Sunday, December 31, 2006

New (to me)

I've seen hawks at my office hundreds of times, but I've never seen one from my back yard before. The woods are thick, so I figured it isn't the best hunting ground for them, and even if they were around, the foliage obscured them.

The leaves are absent now of course, and out of the corner of my eye this morning I caught a glimpse of a big bird coming in for a landing up in a tree about 50 yards away. For an instant I anticipated the crash of a turkey clumsily coming to roost, then I realized that the bird was a red-tailed hawk. (I presume all hawks that I see are red tails unless it's obvious they aren't; this policy saves me a lot of time struggling with hawk IDs.) I was able to bring my big lens and a 2x extender to bear to get this shot at 1,000mm, cropped. And after further review, I still think it's a red-tailed hawk.


Local Hawk

Another "new" bird actually started showing up a year or so ago. I figured when a batch of about five little gray birds started coming around, it was the fledglings of something familiar. When they still looked the same after several months I began to suspect they were a separate species. After going through my bird book today I decided this is a Dark-eyed Junco, slate-colored variety.


Dark-eyed Junco

This one isn't a new arrival. It's just today's Jay gorging on corn. Click on it for a better view of the crumbs flying.


Blue Jay cracking corn

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Killer Chickadee

I was hanging around the suet feeder at Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary, a Mass Audubon refuge, waiting for woodpeckers. I noticed that chickadees were sampling the suet. Chickadees are meat eaters. Who knew?


Carnivore Chickadee

And the woodpeckers also came around. The Red-bellied Woodpecker is so-named for the patch of red on the...back of its neck? No, really there is a patch on its belly that you can't see most of the time because woodpeckers usually have their belly up against something. There is a woodpecker that is named for its red head, but this isn't it:


Red-Bellied Woodpecker

There also were a couple of Downy woodpeckers.


Downy Woodpecker

Monday, December 25, 2006

Hanging

I haven't trusted the weather enough to take my new 500mm lens anywhere so the local birds continue to be my test subjects. The first one is a tufted titmouse feeding on pears in my front yard. I don't remember what variety of pear tree it is, but the fruit is tiny, about the size of a cranberry.


Hanging

I've been shooting mostly with an aperture of f/5.6, which at ISO 400 resulted in a shutter speed of 1/250 for this one. A chickadee ducks out of the way as a tufted titmouse blurs past.


Hanging on

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Lens Test

A few years ago in the woods near my house, I found an what was left of old post. One side and the middle had rotted away, leaving a semicircle. I dragged it home, set it up in my garden, and screwed a tuna can to the inside. I filled the can with seeds, and I had a posing post for the birds.

That's why a lot of my Backyard Habitat photos feature the same post. Cracked corn works well for attracting blue jays, and the jays provide a good subject for my 500mm lens tests. The only trouble is sometimes they sit on the edge of the hidden can rather than the post.


Jay

The corn also attracts the squirrels, which I consider a nuisance most of the time. However, they do provide good test subjects for the 500. From the side with the tail up in the air, a squirrel more than fills the viewfinder at 16 feet (five meters in that silly metric system). This pose was more interesting.


My cracked corn!

Every once in a while something comes along that I've never seen before. My Sibley bird book suggests that this is a Winter Wren, and today was the first time one flew into range of my lens. Very brown!


Wren?

For just a few shots today, I tried the 2x extender, which converts the 500mm f4 to a 1000mm f8. The result was OK, but not worth posting. I'll have to do more tests with the 1.4x and 2x to see how well they work, but my research indicates they are well worth using. With this new capability, my attempts at digiscoping have come to an end for the most part.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Camera Rotation

I've acquired eight digital cameras in eight years, with #6 being a Canon S45 4-megapixel model. I have two newer cameras that get the usage now, so I sent the S45 off to a new home yesterday and admit to getting a bit nostalgic during the packing.

Three years ago as I was getting ready for my trip to Antarctica, I decided my 2mp Elph wasn't robust enough for such a trip so the S45 was acquired to fill the role of compact camera. After my 50mm SLR lens broke during the trip, the only other SLR lens I had along was a 70-200 telephoto. The S45 had to cover the wide and normal ranges. I'm not going to claim this is anything but a snapshot, but it is my favorite S45 image. It's a gentoo penguin on the shore inside the volcanic ring that is Deception Island with the Clipper Adventurer in the background.


Gentoo

The S45 also made it to the Galapagos, British Columbia, and quite a few places in the US. Although there were reasons why I bought a G6 instead of the S45's successor S70 last year, the line which included the S45 up through the S70 was rather compelling. These cameras are more compact than the G series, but almost as packed with useful features. In fact, when I convinced my employer that we needed a new camera for the office, I was able to specify purchase of an S70. (Unfortunately after they made the S70 and G6, Canon apparently decided to dumb down the entire Powershot brand. The S80 and G7 do not measure up to their predecessors.)

It's a coincidence, but as the S45 was rotating out the door yesterday, a new SLR lens was rotating in. Actually, referring to Canon's 500mm f/4 as a lens is like calling a Lamborghini a car. It's accurate but not descriptive. Until I get somewhere, for now I have to be content with hunting the nuthatches in my back yard, the equivalent of swatting mosquitoes with a sledgehammer.


Nuthatch with 500

No doubt about it, the 500mm is a big, pro lens. I've resisted using a tripod or monopod with the mid-sized 300mm f4 I've had for eight years, but there is no choice with the big 500mm. Using it successfully will be a challenge. I feel sort of like David Clyde getting yanked out of high school to pitch for the Texas Rangers. Hopefully I'll have a longer career as a (semi-) pro shooter than Clyde did as a pitcher (career 18-33 in five seasons).

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Scoping Eagles

I've reached home and have been able to Photoshop a few images from my Missouri eagle trip. My verdict on the digiscoping setup is: It works, sometimes. Manual focusing can be a drag, and I fear that the wind made the tripod too unsteady much of the time. But enough of images were sharp that I was able to conclude it is a viable setup when extreme magnification is required. I calculated that under ideal conditions it is five times more powerful than my 300mm lens with 1.4x extender, or the equivalent of 2,200mm, 44x. Here are two images of the same scene, the top one digiscoped and the other from the DSLR.


Digiscoped


DSLR

The DSLR version is heavily cropped to appear the same size as the other image. I think the eagle on the right is better in the digiscoped version, but the one of the left is slightly out of focus. The depth of field is very shallow with the scope even at that distance, which means focusing is critical and can be difficult.

This was my fifth eagle hunting trip in three years, two to Squaw Creek and three to the Mississippi River near Burlington, Iowa. I suppose that begs the question whether it's worth it to pursue the same images over and over. But I got some images on this trip that I didn't get last year, and the Squaw Creek experience is different from the Mississippi River experience. So I'm pondering the usual January Mississippi River trip.

A trip report can be seen on eaglephoto.net, and photos have been uploaded to thomasoneil.com.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Mo

This week I'm scoping out the eagles and other critters at Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Missouri. Based on my drives yesterday and today, I would guesstimate there are about 30 eagles flapping around, fewer than the peak of what I saw last year. There seem to be fewer geese but maybe it just seems that way because they have been quite far out in the pond. And there are lots of ducks. The waterfowl surely number in the tens of thousands.

Most of the eagles are transients, but there are some residents. Just based on what I've seen on this trip, I think the two adults and several juveniles which hang around the nests in the northwest part of the refuge are the full-time residents. Even though this isn't the season the nests are used, the birds are lurking around them and occasionally roosting on them. I don't think eagle pairs necessarily stay with each other year-round, but these two seem to. The active nest is in the same tree.


Eagle Pair

This photo was digiscoped, shot with a Canon G6 through a telescope. Using this combo provides more magnification than is possible with a DSLR and a 420mm lens, but it requires a stationary subject and a few minutes to set up and focus. I'm not 100% happy with this image, so hopefully when I have a chance to go through the rest of my attempts there will be some that are a bit sharper. And if all else fails I also have my DSLR shots, less magnified.

I'm here another day and a half, and in a week or so I'll be able to post some more (better) photos.

By the way, I also saw a line of 18 turkeys running across a field headed for a stand of corn. But they were along way away, and I have enough photos of turkeys.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Eagles

After months with turkey photos on my home page and college football rants in my blog, I'm finally getting out to snap some new photos. Look for eagle photos from Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Missouri next week. Previous visits to the refuge:

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Super Poll

What would happen if the NFL were run by a bunch of extremely stupid people who based their playoff system on college football's BCS? It might go something like this:

Somewhere in an alternate universe, January 23, 2006: Despite their losses in the AFC playoffs to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos were voted to the top two spots in the NFL Super Poll Championship Series rankings and will face off in SPCS LX to be played in seven weeks on April 5.

Despite winning the AFC and NFC championships respectively, the Steelers and the Seattle Seahawks were deemed to be unworthy of playing in the SPCS championship game. After all, everyone knows that the Colts and Broncos are the best teams in the league. I mean, get real, the Steelers lost five games, and the NFC is like the junior varsity compared to the AFC! Although their game Feb. 26 is officially meaningless regarding the SPCS championship, the Steelers and Seahawks each hope that a win will help bolster their case for being voted the champion of the unaffiliated Associated Press poll.

