon this article in the Los Angeles Times (via Slashdot) describing how Psychiatrists are proposing declaring deep bitterness a mental illness.

Bitterness as mental illness? - Los Angeles Times

This is fascinating. We all know someone who has become deeply bitter about a wrong that was done to them and I am often puzzled at the vehemence of this belief. Particularly when as you get to know the circumstances you realize that the person made choices that played a role in where they ended up too. The bad thing that happened to them was something that they were partially complicit in.

So part of the bitterness is often self-directed anger (how did I get myself into this?) and part of it is from a sense of entitlement (the world/this person/this institution owes me, dammit!)

Well - it looks like a line of drugs and some therapy is going to fix all of that - which really bums me out. Bitter people have ruined my life and I want them to pay for it!

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Ready 2
Originally uploaded by bowtoo
I have some South African friends whose son has great sporting aptitude.

I asked if I could go and photograph his baseball practice. It was great to see how the parents who run the program help the kids get used to handling the ball.

He looked so intense in his baseball outfit waiting to catch the ball.

His dad told him that in South Africa you catch the ball without a glove....

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


There is a club at my son's school that plays a game called Ultimate Frisbee.

I had heard of this sport a few times in conversation here but couldn't figure out exactly how it worked or what the point of it was.
From Ultimate Frisbee 2009

It didn't get much better when, after a few practices I was introduced to some of the concepts - I have to say that it sounded like a game that some kids invented with rules that were made up as they went along.

There is no referee and the game takes the form of a soccer (or football?) game with a frisbee. Players pass the frisbee forward and back to each other with the objective of getting it into the far end-zone. The frisbee can be knocked down or intercepted by the other team and there are some rules about how physical you can get when going for an interception.
From Ultimate Frisbee 2009

A foul (or "spirit" foul) is play that is not in the spirit of the game and these are negotiated by the players on the field - sometimes resulting in the frisbee changing hands or players going back to the last spot that the frisbee was thrown from to reset.

Frisbee throwing can be varied so from a spectator's point of view the game is a good one to watch. Players leap and dive to get the disk in mid air or to knock it down before another player gets to it.
From Ultimate Frisbee 2009

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Volvo Race comes to Boston

The Volvo 70 Ocean Race is an around the world race that first took place in 1973.

It is a grueling and dangerous race described as "the longest, most demanding and perilous sporting contest the world had known" in the Overview on the race official web site.

The site goes on to describe the course: "During the nine months of the 2008-09 Volvo, which starts in Alicante, Spain in October 2008 and concludes in St Petersburg, Russia, during late June 2009, the teams will sail over 37,000 nautical miles of the world’s most treacherous seas via Cape Town, Kochi, Singapore, Qingdao, around Cape Horn to Rio de Janeiro, Boston, Galway, Goteborg and Stockholm."

"During the race the crews will experience life at the extreme: no fresh food is taken onboard so they live off freeze dried fare, they will experience temperature variations from -5 to +40 degrees Celsius and will only take one change of clothes. They will trust their lives to the boat and the skipper and experience hunger and sleep deprivation."

There were 7 entries this year. An American team, Puma (pronounced P00-ma in America and Pew-ma elsewhere), two Swedish teams (Eriksson 3 and 4), two Spanish teams (Telefonica Blue and Telefonica Black), a Dutch entry called Delta Lloyd and an Irish (Chinese sponsored) boat called the Green Dragon.

A Russian entry did not start the race.

"Each of the seven entries has a sailing team of 11 professional crew, and the race requires their utmost skills, physical endurance and competitive spirit as they race day and night for more than 30 days at a time on some of the legs. They will each take on different jobs onboard the boat and on top of these sailing roles, there will be two sailors that have had medical training, as well as a sailmaker, an engineer and a media specialist."

I went with two friends to watch the start of the 7th leg from Boston to Ireland. We stood across the harbor from the main pier to get some images of the boats against the Boston skyline. It was surprisingly cold and a mist came in to add some drama to the show.

The race was supposed to begin at 1pm and the boats were out in the water by about 12pm. There were lots of spectators both in the water on boats and on the banks.

The Puma boat was ahead of the pack when the canon fired but the others very quickly lined up behind it and pretty soon Telefonica Blue had caught up and overtaken the Puma boat.

