Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Back to the Future

Last week I was at a Microsoft Ignite conference in Orlando, where I walked my legs off the entire time.   Naturally, I thought that I should bring my camera along, but I gave it very little use.

The Universal Studios affiliated hotel that I stayed in was called Cabana Bay, which had an interesting Retro-futuristic architecture both inside and out.  My room was at the farthest end of the hotel, about a quarter mile from the lobby.

The hallways were also in that retro-futuristic style, and they were  l o n g !



This was an iPhone picture that I took.  I fully and truly expected to see these twins at the end of the hall at some point:


The outside of the hotel was impressive, and now I'm kicking myself for not taking a full wide-angle shot of it.  The one that I did take shows just a small portion of it:


To the left is the bus stop, where we boarded the shuttle to the conference center.  The four antique cars appeared to be a regular fixture.  Left-to-to right, you have a yellow Chrysler Imperial, a black Ford Thunderbird convertible, a woodgrained Ford Country Squire station wagon, and a blue-green Chevrolet Impala.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

I want to be like Georgia O'Keeffe

I want to live alone in the desert
I want to be like Georgia O'Keefe
I want to live on the Upper East Side
And never go down in the street

Splendid Isolation
I don't need no one
Splendid Isolation


These are lyrics from the song Splendid Isolation by Warren Zevon.

There's something about this picture that I took yesterday that reminds me a bit of Georgia O'Keeffe's art:


It's part of the "Mocha Moon" Hibiscus, a very large and stunningly beautiful flower.  I've been driving by this medium-sized shrub every day for the past month or two, and yesterday I finally stopped to take a picture of it.

I rotated the image a bit to angle the pistil in the right direction, and I used the "golden spiral" as my cropping template.

Return of the King

For several decades, the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) has been steadily declining in number to the point where it was flirting with endangered status.

This year, for the first time in many years, I have been able to catch the monarch in its various guises.  Close to where I work near the riverfront, there was a stand of milkweed growing in front of the Table 9 restaurant.  Until recently, at least, whoever tended the flowers planted there had ignored the patch of milkweeds growing among the planted flowers.

From an ecological standpoint, its amazing what is drawn to the milkweed.  Below, you can see the business end of the caterpillar munching down among what look to be aphids. 


This shot is actually upside-down from the actual orientation.  It just looked too odd when looking at it that way.

In recent weeks, a new generation of monarch eggs had hatched, and I could see about a dozen or so caterpillars munching away.  Suddenly, however, it looked as if someone might have sprayed herbicide on the milkweed plants, because they all withered almost over night.   I feared for the caterpillars.

Fortunately, it looks like the majority have survived.  Most of the chrysalises that I saw were hanging from the concrete window sill in front of Table 9.  Nice, but not a pretty picture.  One caterpillar, however, ventured up into a stand of Chinese silver grass.


I'd actually shot this chrysalis over several days, experimenting with exposures.  The shot above, while looking like a nighttime picture, was taken in morning light.  I used a ring flash and stopped the aperture way down to get this shot.  Unlike the other shots in natural light, this one succeeded admirably in reproducing the stunning golden beads that form a crescent near the top.

I hope I'll be able to catch these pupae as they are close to hatching.   But for now I'll take you back in time to show you the "mother."  I caught this one on the exact same plant that the caterpillar was on in the first picture.  Although I couldn't see the egg, it looks like she's depositing one on the underside of the leaf.


Here's one back from July 31st, sucking on a milkweed flower:


Cheap thrills for nerd boy.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Long Ago and Far Away

Back in the late 60s, my photography was limited to a cheap Polaroid Model 20 "Swinger."   Its $19.95 price tag in the 60s is equivalent to $155 in 2017.  This was the first Polaroid "roll film" to develop outside the camera.  I remember having to use a smelly little fixer wand to smear some sort of preservative across the black & white shots.  Now, in 2018, I'm finding a lot of nasty little sepia streaks on the snapshots where I missed applying the fixer.

Since there was no date on the film, I can only guess at the year that this shot was taken.  My guess is that it's from 1969, when I was still living downtown in the village of Bath, NY.  A year or two later, my family moved up to the top of Mossy Bank, where we had built a ranch-style house on land originally belonging to my grandfather, John (Ivan) Rusak.


You can see my nerdy self, holding a rock hammer.  The hammer is a hint that I was a high school freshman at the time, because that's the year that I took earth science.  There are a couple of other Polaroid shots waiting to dry below my butt.

