Saturday, May 24, 2008

What have they done to the shade?

October 15, 2005
Remember that gorgeous dappled shade under the high, cooling canopies of the trees that arched over the sidewalks around Madison's Capitol Square? Remember that natural air conditioning that formed a micro climate around the Capitol on even the busiest, warmest days of the Farmers' Market? This is how it looked on the North Carroll Street block in 2005. Hold on to those memories, because that's all we have now.

Last fall I wrote about what was happening to the Square in "Murdering trees on the Capitol Square".
The old, big trees on the outside terrace of the Capitol Square are being removed. Having cleared South Carroll Street, the city can now move on to North Carroll and clear those big, old pesky trees in the background.
Those big, old pesky trees are gone now (click on the link to see what they looked like last fall). The last of the big trees on the outside of the Square have been cut down.

This was the State Street corner of the Square yesterday, with North Carroll on the right. Sure, it will be repaved, and the trees will be replaced. Huge, overarching trees with great individual character, a variety of species that withstood everything Mother Nature could throw at them for the better part of a century, have been cut down. Sure, they would have died eventually. But they could have been treasured until then, and they could have been individually replaced. Instead, they're been taken down all at once and replaced by tidy little identical toy maples. In place of variety, monoculture (in other words, they could all be wiped out by a single new, unanticipated virus). And in place of shade, an exposed desert.

UPDATE: Here's a link to the Wisconsin State Journal story about the tree replacement and renovation, thanks to reader TL in the comments, whose search skills are better than mine. Officials seem to prefer the word "promenade" to "exposed desert," but I think we're talking about the same thing.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Shhh . . . the World's Largest Brat Fest is sleeping

Shhh . . . The Brat Fest Is Sleeping
But not for long. As I drove by on Olin Avenue on the way home from work Thursday evening, the World's Largest Brat Fest was all bedded down on Willow Island at the Alliant Energy Center and resting up for Friday morning's opening at 11:00 a.m., when the Sparetime Bluegrass Band will hit the Quench Gum Stage and become the first to perform of some forty local musicians booked for the event, which lasts through memorial Day. During the four-day event, people will once again try to break the 2004 record consumption of 37,886 pounds of Johnsonville Brats -- enough to stretch just under 18 miles, laid end to end.

It really did look as if it was sleeping this evening -- complete with an apparent Rapid Eye Movement (REM) cycle. Like a sleeper moving his eyes in REM sleep, Brat Fest moved its Ferris Wheel. There was no one on it. Silently it turned clockwise, then counterclockwise and then clockwise again, just like eyes flicking back and forth in a sleeper's dream state. As I drew closer, I saw someone at the controls, apparently testing the machinery. Then he walked away, presumably to get a good night's sleep, and -- probably for the last time in a few days -- the World's Largest Brat Fest was totally silent. It didn't even snore.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Masking the deficiencies of a bird photo shot from too far away by fiddling with it and calling it art

Covering Up for Using the Wrong Lens by Calling It Art (1)
This mystery bird, as I thought of it, was walking amid the rocks in the parking lot median at work yesterday (later, a viewer on my Flickr site kindly identified it as a killdeer). I wanted to photograph it, but, as usual, Mr. Point and Shoot Photographyy was only carrying a digital camera with a very short telephoto zoom. When I brought the camera to my eye and zoomed in, I couldn't see a thing in the LCD screen.

That didn't stop me; I aimed by pointing and clicked a few frames in case it flew off. In the optical finder, I could see it -- but just barely, a little speck in the middle of the finder. I kept shooting, but things only got worse -- killdeer don't seem very fond of flying, but they sure are fast walkers, and he put more distance between us.

When I downloaded the photos last night, I did find a couple I sort of liked. Trouble was, the image was very small -- roughly 400 pixels wide in the original 8mp image, which was 3264 pixels wide. When I cropped and enlarged, the image was filled with digital artifacts and was starting to look pixelated.

What to do when a bird catches your eye and you shoot it from so far away with the wrong lens that you have to crop a few pixels out of a much larger file, leaving you with a pixelated mess? I decided to try playing around in Photoshop and passing my deficiencies off as art. This was done by twiddling with Sharpen, Blur and Despeckle until I got something that more or less resembled a faux watercolor wash effect. I kind of like it, though I wouldn't necessarily recommend it.

This happens to me a lot. Here's a hawk I photographed in Madison's Owen Park over the weekend. He had settled in the upper branches of an oak tree, scanning the park for prey, and I was able to walk right up to the base of the tree without the hawk moving (I wasn't prey -- so it could afford to treat me with imperious disregard.) It was about 45 feet above me, and I could see it wasn't gong to oblige me by coming closer, so I shot with the longest zoom setting I had, about 100mm. Again, a mess.

The small image of the hawk almost looks fine. But when I enlarged the original on the computer, I had the same problem as with the killdeer but even worse. The image was starting to break up into little horizontal and vertical lines, sure signs of abused and overstressed pixels. This time I just went straight to the Watercolor filter in Photoshop. The results are a bit over the top (when you click on it to enlarge the photo). The image seems blotchy, and I don't like it as much as the fake watercolor arrived at through more roundabout methods with the killdeer. But again, it was something to try.

But this is only a stopgap. I'm endlessly fascinated by birds, but if I keep feeling compelled to point my camera at them, I suppose I'll either have to start lugging a DSLR around, or at the very least, start looking for a compact camera with a longer zoom. The Nikon P80 does seem interesting with its 18x zoom, plus wide angle -- but would it still fit in my pocket?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Removing the underground storage tanks at Jensen's Auto on Madison's Regent Street

Removing Underground Tanks at a Madison Service Station
Quite a process. I've read that it's an expensive proposition (the national average started at $25,000 a tank 12 years ago and went up from there, and I assume it's higher now). You could see why when I stopped by early last week and took these photos. There was a huge Caterpillar excavator and a crew of several guys to remove the two tanks from the service station that hasn't pumped gas for a number of years. Once the tanks were out of the ground, they used the excavator's shovel to smash big holes in both ends of the tanks. I assumed this was partly to decommission the tanks so that they stayed decommissioned, and partly to provide ventilation for any lingering fumes. The man working on the tank at right seems to be wearing a respirator.

Monona Terrace goes for a roller-coaster ride and takes Lake Monona along for the ride

Monona Terrace Goes on a Roller-Coaster Ride
Madison's Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired Monona Terrace Convention & Community Center reflected in the windows of the Wisconsin Medical Society across Lake Monona, near Olin Park.