Sunday, January 27, 2008

The last mile

Yesterday, My family and I went for a hike. Jess wanted to go somewhere where there were trees, and I wanted to find some place fun and new to hike... Through various searches, I stumbled across the Beaver Brook Trail. I had a hard time finding actual directions on how to get to a trail head for this thing. The description gave several generalizations as to popular access points, but that's about it. "It's near the Lookout Mountain Nature Center" was about the most useful information I found. I found directions to the nature center, and we drove there. Found a trail head, though not for the Beaver Brook Trail. Fortunately, there was a map of the area at that trail head that gave us a good sense of where we where, and where we needed to be. After driving around for a while, and asking a group of cyclists where Windy Saddle was (the supposed trail head to the trail that led to the trail ;). Anywho, all the driving around led us to a curvy windy road that goes up (and down) the side of Lookout mountain. I thought to myself, "I gotta ride my bike up this thing sometime, it looks like fun!"

So we commenced on our hike, and had a lot of fun. About 3 miles total in distance was hiked. I was surprised, some of the descriptions of this trail that I found said it was really poplular, so I figured it shouldn't be too challening... I guess in the summer time it might not be. Much of the trail this time of year still had plenty of snow on it, and the foot traffic had trampled the snow into some icy patches here and there. To top that off, the exposure of the trail was quite intimidating at times. One slip on the wrong spot and you're going for a ride! I don't suspect that the landing at the bottom is too soft either. Anyway, below are a few of my favorite photos. You can view the whole album here. I think my photo taking is getting a little better, but it still has a long way to go. I also bought a nice circular polarizing filter a while ago, and I keep forgetting to use the darn thing!

I thought this rock looked pretty cool. Kinda looks like there's a skull from some animal on top.

I was trying to be creative here... Not sure I succeed all that well. It looked better in real life I think. This might be another case where messing around with HDR imaging would come in handy. I really need a tripod before I can really make my attempts worth while though.

So anyway, on with the title of this post... The weather today was/is absolutely wonderful, crystal clear skies and 60+ degrees. I thought to myself, "self, why don't you go bike up that road you found yesterday." So that's what I did, and it felt great. I mapped out a route to get over to hill, made a course using the course creator developed by Brad Culberson, and uploaded it to my Garmin 305 GPS / bike computer. Sadly, I couldn't get my heart rate strap, or cadence sensor working. I think the batteries finally bit the dust in them. Oh well. That wasn't going to stop me from enjoying my ride.

I managed to navigate my way through Golden, avoiding most of the really busy roads, though, I also managed to go down a road that was gated at one end. Always fun to hop a fence in roadie shoes as cars and other bikers whiz by. Oh well. After a ten mile warm-up I made it to the base of the hill. I decided I was just going to go up at a pace I could handle, and knew I could sustain for a long time. Since the ride was new to me, I wasn't sure what kind of exertion I could put into it.

There were a ton of cars at the base, all with bike racks. We had seen a lot of riders yesterday while driving, and I think there were even more today. I managed to catch a couple people and pass them on my way up, but some managed to catch and pass me too. Unfortunately, I think more people passed me, than I passed. It was really tough to not hop on the wheel of others as they passed. Was probably a good thing though, I'm convinced that a bunch of people where at least semi-pro, or at least on some organized team of some sort. A couple groups had coaches talking to them out a car, etc. They probably woulda pushed harder just to drop me. I made it to the top, and took a 10 minute breather up at Buffalo Bill's grave.

At my rest, I had the chance to eat a Chocolate flavored PowerGel energy snack. All I have to say, is that if you really, really (and I mean really) like chocolate frosting, you just might be able to handle this stuff. The consistancy is that of a smooth creamy frosting, and the taste is quite chocolaty. It was just too much for me. I felt like all the sweet taste buds on my mouth where hyper stimulated. It took me most of the 10 minute break to choke the stuff down. All I had for a chaser was some Lemon / Lime Gatorade Endurance mix... Yack! The the Gatorade itself I thought was pretty good. Good flavor, not too sweet, and tart enough to keep the thirst working. The pouch I had made a quart, which I found kind of annoying, since my water bottles where 24 oz (as are most bike bottles).