Teams will earn $50 million each for participating in the SPCS. Each player will receive some books, $10 a day meal money, and a new iPod. Trivia note: Even though he's never actually won a conference championship game, this will be Peyton Manning's third SPCS appearance because the voters are smart enough to look beyond the results on the field. Everyone knows what SHOULD have happened in all those games he managed to lose. Manning says he'll probably go a bit stir crazy during the seven weeks off until the championship game, but "That's the way the system is so it must make sense to someone."

What would have happened back in 2002 when the Rams were the "Greatest Show on Turf?" Click here to find out.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Mercury

The transit of Mercury is underway! But I won't be seeing it. The sky in the Northeast is overcast and dripping rain.

No Mercury today, so below is the Venus transit in 2004. In June 2012 I hope to improve on my Venus transit photos, and in May 2016 I'll get another crack at Mercury. Hopefully I'll be in a less dreary location for those occasions.

Considering that Venus is roughly the size of Earth, it shows how teeny and insignificant we are. Mercury is smaller and further away than Venus, so if you see it today it will be even more teeny. A fellow in Texas posted an early shot of the Mercury transit in a forum on the Cloudy Nights site. On the face of the sun is a gigantic sunspot that is several times as big as the planet.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Dumbest Idea Ever

With the rain and cold at the World Series this week, I heard the following proposal more than once: Move the World Series to a warm-weather neutral site.

No chance of a Subway Series in Gotham. No more World Series games at historic Fenway Park or Wrigley Field. (OK, that last one is sort of a moot point.) Move all games to some plastic place like The BOB in Phoenix or Enron Field in Houston. (Or whatever their names are this year.) Forget about the loyal fans who supported the participants for six months, let's move the games somewhere with a retractable roof so the Fox Fall TV Lineup won't get messed up. Oh my, what's that, empty seats at a World Series game?

The idiots who are in favor of this idea think that baseball can follow the same business model as football, but they are so wrong. Football is much more of a TV sport. Baseball is best observed live. Baseball set an all-time attendance record this year, but has trouble getting TV ratings. To the TV networks, the fans in the stands are just props and extras in their fall programming. So what if they are freezing to death, they should be happy to be on TV! The Lords of Baseball shouldn't be allowing this to happen.

The problem is not the open-air stadiums in St. Louis and Detroit. With three rounds of playoffs subject to the scheduling whims of Fox, the games have gotten pushed back nearly to November, so of course it's going to be cold for a game that doesn't start until 8:23 p.m. The last time the Cards and Tigers hooked up in 1968 (the last year before divisional play began), Game 7 of the World Series was played the afternoon of Oct. 10, NINETEEN days earlier than what would have been Game 7 this year. The first World Series games scheduled at night were in 1971, and it's been all downhill since.

Start the regular season earlier, shorten it to 154 games, play a few doubleheaders, finish by Sept. 20, and don't let TV dictate the playoff schedule. After years of screwing over the customers who go through the turnstiles in order to squeeze every possible dollar out of TV, MLB should turn back the clock and play a few World Series games during the day when, believe it or not, it is warmer than in the middle of the night. To get the marketing gurus on board, call it retro, like outfield walls that are crooked for no particular reason.

Just please, please, please, slowly back away from the Dumbest Idea EVER.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Tony the Meddler

With the attention that Fox and ESPN give to it, a casual observer of baseball might conclude that teams have to apply for special dispensation to have a starting pitcher appear on "short rest," which they define as fewer than four idle days (pitching every fifth day). Remember that those appearances are usually only six or seven innings. Forgive the "back in my day" rant, but consider the last time the Cardinals and Tigers met in the World Series, 1968.

Bob Gibson pitched Games 1, 4 and 7 for the Cardinals. All three were complete games, not six-inning stints. There were no rainouts so he had only three days of rest between starts. What a Herculean effort!

But wait, two Tiger pitchers also started three games during that same series. Future jailbird Denny McLain got knocked out early facing Gibson in Games 1 and 4, but got it together with a complete-game victory in Game 6. The MVP of the series turned out to be Mickey Lolich, who pitched complete-game victories in Games 2, 5 and 7. His rest between the final two appearances was only two days, half of what Fox, ESPN and Tony LaRussa would consider normal.

Oh by the way, McLain pitched 336 innings in 1968 with 41 starts and 31 victories. This year, projected Cy Young winner Johann Santana led the American League with only 223.2 innings, with 34 starts and 19 victores. Not only is that fewer starts, but it is fewer innings per start (8.1 vs. 6.2). Today's LaRussa-ized managers are much quicker to yank the starter and turn the game over to the bullpen.

Today you have specialists who pitch only to left-handers, only in the eighth inning (the Setup Man), or only in the ninth inning with a lead of three runs or less (the exalted Closer). Using a Closer outside of a "save situation" is considered an insult to their status. Yankees Manager Joe Torre is hailed as some sort of genius innovator for using his Closer, Mariano River, to get four outs instead of just three every once in a while.

Dick Radatz, a reliever for the Red Sox in the '60's and a frequent commentator on local sports radio until his recent death, always said pitchers should pitch more innings to stay strong, not fewer. Radatz routinely pitched three innings to get saves. Among the seven complete games pitched in the 1968 series (including one by Gibson in a defeat), one Cardinal reliever managed to get a save. In Game 3, Joe Hoerner came in with one out in the sixth and pitched the rest of the game. He batted twice and even got a hit. That's enough to send LaRussa screaming from the room. The current manager of the Cardinals surely would have used at least three relievers and a couple of pinch hitters to cover that situation.

I know pitching a baseball is hard on a human arm. But remember the days of Gibson and Lolich when asking pitchers to log a few innings was not considered unusual. Maybe it isn't all Tony LaRussa's fault, but he's the poster boy for modern managerial meddling.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Watch the Watchers

I read the New York Post sports section for its train wreck value. I like it on days like today when the back page says "Disgrace" in large letters, referring to the Yanks losing to the Tigers and getting cancelled out of the baseball season.

But today, in amongst the anguish over the Yanks and swooning admiration of the Mets, is Phil Mushnick's sports media column. Today's headline is "JUST SHOW US THE DAMN GAME!"

So I was watching the last half-inning of Dodgers-Mets on Fox, Thursday ... Check that. I was watching the fans in Shea watching - every postseason Fox figures that rather than the game, we prefer to watch people watching the game - when it struck me:

All of these networks, no matter how different they may look and sound, are essentially the same; they work off a copy of the same stupefying plan. They all do whatever it takes - spend a ton of money and energy - to prevent us from watching the game.

It's an indisputable fact: Among ESPN/ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox not one them has clearly established itself as the one that actually let's you watch the game.

I couldn't agree more. As Mushnick says, if it isn't Tim Robbins visiting the booth to flack his latest movie, it's endless inane network promos. And of course the countless crowd shots between pitches. If one is good, five are better.

It took me a while to figure out why I like to attend baseball games but almost never watch them on TV. It's all the garbage attached to the broadcast. When I do watch I make liberal use of the mute button, which suffices for most regular season baseball games. But of course during the post-season, that's not nearly enough to keep Fox from embarrassing itself. I would pay extra for a video feed with no announcers, no crowd shots (except for a wide shot between innings so we can see if there are empty seats), no Tim Robbins interviews, and minimal on-screen stats (limited to numbers that actually appear in the record book).

Oct. 15 update: Fox has fired analyst Steve Lyons for making allegedly insensitive comments on air. After hearing the comments I would conclude, “insensitive,” no, but “nonsensical, annoying gibberish,” yes. So perhaps Fox was just looking for an excuse to dump Lyons for conduct detrimental to the English language. Now if they could just come up with an excuse to dump the rest of their commentators....

Oct. 23 update: More proof that it's not just me. Today's Toronto Star:

But there are times when you wonder if the guy directing Fox's coverage forgot to take his Ritalin. Fox tries so hard to jam every second with replays, shots of dugouts, shots of fans that you wonder if you're watching a video game instead of a baseball game. While this no doubt serves fans with the attention span of your average 4-year-old, it often works against good baseball coverage.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

I am a Candidate

A few semesters back, the C.W. Post sports information office proclaimed in all seriousness that running back Ian Smart was a Heisman Trophy candidate. Smart did rush for more than 2,000 yards in both 2001 and 2002, but for those unfamilar with C.W. Post, it's a Division II school. How exactly does someone become a Heisman Trophy candidate? Apparently all that is required is issuance of a press release and the ability to keep a straight face.

August 28, 2002 -- C.W. Post running back Ian Smart – who was last season’s #1 rusher and scorer for all of college football in the country – was presented as a Heisman Trophy candidate at a press conference this afternoon at the new Pratt Recreation Center on the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University in Brookville, New York. C.W. Post Sports Information Director Brad Sullivan acknowledged Smart’s "underdog status" for the Heisman Trophy -– which is usually awarded to a major Division I running back or quarterback -- but felt that Smart’s production on the field was worthy of consideration despite the team’s Division II status. The Heisman Trophy is awarded to "the outstanding college football player in the United States."

