Monday, January 30, 2012

Off to a bad start

I started my new workout today.  You can see it on my blog here.  As always, I jumped in too fast instead of easing into it.
I'm not sure which tore my hands up, the clapping or the towel twisting.  I may have to give this up and go back to CrossFit.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Provo River in Midway

We have friends rolling into town and I know I will do a lot of skiing with them, so I decided to get out for one more day of photography.   Heber City and Midway are two little towns about 20 miles from Park City.  The Provo River runs right through both of them.

I wanted to go find two things that I knew were along the Provo: bald eagles and river otters.  The eagles have been hanging out as regulars, but the river otters were reintroduced a little more than a year ago.

The day went as expected.  I never saw either one.  Just the same, you can always find something interesting.  Today's prize was the hoar frost that was coating every bush tree and blade of grass.
Every plant becomes a piece of art.
This is just one little branch on a small tree. The crystaline structure is beautiful.
and another...
There were several fly fishermen out in the frigid water.  Are they trying to catch frozen fish?
I was talking to one guy about my search for river otters.  He said I would have to be really lucky because they are primarily nocturnal.  I figured I could trust this guy since he was an experienced, licensed trapper.  This was a beaver he had caught last night.  He also had four muskrats.  If you haven't seen a muskrat, the key is "rat".
It was interesting to see these four mounds of snow floating down the river.  Where did they come from?
Hey! Those snow mounds are actually swans. Pretty good disguise.
They did have another headless disguise they used.  I think these look more like glaciers.
Just a quick trip, but an interesting one. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Another trip to Farmington Bay

I really enjoyed my trip to Farmington Bay last week, so Jasper and I loaded into the Honda and headed back. I was hoping that the cold weather and snow would have brought the bald eagles in, but that wasn't the case.  I did see three or four, but they were all a quarter mile away, out in the middle of the water.

The day would be split into two chunks, ducks and hawks. The first batch were Coots on the run.  They look so funny stomping along the water.
Then I went and found my favorite little Grebes.  They're just so cute.

I had just set up to shoot this group of five Grebes.  I had my eye to the camera...
... and suddenly all I saw was this.  Confused I looked up and saw that a big hawk had just flown over the reeds and the ducks instantly went under water, scrambling for safety.  Little ducks are tasty hawk food.
The nature center had a list of birds that were around during the year.  There were three types of owls, and I was interested in seeing any of them.  This was the only one I found.  His job was to scare the other birds off the tower he was perched on.
On to the hawks...  Most of what I saw were Harriers and Kestrels, but there was at least one Rough Legged Hawk.
This one was hovering for prey, right over the truck.  I shot this through the sun roof.  I was worried about shooting into the sun, but it actually provided some nice back lighting.
My best shots were of a Kestrel.  He was sitting on a power wire with his recently caught mouse.
I got this shot just as he was getting ready to take off.
And now for my sad moment.  I whine on my blog about not having a fast, long lens.  My dream for wildlife photography is the Nikon 500mm. Instead I use a 70-200mm zoom with a 2.0x teleconverter.   I shot this picture of two Harriers fighting in mid-air.  It was pretty dramatic, but I couldn't zoom in enough and the focus was off.  What a pisser.  This is one that could have won contests.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Easier to get in shape

Screw CrossFit.  Those workouts are hard.  I've found something new!
Remember to never dive into a new workout program without checking with your physician first!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Utah Legistlature

Our Leadership Park City group got to make a trip to the big city (Salt Lake) and visit with the state and city government.  It was educational and interesting.

This is our group in the Gold Room of the capital, which is normally used for special events, like meeting with VIPs or signing special bills.  In the center of the group is Lt Governor Greg Bell.  I'm peeking over his shoulder.
Folks we met with include:
  • Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker
  • Lt Governor Greg Bell
  • Chief Deputy Attorney General John Swallow
  • Ex-US Senator Jake Garn (first senator in to visit space)
  • State Senator Kevin Van Tassel
  • State Representatives Mel Brown, Joel Briscoe, and Kraig Powell
  • Salt Lake City Councilman Randy Horiuchi
  • Park City lobbyist Des Barker
  • Park City Asst Manager Diane Foster
It was amazing that these people spent so much time with us, given that it was the first day that the legislature was back in session.  In Utah, the house and senate are part time.  They do a single 45-day session, at which point everything, including a balanced budget (per our constitution) must be completed.