At any rate, I made the wonderful decent back down the mountain feeling great about the climb. Good thing I brought arm warmers with me. I would have gotten cold without them. I haven't ridden since last November, not even on my trainer (I know, I've been bad), and here I was able to climb this thing. I thought I was crazy at the start of my ride, but I did it! Then it hit me... almost home.... Please, please remind me again why I decided to live in house at the top of no small hill, especially after what I had just been through. It was torture! I kept thinking to myself "how am I supposed to have a propper cool down when I have to go up this thing at the end of every ride? arrg" I sucked it up and finished, but not strong. Oh well.

Motionbased Stats are here.

It was a neat ride. Will certainly do it again. Great views, and I got to see some other people enjoying their hobbies. On some of the sharp turns on the climb up (switchbacks), I saw a group of people playing with remote control gliders, riding the wind currents coming up the mountain. I also had a paraglider person swoop over my head as well. That was cool.

Friday, January 25, 2008

HDR (High Dynamic Range) Photography

So my friend Doug and I where chatting the other day, and he mentioned that he was wanting to try out some HDR photography... Typical of myself, being clueless to most things related to photography, (at least I still feel that way) I asked Doug what the heck he was talking about. He explained it well for me, and gave me a good idea of what it is, and how cool it can be. I've run across an example or two (okay, lots) as well as a good explination and tutorial. So I've given it a try. I can't say I felt all that inspired by anything around me today, so the shots aren't all that interesting. I did one indoors, and one outdoors. I suspect the outdoor shot would have been more interesting had it been closer to dusk. And all in all, it gives me further urgency to get a tripod (which has now moved to the top of my photo gear want list).

As you can see from the images, I used a application called Photomatix to do the processing. It seems to work pretty well, and gives you the ability to tweak things quite a bit before the final process is complete. It guides you through the workflow well, IMHO. Small fee required to get rid of the watermarks of course. For playing around and seeing what this stuff is all about though, I'll live through the watermarks. If you are curious what the images looked like before hand, I've sampled some of the image collection it takes to make these, and put them together below. The left being the most under exposed, middle being the average, and actually what my camera's "P mode" decided to use, and the right being the most over exposed. Essentially, I focused the camera and let the P mode decide stuff. Then I translated those settings to manual mode and took 4-5 pictures on each side, either increasing or decreasing shutter speed. (Click on the pictures to get more detail)

I haven't quite figured out what the green aberration is on the lower right portion of the couch is yet. I suspect it might be a reflection on the lens, or possibly the UV filter that's on the front. can't say I'm too pleased about it. Its the first I've ever seen of it though... odd, I got out the lens cleaner and polished stuff up. I have to try and recreate a few shots to see if I can get it to come back. Sigh.

It'll be interesting to see how useful this process because for antarctic photography. I suspect it might yield some nice stuff. I might be taking advantage of the free trial of photoshop CS3 for that though. I found tutorials of doing HDR processing in CS2, so I imagine CS3 has to do it too. Yet another thing to save my pennies for.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


So I've been playing with my Camera a little, trying to get used to it, before I deploy to the ice. I've come across what seems to be a relatively new thing to do with all the pictures you take. It's called geoTagging. There are lots of other discussions out there on what to use, how to do it, etc. Just google it up. I found one GPS tracker that actually will sit in the hot shoe of your camera and record your coordinates when you take each photograph, I thought that was neat, but it was yet another device to buy. I already have a few GPS units. One is old and antiquated, and the other is my Garmin edge 305... soon to be antiquated, I fear, with Garmin's release of the new spiffy edge 705. Darn technology, always getting better, LOL.

Anyhow, from what I've read the work flow for geoTagging seems to go like this... Take a hike, turn on a GPS device to track and record your positions. Take some photos. When you get home, download the photos, collect the data from the GPS device. Then use the software package of your choice to sync up the photos with your GPS data. What it does is look at the time stamp on the photo, and then finds the position where you where at, at that time. Then it adds the latitude and longitude to the EXIF data on the photo. There you have it... geoTagged photos. I have been using an app called PhotoMapper by COPIKS. It can only import jpeg images (I'd love something to tag RAW images), but it can use various formats of GPS data, including .gpx, .hst, and .tcx, as well as a few others. The .tcx is useful to me since I can export that right out of Garmin's Training center, the software that comes with the edge. Just a word of caution though, I've found out so far, if you save a RAW file from Picasa2 to jpeg, and then try to open the jpg up in PhotoMapper, it crashes... not sure why, so for now, I've been using the Canon Utilities to convert from RAW to jpeg. Anyone want to buy me photoshop CS3? :) pretty please?

