Thursday, October 25, 2007

Ultimate Photo: Inside a Tornado

I've been watching the new Storm Chasers series on the Discovery Channel with much enthusiasm. A group of storm chasers have teamed up with a group of photographers that created the TIV (Tornado Intercept Vehicle). If you haven't seen or heard of this thing yet, just do a Google search for it. I won't go into the details, but it's very exciting (and partly insane).

I've thought for some time now that one of the most interesting and extreme photos ever taken would be from the interior of a tornado. People often have wondered about 'ultimate photos'. Some of them have come to pass. Seeing the Earth rise from behind the moon was an ultimate photo visualized long before it actually happened.

I was fascinated with tornadoes growing up (and I guess I still am). I checked out all the books on tornados from the local and school libraries and read them multiple times. One aspect of the tornado stories that caught the most attention from me was witness accounts of surviving a tornado. In some rare cases, people were exposed and were able to look up into the tornado from the inside - and they lived to tell the story!

This ultimate experience was visualed in the movie Twister some years ago. The final scenes of the movie show the main characters surviving a direct hit from a massive F5 tornado, including a shot up into the twister.

It should be just a matter of time before someone captures video or stills from inside a tornado. I look forward to it!

Canon 40D - Worth Getting?

This year, Canon has announced several new camera bodies, including the 40D. The 40D comes along in the 10D - 20D - 30D - series of DSLR bodies. Dpreview has finally reviewed it (I love and value their reviews). Jump to the conclusion page and you'll see why I'm excited.

So I now find myself pondering this camera and whether or not to ditch my aging 1D mark II. I love the 1D. It's a substantial piece of equipment. Beautifully crafted, nearly bullet-proof, and heavy as a lead brick. It is both a sports car and a tank. If I were to drop it on my toe, I'd surely break it (the toe, not the camera).

I'd stick with the 1Dm2, but since I use a 5D most of the time, the 1Dm2 becomes a lot of weight to lug around as a back-up camera. It uses huge Ni-MH batteries that require a huge battery charger. (These things remind me of the old heavy NiCAD battery-powered RC cars I had back in the late 80's.) Replacing the 1D's batteries (with Canon brand) is expensive - $120 a piece. Replacing the charger is an exercise in highway robbery. $320 for a battery charger? Are you f'n kidding me?

The 40D uses the same batteries as the 5D. The 40D is about the same size as the 5D. The 40D is physically very much like my old 20D, which served as a fine backup camera.

The only problem is that I'll miss the 1D. I'll miss the indestructable, take-me-anywhere exterior. I'll miss the well-built solid feel against my fingers. Handling the thing leaves you with the impression that it's made of solid metal, although you know otherwise. There's a dense packing of hardy electronics that work flawlessly to deliver high quality images. You can count on the 1D to perform.

I guess my hesitations are based more on my romance with the 1D than feasible matters. The 40D is the more practical camera for my needs. We'll see...

Monday, October 22, 2007

My LEGO News - Sorting and Planning

I spent a lot of time at home last week with a nasty cold and sinus infection (a pretty bad one too - the headaches knocked me out of commission). I hit the bricks, once again, in efforts to clear the huge back-log of loose parts, half-built projects, and general clutter laying around my LEGO work area.

It's been years since I've built anything seriously. I miss my bricks and I miss the building process. But I've been apprehensive and loath to clean the slate for a new project. There's nearly a mountain of work to be done.

The desk is looking pretty good now, especially with a load of new bins for parts sorting. I like these large plastic frames that contain multiple clear storage pull-out-type trays. Things are looking neat and tidy now, and I'm finally seeing the faint light at the end of the proverbial dark tunnel in regards to finishing the huge clean-up.

The desk is about eight feet wide and used to be very cluttered with all sorts of stuff - books, computer & printer, cameras, and LEGO parts, of course. I decided to keep it strictly LEGO. I screwed-down a large oval train track so that I can run trains around the desk perimeter for entertainment. This is mainly for somebody else:

It's a thief! Stop! Who's stealing my plates???

Little Henry (my son) just can't help himself. He crawled up on the desk and started digging around :-)

So what am I planning to build next? Stay tuned...

