Saturday, January 21, 2023

Photo of the Year

My first inclination on Photo of the Year for 2022 was bluebirds. With the help of trailcams, I got literally thousands of bluebird images this year. But a drive to Yellowstone in May just before it was shut down by flooding resulted in the sighting of more bears than all our previous trips to Yellowstone combined, including these black bear cubs. I haven't kept up with the web site images since about April so there is no link to that trip yet. I also included a couple of bluebird photo as runners-up. I don't actively market my images but I did make a couple bucks on the second bluebird image when it was published in the Montana Elective Cooperative magazine.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Fear the Rabbit

The South Dakota State Jackrabbits won the NCAA Division 1 Football Championship (FCS) over the weekend, dominating nine-time champion North Dakota State 45-21. This was reported as South Dakota State's first NCAA national championship, which isn't entirely true. It was the first D1 championship.

For a journalism class at South Dakota State 45 years ago, I did a writeup on construction of a new shopping mall. I didn't go into it looking for a scoop, but it turned out that the project had not been announced yet and this was big news in a small town. My professor used her contacts to get the article published on the front page of the Brookings Daily Register, the first time I had something published in a real newspaper. "Follow the money," they say, and my primary source was a loan officer at the local bank which was involved in the financing. He happened to be Sid Bostic, whose claim to fame was throwing in a midcourt shot to win the 1963 NCAA College Division national basketball championship for the Jackrabbits, 44-42 over Wittenburg, Ohio.

Despite this NCAA championship, South Dakota State was an unremarkable participant in College Division/Division 2 men's sports over the years. During my years in college 1974-78, the basketball team made the tournament once and lost badly to Green Bay. The football team under Coach John Gregory, who sadly passed away a few weeks before the recent championship game, made the D2 playoffs once, losing to Youngstown 51-7 in 1979. Meanwhile, North Dakota State won three College Division football titles by poll from 1965-69 and five D2 championship games from 1983-90. By the '90s, the SDSU men's basketball team made the Division 2 tournament most years but the football team remained mired in mediocrity. When SDSU announced it was going Division 1 in 2004, I thought the school administration and athletic department were suffering from delusions of grandeur and would be condemned to permanent irrelevance in the two major men's sports. (On the other hand, I thought the women's basketball team was more than ready to move up. After winning the 2003 D2 championship, they have thrived in D1, dominating the Summit League, reaching the Sweet 16 in 2019, and winning the WNIT last season.)

What I realize now is SDSU had no choice. The Universities of South Dakota and North Dakota followed their ag school cousins to D1 five years later, and with perfect hindsight I believe they should have done it earlier. The SDSU men have made the NCAA tournament by winning the Summit League six times, but have yet to get that elusive first March Madness win. I would say the men's basketball team has been an above average mid-major program.

Anyway, football. After some decent seasons during the transition starting in 2004, the climb really began with a 58-10 win over Eastern Illinois in the 2012 playoffs. But by then North Dakota State already had a championship under its belt and took out the Jackrabbits in the next round 28-3. The Jacks were unseeded in the 24-team tournament through 2015, then started picking up seeds in 2016. There were early-round wins, but including that 2012 game, North Dakota State ended South Dakota State's season four times on their way to nine championships. The most recent of the playoff losses to the Bison came in the 2018 national semifinals.

The last two seasons have been weird. SDSU was the #1 seed in the 2020-21 COVID year but lost by two points in the national championship game to Sam Houston after quarterback Mark Gronowski got injured in the first quarter. In the 2021 fall season, the Jackrabbits beat North Dakota State but also had some bad losses and were unseeded. I know the records may say differently, but prior to this year it seemed like they always lost to UNI even if UNI was terrible. As an unseeded team, they had to travel all over the country with playoff games in all four time zones before falling at Montana State in the semifinals. NDSU recovered from their regular season loss and dominated Montana State 38-10 in the championship game.

This year, the Jackrabbits beat North Dakota State in the regular season again AND this time avoided those bad regular season losses to gain the #1 seed again, escaping UNI by three points with the help of a late penalty. The Jackrabbits have won the last three Dakota Marker regular season games with North Dakota State, but Bison fans would issue reminders about their 4-0 playoff record. Finally that was put to rest with the dominating 45-21 result on Saturday.