The boats all left the harbor and then had to circle back and take a loop in the harbor before heading out to sea again. It was quite a show.

The Boston fire boat was spraying water with Rowes Warf in the background.

We waited for them to come back with their spinnakers flying in the mist.

We heard that a tanker (at first we heard it was one of the natural gas tankers that basically shuts the harbor down) had arrived and was going to stop the beginning of the race, but in the end there was only a 15 min delay.

We heard a couple of days later that Selma Hayek had been there and had taken a turn at the helm of the Puma boat. She was announced as the godmother of the boat before the race.

I went back and looked through my photographs and wouldn't you know it - there was one with a bunch of photographers on the Puma boat all pointing their camera at the helm. Selma Hayek is at the helm. An official blog with photographs show her and her husband on the boat and the team blog describes the event: "For the first hour or so the actress Salma Hayek was onboard along with our PUMA executive team and her husband. She christened the boat a little over one year ago and we consider her to be our glamorous godmother! Her husband is our “BIG” boss. He seemed to know all about the race, the team and many of our exploits. It was great to meet them especially Salma and it must have been a treat for them to get the buzz of the pre-race dock scene and departure, hopefully they all had a good time."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Cure For Honey Bee Colony Collapse?

Anne has been keeping bees for a few years now.

In our first year we got two hives - a crazy, productive hive and a more sedate, ordered hive - we dubbed the crazy hive "The Loony Lefties" and the ordered hive "The Righteous Sisters" based on their behaviour and location.

The Righteous Sisters didn't survive the first winter and we lost both hives in the second winter - we believe because they were weakened by a parasite that has infected bees in Europe and America. It is like a bees' tick, the Varroa mite.

Last year, bee colonies began to mysteriously decline - they described it as honey bee colony depopulation syndrome and it seems that this, too, is the work of a parasite.

ScienceDaily (2009-04-14) have published an article on a discovery and cure in Europe that offers some hope: For the first time, scientists have isolated a parasite from professional apiaries suffering from honey bee colony depopulation syndrome. They then went on to treat the infection with complete success.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bohemian Rhapsody on old computer hardware

Another Slashdot article that led to someone who has a lot of talent and a lot of time on their hands.

Using the sounds of old hardware, oscilloscopes, printers, floppy drives, someone has made an arrangement of Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen..... utterly spectacular.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Lessons from the Outlaw Josey Wales

The Outlaw Josey Wales was made in 1976. I am pretty sure that my father took me to see this film - he loved Westerns and Clint Eastwood who starred in and directed the film. It is a true classic.

A colleague of mine has the phrase "Endeavor to Persevere" as a more or less permanent status on his IM. It is a good rallying cry - but has a certain irony to it.

Chief Lone Waite explains to Josey Wales how the Indians were invited to Washington. They told of how their land had been stolen and their people were dying and "When we finished, he shook our hands and said: 'endeavor to persevere'.

They stood us in a line [...] They took our pictures and the newspaper said: 'Indians vow to endeavor to persevere'.

We thought about this, 'endeavor to persevere', for a long time and when we had thought about it long enough we declared war on the Union."

The clip from the movie is available on YouTube

Thursday, April 16, 2009

James Bond data center

Another Slashdot article led me to this cool video.

The introduction: "Data centers are boring and NOCs are doubly so. But this one sure beats all of them."

Your mood and where you live

It is pretty well known that some extreme climates have an influence on your mood. For example in Sweden and Iceland this is linked to the lack of sunlight in the winter months.

An article today in Slashdot led me to this news story that suggests a more subtle relationship between where you live and your mood.

There are a few obvious examples of bad places to live, but what if the place is ostensibly beautiful with mountains and streams (you have to watch an advert before the news story) but you end up feeling really bummed out most of the time?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Chinese and US Electrical grid

I wrote here about a massive security breach in the World Bank that was reportedly the result of hackers from an IP block in China.

Recently articles have surfaced reporting that hackers have hacked into the US electrical grid and have been able to disrupt power in some cases.

A security blogger: Bruce Schneier writes an interesting piece on this in which he suggests that all of the articles with these claims have no substance, only supposition. While hacker communities all over the world (including China) are driven by similar motives to hack and sell the fruit of their exploits, the real threat to our infrastructure is the more random internet beasts - like worms and viruses. Even though these don't target specific systems they can randomly cause enough harm on enough machines to take down the 911 emergency service lines in an area.