As far as the results? Well, you can view them in google earth, and other various photo collection sites out on the web. I'm curious to see how well all this web app stuff handles data sourced from the antarctic. We'll find out soon enough I guess. I've uploaded some of the tagged pics to my picasa account if you want to see how it works. I think my favorite pic is of a wind blown tree:
I'm still not all that happy with most of my pictures mostly due to shadows and stuff. I think that its mostly because of the time of day and year though. The sun is low in the sky, and its mid-late afternoon, so the shadows are getting long. Oh well. Only way to get better at composition is to take more photos....

Friday, January 11, 2008

New Camera

So the new camera has finally arrived. I bought a used Canon Digital Rebel XTi off ebay. It came with a battery grip, extra battery, and 2 lenses, 18-55mm and a 100-300mm. Its gonna be a while before I get good at using it I think. Here's the first few shots so far.
I think Everest was getting annoyed at me shoving the camera in his face. I'm really sure he didn't enjoy having the flash go off in his face the night before either.... The next few pictures where taken from Green Mountain Park. The first is of the city of Denver, zoomed in. I was using a 100-300mm zoom lens here, it was probably around 175mm here. I was impressed how close the city seemed zoomed in to 300mm. I don't have a tripod yet, so I can't take any night photos. They'll come soon, I promise.

The next picture was just me trying to mess around with depth of field and stuff. Personally, I think the background is a little too out of focus. The subject here is a seed pod on yucca plant.
And the sign below I just think is amusing, given that it's less than 1/10 of a mile from our house. Its a fairly new addition to the park (the sign). I'd love to get a shot of one of those cats... From a distance of course. Not sure if you can make out the sign, but it basically goes on to say if you get attacked, fight back and don't give up.... walk loudly and carry a big stick.

As always, I'd love to hear your comments and criticism on the photos, or anything else you might have to say.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Post Holiday Update

Well, the holiday's are over, and its been quite a while since I've posted anything, so I figured I aught to at least put something in this here blog for y'all to read. I can't say I have much of interest to post though.

Let's see... The weekend before Christmas I went skiing up at Loveland again, and had a blast. I'm getting comfortable with pretty much any groomed terrain. No fancy tricks or anything, but I can handle things as fast or as slow as I want. Its a different story when you put bump/moguls in my way though. Gotta get better at them though, if I'm ever to join ski patrol, or S&R teams. Below is a picture of the parking lot, looking towards the main "consumer" area.

I wanted to take more pictures from the mountain that day, but it was a whopping 5 degrees Fahrenheit out there with an incredibly cold wind chill. You knew if you had skin showing (and I'm going to Antarctica? I must be nuts). Needless to say, the internal pockets in my coat where not in a good place for a camera, so it just sat in the locker all day.

Christmas Day came along and Geoffrey was very excited to see some presents under the tree. He also got his first sled too. We didn't have much opportunity for sleeding back in PA. We live a couple 100 feet down the street from a park with a nice hill on it here though. I'm not sure he knew what to make of the big blue plastic thing at first.

Geoffrey also got several different versions of building blocks. From the cardboard ones above, to Wooden blocks, to legos. I think he enjoys them all equally. Well, mostly he enjoys destroying anything the he builds up. I have fun playing the the cardboard ones. Its fun to apply simple engineering concepts to see what kind of structures you can build up.

A few of my Co-Workers have headed down to McMurdo Station, and then will be onto the South Pole towards the end of the month. One of them has a blog going... You can read more here about his travels here. I'll hopefully be doing this tour next season. The trip I have scheduled for March is the one he did last season.

My new (to me, thank-you ebay) Camera should be arriving this week (I hope) too. So maybe I'll be able to get some improved upon pictures soon. Though, for a while, they may be worse, LOL, as I have to figure out how all this SLR stuff works. I knew I should have taken that photography class in High School. Oh well. There's a Community College close by, so maybe someday I could take something there. There's plenty of info out on the web though, so hopefully that won't be necessary.

Well, I guess there's not much else to say, other than Happy New Year everyone. Say Hi or something once and a while! Cheers!