They call it FCS in football and mid-major in basketball. It's tough being a fan of a mid-sized school, and is becoming tougher with the transfer portal and NIL money. SDSU's best basketball player Baylor Scheierman decided to return to his home state of Nebraska and play for Creighton of the Big East. My fear is some of the top Jackrabbit football players may be lured away also. I can't help but note that the two running backs who both went over 100 yards in the championship game, Amar Johnson and Isaiah Davis, are both from the state of Missouri. Gronowski is from Illinois. When they were little kids, they didn't dream of playing ball in Brookings. Tight End Tucker Kraft famously resisted attempts to get him into the portal and get some bigger NIL money, but he is from Timber Lake, South Dakota, the most desolate place I have ever been to on Earth. And I have been to Antarctica. Downtown Brookings must have seemed like Times Square to him the first time. But he is giving up his remaining eligibility to enter the NFL draft, where he will likely go in the second round. Barring any other major defections, SDSU will be a solid #1 in the 2023 preseason FCS polls.

A longer-term question is whether North Dakota State and perhaps South Dakota State will be lured to an FBS Group of Five conference. For now that is a bigger question up north, but it seems to be percolating south. Teams are shifting around in the Group of Five, and there may be a landing spot somewhere. Travel is a concern, of course, but right now the Dakota teams have to travel to Youngstown for football, and flying to San Antonio is just as easy. I think it is cool to win an FCS championship, but supposedly there is more money in the minor bowls than in the FCS tournament. For South Dakota State, however, leaving the Summit League would mean giving up what is essentially a home court advantage in Sioux Falls in the conference basketball tournament every year. The anticipated gain in football money may be offset by a loss in basketball money.

The transition away from Division 2 may have begun in 2004, but perhaps it has not ended. My preference would be for the Jackrabbits to pound out a few more FCS championships before taking another leap, but the BIZON may not wait that long to cash in on their reputation as an FBS wolf dressed in FCS sheep's clothing. The two don't have to move up together, but being together in 2004 made that transition easier.

One last thing. One news service reported the recent Jackrabbit win over "their hated rival." I don't think that's accurate. The four Dakota schools are all on the eastern edge of the Dakota land mass near the more populous states of Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska. They can't afford to hate each other. They all need each other to succeed, and any hate should be directed toward those other states. I can't find greater joy than any one of the four beating the Gophers on the football field, which NDSU and (strangely) USD have done and SDSU has come close.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Jellystone

We went to Yellowstone hoping to see bison babies. We did. We also saw 13 bears. I will be updating my actual website at some point, but for now here are the highlights.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Drop the mic

Every few years I have that "drop the mic" moment when it almost seems pointless to snap any more images. The one I remember the most is the owls on Honeymoon Island in 2008. The bluebirds gave me something similar today. I was hanging out on the patio to see if any more hummingbirds came by, and getting shots of opportunity with the bluebirds. Then this happened.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Spring marching in

I saw a hummingbird fly through the yard yesterday so I decided it was time to put the feeders out. I happened to have the 500mm sitting on the patio when this fellow came by. It's at the old crappy plastic feeder, which I have removed via Photoshop. I rarely change images with Photoshop in this manner, but in this case I'll make an exception.

I tried to fix the nicer glass feeder, which got the top broken off last year and subsequently leaked, by pouring latex paint into it last fall. Despite a winter of allowing the attempted seal to cure, it still leaks. I re-ordered the same one and I'll try to keep the wind or mowing crew from breaking it.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Bluebirds

To save wear and tear on my Canon 5D Mark III, which is almost 10 years old now, I'm using the 18-year-old 1D Mark II for my bluebird camera trap. This morning while setting the motion trigger with the 1D and 500mm monster lens, the female bluebird was buzzing around. I took control and got a few manually-triggered shots. The previous day, I got some motion-triggered images with the 1D and 70-200 zoom at 70mm. Most of these images have been added to my web site.

The 1D was a great camera in its day, but it is only 8.2 megapixels. It is hard to keep the sensor clean and I have to Photoshop out spots most of the time. The battery doesn't last all day, so today I have the AC adapter plugged in. But with a little effort, the 1D is once again producing passable images after sitting idle from 2012 until last year.