He has an interesting take on the Chinese government-sponsored hacker theory too. While not ignoring the fact that the Chinese military may recruit and even turn a blind eye to the hackers there, he is more concerned that they are motivated like any other hacker groups are, by their own need for conquest and their greed.

He suggests: "If anything, the fact that these groups aren't being run by the Chinese government makes the problem worse. Without central political coordination, they're likely to take more risks, do more stupid things and generally ignore the political fallout of their actions."

Restoring faith...

OK, so New York and New Yorkers are known to be bad-ass, uncaring and selfish and if I got lost in New York, the last thing I would expect, would be to be helped by a stranger.

So you can imagine how cool it is to find this story about Tweenbots in New York.

The author, Kacie Kinzer explains:
Tweenbots are human-dependent robots that navigate the city with the help of pedestrians they encounter. Rolling at a constant speed, in a straight line, Tweenbots have a destination displayed on a flag, and rely on people they meet to read this flag and to aim them in the right direction to reach their goal.

Given their extreme vulnerability, the vastness of city space, the dangers posed by traffic, suspicion of terrorism, and the possibility that no one would be interested in helping a lost little robot, I initially conceived the Tweenbots as disposable creatures which were more likely to struggle and die in the city than to reach their destination. Because I built them with minimal technology, I had no way of tracking the Tweenbot’s progress, and so I set out on the first test with a video camera hidden in my purse. I placed the Tweenbot down on the sidewalk, and walked far enough away that I would not be observed as the Tweenbot––a smiling 10-inch tall cardboard missionary––bumped along towards his inevitable fate.

The results were unexpected. Over the course of the following months, throughout numerous missions, the Tweenbots were successful in rolling from their start point to their far-away destination assisted only by strangers. Every time the robot got caught under a park bench, ground futilely against a curb, or became trapped in a pothole, some passerby would always rescue it and send it toward its goal. Never once was a Tweenbot lost or damaged. Often, people would ignore the instructions to aim the Tweenbot in the “right” direction, if that direction meant sending the robot into a perilous situation. One man turned the robot back in the direction from which it had just come, saying out loud to the Tweenbot, "You can’t go that way, it’s toward the road.”

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Playing for change

I am posting two viral videos in one sitting.

Actually while I was watching this video I was reminded of the other.

This one is a really cool idea... a collaborative effort by a recording artist who travelled around the world to record different people singing and performing the song "Stand by me".

Really quite astonishing.

Where the hell is Matt

I came across this last year and it is quite enchanting.

His web site describes this as follows:

Matt is a 32-year-old deadbeat from Connecticut who used to think that all he ever wanted to do in life was make and play videogames. Matt achieved this goal pretty early and enjoyed it for a while, but eventually realized there might be other stuff he was missing out on. In February of 2003, he quit his job in Brisbane, Australia and used the money he'd saved to wander around Asia until it ran out. He made this site so he could keep his family and friends updated about where he is.

A few months into his trip, a travel buddy gave Matt an idea. They were standing around taking pictures in Hanoi, and his friend said "Hey, why don't you stand over there and do that dance. I'll record it." He was referring to a particular dance Matt does. It's actually the only dance Matt does. He does it badly. Anyway, this turned out to be a very good idea.

So here is Matt doing his thing:

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Old school photography

A friend forwarded me an article from Wired that describes how John Coffer, who lives in a rural cabin in New York state, makes a living taking pictures using technology that was around during the American Civil war.

His pictures have become popular in the art-house circuit now which has mystified him.

"Coffer's chosen technique is called wet plate because the photographic plate must stay wet throughout the process of shooting and developing. The plate is coated with collodion -- a flammable, light-sensitive potion historically used to seal wounds -- and then dipped in silver nitrate solution."

While it's still wet, Coffer slips the plate into a lightproof plate holder. He carries the plate to the camera, removes the dark slide protecting the plate from light, and shoots the photo by removing the lens cap for about five seconds. The scene and focus must be determined before the plate is brought to the camera. No last-minute adjustments are possible.

