Thursday, January 30, 2014

Carmel: Estate Tour

One mild morning in Carmel, I dragged Ethel around to some cool places I'd spotted on my various runs around the greater metropolitan area. We got her all gussied up in the best Old Money outfit we could cobble together and pretended like we were visiting various properties in our real estate portfolio. When in Rome!

Our house in the hills

Our beach house

This was all made possible by some enthusiastic and expert assistance from my cousin Frances, so we finally yanked her away from the off-stage positions and shoved her in front of the camera.

"I got out of bed for THIS? Where's my &@#* latte?"

There are some seriously stunning homes around Carmel, which is no surprise, and this was the best idea I could come up with to photograph a couple of them without getting arrested.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Carmel: Anchovy Buffet

On one evening over Thanksgiving weekend, we were posted up at a house overlooking Carmel Bay when it came to our attention that a Whole Bunch of porpoises had been seen just offshore that afternoon.  Apparently, a huge school of anchovies had moved into the area, and the easy snacking opportunity had attracted all manner of willing, well, snackers.

We had missed the show from the shoreline perspective, but way up high, we could see disturbed water from the feeding frenzy still ongoing. We could even see the porpoises gallivanting about, much like I do when I'm presented with a free All You Can Eat buffet.


It took every mm of focal length I could muster, lucky pre-focusing, and quite a bit of patience, but I finally caught a single solitary porpoise jumping. Being a mile closer would have been better, but I still like the photo a lot.

This school of anchovies persisted for a few weeks, more than normal, and the resultant collection of other ocean life, most of them feeding, attracted yet another feeding frenzy of marine scientists. Ironic, yeah?

Watching the show

And as a bonus, here's another so-easy-it's-like-taking-candy-from-a-baby pano of the last light over Point Lobos, 14 photos stitched at 600mm, made with a VERY steady hand...

Point Lobos sunset (click for bigger)


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Carmel: Sparkling Blue

Yikes. Life gets busy and the blog goes dark. Sorry, kids.

I took a forced break during our short daylight hours one day in Carmel and wandered the beach looking for trouble. With warmer-than-summer temps, no wind, and clear skies, the ocean seems just a little bit more inviting.

Rinse cycle


Hidden alcove

Social gathering

I'll be back to something resembling regularly scheduled programming here shortly. For the seven of you, of course :)


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Carmel: Tidepool Fail

On the afternoon of the Big Sur Half Marathon, which ended up being a good race for me, I decided that a recovery walk would be a good contribution in the grand scheme of things. Not wanting to get TOO crazy, I stuffed my photo backpack in the car, drove to my aunt and uncle's neighborhood, and wandered down to the beach below them.

As my agenda for the evening had nary an entry, I took the relaxed approach and decided to set up a photo after previsualizing it, carefully arranging myself, and waiting for the right light. So I did all those things, dialing in all the appropriate knobs on the tilt-shift and on the camera. I was perched on a low rock in a pretty cool tidepool, and after a while, I started noticing that the occasional wave would breach the tidepool and move things around a bit. And after a little while longer (still waiting for the right light), I noticed that my feet were wet. Hmmmm. Remember how I said that the ocean is kinda foreign to me? Yeah, well, the tide was on its way in, and with gusto. Haha.

A rising tide lifts all tripods

I looked behind me and noticed that my escape route was being compromised with every passing minute, decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and reluctantly plucked my tripod from its spot. I made it out of the tidepool just fine, which felt like a substantial accomplishment given that my legs weren't ranking too high on the coordination scale and were actually pretty sore. Of course, it wasn't another 5 minutes before the light exploded and lit the clouds spectacularly, during which time I dejectedly pointed my camera at random things and hoped for the best.

Isolated reflection

My consolation prize was to make a quick pano of the fiery skies over Point Lobos:

Point Lobos sunset (click for bigger)

Can't win 'em all, but the mental picture of dunking my camera into the sea while simultaneously cracking my head on a rock and then oh-so-awkwardly drowning in a foot of water was ample motivation to be satisfied with how the mission turned out.


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Carmel: Lonely Beach

My aunt and uncle live a rousing 6-minute walk away from Carmel River Beach, and it's a pretty quiet spot. In stark contrast is Carmel Beach, about a mile away, and one of the only beaches in the state to allow dogs. Thus, it is mobbed from dawn 'til dusk with hordes of dog-toting revelers, leaving Carmel River Beach desolate by comparison.

It's an easy sell to spend an evening hour wandering the beach. There's all sorts of interesting tidepools, rock formations, biomass, rivulets, etc etc to keep one interested until it gets dark.

Looking out to Point Lobos

Hypnotic swell

Nature usually doesn't make sevens...


Hot barnacle action

Endless kelp supply

There's so the ocean, and so much...stuff...that comes out of the ocean, I have to admit that I find it a little daunting. I'm used to nice clean lakes that stay put, and the ocean is neither of those.

Still grand for a walk, though!