For sure, the images are miles ahead of anything out of my trailcams, even the two Reconyx.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

The West

Spring is slow in coming to Montana, so we took a 10-day drive southwest starting April 14. We saw moose and sheep in Wyoming, marmots and waterfalls in Idaho, rocks and more rocks in California, cactus in Nevada, red rocks in Arizona and Utah, and (not pictured) spent a couple of days in Las Vegas. We wanted to drive down to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, but discovered that road is closed until mid-May. Instead we drove through Vermilion Cliffs National Monument and I spotted my first California Condor at the Navajo Bridge in Arizona. The tags on its wings indicated it was an 18-year-old male.

Even though we started off in the middle of April, we drove through some snow at both ends of the trip. Click here for the photo gallery. Here is a small sample.

Grand Teton Moose
Las Vegas finch
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Condor

Sunday, April 10, 2022

It's Rough

Sometimes I can hear the squawk of sandhill cranes from my back yard. Today, armed with location information, we drove a short distance to the northwest. We didn't find any cranes, but we did find a rough-legged hawk using the high utility poles along the road as observation points. Sometimes hawks are hard to identify, but from under-wing patches I saw in some of the images, the ID is fairly certain. Nothing else in the Sibley book matches it, and this is within their winter range. Gray, washed out sky, oh well.

I also included trailcam images of local moose from January-March in this gallery. As usual, the Primos gave images ranging from underexposed to severely overexposed, but I managed to process four. The Reconyx gave me some better exposures, as it should since it cost six times as much.

(Because Blogger and GoDaddy aren't playing nice, these are uploaded images, not an inline images with links to my site. Click here to see the images on my site.)

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Saturday, April 02, 2022

Maintenance

My web site thomasoneil.com has grown, sometimes haphazardly, over the past 20+ years. I have 4,160 images on 217 pages. In addition to scenics, airplaces, spacecraft and celestial objects, there are images of 176 animal species. Writing an HTML file (see glossary below) to display just one image could be done with just one line of code, for example this could be a perfectly valid HTML file in its entirety: <img src="puffin.jpg">. No caption, just an image. Not very useful, but valid. Categorizing and presenting 4,160 images using just HTML code would be impossible. About 20 years ago as my image library was growing, I created an SQL database on GoDaddy and learned how to code SQL queries into PHP files to display the images and other information. There are different web sites that organize images, but by doing my own coding I have complete control. Within the limits of my knowledge and motivation, of course.

I just did a redesign of my web site, which seems to happen about every 10 years. I had to brush up on my PHP, SQL and CSS knowledge, which made for a good intellectual exercise I'm going to claim is better than Wordle (which I have never played). I used MS-Access at work years ago, and gained some portable experience working with SQL. For the PHP coding to access the SQL, I was self taught. Same with CSS. There are many internet examples for accomplishing the necessary tasks. Some are nothing but a headache, and some of them work. I'm about 98% done, with all remaining is updating automatic redirects from HTML pages to PHP pages. Tedious.

A couple things got me going on doing this redesign. First, I wanted to upgrade my PHP version on the GoDaddy server from 5.6 to 8.1. Since 5.6 is the lowest supported version, I figured at some point it would be deprecated and my site would cease to function properly. As I got into making the changes to my PHP code, I decided I may as well do a complete overhaul. Another reason was the new but persistent difficulty of Blogspot to consistently display inline images (i.e. images hosted on my GoDaddy server rather than uploaded to Blogger). Sometimes they display, and sometimes they show a broken image. With my Photo of the Year posts, that's 20+ broken images, so I decided to move POY from the blog to my site so the images would display. Anyway, new features:

  • I coded a new dropdown top menu and a standard footer. GoDaddy doesn't seem to support Server Side Includes where the standard header and footer are contained in separate files, so formerly I had to touch a lot of files to make design changes. I recently figured out how to do an "include" with PHP coding instead of SSI. This will make the site easier to maintain.
  • The "Destinations" menu item replaces "Galleries" and is now PHP/SQL generated rather than manually maintained.
  • There is a new "Years" menu item featuring "Photos of the Year" and links to a new PHP/SQL-generated page showing all photo destinations for a year.
  • The new "Aircraft, etc." menu item links to two new pages, "Celestial Events" and "Air Shows and Museums" in addition to the "Aircraft/spacecraft Index."
  • The new "Methods" menu item links to all my trailcam and remote image pages. I also put in a link to "Celestial Events" on the theory that I use different methods when shooting the sun than with other subjects.
  • Re-designed left menu for the home page. Still subject to change.
  • The large "Recent" image in the center of the page is now generated from recent photo uploads. I used to have to change this manually within the file, and it only rotated among five images. It will change depending on how many images I post, but I believe the current image pool is over 60.
  • The recent events list is now PHP/SQL-generated. It is the 10 most recent photo pages. I used to edit this list manually.
  • I've now been going this long enough to put in a "20 years ago on thomasoneil.com." This is in addition to the Pedro item from 1999. I don't know if there is an effective way to auto-generate this, so for now the selected items are manually maintained.