I'm on the cliff face below the overlook at Mossy Bank park, sitting in front of a small cave that used to be visible from the village below.  I'm not sure if that little cave is still there any more.

The band of softer rock behind me was a bed of fossil calamite casts, which have a vertical ribbing and a bamboo-like appearance.  As fossils go, these were pretty boring, but if you wanted to find any, this was the place to look.

By the way, the man-size granite boulder on the Mossy Bank Park web page...
used to be at the pond across the road from my house.  It looks like they've engraved it and moved it up to the park, itself.  It's a glacial erratic, rolled and rounded by a continental glacier that swept over the area, probably during the last ice age.  That cliff where I sat for the picture was also created when a glacier plowed up against it.

I'm still an earth science nerd.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Good Angels/Bad Angels

I was a "volunteer" for Team Connect, which helps incoming students get connected to basic IT services on moving-in day last Saturday.

I surreptitiously snapped this picture of my co-worker, Andrew Ballard, from my iPad.  I liked the positioning of the background people behind his shoulders.  They look like they're whispering in his ears.


Variation on a theme:


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

What is in a name?

My lunchtime activity consisted of a quick walk down part of the rail trail near my workplace.  I wanted to try out the photostacking portion of my digital camera's Magic Lantern software.
I was using a monopod, but there was no breeze today, so I got a nice sequence of eight shots of a Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris).


The focus stacking worked out pretty well, as you can see in the above composite shot.

This pretty little relative of the snapdragon is an invasive species in North America.  It's quite successful around here, because it thrives in disturbed land.  And West Virginia is a pretty disturbed land.

The flowers are largely closed off by the underlip of the plant, so it takes a strong insect like a determined bee or a bumblebee to pry its way into it.

Because of its widespread range and its long history as an herbal, the Linaria vulgaris has a long list of aliases:

  • brideweed
  • bridewort
  • butter and eggs
  • butter haycocks
  • bread and butter 
  • bunny haycocks (ok, what are haycocks?)
  • bunny mouths 
  • calf's snout 
  • Continental weed
  • dead men's bones 
  • devil's flax 
  • devil's flower 
  • doggies 
  • dragon bushes 
  • eggs and bacon  
  • eggs and butter 
  • false flax 
  • flaxweed 
  • fluellen 
  • gallweed 
  • gallwort
  • impudent lawyer (is that a great name, or what?)
  • Jacob's ladder
  • lion's mouth 
  • monkey flower  
  • North American ramsted
  • rabbit flower 
  • rancid 
  • ransted 
  • snapdragon 
  • wild flax 
  • wild snapdragon 
  • wild tobacco
  • yellow rod
  • yellow toadflax
Haycock, I just learned, is the name of a small conical haystack, usually only three or four feet in diameter and six or so feet high.
Now, don't tell me that you didn't learn something today.

If you want to surf the web some more, by all means check out Haycocks No.09.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Back in Black (and White & Yellow)

It has been years since I've seen a Monarch Butterfly up close.  This long dry spell was broken a couple of days ago, when I snapped this shot in front of Table 9, which is adjacent to the Rail Trail.


Although slightly out-of-focus, this is an interesting shot with a little photobomber bee coming in from the left, and a red milkweed beetle hiding among the flowers on the right.

By some estimates, the population of these butterflies has decreased by 90% in the past couple of decades.  These once-common butterflies became victims to their unusual lifestyle, which involves a yearly migration to overwinter in Florida and Mexico.  Theories for their swift decline include habitat loss due to herbicide use, loss during migration, predators, and parasites.  Maybe it was a perfect storm including all of the above.

This morning, while waiting for my bagel and coffee order at the River Birch Cafe, I stepped outside to revisit the same patch of milkweeds where I had seen the butterfly.   I didn't see any signs of my friend, but I found something just as good:  a sign that the circle of life was still turning.


This is literally the first Monarch Butterfly caterpillar that I've seen in more than a decade!  From the looks of the size of this munchkin, it won't be long before it's ready to metamorphose.

Here's to hoping that they manage to survive the sixth great extinction!

Friday, July 6, 2018

Life on Clay Street

This poor building.   In recent years, it's housed a Tex-Mex restaurant, an American-style chop house, a Lebanese bistro, and god knows what else.   Today, it's a pricey place called Morgantown Flour and Feed (lets see how long this link lasts).


The notable thing about this is the signage, which pays homage to the utilitarian past of this building.
The original Morgantown Flour & Feed Co. sign above the second floor has gotten a fresh coat of paint.  I can make out only the major part of the remainder, which reads "Gold Medal Flour."

