Sunday, April 19, 2015

Closer, CLOSER, no - CLOSER!

My friend and fellow blogger, Ken Spencer is getting a complex. To hear him tell it, whenever he uses his macro lens, I'm a little imp whispering in his ear to "Get Closer!" While I generally don't think that way, my motivation for getting close is that the subject often reveals interesting details when you get really close. So something boring can be often quite interesting!

Case in point was our fish hook barrel cactus in front of the house.  We've got two pretty good-sized versions in our yard, they've been there for a couple decades,  Interestingly, the large one blooms in the Fall, the smaller one in the springtime.  Well, the smaller is blooming right now, but the cactus dome is so full of spines that the flowers are too crowded to be interesting or pretty.  However, there is a little window of opportunity if you zoom in and get close - REALLY close!

Shown at left here is an individual frame shown in the above setup. I used the 100mm macro lens, and to get closer still, used a 36mm extension tube that allows even more magnification. You've got to use a tripod at these magnifications, fortunately, the barrel cactus is pretty impervious to the breeze that was blowing - no problems there. But at that magnification, the depth of field is quite small - only one narrow plane is in focus at any one time, even though I stopped down to F/9.  Stopping down even more would increase the depth-of-field, but resolution actually goes down because of diffraction. I've talked about the solution before - focus-stacking! By taking several exposures at different focus settings, Photoshop is used to combine just the in-focus parts of each image. The image at right is the result - almost perfectly in focus from the top of the yellow stigma, to the bottom of the anther stalks!

I worked on another example today. I've posted some of the pretty flowers of the Desert Globe Mallow before. Well, the flowers are long past, but even the dead-looking branches are interesting when you zoom in on the seed pods! For this shot at left, I used the same setup as above, but used the full stackup of 68mm of extension tubes to magnify as much as I could. For a sense of scale, the seed pod is about 8mm across, about 3/8 of an inch. This was an 8-frame focus stack also at F/9. Note the peach colored flower dehydrates into the pale pink at upper left. Since I can't show the full resolution image here (limited to 1600 pixel images), shown at right is a crop of the full-rez focus stack. I like the resolved fuzz and spider silk stretched across the ultra-closeup.

So when you are shooting something that might be a little bland - move in closer for more details! While dedicated macro lenses are expensive, extension tubes are inexpensive and allow focusing a lot closer than the limits of your normal lens. Happy hunting!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Spring Kitt Peak Star-B-Que, 2015

This last weekend was the astronomy club's Spring Star-B-Que, held at the Kitt Peak picnic area. It is a great venue - a spectacular dark site for observing, and the employee association allows use of their gas grill for a cookout beforehand. We've been doing it for ages, and a search of the blog recalls some great memories.

We went up early this time because we had a special guest - our niece Kathy came down from Chicago! We were both under the weather during her last visit in January, so she came down for the weekend just to join us on the Mountain. We toured all the telescopes that had visitor galleries, and her uncle (me) gave her a running commentary on what we could see as well as stories about the "olden times" when I used to work on the staff. She is shown at left stepping onto the access stairs to the 4-meter equatorial mount.

It was a beautiful day, but we were supposed to have clouds move in, which is what happened.  But the temperatures were moderate, and Kitt Peak is always a fun place to visit and play in nature.

In my recent obsession with 3D anaglyphs, I took a huge number of stereo pairs. I know I have at least one fan out there that enjoyed my recent postings, so will include a few more of the more impressive ones here. So get out your red/blue glasses and follow along! Many of the pairs were taken with my IR-converted camera, as it cuts through haze and the high-contrast images work well in the anaglyph format. At left is a wide view of the south side of the Observatory taken from the visitor gallery of the 4 Meter telescope, and at right is a closer view of the 2.1 Meter Telescope at center. For both, I used the south-facing windows of the gallery for the baseline of the stereo views, so an image was taken, then I quickly moved the 40 feet or so to the side to take another image to use as the 3D pair. It worked great and I think these aew quite spectacular!