The main points of interest with everyone were:
  • What important things are you working on now?
  • What's most important for Park City and Summit County?
  • What drove you to politics?  What is your motivation?
I won't go into all the details, but it was a wonderful opportunity.

Wait for it....

I went over to Deer Valley for a few hours of skiing this morning.  Some people complain about skiing in flat light because you can't tell where the bumps and drops are.  I would have been quite happy with flat light.  I just wanted to make sure I didn't run into a tree or lift tower.
They promised that it was supposed to clear up, and sure enough it did.  You can still see lots of clouds down at the lower levels, but it top it was gorgeous.
I try to stay out of the trees when I am skiing alone, but I found a physician to ski with for a run and we ducked in.  With the 5" of last nights snow, everything off the groomed runs was wonderful!
And you really had to look around to appreciate it all.  The tops of the tall aspens were glazed with frost,   beautiful against the suddenly clear blue sky.
And this pine really got nailed.  I have to guess that some of this was from snowmaking, but I'm not sure. 

Even with the big storm, we are still way behind on snow.  Tree skiing is hazardous and there are still little trees and shrubs popping up on the groomed runs.   Please send more, but thanks for what we got!

By the way, as long as the light is good, iPhones take a decent picture.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Is this how hot tubs should be?

Here is a picture of a neighbor's hot tub.  I am pretty sure that they work better if the tops aren't blown open for four days of a snow storm.
You might find yourself asking two interesting questions:
  1. Wouldn't it be easy to walk down and close the cover, especially since these people live in L.A. most of the time?  It might be open for weeks.
  2. Is this the same neighbor that delayed your house's construction and cost you thousands of dollars for your driveway easement, even though it had no effect on them?
Quite the coincidence.  The answer to both is yes.

Always a good idea to think twice before screwing over a neighbor.

A big game of snow roulette

We finally got that huge snow everyone out west has been waiting for.  On Saturday the local resorts reported between 20 and 28 inches of new snow.  Sweet!

Now the question is where to go skiing.  Hindsight is 20-20, but here is what happened on Sunday:
  • Little Cottonwood Canyon had a major avalanche and the risk of a lot more.  Alta and Snowbird didn't open until about 1:00, and then only about half the resort.
  • Everyone that would have gone up Little Cottonwood went up Big Cottonwood to ski Brighton and Solitude.  That meant a huge traffic jam, no parking, and a million skiers and boarders..
  • Canyons was in better shape, but still had a lot of avalanche risk.  They opened the middle of the mountain, but left the left and right sections closed until about 11:00 and 1:00.  So, there were long lines and a lot less choice.
  • Park City and Deer Valley managed to open just about everything almost immediately, even though DV was the one who reported 28".
We rolled the dice and went to the Canyons because they tend to have the best glade/tree skiing.  Bummer.  It was nice but I wish we had wandered over to DV instead.  You just never know how the day will play out until ti's over.

Going to Canyons did create a great new game, ripe for betting.  If you read my last post, you saw these little solar lights they put right along the road.
Sure enough, after the first good snow, lots of them were down.  I counted as we drove by and I saw 39 of them down.  When we left the resort later in the day we saw a work crew digging them out of the snow and putting them back up.  Now we have a benchmark to see if we can beat. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

It's about damn time!

A few days ago they promised us that our dry spell was over and that the snow was coming big time.  Yeah, sort of.  Mostly it hit the places to the north of us like Snowbasin, Powder Mountain, and Jackson Hole.  Places like Canyons reported 16" over the last  three days, but I have to call bullshit.  I skied there yesterday and there wasn't a time I couldn't clearly see my skies.  We only had 3" at our house, and we live at 7400 feet, which is about 600 feet higher than the base of Canyons.