More pages are PHP/SQL generated than before, so will be easier to maintain. After fixing the old "journey" pages, the next major project would be to edit just about every blog post from the past 20 years to remove any inline images and replace them with uploaded images. I don't know if the sudden problem with inline images is the fault of Blogger or GoDaddy, but it really doesn't matter. Even if I accept that mission, it could take a while. I'm not under any illusion that very many people care, but it satisfies my OCD.

Examples of inline and uploaded images. If the first image is broken, that's the problem I'm having. If not, it just proves that intermittent problems are the hardest to diagnose and fix.

Broken image
Inline


Uploaded
    Glossary
  • HTML: Hypertext Markup Language. The basic language of the World Wide Web, created by the legendary Tim Berners-Lee.
  • SQL: Structured Query Language, a language for managing data.
  • PHP: Originally Personal Home Page, now PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor. A language which runs on the server and dynamically creates HTML to pass to the user's browser.
  • JavaScript: I don't use it much, but mention it here because, unlike PHP which runs on the server and is unseen by the user, JavaScript runs on the user's device in the browser.
  • CSS: Cascading Style Sheets, used in combination with HTML to format web pages.
  • MS-Access: Microsoft's desktop database application.
  • SSI: Server Side Includes. A capability to paste together several different HTML files (such as header, side menu, body, footer) into one web page.
  • GoDaddy: Company that tries to do funny Super Bowl commercials.
  • Blogspot: Blog site owned by Google. All hail Google, one of our technological overlords.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Antarctica redux

It was the greatest adventure of a lifetime, my cruise to Antarctica in December 2003. I carried two Canon digital cameras, a 1D SLR and a PowerShot S45 point-and-shoot, as well as a medium format Fuji GW690 film camera. Despite this arsenal, I "only" posted about 65 images from the almost 2,000 I took on this trip. I've been known to post 21 images of a single bighorn working its way down a cliff, so by my current standards 65 wasn't that many. I was looking through my image files from Antarctica and decided that about 40 more were worthy of posting. My next project is going back and reprocessing the 65 original images to reflect the improvements in Photoshop and my own editing skills since then.

Most of the "new" images were of chinstrap and gentoo penguins going about their business. Click on any of the images to start the 105-image slide show at that point.

Chinstrap with a rock. Click here if the image is not visible.
Chinstrap with a rock

Gentoo with a rock.  Click here if the image is not visible.
Gentoo with a rock

Gentoos on a ledge.  Click here if the image is not visible.
Gentoos on a ledge

Petermann Island.  Click here if the image is not visible.
Petermann Island

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Baseball

Baseball resolved its labor dispute and will start on time. I used to extensively patronize baseball 20 years ago, even maintaining baseball web sites (squeezebunt.com and BaseballArizona.com) for 6-7 years. What I learned in those years of attending the Arizona Fall League and spring training is there are countless minor leaguers barely scraping by, hanging on in the hope of breaking into the big time. The first image below is from the 2002 Arizona Fall League, featuring a Red Sox minor leaguer by the name of Kevin Youkilis. I recognized the name from the 2000 Bourne Braves of the Cap Cod League, where he summered while attending U of Cincinnati, and that's the second image.

Youkilis went on to a somewhat distinguished career, picking up the nickname, "The Greek God of Walks" for his ability to get on base. (Just to explain this to modern players, if the pitcher throws the ball a foot outside, you don't have to try to pull it for a home run.) He was an excellent fielder, and won two World Series rings with the Red Sox, although he didn't actually make the post-season roster in the 2004 epic drama. Even in 2007 when he won a Gold Glove at first base, he had to sit in favor of David Ortiz when there was no designated hitter for the two games in Colorado. (He did play in both games as a defensive replacement as the Red Sox swept, so he was on the field as the celebration started.)

Youkilis doesn't look like an athlete. He is shaped something like a barrel, and his batting stance was weird. But it just shows with the peculiar talents needed for baseball and with perseverence, you can make the big leagues. And if you were lucky enough to be with the Red Sox during the first decade of this century, you could have become Tom Brady's brother-in-law.