I saw Smart play against Bryant in 2002, and I can attest that he was a darn fine Division II running back despite being a bit undersized at 5-foot-8. Smart did play in the NFL for Tampa Bay briefly in 2004, with his career highlight being a 25-yard run against Atlanta. He touched the ball three other times for 11 yards in a total of three NFL games, and he also spent some time in NFL Europe. Certainly he can tell his grandchildren he had a cup of coffee in the NFL, but it also demonstrates why the various NCAA divisions each have their own awards. The winner of the 2002 Heisman Trophy was quarterback Carson Palmer, and of course he played big-time Division 1-A football at USC. Smart didn't even win the Division II Harlon Hill award that year, finishing second.


Ian Smart, 2002, click for larger image.

Which brings me in a roundabout way to Northern Illinois. This institution of higher learning is not in a lower division, it is in 1-A just like USC, but when it comes to Heisman Hype it may as well be in Division II with C.W. Post. Northern Illinois is a member of the Mid-American Conference along with other "directional" schools such as Eastern Michigan. Every once in a while a MAC team beats a Big Ten team, but the Big Ten teams still consider most of these matchups to be tuneup games. NIU has a fireplug (5-foot-7) running back named Garrett Wolfe who torched Ball State for 353 yards rushing and three touchdowns last weekend. Those totals don't include two TDs and 115 yards called back by penalty. Through five games, he's averaging 236 yards per game.

Ah, that's all very well and good against MAC teams, but how did he do against Ohio State? He did have a "below average" game against the top college team in all the land, only cutting up the Buckeyes for 187 yards and a TD.

"I’ve heard so much (junk) about how it’s just the MAC," (Coach Joe) Novak said. "We’ve got six MAC quarterbacks starting in the NFL. He’s done it against Ohio State, which no one else has done. He’s done it against Michigan and Northwestern."

Even though some voters such as Mark May say they are leaning toward Wolfe, most Heisman voters will go with a safe choice such as Ohio State QB Troy Smith or Oklahoma RB Adrian Peterson. The names change, but the same schools have been rotating the trophy for the past 40 years. NIU isn't helping matters with its lack of a hype campaign. Here's hoping that voters can look beyond the hype and the big-school bias and do the right thing. Otherwise this Heisman crap is just so repetitive and boring.

With the confusion about who qualifies as a candidate, I've decided to clear things up and declare retroactively that I was a candidate for the Heisman Trophy during my junior and senior years, 1977-78. The fact that I never actually played football for the South Dakota State varsity should not be considered a bar to my candidacy. At some point during those years I must have played in some intramural or pickup flag football games, so in fact I was a college student playing football and was therefore eligible for the award. In 1977 I finished 1,547 points behind the great Earl Campbell. I came quite a bit closer in 1978, only 827 points behind Billy Sims.

Yes, I got beat out by guys from Texas and Oklahoma. Damn big-school bias!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Kansas Comet

As a Saturday football game ended on one of the minor cable channels, they popped up a short feature to fill some time. It showcased the collegiate stars of 1964, Roger Staubach and Gale Sayers.

If you watch film from the '50's or before, there's an odd style to it that doesn't look modern. Maybe the film speed is out of snyc, or maybe it's the fact that the old timers were for the most part a bunch of smallish, slow white guys. Although the film was grainy black and white, it was obvious from evidence such as a 99-yard run against Nebraska that Sayers was playing thoroughly modern football in 1964. His pro career was equally flashy but regrettably short. Unfortunately for him, orthopedic medicine had not advanced as quickly as his talent.

I'm not going to say the guy is the next Gale Sayers, but there is an NFL rookie with 380 yards combined rushing and receiving with three TDs, and another 190 yards returning kicks. He is Laurence Maroney of the Pats, and the Bengals found out yesterday that he is a load when you have to tackle him play after play. Meanwhile the guy who is supposed to be the next Gale Sayers, Reggie Bush of the Saints, has comparable numbers of only 334 yards from scrimmage (mostly receiving), with 0 TDs, 57 yards returning kicks, and a fumble.

I've asked this question before, and I'm not above repeating it: If Bush was the all-time great college running back that the hype machine proclaimed, why wasn't he on the field during his team's most important offensive play last year, the failed fourth-and-two against Texas? Bush might be a star eventually, but in the NFL there is no Fresno game for padding your stats. Is there such a thing as an all-time great situational player? Maroney looks like an NFL running back jackhammering his way to the Rookie of the Year award. Bush looks like a third-down scatback who won't or can't run between the tackles.

Nobody ever called Gale Sayers a situational player. Maybe Reggie should get some film of the Kansas Comet so he can see what a true big-time running back looks like.

Oct. 18 update: So Bush is leading the league in receptions. That just proves he's not really a running back.

Nov. 7 update: Election day, time for some more Bush Bashing! Bush isn't even the most productive rookie on his own team. Marques Colston, the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Month in October, has 44 receptions for 700 yards and seven touchdowns. Bush has more catches, 46, but only 312 yards and no receiving TDs. That's only 6.8 yards per catch, which is hardly "deep threat" stuff. The overpaid scatback has 207 yards rushing, but once again his per-attempt average of 2.6 yards is not very imposing. Colston is an unheralded seventh-round choice out of Hofstra.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Tuna Time

I don't know whether Dick McPherson had weekly press conferences when he was head coach of the Patriots. I do know when Bill Parcells succeeded McPherson in 1993, his sessions with the press immediately became appointment radio. Each week we wondered how long the Boston Globe's Ron Borges could poke The Tuna with a stick before the coach lashed back with "That's a STUPID question!"

Thirteen years later, Parcells is still battling it out with the press, and the reporters do their part by continuing to poke him with sticks. Yesterday's scheduled press conference with the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys happened to come the day after the most bizarre incident yet involving The Player, and The Tuna responded with a slightly subpar performance capped off with a flashy dismount. He tried to get though the media frenzy by giving evasive non-answers, but after nine minutes of inane, repetitive questions he finally ending it the way he should have ended it much earlier.

"When I find out what the hell is going on, you will know," The Tuna snapped as he set sail for the exit. "Until then, I am not getting interrogated for no reason."

While I was driving home last night, one of the update guys on ESPN Radio came up with the following: "TO's status for this weekend's game at Tennessee has been updated from 'Suicidal' to 'Probable.'" I started laughing so hard that I nearly drove off the road.

I felt a twinge of shame for laughing at such a tasteless and gratuitous remark, and my sense of revulsion apparently is quite a bit higher than all the folks who helped Jackass II top the box office charts last week. But I'm not going to apologize for celebrating a good Tuna Tirade. Tuna, please never change.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Frankencats

"Allerca has produced the world's first scientifically-proven hypoallergenic cats," the company has announced. "The cat allergen is a potent protein secreted by the cat’s skin and salivary glands. Allerca has focused on naturally occurring genetic divergences (GD) already present in cats that do no harm to the cats in any way."

In other words they use selective breeding to eliminate the undesireable trait. This brings to mind so-called Frankenfood such as genetically-engineered corn which liberal weenies think will lead to the end of civilization. (I belong to several liberal weenie organizations. It's a term of endearment.) Of course Allerca claims that selective breeding is different from genetic engineering, so is perfectly natural and safe.

What about thoroughbred horses? 95% of all thoroughbreds can be traced back to one stallion born in 1700. In New Scientist, Matthew Binns of the Royal Veterinary College in London says many negative traits are associated with inbreeding in the diminutive gene pool. "The selections we've made for fantastic beasts have had some detrimental consequences."

One tenth of thoroughbreds suffer orthopaedic problems and fractures, 10% have low fertility, 5% have abnormally small hearts and the majority suffer bleeding in the lungs, says Binns. His solution? Even more selective breeding to get rid of the negative traits. Even if it's not considered to be genetic engineering, I think it is alarming.

Ask yourself a simple question: What if we were talking about selectively breening humans instead of cats or horses? I'm sure the name of Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele would come up during that discussion. Let's just say NO to creey GE Frankencats!

Actually, the truth is I don't care about how cats and horses are bred. I just don't like irresponsible cat owners. Every once in a while I see one of their little killers lurking under my bird feeder. I read something in the Milwaukee newspaper a few years ago that supposedly-domesticated cats kill millions of birds each year – just in the state of Wisconsin. In my opinion, all domestic cats that kill wild birds are Frankencats, and anything that encourages more people to own cats is bad, in my opinion.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Seven is less than Six

I've had a Canon G6 digital camera since last year and have been generally happy with it. The lens is a fast f2.0-3.0, the rotating LCD lets me take photos at odd angles, and the available RAW file format gives me some latitude when working with my photos in Adobe Photoshop CS.

Canon has discontinued the G6 and replaced it with the G7. You would assume a new camera would be better than the one it is replacing, wouldn't you? Unfortunately Canon has decided to release a decidedly degraded model for reasons that I am unable to fathom.