Today it got better.  It's still coming down a bit warm, but at least it's piling up.
This is Deer Valley Drive, one of the most important and frequently plowed roads.  Not looking so hot.
And of course, this is the first weekend of the Sundance Film Festival, so thousands of people are walking around town trying to get to movies.  The ones that aren't walking are either standing around in the snow, waiting for a bus, or driving around in circles looking for parking spots that simply don't exist.
This lady was my favorite for the day.  She couldn't be bothered to clear the 6" of snow off her roof.  When she came to a stoplight, most of that snow slid right down onto her windshield.  That much wet snow isn't moving for something as flimsy as a wiper blade, so she was out cleaning her car in the middle of a 5 lane road with cars slipping everywhere.  Fortunately she got back in unscathed.  I wish I had gotten a picture before she got the bulk of the snow off.
This may be tomorrow's good laugh.  On the road to the Canyons ski area, someone thought it was a good idea to put hundreds of these dainty little solar lights. Notice that they are right on the edge of the road.  Anyone want to guess where the snow plows push thousands of pounds of snow and slush?
We will probably ski there tomorrow so we can see how they held up.

Yeah snow!!!!!  We love you.  Keep snowing!

Challenges with depth of field

Warning: this post is probably only interesting to people who like photography....

In photography, depth of field (DOF) is simply the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in focus. It is controlled by the distance to the subject, the lens' focal length, the camera's sensor size, and the aperture (f-stop). 

DOF can be a great tool for creating better photos.  In this one I took in the summer, I wanted the flower and the bee to be sharp, but I didn't want all the distraction of what was behind it. By using f5.6 and my 105mm macro lens, I was able to make the background appear as some vague greenery.  You know what it is, but there isn't any detail to grab your attention.
This week, I got a lesson in how bird photography can have some real issues with depth of field.  I took this photo at f8 and 1/640th of a second.  My zoom was set at 270mm. If you don't know, your camera stores all this information in the digital picture, so it's always easy to go back later and see how it was shot.

The problem is trying to get all the birds in focus.
This little guy was pretty sharp.  He's the one that is second closest to the top right corner.  Even zoomed in tightly, you can see
This blurry little guy was near the top left. Notice how you can't make out any of the feather detail.
I have a little iPhone app called Simple DOF.  When I stick in an estimated distance of 75 feet, focal length of 270mm, and f8, I get a depth of field of 7.5 feet, with focus from 71.4 to 79 feet.  That's not much.  If I was zoomed in to my max of 400mm, the DOF would have only been 3.4 feet. While not as convenient as a phone app, you can find a nice quick DOF calculator here.

To get all the birds in sharp focus, I have several choices:
  1. Zoom out. By zooming out to a focal length of 100mm, the DOF changes to 63 feet!  That's great, but I don't want a picture of the marsh, I want a picture of the birds!
  2. Set the aperture higher, like f16.  This would double the DOF to 15 feet.  However, closing the aperture also reduces the amount of light being let in.  Instead of shooting at 1/640th, I would have to use 1/160th of a second.  This is a problem because I was lazy and shooting without a tripod.  A long lens and that slow a shutter can cause blur, even with all the fancy vibration reduction techology.
  3. I could also increase the aperture to f16 and bump the ISO from 400 to 1600 to compensate for the loss of light.  However, on my D300s, ISO 1600 starts to look grainy.  Perhaps on my next camera?
So the real answer, and the one I need to grind into my photography brain, is to:
  • Check my app to make sure I have the right DOF before I start shooting.  At some point, I will know it by heart, but not yet.
  • Set the aperture to get the DOF I need
  • Get the damn tripod out of the truck and use it like I am supposed to.
This is often described as one of the most common photographer failings: either not using a tripod or using a crappy one that isn't stable.  I believed in this enough to buy a very good one and slowly but surely, I am using it more.  This is just an easy visual lesson.

Friday, January 20, 2012

VW has a great ad

This is just too funny! It's from an upcoming VW commercial.

UPDATE:  Not everyone got it.  Think Star Wars and Darth Vader.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Iowa Caucus? Carcus?

I think we should do one of two things: either take away Iowa's niche of voting first in the primaries, or buy them a PC, even just an old beater laptop.  How does it take you over 2 weeks to count votes and realize you announced the wrong winner? 