Built between 1904 and 1906, it was originally the Kincaid and Arnett Feed and Flour Building.   If you really want to delve into the early details of this building, you should check out the National Register of Historic Places form (PDF). 

The warehouse and wholesale business area was once known as Durbannah, named for F.M. Durbin, who first developed this area in the 1840s.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Computer Archeology

I had my DNA sequenced by 23 and Me a while back, and I was surprised to get a couple of messages from a 2nd cousin and a possible 4th cousin.

This led me to trying to find a printout of a family tree that my brother had compiled some time before he died in June 2005.  Unfortunately, I couldn't find the printout, but I found something better:  a 3.5" floppy with the family data.  That's when I discovered that my 3.5" floppy drive (yes, I still have one) had died.   That sent me on a scavenger hunt at work, trying to locate a portable drive that I could borrow.  I struck pay-dirt with my supervisor, who knew of a couple of 3.5" USB floppy drives that LAN Services used to use for flashing updates.

It took a bit of coaxing to get my Windows 10 computer to recognize the drive, and then I was further stymied by the data.  The disk had a single data file:  Olynyk.FTW.   The FTW file extension was something used by Family Tree Maker.   But then, things got crazy complicated.

First, Family Tree Maker software costs something on the order of $80.  Then, it was a matter of the FTW file being in a very old, circa 2004 data format.

Fortunately, I was able to locate a free, downloadable installation file for Family Tree Maker version 4.0 for Windows 95 (May 15, 1997).  I have a copy of VMWorkstation on my work PC, so I first tried installing Windows 95 on it from an ISO image.   This was a non-trivial task, because in order to install the Windows ISO I first had to have an image file of a bootable DOS disk.


When I finally got Windows 95 installed, I was further hamstrung with various incompatibilities.  The USB drivers were not native to Windows 95, and connecting to the Internet with Windows 95 was a real bear.   I finally gave up on Windows 95 and installed a Windows 98 virtual machine.   That allowed me access to the  the internet.  I still had trouble with the USB floppy drive, but I burned the data file to a CD (talk about a waste of space!), which worked with Windows 98.



I loaded and installed the ancient version of Family Tree Maker, read in the Olynyk.FTW data file and then exported it to a more portable GEDCOM format.  With internet access, I was able to log into FileLocker.wvu.edu and upload the data file.



With that data, I was able to use a free Family Tree Builder program that runs on Windows 10.

I've been working with computers for 35 years, but I didn't appreciate until now how evanescent old data formats could be. 

I guess anything I have on old computer tape is pretty much lost forever.  And thank goodness that I don't have anything left on punch cards!

Post Script:  Success!

I can't leave well enough alone.  I re-installed Windows 95 and got the internet thing.


Big surprise:  IE 3.0 has a bitch of a time resolving web pages -- even Microsoft's.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Way Up North

This is the first time ever that I spotted a double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) north of the Florida gulf coast. 


This isn't a great picture of one.  It's just swimming and diving around in the Monongahela river near the Decker's creek confluence.  It has the prettiest color eyes.



According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology site, this bird is well within its migratory range.  It looks like it breeds in Canada, so this one is likely just passing through.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Trillium signs the likes of which even god has not seen

I had seen this stand of white trilliums (Trillium grandiflorum) from along the highway for a couple of years now.  Yesterday, I decided to brave the traffic and hauled my camera and tripod out to capture these.


Granted, the landscape leaves a lot to be desired, but I tried to convey the sheer number of these flowers.  Here's a more up-close shot:


According to one web site, Trilliums spread very slowly by underground root stocks, and the seed produced creates new plants even more slowly. From a planted seed, it takes approximately five to nine years for a Trillium grandiflorum plant to bloom. So when you see a massive drift of these in spring, you know you're looking at a bunch of plants that are at least a decade old, probably much older.

Obviously, this stand has been lumbered (at the least), but it's nice to see that such a large growth of Trilliums have escaped the bulldozer.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Cheap Frills

The bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is said to be quite variable in flower and leaf.  I shot this one in the Arboretum last Saturday, where it is shown displaying its frill in a threatening manner.


Although this type of behavior is typical of certain animals, it's not at all common in the plant kingdom.


The juice of the bloodroot is red and poisonous, but at least it doesn't spit.  The other plants nearby nonetheless felt threatened.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Spring in the Arboretum

Took a stroll down the rail trail to the bottom of the WVU Arboretum last Saturday.  The highly variable weather we've been having has had a strange effect on the wildflowers there.  I went for the Bluebells, but they weren't anything like what they've been in previous years.