Visions of Big Bend

After making several trips to Big Bend National Park over the past few years, I've realized that my photography from the park is turning into a nice project. I have formalized this work into a project I call: Visions of Big Bend.

This is a long-term endeavor, and I hope to continue to work on this project for a long while (as well as visit the park frequently! :-)

Monday, October 15, 2007

New LEGO Set

I bought a new LEGO set this past weekend. This is the first set I've purchased in about a year, and this marks the first time that I was more interested in the alternate model than the main model.

The picture above is actually the alternate model - a tractor. The main model (a buggy/racer type of vehicle) just didn't appeal to me.I was a little disappointed at first when shopping for the set. I just had a hankering to buy a set, but I didn't know what I wanted nor what the current selection was like. I'm a little behind on the latest offerings from LEGO.

All the Technic sets appeared to be a bit lifeless. From the photos and info printed on the boxes, I could not really tell what sort of intricate and interesting mechanisms lived inside the models. It's always been a selling point for me - the more mechanical functions a model has, the better. It also gives me a better idea of the parts selection (the MAIN reason why I buy sets).

But LEGO did not disappoint. The model contained a few interesting mechanical features, including one of my favorties: a clutch system used to engage/disengage power from a certain feature. In this case, the clutch allows the "farm implement" (the mechanical thingy hanging off the rear of the tractor) to be turned on (couples it with the drive train so that it's powered when the tractor moves forward or back) or off.

I'm not sure why the large Technic models were "dumbed-down" on print. LEGO surely snuck in a few good mechanical features (although not too complex) that weren't really advertised well on the box. They also gave the model very nice styling and appearance without using too many useless parts (i.e. large purpose-made pieces that only work on a particular model).

Now, if they'd just get back to using the classic Technic beams (the ones with holes AND studs), I'd be very happy! :-)

p.s. In case you don't know, I'm a huge fan of LEGO:!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Beer Selection - Part 2

Ah, back on beer... Here's a second round of beer sampling.

Maredsous: (Belgian Abbey Ale) This comes in two flavors: 1) Dubbel (8%) and 2) Triple (10%). The percentages are the alchol content. Yes, that's right - this is some high powered beer!These are my favorite heavy Belgian ale "liquid bread" type beers. These are meant to be consumed slowly and enjoyed. The full taste is rich and warm, yet has a bit of crispness to it (i.e. they aren't "creamy" like some other heavy beers). It has a slight sweetness to it, but not too sweet. They are still beers, of course, but take beer to that ultimate level of goodness. And, these aren't dark beers either. They are a lovely amber color that reflects the rich and wonderful tastes.

Pawel - Kwak: Can't say much about this one. It really didn't blow my skirt up like other beers have done before. It was good, but just not as tastey as Maredsous or St. Bernardus.

Port Wines

Alright, it's another wine post in the beer category. Geessshhh.. sorry. Maybe I need a wine category too :-)

I'm very fond of port, particularly tawny port. The best that I've ever had is the Don Luis Tawny port from the Val Verde Winery in Del Rio, Texas.

The Don Luis has a full, rich taste. Just a little sip will fill your mouth with a wonderful experience. The aroma fills all the void space in your head and makes everything feel warm and pleasant. It's slightly sweet, but not too sweet. It's just right. I can sip on just a few ounces and be satisfied.

Put it in a brandy sniffer, cup your hand around the bottom and let it warm up, then sit back and enjoy the taste and smell. Sometimes the smell is just as good!

I've tried a lot of other tawny ports (like the other one shown above), and they all seem to lack that full bodied taste of the Don Luis. They're good, yes, but just lack something.

Wine from Italy

Well, this isn't about beer, but I thought I'd just share this since it's special. Tanya and I made a trip to Italy some years ago and brought back 4 bottles of wine. The wine there is eccellente! Here are two bottles that we've consumed:

While in Italy, we inquired about shipping the bottles back. The cost was more than the price of the wine! We eventually packed them in with our stuff and hauled them back with us (taxies, trains, planes).