Film photography is all but dead in the USA. Members of our camera club are gradually moving to digital and, although you hear people getting into photography express an interest in learning how to use film for the sake of the art, I can't imagine that it will be long before you can't buy film any more.

It is interesting that an old art form like this has generated so much interest.  It almost feels more like someone has discovered an artist who does unusal etchings than a photographer.  The process that he goes to (all home grown) really does justify that conclusion - this is really old school and wonderfully inventive.

Some of his images are really beautiful.... the camera body that he uses is also home-made!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Working with Animals

Our daughter has just landed a job working with animals.

Not sure how comfortable I am with this but I suppose photographically this has to be a very cool place.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Happiness and names

A friend of mine recently posed a question about how she is perceived and how closely it is tied to her name.

The result was, after some deliberation, that she changed her name to one that she thought others would relate to as a stronger name and would make her feel more comfortable in the world. Of course part of the problem is that, while this works well for the new people you meet, it doesn't really work for all of the people who know you by the name that you met them with.... in fact it could have opposite effect.

I knew a Geraldine back when we lived in South Africa. Her father wanted a son and Gerald would be his name... so as she grew she understandably came to hate the name and eventually changed to it a more neutral one. She moved to another country and has a new network of friends who know her by the new name. We, of course, still call her Geraldine because that is how we knew her. The name was formed in our minds by combining everything we experienced with and about her over the time we got to know her. The name morphed with our experience of her.

I admit that my take on this is that you get to own the name that you are given. It can be tough to go through life with a name like Emerentia (for example) but you roll with it - become Emma or Em or Renti. In my case Timothy became Timmy (I know a bunch of dogs called Timmy) and I chose to be Tim when I left for the Army.

Perhaps the point is that you do get to change your name - most people do it a little by adopting or being given a nickname, or by abbreviation. It is rare, but this can happen in your adult life too.

So today a colleague gave me this article from the UK Daily mail (actually an abreviation of this article appeared in the Boston Metro so it was probably put out on the wire.

A psychologist (Dr David Holmes of Manchester in the UK) did a study of peoples names and personalities and made a judgment on how happy they were. His contention is that people's names are like product brands - the name gets associated with how others have carried it and with what is generally associated with that name and this rubs off on people who are given the name.

So people with the name Judy have it lucky while if your name is Harriet you are likely to be at somewhat of a disadvantage. I suppose this is a pretty basic assumption... people take stage names if theirs is not interesting enough. David Bowie was David Jones and Robert Zimmerman became Bob Dylan... in fact the list of actors and their real names makes quite an interesting read.

At the bottom of the story was the list of names that are the least happy.
Charlotte, Tina or Tara, Andrew, Edward, Tim or Owen...

I guess I am unhappy.

I loved some of the comments at the bottom of the story though:
What absolute rubbish, I know someone called Judy, 3 times married, 3 times divorced, and the most miserable person I know despite having plenty money.

What a load of utter rubbish!! Yet another exercise in job justification!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Jaguar Nick

Jaguar Nick
Originally uploaded by bowtoo
All credit for the idea to Josh Sommers whose Solomon Tigcelot image has been on my mind since I saw it last July

I used an image of Nick that I took from roughly the same angle as the one I took of a jaguar at the zoo recently.

I had to use two different images of the jaguar to get the mouth believable.

This was a great deal of fun,

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Nahant Vertorama

Nahant Vertorama
Originally uploaded by bowtoo
I was pretty happy with how this came out.

I was shooting for HDR (multiple exposures that can be blended in post processing to give you a much wider range of exposure in the image) but took a few vertical pano's with the intention of stitching them later. Trick is to blend two different exposures (focused differently and with camera distortion on the wide angle) without the seams being visible.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Visit to Salem

I was prompted to visit Salem today after Friday the 13th as part of an assignment for a flickr group that I am a member of. The group encourages members to take photographs in a weekly theme.

I mentioned elsewhere in this blog that my most viewed photograph on Flickr is of Suzannah Martin - one of the Salem Witches who was hanged in 1692.

Salem village was where Danvers is today, and is where most of the trials were held. There is a separate memorial across the road from where the old meeting house was where many of the examinations took place.