The lens is a slower f2.8-f4.8. There is no rotating LCD. There is no RAW mode. DPReview.com's Phil Askey speculates that RAW mode "appears to have been completely dropped by Canon for its compact models - presumably to protect the sales of entry-level digital SLRs."

In that case, I'm going to have to completely drop Canon from consideration when it comes time to replace the G6. Hopefully that won't be for a couple of years. By then perhaps Panasonic will have its Lumix line perfected and I can get one of those.

Why is RAW mode important? The tonal variation in this G6 image from Ireland would have been impossible without it. If this shot had been taken with JPG, the sky would have been a washed-out blob with no detail. RAW preserves more information than JPG.


Ireland

I sent the following email to Canon:

I just wanted to say how incredibly disappointed I am in the announcement of the G7 camera. In many significant ways it is inferior to the G6, which I currently own. In particular, I will not purchase a camera that does not have RAW mode. I'm also baffled by the slower lens and lack of a rotating screen. If you are crippling your Powershots to protect your low-end DSLRs, in my opinion it is a short-sighted and idiotic mistake. I currently own a Canon 1D Mark II, and the G6 is a SUPPLEMENT to the DSLR. I also own a Canon S45, and I was disappointed when the successor S80 came out without RAW mode. In the past eight years I have bought seven Canon cameras to the exclusion of all other brands, but I am dismayed by the crippling of your recent Powershot models and will have no choice but to consider other brands when the time comes to replace the G6.

Please stop doing these stupid things.
Thank you.

Canon replied:

Dear Mr. O'Neil:

Thank you for contacting Canon product support. We value you as a Canon customer and appreciate the opportunity to assist you. Your comments are noted and will be passed along to the appropriate party. Thank you for taking the time to write. Please feel free to contact us again if you have any other questions or concerns. Thank you for choosing Canon.

Sincerely,
Erik
Technical Support Representative

Well that certainly clears things up! Thanks for taking the time to send me a form letter. I'm still going to buy Canon DSLR equipment for the foreseeable future, but it looks as though my last Powershot is the G6. I've got to get out of the habit of dropping it so it will last forever.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Pack is Slack

When I got the issue of Sports Illustrated showing Bart Starr diving over the goal line against the Cowboys to win the Ice Bowl, I cut out the pictures and pinned them to my bedroom bulletin board. Nearly 39 years later, I wonder what that magazine would be worth if I had popped it intact into a plastic bag rather than cutting it up. Ack! Anyway, the point is the Packers have been my favorite team since the days of Lombardi.

But I consider myself a realist, not a zealot. After the results of recent seasons and last night's pre-season 48-17 debacle in Cincinnati, I think the Packers will be awful this year. Brett Favre has been a great player for many years, but it's time to blow up the team and start over.


What would Lombardi do?

As a gunslinger on a good team, Favre won a Super Bowl, but he's the wrong quarterback for the current team. As a gunslinger on a bad team, he threw 29 interceptions last year. Favre and Packer fans need to clear their heads of the delusion that another Super Bowl is just around the corner. If Favre still wants to play, he needs to go elsewhere. The Packers need to start rebuilding.

Favre and the Packers should have worked together on a trade to Baltimore or Miami in the off season. But those teams ended up with veterans from elsewhere and those opportunities were lost. Unfortunately, about the only good team now that would benefit from acquiring a starting quarterback is the Bears, and that trade would be politically impossible.

After Favre eventually retires, he will return to Lambeau Field and participate in his well-deserved Ring of Honor ceremony. But last March he should have moved on. He didn't, and I think it will be a bleak season with no groundwork laid for the future. Ack, indeed.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Old and New

I happened across this image from 2002 today. It caught my attention because I haven't gotten one like this recently.

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Cardinal, click for larger image.

It was snapped with an old two-megapixel Canon S330 tethered to a computer by USB and triggered remotely. I haven't tried that method with my G6, but it is still a viable technique. Of course the best method if it's available is to get close and snap the bird with an SLR. It is overcast and gloomy today but I was able to get this blue jay portrait from my bedroom window with a the Canon 1D Mark II and 300mm f4 lens.

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Blue Jay, click for larger image.

I've spent a few years wishing for a small, light camera that will do everything I want it to do. The G6 is not it, and not just because the lens tops out at the equivalent of 140mm. I wouldn't dare use it at ISO 400, which is no problem with a DSLR. To get the blue jay on an overcast day, big and heavy is still required.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Country singer murders bear

I've gotten up in arms a few times about people thoughtlessly killing bears (Richmond murders, dumps bears, New Jersey sentences bears to death), so I can't let this story pass.

Alaska black bear
Please don't fill me with arrows!
Some country singer named Troy Lee Gentry has been indicted in Duluth on charges of buying and killing a tame bear. The bear was tagged with a Minnesota hunting license and reported to the state as a wild kill. AP reports:

Authorities allege that Gentry purchased the bear from (Marvin) Greenly, a wildlife photographer and hunting guide, then killed it with a bow and arrow in an enclosed pen on Greenly's property in October 2004.

Gentry's lawyer said Wednesday that the federal indictment was misleading.

"Number one, the bear was not killed in a cage," said Minneapolis lawyer Ron Meshbesher. "The bear was roaming around in a fenced area of several acres, and my client spent almost two hours in a tree stand before he got a clear shot with a bow and arrow."

Oh well, that makes it better. The bear had a chance of dodging a few shots before being cornered and brought down.

Meshbesher said Gentry "is extremely distraught about these allegations. He prides himself as an environmentalist and an avid hunter who respects the fish and game laws of the United States."

I'll bet the proud environmentalist/sportsman told his buddies that he had to track the dangerous beast for 40 miles through thicket and swamp before finally prevailing in a hand-to-paw death struggle. The truth is the pathetic crooner sat up in a tree and took potshots at a tame animal named "Cubby." Yep, he must be real proud.

Even though it's not something I would do, I have nothing against hunting. In particular, a lot of areas would benefit from a culling of the deer population. But cornering a tame bear or blasting hand-raised pheasants as they bolt out of a cage is not hunting. It's just killing, and it's sick.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I am not worthy

When it comes to legendary military units, the 101st Airborne Division is right up there. The defense of Bastogne may be the most famous, but there are plenty of other stories about the division since its founding in 1942.

A few months ago I was contacted for permission to use one of my photos in "The History of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault)" being produced by the 101st Airborne Division Association. Yesterday I received the 30-page color glossy booklet in the mail. Here's my photo that is reproduced on page 15.


Cobra Gunship

I was too young for the Vietnam-era draft and too much of a coward to join up on my own. The photo was taken from the safety of the spectator area at the 2003 TICO Warbirds Air Show in Florida. The "I am not worthy" feeling comes over me as I look through the rest of the booklet. There are accounts of incredible bravery, and most of the rest of the photos were taken during the unit's deployments.

I'm not sure what the association's plans are for distributing the booklet, but it's an interesting read.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

What now?

I'll spend hours doing things that a lot of people would find asphyxiatingly boring. But the concept of going to the beach, even though lots of people do it, strikes me as deadly dull. To each his own.

Yesterday I took delivery of my new photo blind! (It says "hunting blind" on the box, but I haven't fired a gun in 30 years.) I set up the blind in the back yard and spent this morning sitting in it waiting for the birds to happen by. I know most people would find that boring if not borderline weird. (Or maybe not borderline.)

The payoff is I have the best goldfinch photos I've ever gotten, plus shots of a downey woodpecker, house finch, chipmunk, blue jay, and chickadee. These images have been added to the Backyard Habitat gallery. I didn't get any turkey images this morning. I saw three of them skulking 20 yards away in the woods, but the big haystack-looking object must have made them wary of coming into the garden. No big deal. I was really gunning for goldfinches and blue jays today; turkeys are big enough to shoot from the house.

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Goldfinch, click for larger image.

Warning: Technobabble ahead. I've been using Photoshop for a couple of years and have always used Adobe RGB as my working color space. I noticed that my photos were a bit dull on most monitors because they are not capable of displaying the full color gamut of Adobe RGB. I've seen recommendations to switch to ProPhoto RGB because it has an even wider color gamut than Adobe RGB. But when the images were displayed on screen outside of Photoshop, my image colors were even more flat and awful than they had been while using Adobe RGB. Hmmm. I don't print most of my images, so why process them as if I was?

I have the color management book I bought couple of years ago and I've read parts of it, but it still seems hopelessly confusing. So I just tried different settings to see what worked. I'm getting decent results by using ProPhoto RGB during the RAW conversion process and using a Photoshop working space of sRGB, which the typical monitor can handle easily. As I said, it's confusing, but this shot of Chip shows much better color saturation on screen than when I was using Adobe RGB for both RAW conversion and working space.

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Chipmunk, click for larger image.

So the moral of the story is to use a Photoshop working space of sRGB when preparing images for screen display. Now I have to figure out what to do if I want to print them.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Dragonfly

Dragonflies are great big colorful bugs, and every once in a while they will even sit still for the camera. I snapped this one with the Canon G6 (reduced flash) a few weeks ago at Mass Audubon's Stony Brook Refuge.