Similarly, from the south side of the Observatory, from near the 2.1 Meter scope, I used the same technique to shoot a stereo pair of the 4-Meter. Many of the same telescopes are visible in both image pairs. The distinctive roll-off roof of the 16" used for the Nightly Observing Program is visible in the pairs above as well as here.

A little later, down in the picnic area, I tried my hand at some macro-pairs of bark and the new growth on the oak trees. At right here is some distinctive lichens growing on oak bark, and the close-up 3D looks very much like the topography of the local mountains and valleys!

Given the clouds we had a pretty good turnout - over a dozen showed up, though only 3 of us were optimists and packed telescopes! Most knew we would at least have a cookout, so showed up for that - though driving 50 miles one-way to get there takes some dedication! At left, Melinda and Kathy are shown as we got serious about moving from our social circle set up near the van, down to the pavilion to eat.  You can see that we had cool temps - everyone was bundled up!

The clouds alternately broke up and darkened again.  It looked like rain to the south, we might even have had a few drops at one point.  But the broken clouds at least provided a spectacular sunset.  Shown at right is the view as it set down the north side of a mountain, providing an unusual bite out of the setting sun.

We knew that sticking around for a few minutes would usually reward us with some more colors, and sure enough, while not spectacular, we got some pretty colors cast onto the clouds that remained.  Many folks were starting to stream out about then, and both Jupiter and Venus were blazing through the thin clouds.  I wasn't sure I wanted to go through the 20+ minutes of setting up the C-14 for Kathy to get her first view through a telescope, but luckily, someone plopped down an 8" telescope to provide her a view of Jupiter and moons and the brilliant globe of Venus.  Even as we tried to check out the Orion nebula or anything else, the clouds conspired against us, and we too left for civilization.  Still, a fun day touring the Observatory and making 3Ds.  Likely more of those to come!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


With our nice weather lately, the cats who normally don't crowd around us in bed are staying out in the yard more and more.  And even Lucy, our youngest, who normally joins the sleep-in at some point, has been staying out late.  But never to miss a meal, she wasn't to be found this morning, so the search has officially begun.  I found a hole in the back yard fence, but it was well-hidden and hard to get to, so not sure if that is where she got out.  She isn't exactly svelte, so she can't get over the "cat proof" fence like our newer athletic ferals, so it is still a mystery where she might have gone.  Melinda had the incredible shot of her at left, and I used it to make a few fliers to post at the cul de sac's mailbox, and a few other places around the neighborhood. 

We've lost other cats without a trace - years ago Hopper disappeared, and just a couple years ago Atticus similarly vanished.  Given the ferals come and go for years indicate is isn't particularly a dangerous neighborhood.  We've had hawks eyeing the backyard from a nearby utility pole, but no evidence of a snatch of that sort.  We've just hoping that Lucy, who hasn't been far from the safety of the yard, is just lost and looking for her way home.  I've been going out every couple hours, talking to the neighbors and looking for hiding places, now searching for glowing eyes at night with a flashlight.  Fingers crossed she'll turn up!

UPDATE:  Lucy was waiting at the back door to the yard this morning!  Forensic analysis showed she pulled down my blockage of the hole in the back fence to get back in, as it is now covered with orange fur.  A more permanent repair of the hole coming later today after medical stuff.  We're glad the lil' delinquent is back home!

More Medical Stuff...

Way back last fall (the day after Labor Day), Melinda blacked out and fell, hurting her back. After waiting a long time to see an evidently popular orthopedic doctor, he recommended a Balloon Kyphoplasty, which supposedly gives near-immediate relief to her chronic back pain. Subsequent head CT scans showed a subdural hematoma, which needed to go down on its own before the orthopedic surgeon would do any procedure, which it has. So finally today we had a follow-up appointment with him, and now we're proceeding at the speed of light! She has a new MRI of the injured spine area (T-12) tomorrow, another appointment with the surgeon Friday, and surgery on Monday! Oh yea, and she has to be off her blood thinners, so is transitioning to Lovenox tonight to relieve her clotting issues... She'll likely get a general anesthetic, recover for an hour or two, and get sent home with no pain, according to the doctor. She is a little nervous, but looking forward to some relief from the chronic pain she has had for 7 months!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Easy To Please!