Here's a panorama shot, facing up hill.


What was impressive was the volume of plants like Trout Lily and Wakerobin.



I learned something new about the Wakerobin.  There are a couple of closely related species of it.  I've always thought that this is the red trillium or wakerobin (Trillium erectum), but now I've leaned that this might also be a furrowed wakerobin (Trillium sulcatum), which is more southern and also grows in this state (W.Va.). Although quite similar, you can tell them apart by the smell: Trillium erectum smells like rotten meat and Trillium sulcatum smells faintly musty, like fresh fungus. Sorry to say, but I did not think to smell this.

Monday, March 26, 2018

A tale of two shots

I took some time off from work last Thursday and made a brief trip up to Desker's Creek in Preston County.  There was still a good bit of snow on the ground, and I didn't exactly come prepared to do what I did, which was to work my way down into a ravine that held a torrent of icy water.

Not knowing what I'd do next, I fired off a bunch of shots with my camera.  This one has certain aesthetic elements, as I composed it for all of the triangles in the picture:  the fallen tree, the path of the water, the sky, etc.


You can follow certain rules of composition and make the best out of a sow's ear, but this picture is still a sow's ear.  It's too busy.  The snow-covered tree is interesting, but there's just too much going on here.

I mustered the courage to climb up and go back down a little further up stream.  I crawled onto a boulder and took this next shot.


This one doesn't scream "winter" like the other one.  You have to look carefully to notice the snow.  And the composition is pretty straightforward here:  law of thirds, with the top of the falls and the bottom of the falls taking up the middle third.

Still, this picture is way nicer than the previous shot.  It's the one that made it worth falling on my ass for.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

...And the flag was still there!

The fourth nor'easter in three weeks was hitting Morgantown this morning.


This is a shot from the 7th floor of One Waterfront Place.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Forward, From the Rear

I had to deliver some papers to the Law Clinic at noon today, so I took my camera along for the ride.
The back of the Law School overlooks Ruby Hospital and the football stadium, but the view was far from grand.  Ronald McDonald house takes up the lower-right portion of the picture.


The light gray building above and to the left of the hospital is the old hospital, which has been converted to a life sciences building.  The white building to the right of the hospital belongs to NIOSH.

If only I could have risen about six feet, I could have been clear the the McHouse.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Morgantown from Atop

Saturday proved to be beautiful day, but I hardly had the chance to get out and shoot any pictures.
I did manage to get this panorama of Morgantown, as seen from the University Towne Center behind the Sams Club.


Colors are still drab.  This picture doesn't have a lot going for it, but it provides a nice view of the Coliseum and the Evansdale campus.  It's a BIG valley in this shot.

Here's a closer view that I like better:



Colors are a little wonky, but I like the play of light and shadows on the various campus buildings.  Besides the obvious coliseum, you've got Ruby Memorial Hospital behind that, and the Towers complex on the right.   Behind the Towers, you can make out Puskar Stadium.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Canadian Nationalism

While photographing a Canada goose, I got down low on a rise and shot up.   The results remind me of nationalistic art.

Here it is, goose-stepping:


And here it is in a heroic art pose:


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Stranger in a Strange Land

Last night was one of those rare occasions where I possessed a semblance of a normal life.  Wife and I went to see Foreigner at the Creative Arts Center with a friend.


I don't think anyone from original band was there, but you'd never know if from the sound.  No sign of founding member Mick Jones in last night's lineup.

Front row:  The guy on the far left is Bruce Watson.  Next is Tom Gimbel, master of guitar, flute, saxaphone and keyboards.  The new lead singer is Kelly Hansen, who is a fitting substitute for Lou Gramm.  On the bass is Jeff Pilson.
In the back, on keyboard, is Mike Bluestein, and on drums is Chris Frazier.

After the band returned for an encore, they brought on a chorus of kids (don't know if high school or college) to accompany them on "I Want to Know What Love Is."   That was probably my favorite song, although I've been known to bastardize the lyrics to it.

I want to know what love is.  I want you to blow me.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Look Closer

Late February was not particularly conducive to photography.  There's just not much going on.
While walking down the rail trail toward town the other day, I snapped a picture of some Sycamore tree seed heads.   As you can see, there's not much there, and the river was a crappy shade of muddy.

The one thing that caught my eye was the grouping of seed heads in the middle of the shot.   They reminded me of musical notes.

A little bit of cropping, and I have something a lot more interesting than the original picture:

Still not the prettiest thing, but a whole lot better than the way it started.