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Dragonfly, click for larger image.

Not bad for a point and shoot. Here's what can be achieved with a real macro lens, in this case a Canon 100mm f2.8 on a DSLR, no flash. Click to see a detailed image of a dragonfly eye.

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Dragonfly, click for larger image.

From just a few inches away, the depth of field is so shallow that only the eye is in focus, even stopped down to f6.3. Shallow depth of field is one of the inherent problems with macro, so for more depth of field a tripod and a specialized ring flash would be helpful in stoppping down further to f11 or f16.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Doctors, Lawyers in Deadly Shootout

With the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in full swing this week, I often read quotes that are similar to what I used to hear back in the day. It goes something like this: "You would be surprised to find out how many of these grungy bikers are doctors and lawyers back home."

I don't see the fun in pretending to be a dirtball, but to each his own. People can do whatever they want in their spare time as long as they don't hurt anyone. However, the play-acting got a bit out of hand yesterday in Custer State Park. The vacationing medical and legal professionals (apparently disguised as members of the rival biker gangs Hell's Angels and Outlaws) shot it out at Legion Lake. There were six wounded and two arrests at last report.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Sodom and Gomorrah

In the 1980's, two small western South Dakota towns were faced with tough economic choices. Business leaders in the fading tourist town of Deadwood (population 1,300) hoped to revitalize their Main Street by legalizing low-stakes casino gambling, and in 1988 managed to get the necessary constitutional amendment proposal on the statewide ballot. It's hard to remember now with the explosion of "gaming" (a more digestible term than "degenerate gambling") throughout the country, but back in 1988 only Nevada and Atlantic City had casinos.

The vote went in favor of the amendment, and Deadwood's gaming establishments opened Nov. 1, 1989. I had moved out of the Black Hills five years earlier, but I happened to be back in the area on a work assignment. A group of us headed up to Deadwood that first night, and I remember the temporary tables set up in the Franklin Hotel basement and defunct hardware stores along Main Street. I lost my customary quarter in a slot machine, and watched the others lose at blackjack for the rest of the evening.

Since then permanent facilities have been built, and the town gained free publicity when the foul-mouthed TV series "Deadwood" began airing on HBO. So today Deadwood is a community thriving on gambling and its colorful history of murder, mayhem and prostitution.

Fourteen miles east of Deadwood is the second town that faced a choice: Sturgis (population 6,400), which saw violence flare in 1982 during the annual motorcycle rally. A town vote was held to decide whether to continue with the event. I was with the Sturgis newspaper from 1979-84, and before the vote I opined in my weekly column that the event should continue because it was what made Sturgis unique. The referendum narrowly went in favor of continuing the rally.

But to prevent another outbreak of violence the city decided to prohibit camping in the city park, which had been the location of the violence. Private biker campgrounds sprung up in dusty pastures outside of city limits. Since then these temporary campgrounds have evolved into the scenes of week-long parties with big-name entertainment. (I guess Sammy Hagar and Alice Cooper are big names.) In my day the motorcycle rally crowds were estimated by the Highway Patrol at 50,000, which in my opinion was overstated by a factor of five (i.e. 10,000). Now the estimate for the Sturgis Rally (which starts next week) is 500,000 bikers; I left Sturgis more than 20 years ago so I don't know if the 5x fudge factor still applies.

This summer, a guy from Arizona developed 600 acres six miles northeast of town into a camping facility called "Sturgis County Line" that will include a huge biker bar and an amphitheater that will seat 30,000 concert goers. (By "seat," I'm sure they mean seated on the ground. It's a pasture 51 weeks out of the year.) You can tell he's from out of town because there is no Sturgis County; it's Meade County.

Native Americans are upset because the campground is within sight of Bear Butte, a solitary mountain just outside the rest of the Black Hills. They say Bear Butte is a sacred site, and the partying bikers will disturb their religious observances. USA Today reports:

"In the past, all the partying was done near town, but now they're going to surround our sacred mountain and desecrate it, drink on it, and leave their trash when they go back to where they came from," says Vic Camp, 31, a Lakota from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

I don't know if religious observances at Bear Butte date back to prehistory as some claim, but they do date back at least to my reporting days. Most of the mountain is a state park. When these observances were revived (or initiated) in the early '80's, the local townsfolk didn't quite understand what was going on, but the Native Americans were left alone to conduct their activities and other visitors were advised not to disturb them.

This year the Meade County Commissioners voted to issue a liquor license to the new campground. There is no zoning in that area, so liquor licenses are one of the few forms of control that the county has over what is done on private land. The Native Americans (and the disturbingly-earnest white people who are their allies) protested issuance of the license, to no avail.

I attended more than my share of Meade County Commissioner meetings, so I claim some understanding of the thought process that went into the decision. Back in my day, most of the commissioners were old ranchers. Although the members changed once in a while, there were always four Republicans and one Democrat. One day a young man with a ponytail walked by the meeting room in the courthouse, presumably on his way to apply for welfare benefits. One of the commissioners commented on the long hair, "I would like to take my pocket knife and cut that thing off." But surely the lone Democrat objected to such insensitivity. No, he was the one who made the comment! These guys were conservatives no matter their party affiliation.

Most of the ranchers I ever met believe they have the right to use their property as they see fit. The commissioners I knew were not proponents of the Rally; to them it was an annual annoyance that meant extra expense for the Sheriff's Department. But to them, zoning was more objectionable than a few drunken bikers, and the current-day commissioners apparently agree. They didn't see any legitimate reason to deny the landowner the right to use his land in the proposed manner, so the liquor license was approved.

The Native Americans have spent (according to the AP) $1.3 million in the last 20 years to buy 2.6 square miles of land around Bear Butte. Under the system of private ownership that the majority of Meade County residents apparently believe in, that's the way for the Native Americans to solve the problem. But the chance to make money by building giant biker bars is bringing in opportunists and driving up land prices. If liberal celebrities are looking for a cause, maybe they should buy up land near Bear Butte and donate it to the Native Americans.

In the '80's and since then, choices have been made in the northern Black Hills. In Deadwood and Sturgis, the course was steered toward gambling, debauchery and biker bars, and a certain level of prosperity has resulted. I doubt my little opinion column in the Sturgis newspaper back in '82 swung any votes, but sometimes I wonder. If a few people had voted differently, next week Sturgis would be a sleepy little town at the turnoff to Deadwood instead of the scene of the wildest party on the face of the Earth. These days, peace and quiet are more appealing to me than drunken partying, so I might write that column differently if I had to do it over.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Eurobutting

What's going on in Europe? First, Frenchman Zinedine Zinane delivers the "Head Butt Heard Round the World" in the World Cup final, then a British jockey head butts a horse. (I won't say what the jockey's last name is but I emphatically deny that I am related to him.)

I blame soccer. Headers are an encouraged tactic in that sport, and it's a short hop from there to head butting. It's obvious that we need to snuff out soccer in the USA before the epidemic of head butting reaches our shores. Here we have a time-honored American way of taking out our frustrations on the field of play – by rifling fastballs at the opponent. Yep, Ozzie Guillen is mad at someone again.

Please children, don't use your heads as projectiles. Throw inanimate projectiles with your arms, as God intended.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Turkey Diaries

Rather than fill up this blog with all the turkey sightings from my yard, I've made a new page and put everything turkey on there. See The Turkey Diaries.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Phases

Last month I digiscoped the full moon. Last night with the moon waning I took some more shots to see the effect of a different lighting angle on the craters.

Craters are more evident in this image, especially near the twilight zone, than in the full moon image with the light shining from directly above.

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Waning moon, click for larger image.

This is a crop from the upper-middle of the previous image. At lower left, the crater with the obvious center peak is 100 km across and is called Theophilus. The white line at upper left is the Montes Apenninus mountain range. Once again, craters are much more evident with the sun hitting the craters at an angle rather than from directly overhead.

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Detail of previous image, click for unresized 1024x768 crop.

It was as clear yesterday in the Northeast as it has been in weeks so I also took a look at the sun. The regular solar filter showed no sunspots large enough to notice, so I'm not going to post any of those images. The Coronado PST showed just a few small prominences. I've given up trying to find the right gadgets that will let me do photography through the PST.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Antisocial Golf

There are two kinds of folks in the world – those who golf and those who have better things to do. Although I owned clubs for more than 30 years and occasionally used them, I never had the mindset of the typical golfer. And now there's no doubt that I'm a non-golfer – I gave away my clubs today. They were quite lame clubs, a half set of Spaldings that probably were the cheapest available at the local K-Mart in the mid-70's.

I liked golfing either alone or with my Dad on a rural course with greens fees of $2 a day (Tomahawk Country Club near Deadwood circa 1974), and with no people around to go "tut-tut" if you hit a bad shot and took a mulligan (or three). Such circumstances exist only in memory. My Dad is no longer with us, greens fees are a bit more than $2, and on today's crowded courses only Bill Clinton dares to take three mulligans.