There were only about 110,000 votes cast.  I believe a small group of people could have counted them by hand and still finished long before now.  Some math:
  • If you had 10 people, each counting a vote every five seconds, that's 7200 votes per hour.  
  • Those 10 people, working eight hours a day, could knock out 57,600 votes per day
  • That means two days, for 10 people to count every vote by hand. 
  • Let's throw in another two days to double check, so we don't do anything stupid, like announcing the wrong winner.
Congrats to Rick Santorum,  I guess.  Not sure how much pride you can have for winning a state where they can't count.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sundance begins tomorrow

Town is beginning to crank up for Sundance.  What does that mean for me?  Movies? Movie stars? Not really, at least not this year.  What it means for me is that 40,000 people roll into a town of 8,000 full-time residents.  Of those, about 38,500 have no idea where they are going or what they are doing.

For the next 11 days, you can't find a place to park, anywhere in town. 

Even the grocery store, where there are available parking spaces, gets screwed up. How can you need two spaces with a Mini?

No making left turns.  Too much traffic.  No eating out.  Too many visitors.

At least it gets a bit entertaining.  This year's volunteer uniform is "I pick up trash on the highway" orange. It is fun to see people wearing them around already, making sure you know they are a volunteer.  I hope people know they may look like a pumpkin.  I also saw people wearing their passes, even though nothing starts for 36 hours.
Sundance is a great event for Park City and brings tens of millions of dollars into the local economy.  Sure can test your patience though.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My first trip to Farmington Bay

There are so many places around Utah to shoot pictures, and lots of them are close by.  The Utah Division of Wildlife has a Waterfowl Management Area called Farmington Bay.  These wetlands are home to almost 200 species of birds during the year and one of the best known is the wintering Bald Eagle.

So Jasper and I piled into the truck with all my camera gear, tripods, binoculars, and telescopes.  It's about a one hour drive from home, about 15 minutes this side of Antelope Island.  We were going to wait for the temperature to climb over zero before we left, but it was getting late.

Before we even got to the wildlife area, we ran across a farm with horses and this thing.  Smaller than a normal horse and a lot shaggier.  It looked like some form of prehistoric pony.  Jasper got out of the truck and went to visit with him her  it.
I'll get right to the main point.  It was a bit of a disappointment.  I was hoping for boatloads of eagles.  I got exactly one, and he was a long ways off.  That is one more than I normally see in a day (or month) so I guess I should be happy.
I tried slowly sneaking up on him, but then a pickup truck went whipping by and he flew off.
To make up for the lack of eagles, there were hawks everywhere. This is a Harrier.  Ninety-nine percent of them were hovering over the marsh, hunting, but I caught this one lounging around.
Gulls are simple and common, but this photo came out really well.  Double-click on it to see it bigger.  I love all the curves of the wings and the tail.
I ran across this Yellow Headed Blackbird on the edge of the road.  He was just hopping around enjoying the sunshine.
To get this shot, I was literally hanging out the truck window, as was Jasper.  I could have just given the camera a little swing and smacked him.  I'm pretty sure he is slow enough that one of the hawks will eat him before the week is over.
The sparrows were very active trying to dig around the frozen ground for food.
He was just posing so much I wanted another shot of him.

On to the waterfowl.  I haven't figured what this one was, but he clearly decided that the water was warmer than the air.  He would be up for about 10 seconds...
... and then back down he went for about a minute at a time.
These were my favorites though. The two with the black heads are American Coots.  The little brown one is a duck.  OK, I haven't looked him up yet.
This Coot learned that landing on the ice was considerably trickier than landing in the water.  He slidfor about 5 feet, flailing as he went.
Once he settled in, he was a master of balance, even in a strong, cold wind. 
This lucky guy found a spare fish floating on the edge of the water, so he drug it up the boat landing. Yummm!  You just can't beat a decaying fish-cicle.
The little ducks were as cute as they could be.  They were all just little puffballs floating along.
And for some artsy puffballs, they drifted into the reflections of the marsh grass.
I saw other birds that I couldn't manage to photograph. My favorite was the Ring Necked Pheasant sitting in a distant tree. They normally hunker down in the grass.

This will definitely require a return trip during different seasons of the year. Like Antelope Island, this is a huge area for the migrating birds, so spring and fall should be very interesting.