Monday, January 13, 2014

Carmel: Iceplant

I think I'll spend some time sharing photos from Carmel (California, lest you confuse the scenery here with that in Carmel, IN [or ME, or NY, or...]).

I spent 2 weeks in Carmel back in November, bookended by the Big Sur Half Marathon and Thanksgiving with the fam. My cousin Paige was foolish enough kind enough to offer me the safe haven of her home for the duration of the 2 weeks, provided that I be a good house boy. I never found my belongings in a gasoline-soaked pile in the front yard, so I think I held up my end of the deal.

Here are a couple quick photos near Point Pinos in Pacific Grove, one of the awesome communities on the Monterey Peninsula.

Iceplant and cypress

The iceplant is non-native and invasive, which isn't all that nice, but it can at least be exploited for a good photo or two.

Iceplant and crow

My stint in Carmel was far from being about fun and games and vacation. I had a ton of work to do, and while I'm eminently fortunate to be able to work remotely from time to time, there were days that I didn't even leave the house...for photos...for a run...for food...for anything. Perhaps this was facilitated by the espresso machine and wi-fi, but still.

'Til next time.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Windows to the Soul

The human eye is a fairly amazing piece of kit. It's a cryin' shame that they eventually wear out (or get poked out, or what have you), as our sight is the first step in human vision (I distinguish the two), and our vision is capable of some pretty cool things. And, of course, you have to consider that our sight is fairly limited compared to the rest of the animal kingdom, so it's a good thing that our peepers are connected to a brain that does cool shit.

Anyhow, a project at work included making some proper photos of the eyes that can be found around the office. Here are a few of the most interesting ones.

Window I

Window II

Window III

Irises are WILD, yo.

The eye is not a trivial subject to photograph. Before we even get around to making the owner of the eye behave properly enough to succeed, camera, lens, lighting, and operator all need to be calibrated to the unique set of requirements that you'd better adhere to if you even want a chance.

I've played with a couple different methods of doing this, and I feel like they both work well. Maybe you can tell the difference amongst these?

For the geek-inclined, these feature 2x magnification, 2 strobes that'll peel paint off a wall within a couple feet of the victim, and a shooting/breathing technique more reminiscent of firing a rifle than a camera.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Human Powered Vehicles

A couple months ago, Gavin and I blasted out of Reno at 3am and pointed ourselves towards Battle Mountain, NV. Why on earth would we go to such a place, particularly at such an hour? Well, one of the many things that makes Nevada, well, Nevada occurs in Battle Mountain each September, and it's the Human Powered Vehicle Competition, or HPV for short.

These are machines that don't even remotely resemble a bicycle, but that's pretty much what they are, just glorified. They look very different because they're capable of exceeding 80 mph on flat ground, of which normal bikes are not capable. Just so we've got some context for the rest of this post, here's what we're talking about:


They select this particular stretch of road outside Battle Mountain as it's the flattest, straightest, smoothest, highest altitude road they've been able to locate after scouring much of the planet, and the Nevada Department of Transportation is friendly to them, too. So when we pulled off of State Hwy 305 at 6am, we were expecting to see some sort of elaborate setup. No such thing. Actually, we were the first ones there, but only by about 5 minutes. They do their runs early and late in the day when the winds are at their calmest. Perfect conditions for them are warm and calm, so the first runs of the morning are rarely the fastest.

The riders have 5 miles of flat straight road to get up to speed, and then they're timed over a 200m section. At 80mph, those 200m go by in about 6 seconds...

View towards the finish

Nevada clouds

If we wanted to see any action, we'd have to walk about a mile, as the parking area was at the end of the uphill stretch they use to slow down. So off we went, traipsing through the sagebrush, until we got to the finish line. From here, it's easy to see all the way down to the beginning of the course. Lazy Nevada highway fades into big mountains, sagebrush lining either side. On most days, this stretch of highway between Battle Mountain (Grand Prize Winner, Most Unfortunate Abbreviation to Paint on Nearby Hill) and Austin would see at most a few dozen cars, but for this week, it's a bustling hub of activity.

Ancient and irreplaceable timing wire strung through the brush

Timing station

The HPV organization gets control of the highway from 7am to 10am, and traffic of all sorts, including pedestrian, is tightly controlled during these hours. So imagine my surprise when I stepped into the middle of the road at 6:57am to take a photo, only to be confronted by a spittingly furious man who asserted that he'd have me removed from the site if I didn't Get Out of the Road Right Now. You know, for being unsafe. Well, I had looked left and right before I stepped onto asphalt, and there were no cars coming from either direction for mmmmmm roughly 3 miles. This means that I could have stood on the centerline, closed my eyes, counted to 100, and been in no danger of loss of life or limb. And mind you, it wasn't "their" highway for another 3 minutes.

This little exchange was the first of several that made me raise an eyebrow about their approach to safety, which I believe to be highly flawed. More on that later.