The Greek God of Walks with the Scottsdale Scorpions, 2002

Tom Brady's future brother-in-law on the Cape, 2000

Oh, wow. Mark Texiera playing for Orleans in the summer of 1999. He was attending Georgia Tech at the time.


Tex, 1999

Just for the heck of it, I'll throw in this picture of Frank Robinson from the first time I attended Arizona Fall League in 1999. He was the league's Director of Baseball Operations at the time. I hadn't seen the original of this image for quite a while until today.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Red Lodge Winter

Red Lodge is a ski town, although not a crazy obnoxious resort town like Vale. And I don't ski. But I am good at spectating, and we had the Ski Joring National Championships in town last weekend. It's crazy people on skis getting pulled by horses. Also included in this slide show is two images of a moose that found my trailcam near the old miner's cabin south of town and red-tailed hawks near Belfry and Edgar.

Ski Joring.  Click here if the image is not visible.
Ski Joring

Trailcam moose.  Click here if the image is not visible.
Trailcam Moose

Red-tailed hawk.  Click here if the image is not visible.
Red-tailed Hawk near Belfry

Red-tailed hawk.  Click here if the image is not visible.
Red-tailed Hawk near Edgar

Sunday, March 06, 2022

Florida 2006

In April 2006, I hit both coasts of Florida to take in some exceptional birding sites, Honeymoon Island on the Gulf and St. Augustine Alligator Farm on the Atlantic. Honeymoon Island has the greatest concentration of osprey I've ever seen, and the alligator farm hosts hundreds of nesting birds, which are protected from predators like racoons by the dozens of gators swimming around below the trees.

I was looking at those images today for some reason and thought the color and contrast looked a bit off, so I reprocessed them. I believe with 16 additional years of experience and the evolution of Photoshop, I improved most of the 40 images. Just for good measure, I added four more. Click here for a writeup on this trip. This is the image that got me started, followed by a couple of the new ones. Click on any image to see the whole show. Now I'm looking at my images from the same sites in 2007, and that might be my next project.

Egrets.  Click here if the image is not visible.
Maybe I can eat his head

Wood stork.  Click here if the image is not visible.
Wood stork

Egret.  Click here if the image is not visible.
Snowy egret

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Maine Moose 2003

I have moose on the mind since I saw four in Yellowstone a few days ago. The only trip I've ever done specifically to look for moose was a tour in Maine in October 2003. I only posted a few images from it at the time because I thought it was disappointing. The guide only found one bull with antlers. After driving around for a while without seeing anything else, we spent much of the remaining time at Baxter State Park watching female (unantlered) moose with a bunch of other random people. I didn't feel hiring the guide added much value, not to mention he was kind of a jerk.

But going back and looking at the images today, there are some interesting ones and after a lull of more than 18 years, I put together a slide show of 15. The images benefit from Photoshop Elements 2021, a vastly better processing program than I had at the time. I was able to get close enough to the moose in most of these images to fill the frame with the 300mm lens, so minimal cropping was required, important when my DSLR at the time only had 4 megapixels. I was also surprised to note that I used flash with the 300mm on a few of the images, including the one shown here. Click on the image to start the slide show.

Maine Moose.  Click here if the image is not visible.
Maine Moose

Friday, February 11, 2022

Grand Teton Moose 2003

This week's encounter with four moose in Yellowstone reminded me that I came across moose nearby in the Grand Tetons in September 2003. I got my first digital SLR a year earlier, but was still shooting and scanning film concurrently. I got a few blurry film shots of a cow and calf on film, and had better luck with a lone cow with the DSLR. It sounds funny to say since moose are so skittish, but the images are too close. I was probably shooting from a car at a moose very close to the road. My long lens on that trip was a 300mm f4, which is a great lens and I still have, but I can't zoom out like with the 100-400 which became my workhorse lens shortly afterward. I posted three more moose images to the gallery for that trip. Except for a distant shot of one racing through our neighborhood last winter, I hadn't gotten an SLR shot of a moose since Maine in October 2003, so until this week's encounter everything else moose-related was caught on trailcams. Click on the image to start the slide show at that point. If you keep clicking, there also are additional and reprocessed images, mostly elk but also a few other things.

Grand Teton Moose.  Click here if the image is not visible.
Grand Teton Moose