On a typical uncrowded day, my Dad (who took up the game at the same time I did) spent as much time looking for lost balls as he did golfing. Even if he hit it straight down the middle, he would detour into the Black Hills forest to see what he could find. Although he got more fixated on his scoring later on, at first his definition of a successful day on the course was ending up with more golf balls than he started with.

Sometimes even the Deadwood course got busy and we had to form a foursome with strangers. On such a day on a par 3, I skulled my tee shot and it bounced to a stop about halfway to the hole. Since that is what I usually did with my short irons and since it hadn't gone into the woods, I considered it a semi-successful shot. However, one of our new friends decided I would benefit from some of his coaching. I decided that he needed to mind his own business. I'm fairly sure that I'm not coachable.

Later when I lived in Sturgis, I avoided such people by never golfing at the country club. Instead I whacked the ball around the abandoned sand green course at the Fort Meade Veterans Hospital. They mowed the fairways (or maybe "hayed the pasture" would be more accurate) a couple times a year, and the sand greens were completely neglected. It was free, I never saw more than one other person at a time, and I loved it.

A few years later when golfing with my boss on a real course in Sioux Falls, I hooked a drive into the weeds and the urge came over him to attempt some coaching. After imparting his wisdom, he stepped up and hit a shot twice as bad as mine. Ah, memories! I consider that one of the top moments of my golfing "career." When golfing with my co-workers, if I was having my usual bad round I would just stop keeping score. I knew I was awful and would never participate in any wagering. Because of this (and my complaints about being forced to get up before dawn on a weekend) they didn't invite me very often.

When I moved East, the sticks came along but the only use they ever saw was a couple of trips to the driving range. I never invested the time and money necessary to become a better golfer. (I never owned a pair of golf spikes!) With the cost of equipment, ugly lime green pants, silly shoes, gambling losses and travel, it can quickly add up to serious cash. Paying to play poorly in front of other people with more people waiting impatiently behind is not my idea of fun.

Being a cheap, antisocial golfer hasn't been easy, so now it's a tremendous relief to officially join the ranks of the non-golfers.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Here's a bird that really lives up to its name, the Rose-breasted Grosbeak. It's got a big red patch on its chest and a great big beak for opening seeds. I first saw one of these at my feeder a few years ago, and today got this digiscope shot. You can tell this is a male because the females are much plainer.

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Rose-breasted Grosbeak, click for larger image.

I've added two images of this and a few more chipmunks and goldfinches to the Point and Shoot menu. Here's one of the goldfinches. This image was underexposed a bit, but by shooting in RAW mode on the G6 there was plenty to work with in Photoshop CS.

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Goldfinch, click for larger image.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Pedro Classic

Pedro returns to Fenway this evening to pitch for his new team, the Metropolitans. Everyone who saw Pedro at the height of his powers with the Red Sox has their favorite memories, and mine are two games I attended during his monster season of 1999. I wrote about them on my web site, named at the time Squeezebunt.com. (I gave up that domain name when I was able to get BaseballArizona.com.)

The first game was on a weekend in April 1999 when I happened to catch a Cubs game at Wrigley on Friday before returning home to see the Red Sox host the Indians. Pedro was matched up against Bartolo Colon and was leading in the ninth inning:

After Martinez gave up a run with two outs in the ninth inning to make the score 3-2, Manager Jimy Williams made a visit to the mound but decided to let his ace finish the game. With closer Tom Gordon on the disabled list, it seemed like the right decision. With cheers of "Pedro, Pedro" echoing through Fenway, Dave Justice whiffed on strike three to end the game. High fives all around.

Varitek and Pedro
Varitek congratulates Pedro

My second game was Pedro's last start of the 1999 regular season, his 23rd victory. The victim this time was the Orioles, 5-3:

A Pedro game at Fenway is different because most of the excitement comes in the top of innings when the visiting team is at bat. After every strikeout, the "K" signs go up and the running total is chanted in Spanish, "unos, dos, tres...." (Unfortunately I can't count past three in Spanish and I don't even know if that small sample is spelled right.) After getting a few early runs, the Fenway fans kept themselves amused during the bottom of innings by taunting right fielder Albert Belle. A perfect night at the old ballyard.

Pedro's 1999 postseason featured the epic six perfect innings in a relief appearance against the Indians, and a win head-to-head over Roger in the next round against the Yankees. However, that was only only win against the Yankees in that series. The Red Sox had to wait another five years to kill the Yankees and The Curse, and Pedro was a part of that. A win in Game 3 of the 2004 World Series was his last appearance in a Red Sox uniform.

Postgame: Pedro got shelled by the Red Sox. Good thing we got rid of that guy. Pedro '06 with an 88 mph fastball is a shadow of Pedro '99.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Bluebird

My goals for the summer aren't very high. Clean out my garage and basement, and get a few shots of some bluebirds. Today I made my first attempt at the latter.

About 15 miles up the road is Mass Audubon's Stony Brook Refuge. Last fall I saw bluebirds there but didn't get around to attempting photos. I took my new digiscoping setup there today hoping to get my first-ever bluebird images.

When I first got there a mob of kids was involved in some sort of activity near the nest boxes where I thought the bluebirds would be. I took a short loop around the pond with just the camera to kill some time, and eventually saw (and heard) the gaggle of noisy darlings move off to another area.

But when I set up the telescope, all I saw at the nest boxes were swallows, not bluebirds. I practiced on the swallows, then by chance saw a bird rise up from a faraway box and land in a tree about 75 yards away. May as well check it out, I figured. Lo and behold, it was an Eastern Bluebird.

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Eastern Bluebird, click for larger image.

This was with a Televue 85 scope, 40mm Scopetronix 2" eyepiece, 2x magnifier, and Canon G6 camera. I lurked around for a while longer, but didn't get any other opportunities. Not bad for a first attempt at that distance, but I hope to get something better this summer. The refuge isn't far out of the way on my commute home from work, so I'll see what I can get in the late afternoon some day this summer.

Here is a more controlled experiment, a goldfinch at the feeder in my back yard. I paced off the distance at 20 yards, which is the minimum distance at which I can achieve focus (without the 2x magnifier). This is cropped, so a small bird does not fill the frame at 20 yards.

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Goldfinch, click for larger image.

I've posted a lot of digiscoping images in the past few weeks because the new gadgets I have are so much better than what I had before. There still are limitations, but they are different than what they were before.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Sun and Moon

For the first time in about a week the sun broke through the gloom today in the Northeast, and as a bonus there is a full moon tonight. What better time to test out some new digiscoping gadgets.

Gadget No. 1 is a new glass solar filter to replace the one made from cardboard and polymer film, which somehow got a hole burned in it. (Actually I know exactly how it happened. Don't ignore the precaution about placing polymer film at the back of the scope instead of the front!) The filter has a more neutral cast than the film, which was very orange. The main reason I got the filter is the upcoming transit of Mercury Nov. 8, so I've got a few months to practice focusing.

This type of filter only shows sun spots, not the orange peel surface and the prominences that some other solar filters show. I have a Coronado Personal Solar Telescope which shows some of that detail, but I've never been able to focus the thing well enough with a camera attached to get a usable photo. This isn't a great effort, but I was having difficulty pointing the scope because the sun was high overhead and a tripod with a video head isn't made to point straight up. Fortunately the sun will be lower in the sky during the Mercury transit.

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A few sun spots, click for larger image.

The sun shot was taken with the 40mm eyepiece attached to the Canon G6 camera, which I also used for the chipmunk shot a few weeks ago. I had to crop the image to get the sun to appear this large. For the moon shot I added new gadget No. 2, a 2x lens which, if I'm doing the calculations correctly, increases the magnification from 42x to 84x. The moon fills the entire frame at that magnification.

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Full moon, click for larger image.

For detailed photos of the lunar surface, it's actually better to shoot during other phases when the light is coming at an angle. At full moon with the sun shining directly onto the surface, there's less definition.

I haven't yet received new gadget No. 3, which is a solar finding accessory for the telescope. I won't be burning holes in things once I get that. But other than the transit of Mercury and the occasional solar or lunar eclipse, I don't plan to point my camera at celestial objects very often. There are images from other sources that are so much better than what I can do with my gadgets. My plan is to use the digiscoping setup on birds roosting and nesting. When I have time, there are some bluebird nest boxes that I want to shoot.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Twinkies moving outdoors

Word comes from Minnesota that an outdoor stadium has finally been approved for the Twinkies. From the numbers I've seen, county property taxes will provide nearly $400 million of public money. The state also is going to be paying $248 million for a new Golden Gophers football stadium. That leaves only the Vikings playing in the HumptyDome. I always thought the dome was a horrible baseball "park" but an adequate football venue.

Of course the Vikings do not agree. They want $675 million for their own new stadium, but that proposal did not get through the legislative process this time around.

I'm a sports fan and have some connections to Minnesota. The first major league game I saw was at old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington. I've been to baseball, college football and a Final Four in the dome, and I would vote it the worst stadium anywhere. But why should a Hennepin County property owner pay higher taxes to provide a better place for the Twinkies to play?

