Monday, November 30, 2009

Weekend Links

From a book I happen to be reading at the moment:

Our bodies are of course what get left out of a theory that treats architecture as a language, a system of signs. Such a theory can’t explain the physical experience of two places as different as Grand Central Station and my little shack, because the quality of those experiences involves a tangle of mental and physical, cultural and biological elements that the theory can’t account for, blinded as it is by old Western habits of regarding body and mind as separate realms. Taking the side of the mind in the ancient dualism of mind and body, this theory can only explain that part of architecture that can be translated into words and pictures, published in magazines and debated at conferences. An architecture that ignores the body is certainly possible; the proof is all around us. But I doubt it will ever win our hearts.

A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams by Michael Pollan, pg. 214.

And Now, The Links

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Weekend Links

From a book I happen to be reading at the moment:

[...T]his was real work too, something more than mere labor—time put in for pay. [....] At the end we would have something to show for it, would have added something to the stock of reality—to what Hannah Arendt once called the “huge arsenal of the given.” In The Human Condition Arendt writes of the privileged position of homo faber, man the maker of things, whom the Greeks believed stood not only above the laborer, but above even the man of action and the man of thought, or words. The laborer produces nothing lasting he can call his own, and both the man of action and the man of thought are ultimately dependent on other people, without whose regard and remembrance their deeds and creations do not matter or endure.

A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams by Michael Pollan, pg. 165.

And Now, The Links

Monday, November 16, 2009

Weekend Links

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bamberger Ranch Preserve Gets an Observatory

I finally get to show my photo of the XXXXXXXXXXX that David Bamberger embargoed until he could make his official announcement on-line: The Bamberger Ranch Preserve now has an observatory, as you can see below.

That was a 30-second, ISO 400 exposure shot by moonlight using a 10mm lens at f/4.5. Because the auto-focus system on my camera didn't have enough light to operate, the focus was accomplished with a bit of luck and a binary search.

The observatory will be a great addition to the Preserve's education programs, and is located within an easy walk of the the Center (see my panorama of the main room of the Center), where groups of school kids come to spend as many as three days participating in educational activities. For myself, despite the moonlit sky, I was able to see Jupiter’s clouds first-hand, for the first-time in my life.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Weekend Links

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, Panorama no. 8

This panorama was shot at sunset on December 29, 2008, at Texas’ justly famous Enchanted Rock, a billion-year-old granite dome exposed by eons of erosion. This was shot on one of the boulder strewn slopes, as the sun was rapidly disappearing beneath the horizon. The lighting changed so much during the shoot that I was sure this panorama was a write-off, but this weekend I decided to assemble it anyway, thinking that one or more subsections might be usable and interesting. Surprisingly (to me at least), modern panorama generating software was able to compensate for the continuously changing lighting, and produced, with a little effort, a pristine 360° image. And, because the pano was shot high dynamic range, the ever deepening shadows caused no loss of information.

This was the only panorama I managed to shoot that day. My earlier attempts to shoot a panorama whose centerpiece would have been a boulder about as big as a small house, failed when I had, with great care and not a few misgivings, setup my equipment on the absolute edge of the furthest point of the ledge on which it sat, and found that the boulder still didn’t fit entirely in frame, even with my 10mm lens (which was acting like a 16mm lens on the camera I was using).

I’d planned to spend two days shooting at Enchanted Rock, staying overnight at the Bamberger Ranch in between, but I was so disgusted at that first day’s failure (and the amount of time I wasted in getting there by following an absurd “short cut” to the Rock that Google Maps had selected for me, and the staggering number of people that were there, and the difficulty/danger of climbing to obscure boulders while carrying 40lbs of camera equipment), that after dinner with the Bambergers (and Leroy Petri) I decided to throw in the towel and just go home. At the time, Margaret said she’d like to join me at the Rock for a day of photography, and we’d planned to do that this past summer. Sadly, she died before that could happen.

What’s the line from the Death Cab for Cutie song (What Sarah Said), “every plan is a tiny prayer to Father Time”?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I’ll See Your “Monday Moment of Zen” and Raise You...

Old friend Jay Lake offers a “Monday Moment of Zen” photo this week, and, for a change, I think I can get in on the action.... Consider this your “Tuesday Moment of Zen.” © 2007, 2009 by Chris W. Johnson.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Weekend Links

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Drought Plus 10 Inches, Minus Barbecue

I was out at the Bamberger Ranch Preserve this evening for their annual volunteer appreciation gathering. Arriving with the sun low in the sky, but with a little time before sunset, I quickly found the legendary J. David Bamberger and asked for permission to head up into High Lonesome to re-photograph the tanks I showed in my Drought with a Side of Pig posting, early in September. He agreed, and I dashed out of the party just as the food was beginning to show up.

I borrowed a friend's truck (having bummed a ride to ranch), drove out along the ranch's main road, took a right at the misleadingly named Hes' Country Store (it's half museum, half bunkhouse, and not one bit a store), there leaving pavement behind, then bumped and juddered my way up a pair of well-worn, rock strewn, tire tracks into High Lonesome, and eventually parked in my usual spot, halfway up a valley wall. Shouldering my 40 pounds of photographic equipment, I started hiking toward my favorite valley as fast as the terrain would permit. My interest was in in seeing how the tanks had changed after at least 10 inches of rain had fallen in the last month or so.

Regular readers will recognize the photo above of the drought-stricken tank cooking in September's hot afternoon sun. The photo below was taken by twilight this evening. Leaving aside the gentler lighting, though still far from full, the tank is transformed. The bare, burned ground with a shrinking pool of sickly orange water at its center is now a decent-looking body of water, and every bit of grass and other ground cover has surged back to life.

That tank has looked a lot better in the past, for example in April of 2007, as seen below, but the rains have made a huge difference, nonetheless.

Unfortunately, in order to a make-up for the drought's damage, we need even more rain than the latest photo suggests. As you may recall, the tank in a neighboring valley had dried-up completely when I visited it this September:

This evening, seen below from a different angle, that tank is still dry. More than ten inches of rain simply vanished into the bone-dry soil. In exchange, there's a lot more vegetation, but still not a drop of available water.

So, wish us more rain, world. Central Texas is far from recovered from its drought.

* * *

Those pictures turned-out to be more expensive than I expected, by the way. The camera and tripod took a tumble from my shoulder to the ground as I struggled to simultaneously untangle a leg of the tripod from both the branch of a bush on the trail, and one of the little bungee cords on the back of my camera gear backpack. The camera wouldn't power-on after that fall, and only a methodical disassembly and reassembly of all the bits and pieces led to the discovery, to my relief, that the problem was confined to the camera's battery grip. Removing that and going back to single-battery operation brought the camera back from the dead.

Adding hunger to injury, by the time I made it back to the volunteer appreciation party, all of the barbecue, side dishes, and even the cake had been eaten. I had to settle for a plate of beans, and the last fragment of cake – so sad a remnant it was that nobody else had been willing to touch it.

Alas, trying to take a beautiful photo can be an expensive undertaking in a lot of ways, and, while you can bet on the expense, the beauty has a way of being elusive.

* * *

As it happens, my best photo this evening was of the XXXXXXXXXXX, shot hours later by moonlight, but David has embargoed that image until he's ready to announce the XXXXXXXXXXX at some unspecified, future date on his blog.