Anyhow, Gavin's big draw to come out here (and a good part of mine, too) was to see Graeme Obree, the Flying Scotsman, have a go at the HPV thing. If you're not familiar (and I'm not expecting you to be), Graeme is the fellow who twice held the cycling Hour Record in the 90s, swapping it back and forth with Chris Boardman. Obree was notorious for having homegrown equipment and unconventional training methods, while Boardman was the opposite, making Obree an everyman's hero of sorts.

The power outputs required to reach these amazing speeds are not world-class. Don't get me wrong: they're stout alright, just not the stuff of legend. That is, until you consider the contorted, blind, stuffy shape you have to hammer yourself into in order to fit in the bike. Generating those power levels under those constraints is considerably more impressive! You see, these vehicles are designed for aerodynamic performance with little regard for anything else, ergonomics falling far down the list. We could hear riders' knees banging against the fairings in several bikes.

Cameras to see out...

This thing's seen some miles

Some of the more obvious body joints

Another camera-sighted rig

Curiously, most of the bikes we saw were wobbling back and forth, some to savable degrees, and one that was not. A ~15-year-old kid crashed pretty much right in front of us, sliding nearly 100m along the shoulder and down the embankment, tearing the bike to pieces and leaving him prone and scared in the frame, thankfully uninjured. Earlier in the week, a bike had tipped over past the finish line, after which it slid, speedily, into a section of guardrail that was protected with zip-tied sections of plywood, without which, the rider probably would have died. The 15-year-old had plowed over a post reflector, normally rigid galvanized steel, but NDOT has graciously replaced these with breakaway plastic versions, thus saving the kid from being sliced in half.

Upon response to the accident we saw, two things happened. First, a couple guys dragged a hay bale 3 feet to a "better position." It was not. Second, a safety steward of sorts silently yet deliberately paced off the distance between my light stand that the bike had plowed over and the road. It was, incidentally, further than their 30' recommended distance, and I'll also note that the crashing bike stopped about 4 feet short of a considerably more expensive lens I had stood upright on the ground. Maybe I didn't see their entire response, especially during debriefing later, but I found their approach to safety to be more of the "risk management" type and less of the "actually safe" type. I've been exposed to enough of both to have a pretty good sniffer for which is which.

Big nose

Streaking along

Another Euro machine

Anyhow, what concerns me about the design of the bikes is that, with the monumental gyroscopic stability afforded by having wheels spinning 50 or 60 or 80 miles an hour, creating instability in the overall vehicle has got to be down to aerodynamic issues, rider and powertrain configuration, or some combination of the two. I'd like to guess that it has a lot to do with the aerodynamic center of pressure, both horizontally and vertically, and while some teams obviously have advanced design tools at their disposal (they largely came from Europe), many of the other teams built something sleek-looking that may not be backed up by the math. I also believe that the pursuit of straight line speed takes attention away from things like stability, whereas I'd argue that you have to make it to the finish line if you want to post a fast speed...

Actually, I'd love to hear from anybody who's got more insight into why they're so unstable. I'm genuinely curious, and I haven't studied the various balances and forces enough to fully understand it.

The competitors and spectators were a fun bunch, enthusiastic geeks at heart and keen for conversation. My impression of the organization is that it bemoans its small budget and poor following on its fringe status, whereas acting the part a bit better would probably solve all their problems at once. I'm not meaning to be overly critical, as I think it's one heck of a neat pursuit, and I'd love to see it flourish and see some records fall by big amounts.


Finish in sight

The Egg again

Obree ended up having an OK day. He had finished racing his homemade bike earlier in the week and took one run in a borrowed bike, reaching something along the lines of 60mph. Still fast as hell, but a good indication that this is a formidable challenge to do well it if a guy like Graeme is off the pace. It's still pending approval, but the overall record apparently fell Saturday evening: 83.13mph. The fastest run we saw in the morning was 79mph, and that looked really really fast.

Gavin and I went the slightly-longer way back to Reno which included lunch in Austin. He hadn't seen much of them parts of Nevada, so it was a good excuse for a tour.



Monday, January 6, 2014

Tahoe Trail 100

We spent a morning this summer up at Northstar to spectate and cheer on our friend Nate as he thrashed away on his mountain bike for 100km (62 miles) at the Tahoe Trail, part of Leadville's nationwide race series and a qualifier for the vaunted Leadville 100.

Nate on the hunt on the first of two laps

Halfway done

Nate was racing sick, so his high expectations for the race weren't quite met. He had done super well the year before, finishing a solid 10th overall.

BAD ASS; you're looking at a singlespeed for a 100km mountain bike race

And done

That's for real

He was a total mess afterwards, and Ethel and I were there to document the agony.


Like a rabid hyena

Glad we could be there to watch the mayhem!


Thursday, January 2, 2014


Between being a long way away from home (with so-so internet, to boot) and having a bunch of big photo projects that will take some time to work through, I'm officially taking the easy way out and ringing in the new year with a simple photo of the big white thing in the sky, made with a big white thing on my back porch.

The moon...

...and the somewhat hilarious-looking rig that produced the photo

After this somewhat inauspicious start to the year, I promise to follow up with some proper goodness.


Past Detritus