Massachusetts is legendary for the shenanigans perpetrated by its elected leaders, but at least in the state where I currently reside there has been very little response to attempted blackmail by major sports teams. The hockey/basketball arena in downtown Boston is owned by the Bruins and rented by the Celtics. Anytime the Celtics even think about asking for public money to build their own arena, they are quickly told to shut up. Fenway Park is owned by the Red Sox. Plans to build a new ballpark have been abandoned and the new owners are sinking money into improvements. The Patriots squeezed out a few public dollars for infrastructure improvements, but bore the cost of their new stadium privately.

I know the situation in each locale is unique, but if I were a Minnesota taxpayer I would be angry about so much money being confiscated from me to pay for stadiums.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Digiscope

Digiscoping is snapping images with a digital camera pointed through the eyepiece of a spotting scope or telescope. I've been dabbled in it for several years and just got the attachments for my Canon G6.

I calculate I get magnification of about 42x, or the equivalent of a 2100mm telephoto lens. It works pretty well for shooting chipmunks from about 20 yards. The telescope mirrors the image right to left so I had to flip this in Photoshop to get the orientation correct:

Click for larger image
Chipmunk, click for larger image.

Focusing is partially manual, and it's probably impossible to follow a moving subject. I still want to get a real telephoto lens for my DSLR, but I'll wait a while until I have the opportunity to use it effectively. (As a Canon shooter, by "real" I mean a Big White Lens such as the 500mm f4.) Until then, digiscoping should work well enough for shooting nests and other stationary or predictable subjects.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Dwarf Returns

ABC is providing ample evidence this week of why the so-called "major" TV networks are no longer worthy of notice. Tonight there is a special featuring David Blaine holding his breath for nine minutes. (For some reason this will take two hours of TV time.) Tomorrow there's a button-pushing, panic-inducing movie about the bird flu. (Another wasted two hours.) Neither is on my reminder list.

The only network shows I watch these days are NFL Football and Lost. The former is out of season, and after last week's episode I'm starting to wonder why I bother with the latter, which also happens to be on ABC. "Hey I've got an idea, let's drop the ponderous pace for a few seconds and gratuitiously shock everyone by shooting a couple of the gals."

The eighth and final Red Dwarf series on DVD has finally arrived on these shores, seven years after it was produced for the BBC. After watching it, I thought the story lines were pretty good (what could be better than a T-Rex stomping around inside a spaceship?) but the writing of the individual scenes didn't always rise to a high level. I agree with criticisms I've read that the final series was not as good previous years, but any Red Dwarf is far more interesting than watching David Blaine hold his breath.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Airline Pretzels

Keeping a blog is a somewhat public way (is there anybody out there?) to jot down things that I want to remember. I just got back from a trip to Denver and there is something I want to preserve for future reference.

Memo to self: Avoid United Airlines.

United's "Economy Plus" program is a way for the bankrupt airline to try to squeeze a few more dollars out of customers who have already paid for a ticket. Instead of going along with the extortion and paying extra for a better seat, I ended up wedged into a middle seat in the back of the plane. I haven't been so miserable on a flight since coming back from Chile, and that flight took three times as long as this one. Hopefully the jabbing pain in my shoulder blades will go away within a week or so.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Monday, April 10, 2006

Friday, April 07, 2006

Lots of birds and gators at the Alligator Farm. Hot today in St. Augustine.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Gator Country

I haven't been anywhere since January's eagle hunting, so I've been going a bit stir crazy in the Northeast. Thursday I'm headed to Florida for a few days. My camera will be pointed primarily at the birds which nest at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and the Venice Rookery.

The state of Florida of course is home of the new NCAA basketball champions. The Gators won a ragged final game last night, capping a championship that all the experts predicted. Or at least they came up with plenty of reasons in retrospect why Florida was destined to win, neglecting to remind us that they had actually picked UConn or Duke three weeks ago.

St. Augustine Alligator Farm
Gators celebrating victory

I was looking for a stat like this and found it in a column by Jay Hart of the Morning Call. I don't even know where that is (eastern PA?), but he wrote: "Three of ESPN's four college basketball experts failed to pick a single Final Four team, and only one (Dick Vitale) picked even one — UCLA."

So why do they engage in this pointless exercise? It wouldn't bother me in the least if they shortened pre-game shows to 15 seconds and eliminated all the prognosticators. These guys prove over and over again that flipping a coin provides us with about the same amount of information.

By the way, the above photo is from my first visit to the Alligator Farm in 2003. In addition to nesting egrets, they do have lots of gators there.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Unequal Swap

I had just started my drive home last night when the news came over WEEI-Boston that Adam Vinatieri had signed with the Indianapolis Colts. The reaction of the sports talk hosts and callers can be summed up as "panic stricken."

There was sure to be gloom in Patriot Nation if/when The Greatest Jackrabbit left, but there were several factors that made yesterday's annoucement more traumatic. It appears the Patriots are not trying very hard to keep their veteran players, Vinatieri was lost to a key conference rival, and the leading candidate for the Patriot placekicking vacancy seems to be goofball Mike Vanderjagt.

The Patriots have let receiver David Givens, linebacker Willie McGinest and Vinatieri escape in free agency this winter. There have been no acquisitions of note. Regarding a replacement for McGinest, I'm sure Bill Belichick's plan is to find some underappreciated and undersized defensive end, coach him up at linebacker, and rotate him in with five other guys. The philosophy around here is it's better to pay middle-class wages to six OK linebackers rather than a king's ransom to one big-name guy. But you can't replace one great placekicker with six mediocre guys! Ask the Cowboys whether that works.

Everyone figured if Vinatieri left, he would be on his way to the NFC, either Green Bay or Dallas. Having Indy sign him was a thunderbolt. There are five teams in the AFC that Patriot fans have enjoyed tormenting recently: the three division rivals, the Steelers, and the Colts. With the Steelers winning the Super Bowl and Miami appearing poised to challenge for the division, having the Colts steal Vinatieri has introduced another little bit of doubt about whether Belichick still has his genius cap. The biggest nightmare for Patriot fans would be to see Vinatieri kick a game winner for the Colts in Foxboro in an AFC playoff game.

Still, the Pats apparently have a chance to sign the most accurate kicker in the history of the league, Vanderjagt. What's wrong with that? Maybe the superstar quarterbacks for the Colts and Patriots can explain.

Peyton Manning, 2003: "We're talking about our idiot kicker who got liquored up and ran his mouth off."

Tom Brady, 2005: "Adam is the most clutch kicker in the history of football."

When last seen, Vanderjagt had an ugly failure on an attempt that would have sent the playoff game against the Steelers into overtime. He sliced it so badly that it reminded me why I gave up golf. A few days later he was yukking it up on Letterman, which greatly irritated Colts management. That's why the black cloud stuck in the minds of Pats fans can be summed up thusly: "They got Adam and we're stuck with Vanderjerk."

Patriot safety/nutcase Rodney Harrison came up with the "Vanderjerk" nickname when the idiot kicker said something stupid before a playoff game two years ago. I think Vanderjagt is still expecting a beat-down from Harrison so I doubt he will be seen on the practice fields in Foxboro this fall. Maybe Belichick could get back some of that genius status by going with an undrafted free agent out of a Division II school. It worked spectacularly last time.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

March of the Penguins

I finally got around to playing the "March of the Penguins" DVD that had been sitting on my coffee table for a couple of months. I thought it was a good nature documentary, just as good as other DVDs in my collection such as Survival Island, which is an IMAX film about the penguins and other wildlife on South Georgia Island.

That may sound like damning faint praise. After all, "March of the Penguins" won an Oscar, didn't it? I think what I'm saying is (and if I don't know then who does?) is there are a lot of great nature documentaries out there, and when the general public sees one of them instead of the network mush they usually see, they think it is the greatest thing ever made. It wouldn't be a bad idea to flip the channel from "American Idol" to "Nature" once in a while. For those who don't know, that's on PBS.

The images captured by the French filmmakers in "March of the Penguins" are top-notch and required a lot of dedication to endure the austral winter. I have heard that the original French narration was very cutesy, something which the Americanized version lapses into only occasionally. Still, I think the narration is aimed at a mass family audience. They could have been more straightforward with the script, but maybe that film wouldn't have won an Oscar.

A constant theme of "March of the Penguins" is that penguins have a tough life. They thrive in environments that would kill a man slowly (on land) or quickly (in the frigid ocean). Maybe the reason I wasn't completely blown away by the film is I already knew that. I've been to the Antarctic Peninsula and surrounding islands, not far enough south to see the big Emperor penguins shown in the film, but far enough to experience thousands of medium-sized Gentoos, Adelies and Chinstraps. Some of their behaviour differs from that of the Emperors, but I can say I have been in a real, live, stinky, noisy penguin colony. The little penguins didn't have to walk 70 miles as depicted in the film, but often they had to walk on stubby legs several miles up rocky cliffs to get to their nests. We didn't see any dead penguins laying around as they show in the movie, but seeing a skua steal an egg from a Chinstrap on Half Moon Island gave us some idea of the vigilance that the parents need to have.