Salem was the port

The old burial ground in Salem has the grave of John Hathorne, who was the magistrate and chief interrogator in the infamous witch trials in Salem Village in 1692.

John Hathorne lived at the top of the hill that was to become the Danvers State Lunatic Asylum that HP Lovecraft fictionalized as Arkham Sanitarium and was also used in Batman comics as a tribute to Lovecraft.

The engraving at the top reminds me of an angel of death.

The inscription says: "Here lies inter'd the body of Col John Hathorne Esq, Aged 76years who died May 10 1717". So he lived 25 years after the trial.

Nathaniel Hawthorne the famos author of "The House of Seven Gables" and "The Scarlet Letter" was a relative of his. He added the "w" to his name to dissociate from the witch trials.

Of the victims of the witch hunt, one who has the most striking story for me is Giles Corey.

He refused to plead guilty or innocent in his trial and was subjected to a torture that was supposed to encourage a plea... he had a board placed on him and was pressed to death over a few days by having stones packed on the board. He died on September 19, 1692. He was over 80 years old. Aside from his contempt of the process, a motive for his refusal to plead was that his farm would go to the state if he was found guilty. He wanted his sons to inherited it. He is said to have called for more weight when he was asked to plea during his torture and those were his last words.

His third wife, Martha was hanged for witchcraft on the 22nd of September, 1692.

Legend has it that Giles Corey's ghost appears in Salem before a major catastrophe. A figure was seen walking in the graveyard before the Great Salem fire of 1914.

A Wikipedia article gives a good account of all of this.

There are several countries in the world where people are still being accused, persecuted and killed for being suspected witches. A newspaper article, as recently as 2008, reports of a witch killing in South Africa.

Martha Corey was the wife of Giles Corey and was hanged on Sept 22, two days after he succumbed to being pressed to death for refusing to plead guilty.

Her son was given $50 in restitution for her death in 1723

Sarah Good was one of the three first accused as witches in the Salem Witch hysteria of 1692. She and her husband had been forced to sell their property and were destitute. She was reduced to begging and grew angry with people who were not charitable to her.

A interesting account in Famous American Trails describes how when she was about to be hanged, a minister tried to extract a confession. The article (by Douglas Linder) describes her response "You are a liar. I am no more a witch than you are a wizard, and if you take away my life God will give you blood to drink." Her curse seems to have come true. Noyes died of internal hemorrhage, bleeding profusely at the mouth. Despite the seemingly effectiveness of her curse, it likely just further convinced the crowds of her guilt.

Elizabeth was one of the victims of the Salem Witch hysteria in 1692. She was accused and examined on May 31 by John Hawthorne and two other judges, tried and condemned a month later and hanged with four other women on July 19 of that year.

She said "If it was the last moment I was to live, God knows I am innocent of anything of this nature" in response to the accusations against her.

Her trial and accusation is an interesting example of how far afield the rumors went. She lived in Ipswich which is a fair distance from Danvers - back in those days probably half a day's ride on horseback.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

In the theme of trojans and viruses

Common lore is that you get a virus or trojan on your computer by opening a malicious file (either an attachement in email or from a website that has the file masquerading as a new video codec or enhancement for your computer).

A blogger, Didier Stevens recently created a youtube video showing how a vulnerability in a PDF file has been exploited so that you trigger the exploit by clicking on the document (selecting it) or by having a "thumbnail" view of the document.

In the video a debugger is launched as the exploit gets activated to illustrate the point.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Project management truths

Well I had to laugh out loud at a few of these - they were written in a Computer Weekly blog by Tony Collins and forwarded to me by a colleague.

  1. Projects with realistic budgets and timetables don't get approved
  2. Activity in the early stages should be dedicated to finding the correct questions
  3. The more desperate the situation the more optimistic the progress report
  4. A user is somebody who rejects the system because it's what he asked for
  5. The difference between project success and failure is a good PR company
  6. Nothing is impossible for the person who doesn't have to do it
  7. Every failing, overly ambitious project, has at its heart a series of successful small ones trying to escape
  8. A freeze on change melts whenever heat is applied
  9. There's never enough time to do it right first time
  10. You understood what I said, not what I meant
  11. If you don't know where you're going, just talk about specifics
  12. If at first you don't succeed, rename the project
  13. Everyone wants a strong project manager - until they get him
  14. Only idiots own up to what they really know (thank you to President Nixon)
  15. The worst project managers sleep at night
  16. A failing project has benefits which are always spoken of in the future tense
  17. Projects don't fail in the end; they fail at conception
  18. Visions are usually treatable
  19. Overly ambitious projects can never fail if they have a beginning, middle and no end
  20. In government we never punish error, only its disclosure
  21. The most difficult way is, in the long run, the easiest
  22. A realist is one who's presciently disappointed in the future

It's "Guest Blog Wednesday" featuring Syl Arena!