So how was this wine? It was most excellent. Smooth, easy to drink, and a pleasant taste. No, I'm not into providing a detailed and useless taste analysis. The weird flavors that wine tasters come up with just don't make sense (e.g. hint of garlic roasted blueberries with a slight used motor oil aftertaste). WTF? I'll just tell you if I liked it or not! :-)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Beer Selection - Part 1

Here's a start to my beer postings. Below is a photo of the small collection I gathered and tasted over a couple of months. These are "special beers", meaning I drink one bottle every couple of weeks.

I wish I had written down my assessment of these lovely beers at the time because my memory has faded and I cannot recall the subtle, wonderful tastes and qualities of each. I can only remember which ones that I'd buy again or not!

Aventinus: An excellent choice and cheap too! This wheat doppelbock is spicy and pleasing. I buy a few bottles (if I can find them) everytime I hit my local Specs.

Saison Dupont: A good all-around beer ("Belgian Farmhouse Ale"). Nice-n-tastey, good for quenching your thirst after a hot, sweaty afternoon. I seem to recall this won some "best beer in the world" contest a while back. Not sure about that, but it is an excellent brew.

St. Bernardus (Belgian Abby Ale): Now there are two flavors here: 1) Abt 12 - the blue label, and 2) Tripel - the green label. Both are classic "liquid bread" Belgian ales. There are subtle differences between them, but they are both hearty, strong beers best enjoyed cool (and not ice cold) and sipped slowly. Preferably on the couch or outside on the swing during a nice, cool evening. These are some of my top favorites (along with Maredsous).

Poorter - Hoogstraten: The guy at my local Specs advised me on this one, and I wasn't disappointed. Hearty and strong, much like the "liquid bread" ales, this one was excellent. I'm going to have to try it again soon.

The Reverend (Avery Brewing Co.): I came across this by accident. Some good beer-drinkin' friends of ours gave this to me just because my name was on the bottle (Avery). This one is a very nice beer - reminiscent of the "liquid bread" Belgian ales, perhaps with a bit more spice.

Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse and Westmalle Trappist Ale: I wasn't too impressed with these two. They were much like the "liquid bread" ales but lacked something crucial to provide that wholesome, full taste. Can't say that I'd buy these again.

** Note: All of the above (with the exception of perhaps the Dupont) are really strong and hearty beers. I use the term "liquid bread" to describe most of them because that's probably the best way to relate the taste (and calorie content) to people who aren't familiar with the typical monk-brewed Belgian ale. Drink them slowly and in moderation. Most evenings, a single bottle is sufficient :-) They are usually 8 - 10% alchohol and come in 3/4 liter bottles.

Canon 24mm f/1.4L

I had the opportunity to borrow a Canon 24mm f/1.4L lens and also a Canon 1Ds Mark II body this past weekend for an out of town trip. Working with the body wasn't anything new. The 1Ds is identical to the 1D m2 that I own, except that that it has about double the mexapixels and a larger, "full frame" sensor.

Anyway, the 24mm lens was spectacular. It is an impressive chunk of glass, dense and heavy feeling when handled.

The lens performed nicely. The focus was quiet, fast, and locked on flawlessly. I even used it in extremely dim light, and with the aid of the AF assist beam off my 580ex flash, the lens had absolutely no problems locking AF onto the subject (or rather, locking onto the pattern projected by the flash). I was a bit skeptical at first, but after reviewing my photos back home on the computer, every single one of them was perfectly in focus - nuts on - spectacular!

The bokeh of this lens is creamy smooth and very pleasing. It helps to really accentuate the main subject which is razer sharp thanks to the good optics and AF system locking on right. Close-up photos of people, pets, etc. were very nice in quality.

I tried a bit of landscape photography with the lens at f/8. The jury is still out with regards to sharpness. The colors and contrast were super fine (the images had a bit more sting and pop than those from my 17-40mm f/4L lens). But I don't really see more resolution or sharpness than my 17-40mm (also used at f/8).

I'll have to work with the RAW files some more and make a few tests prints before I draw any final conclusions. The 24mm is a fine lens, no doubt. And I'm seriously contemplating picking one up for good. We'll see...