Gentoo, Neko Harbor on the Antarctic Peninsula, 2003.

The extras on the DVD include a "Making of" video that isn't much different from the feature except for more humans and more dead penguins, an episode of National Geographic "Crittercam" showing diving Emperors at a different location, the movie trailer, and the Bugs Bunny cartoon "8 Ball Bunny" which includes a penguin character. I guess the inclusion of Bugs plays up the "family film" angle, but if they wanted a penguin cartoon why wouldn't they go after Chilly Willy?

By all means buy or rent "March of the Penguins." But don't let it be the only nature documentary you see this month.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Greatest Jackrabbit...maybe

The greatest football player ever to come out of my alma mater South Dakota State is a placekicker, which you may consider pathetic if you went to a Division I-A school such as (for example) Colorado. But oh, what a kicker: Adam Vinatieri, Class of '95.

I have lived 10 miles from the New England Patriots' home in Foxboro since 1991. The first few years the Pats were awful and it didn't bother me when they got blacked out on TV because it meant a game involving better teams would be shown instead. But along about 1996, I started becoming more interested in the local team because (a) they were getting much more competitive under Coach Duane (Bill) Parcells and (b) they had an obscure kicker who happened to be from South Dakota State.

The kicker is no longer obscure. Vinatieri pulled off perhaps the most famous kick in NFL history four years ago during a blizzard. He followed it up with famous kicks #2 and #3 to win Super Bowls. He had a field goal that won a third Super Bowl but it doesn't qualify as all-time famous because it wasn't of the last-second variety. (Ho-hum.) Last season he set the team career scoring record, passing original Boston Patriot Gino Cappelletti. The South Dakota State guy is forever a New England hero even if he ends up playing for someone else this fall.

If the announcement comes that Vinatieri is leaving New England, no doubt the TV stations will play an assortment of his historic kicks again, but one play I wish they would show more often is from early in his career when he caught Herschel Walker from behind on a kickoff. Perhaps the tape shows something different, but in my mind's eye I see him coming from five yards off the pace and running down the swift former Heisman Trophy winner. Some say that's the play that convinced Parcells to keep Vinatieri on the team, and the rest is history.

The stereotype about kickers is they are little European soccer players who yell, "I keek a touchdown" after making a field goal, but Vinatieri was a real football player in high school. He played quarterback and linebacker for the Rapid City Central High School Cobblers, and kicking was just an additional chore. (Other notable Cobbler graduates include one of my brothers and my sister, 20 years before Vinatieri.)

It's inconvenient when facts don't quite fit the story line, but I should admit that Vinatieri is not a hands-down choice as the best Jackrabbit football player ever. Jim Langer, South Dakota State '70, was the starting center on the undefeated '72 Dolphins team and is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The annual award for the top Division II lineman is named after Langer. I'll still give the "Greatest Jackrabbit" nod to Vinatieri because Langer grew up in Minnesota and didn't go to high school with me or any of my siblings. Assuming Vinatieri gets into the Hall someday, how many other schools with a mediocre football history primarily in Division II (now I-AA) have two inductees?

In college football, North Dakota State is almost always better than South Dakota State, and it's a given that the University of Colorado is more powerful than either. But neither the Bison nor the Buffaloes have anyone in the Hall of Fame. Barring a late rush by someone such as Kordell Stewart (haha), Vinatieri's enshrinement in Canton will make it Jackrabbits 2, Native Bovines 0.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Richmond murders, dumps bears

About a week ago, Maymont Park in Richmond killed its two black bears, beheaded them, and disposed of the headless corpses in the town dump. The bears' crime: One of them nipped the hand of a child who had somehow gotten past the first of two fences around the bear display. There are some reports that the child's mother lifted the child over the fence, which (facing prosecution) she now denies. The bear probably smelled apple on the little darling's sticky fingers, and committed the capital offense of checking them out. No stitches were required, but it was enough of a bite to cause some concern about rabies.

Health officials, unsure which of the two bears delivered the offending nibble, lopped the heads off both, sent the brains away for examination, and dumped the bodies in the landfill. After the outcry when the public found out what happened, the bodies were retrieved from the landfill and a more dignified memorial service was held. Richmond Mayor Douglas Wilder (the former governor of Virginia) has been critical of the actions of the family of idiots who caused the situation and the bureaucrats who responded to it.

Richmond Times-Dispatch: "Wilder, whose office was bombarded with complaints, called the killings 'reprehensible' and 'nonsensical bureaucracy.' He was upset his office had not been informed until it was too late. The better decision, he said, would have been the rabies shots. 'You cause some mild discomfort to the child, who was the perpetrator.'"

Alaska black bear
Please don't cut my head off!
Rabies is rare in bears, and the rabies tests came back negative. I don't think "criminal stupidity" is a Virginia offense, but if that woman boosted the kid over the fence, she should be prosecuted under whatever laws may apply. The actions of the bureaucrats are only slightly more defensible. Even if the concern about rabies was legitimate (which is arguable), no one can justify throwing the bodies in the dump.

I plead guilty to anthropomorphism, at least to the point of feeling that higher animals such as bears, elephants and whales are entitled to a sort of "pursuit of happiness," free from abuse by humans. I'm not going to become a vegetarian or run off and join PETA, but I do get upset about stories like this. A human has a thoughtless moment, and two bears get tossed away like garbage.

Monday, February 27, 2006

O'Neil Snubbed

The only association I have with John Jordan (Buck) O’Neil is the same last name, but still I'm mystified as to what it takes for him to get elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Seventeen people associated with the Negro Leagues were elected today by a special committee, but Buck was not one of them.

Buck was two-time Negro League batting champion, five-time championship-winning manager, the scout credited with discovering Lou Brock and Ernie Banks, the first black coach with a major league team, and a driving force behind the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. Those other 17 must be exceptional people to be more deserving than Buck. The fact I've never heard of any of them must be a shortcoming on my part.

Buck O'Neil is 94 years old and in my opinion is qualified two or three times over. The special committee should reconvene in special session and vote Buck O'Neil in the Hall of Fame before God calls him home.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Change of Seasons

Super Bowl 40 (no pretentious Roman numerals here) was a game only a Steelers fan could love. The losing team was awful, the officiating was awful, and even the winning quarterback was awful. It might have been the second-worst Super Bowl of all time, surpassing only Super Bowl 5 when the Colts beat the Cowboys. Even that drudgefest in 1971 had one thing going for it: Until fellow South Dakota State alum Adam Vinatieri came along, it was the only Super Bowl decided by a last-second field goal.

SB 5 was so bad that a member of the losing team was named MVP. Cowboys linebacker Chuck Howley got the award for gathering in three of the game's ten (10!) turnovers. In the fourth quarter of SB 40, the Steelers were on their way to an unimpressive win and I was wondering who could possibly win the MVP award. The Seahawks hadn't made any plays all day so a repeat of the Chuck Howley vote seemed extremely unlikely. There were no obvious MVP candidates from the Steelers defense except, as the joke goes, the officials. The Steelers offense only made three plays all day, but it turns out that Hines Ward was in on two of them so he got the Escalade.

With the dreadful game in Detroit (capping an otherwise decent football season) now out of the way, my thoughts now turn to the Winter Olympics. Hahahaha ha ha...ack...ooof...I almost hurt myself. No, really, who cares about that!? I thought the Winter Olympics were neat the first time I saw them on TV...in 1968! Since then I've gotten over it, and February represents a hole in the sports viewing calendar. I don't care about the Olympics, hockey, golf or tennis, and in regard to basketball I'm a firm believer in the "two minute" rule: Don't bother watching until the final two minutes. Fortunately, the hole in the sports calendar between the end of football and the start of baseball is getting shorter all the time.

Last baseball season I made it to 15 professional games at various venues throughout the country: spring training in Arizona, five big-league parks (KC, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Baltimore, DC), an independent league park (KCK), and the Arizona Fall League. This season my travel schedule is much less extensive and I don't have any tickets on order.

I am scheduled to go to Florida in early April. Spring training will be over by then, and the Devil Rays (or whatever PC name they will be using then) won't be home when I'm in the Tampa area. Of course I could always take out a home equity loan and get some Boston Red Sox tickets, but I'm not real gung-ho on paying their admission prices when I can watch all of their games on TV. Maybe I'll take in a Pawtucket Red Sox game just to get to something this year.

Pawtucket's McCoy Stadium is only five miles from my house, but I'm intrigued by a game the Pawsox will be playing Saturday, August 26 at Fenway Park. Actually it's a minor league doubleheader with the Lowell Spinners hosting Oneonta in a Class A New York-Penn League game at 2:00, followed by a Class AAA International League game between Pawtucket and Rochester. It seems like a chance to get to Fenway Park this year without taking out that home equity loan. Ticket prices have not been announced but supposedly will be "family friendly."

I wonder if they'll be selling Monster seats....