Some of you might not know that we have cats - 8 of them... Most are getting a little older, we've lost 2 recently that were over 15 years old. Some of the newer ferals that are slowly moving in are likely younger, but coming off the street, they are not as playful as carefree kittens you often see. Still, we are reminded of how easily pleased some of our cats are - even the older ones.

Melinda's birthday was a few weeks ago, and she got something in the mail, in a smallish box. I didn't think much of it, but left it out and sure enough, in an hour it was full of cat! And this is Hannah at left, our current oldest at 15 years old! Another day later and Mia at 11 years old was found in it. So far those are the only two expressing interest in it, let alone climb in.... Christmas Day is really fun, as bags and ribbons are involved too!

Our couple-year-old microwave inexplicably died over the weekend, so I ran off to get another this afternoon. BIG BOX, and Mia watched carefully as we opened and emptied it, waiting patiently for her turn. Of course, this one had a little hand hold too and it didn't take but a poke of my finger to get her wound up, sticking her own paw through to "get me" back.

I guess we're not pet owners that invest in toys. Other than the loose ink pens that Lucy chases under the furniture, these are mostly deprived of excitement. They do get to run in the back yard safely, so they get that entertainment, including the occasional bird, lizard and bunny. It is reassuring somehow that a simple box can keep them entertained too...

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Change in Change of Plans...

Remember that nice post from nearly 3 weeks ago explaining the drug study that Melinda was going on?  Well, never mind - plans have changed again...  Everyone overseeing the study gave a thumbs-up, the insurance was working with the study to make sure all expenses would be covered, and we thought all our ducks were lining up when we suddenly heard that she couldn't be on Coumadin for the study.  Evidently they had granted exemptions in the past for patients on blood thinners, but for some reason, were reluctant in this case.  So with 5 weeks since her last treatment, which wasn't effective anyway, we were anxious to do something, so are going to another drug combo as an alternative to the TH-302 study.  Evidently, the study will be a fallback if the new treatment proves less than optimal after a few cycles...

So, on Thursday, Melinda will start yet another combo, this time Adriamycin and Cytoxan.  Our oncologist thinks that side effects won't be worse than some of her previous treatment regimens, though one of the side effects of Adriamycin is cardiomyopathy - it can be toxic to heart muscle cells.  So she will get an echocardiogram before starting, and regular monitoring to make sure this isn't an issue in the future.  Other side effects are the standard - possible hair loss, nausea, tiredness, aches and pains, etc, etc, etc - the standard list that she has fought through every time before...

So that is the plan.  A single afternoon in the infusion center every 3 weeks, with blood tests before and a week after to watch her recovery.  In 2 cycles or 6 weeks, she'll have another PET scan to see what effect it has been having.  Fingers crossed, looking for better news!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Ringy Dingy!

We've had cloudy skies most of the day, and also have a 10-day-old gibbous Moon tonight, so figured I had little to no chance of coming up with a blog post, but what do you know - stepped outside to pick up cat food bowls and found a really nice ring around the moon!

This 22 degree halo is caused by moonlight (or sunlight during the daytime) refracting through two surfaces of hexagonal ice crystals in the clouds. Longer wavelengths are refracted a little less, so the inside of the halo shows a red fringe. This is an 8 second exposure with wide angle zoom set to 14mm, and really approximates the visual appearance pretty well. Ain't optics wonderful!?

Fortunately it is clear enough to see a few other objects along the red-fringed ring and moon. Brilliant Jupiter is up at the 10 o'clock position from the moon, and there are a few stars too. At left just inside the ring at 8 o'clock is Regulus, the brightest star in Leo, and also just inside the ring at 3 o'clock is Procyon (Alpha Canis Minoris). At the top of the image, splitting the ring are Castor and Pollus (top to bottom), in Gemini. Just in case you can't see all that, I'm providing a labeled version at right. I lucked out to find an astronomy-themed subject tonight - yippee!