  1. If you can’t be remarkable, be memorable.
  2. You are NOT defined by your photo gear or your computer’s operating system.
  3. Powerful photographs touch people at a depth they don’t anticipate.
  4. You have to let your images go out into the world without you.
  5. Cross-pollinate with photographers and other creatives.
  6. Photography slices time. Photography gathers time.
  7. Learning to create photographs that “look” like your world should be only a milestone - not the destination.
  8. “Coopetition” is a new business model that’s here to stay.
  9. Wars have been fought to protect your copyrights.
  10. Your photographs have value. Don’t give them away.
  11. Your photographs have value. Give them away.
  12. Resist the temptation to become a pro photographer.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Tigger - another fancy trojan that likes stockbrokers

I mentioned here a trojan called Sinowal.

A friend forwarded a link to an excellent article by Michael Kassner on a similar trojan.  The article contains a detailed description on how he delved into it, with some interesting links to related articles.

Notable is that this trojan is targeted at stockbrokers with some specific trading firms flagged for interest.

It steals email passwords, does keystroke logging for passwords and credit card numbers, sets itself up so that hackers can gain remote access and watches for connections to some popular trading sites.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Stone's Zoo

I went to Stone's Zoo this weekend as part of a field trip for the Greater Lynn Photographic Association.

It was pretty cold but that meant that we could wait at the animal enclosures for them to do something interesting.... they didn't dissapoint us!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle
Originally uploaded by bowtoo
Every year a few pairs of eagles come down from North to the Merrimack river in Newburyport where the water doesn't freeze over completely.

I have been up there a few times to find these eagles and have mostly only seen them from pretty far away.

Today one of them came close enough for me to photograph the detail in its wings. Apparently this is a juvenile so has not yey developed the distinctive white head.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Louis CK : Everything is amazing - nobody is happy

Very funny

Bald Eagles

I have been to Deer Island a couple of times this winter to spot the bald eagles that make there way there at this time of year.  

They are driven south from Canada to the first open water that they can find as the lakes freeze further north.

The Merrimack river - about 30min drive from my house - has a section that doesn't freeze over and usually has a few of these birds hanging around.

David Sokol - a photographer I met recently posted some pretty awesome shots of the birds in a recent blog post - worth looking at

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Are you going to finish strong

A friend posted me this link. This guy is simply incredible.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

And now time

So earlier I posted some information about using multiple exposures to extend the dynamic range of an image (and various other multiple photo techniques).

Today someone emailed me this link to a flash animated photograph. Move your mouse from top to bottom.....

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Church HDR

Originally uploaded by bowtoo
HDR is for High Dynamic Range.

Digital cameras perform somewhat poorly compared to film with the range that they can handle between the darkest and brightest areas in a scene.

To overcome this, some software called Photomatix (built into Photoshop or separately) allows you to take multiple images with different exposures and then compress the range between the brightest and darkest. This results in an image that shows exposure closer to what you saw with the naked eye.

Over-processing yields images that have an unrealistic or surreal feel to them and invariably the image has a flatter tonality to it.

In this image without HDR you would have an unnaturally dark foreground and church building (if you expose for the sun) or you would lose the color and details of the sun completely if you exposed for the foreground.

Combining digital photographs is now possible in all three dimensions: vertical or horizontal using Photoshop or PTGUI (to construct panoramas) depth (using software like Helicon Focus) plus this fourth one (that of exposure).

Saturday, January 31, 2009


Originally uploaded by bowtoo
It is the end of swimming season in here and both our boys did well this season, placing in the top three of almost all the meets that they went to.

Here a last lap in the 100m backstroke which he won.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Awesome Time lapse

This is a pretty cool time-lapse movie