Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Kurled up with Stephen King and my Kindle and my Kat

Kurled Up With Stephen King and My Kindle and My Kat
The Kindle and the book I was reading were Christmas presents, but I expect that many in the future will be from the Madison Public Library—not every book I read is worth $10-15 for permanent ownership of what is, after all, an electronic file.

I spent several days glued to my chair reading 11/22/63, Stephen King's spellbinding page-turner about traveling in time and trying to prevent the Kennedy assassination (we know how the main plot point is eventually going to turn out, but there's no telling how King is going to get there). Templeton was my companion during much of this time. Stephen King is no Marcel Proust, but this book is a poignant and sometimes lyrical meditation on time, memory and loss. It's not a typical Stephen King book but it's his best book of the last decade, and one of his best ever.

The Kindle, btw, is a wonderful device for reading really big books (11/22/63 weighs in at 850 pages). First of all, the Kindle is much lighter. With its database and search capabilities and the ability to highlight and bookmark things, it's easier to find passages you want to go back to than flipping through a lot of pages. And if you read for hours straight and your eyes get tired, you can just make the type a little bigger and keep on going.

The Madison Public Library has a growing number of Kindle titles. Many have waiting lists, but reserve a few and soon you'll have a steady stream of library books waiting for you to download to your Kindle. You can bookmark, highlight passages and take notes the same as with your own books. They're saved in the cloud on Amazon's server, so the next time you check out the book—or happen to buy it—they'll be there.

High ISO holiday goodies

Holiday Goodies
I grew up in the heyday of film, when fast emulsions were just starting to come in. I'd shoot Tri-X and push it from its normal ISO 400 to 800 and, very occasionally, all the way to 1600. The results may have been sort of grainy, but they were thrilling -- WOW! SHOOTING IN LOW LIGHT WITH NO FLASH! It just doesn't get any better than that, I thought. Little did I know.

Of course, now even some of the better compacts can shoot clean images at ISO1600 -- and that's in color. In the old days, pushing film was mostly the province of black and white photographers. Above ISO 400 or so, images got terribly grainy -- nice for special effects, not if not.

Today, with DSLRs, especially the full-frame versions, the sky is the limit -- go ahead, shoot available light in that coal mine. My D90 is no longer the state of the art when it comes to high ISO photography, but it still has not lost the capacity to amaze me: This was shot in VERY low light at ISO 3200 with High ISO Noise Reduction turned on and cranked up high. Back in the old days, someone who claimed to have shot this at ISO 3200 would clearly have been lying. Today, it's a digital file that includes the ISO.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Our second Solstice

Our Second Solstice
Since the Solstice arrived here, technically speaking, at 11:30 pm last night, we celebrated both days. We went out today and decorated a Solstice tree in the woods at dusk. T made ice candles and used a cookie cutter to fashion bread into edible decorations for the creatures. The new snow brought a wintry chill, and the candles were a welcome reminder that at least the days will start getting longer now.

Solstice swirl at Olbrich Botanical gardens -- taking the garden kaleidoscope for a spin

Yesterday we stopped at Olbrich Botanical Gardens for a late afternoon walk before heading over to the Solstice bonfire across the street. We gave the garden kaleidoscope a spin, which was a treat, since it's usually snowbound this time of year. The swirling patterns looked as if someone were spinning a bowl of holiday hard candy..

2011 Winter Solstice at Olbrich Park

In the Midwest, the astronomical time for this year's Winter Solstice is right on the cusp -- 11:30pm CST -- between Dec. 21 and 22, so we decided to celebrate on both days. The beautiful communal ritual in Olbrich Park on the 21st, and our little family ritual on the 22nd in which we leave food for the creatures and ice candles (if they don't melt) for Mother Nature at sunset.

2011 Winter Solstice Bonfire in Olbrich ParkIt was great huddling together with a circle of people as the light faded over the lake to the west, waiting for the ritual lighting of the Solstice bonfire. "For ten years now, we have burned the Solstice fire, and the sun has returned. It will return again. We know our science." Loved that line about the "science" of making the sun return. A wonderful annual communal event by the Lake Monona shoreline on Madison's east side put on by the Friends of Starkweather Creek.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

December thaw on Lake Wingra

December Thaw
Earlier this month Lake Wingra, Madison's smallest lake, froze over with a thin coating of ice. Then it warmed up, and the ice disappeared (this photo was taken last Friday). Now there's a thin coating of ice again. But who knows? Maybe it will melt again. It's a weird year. In contrast, in 2009 there were already ice fishers on the lake on Nov. 28.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Just in time for the holidays, Monona Terrace has a deceptive little brush with winter

Monona Terrace Exterior
Winter toyed with us over the weekend, and brushed the Monona Terrace with a light dusting of snow.

Monona Terrace InteriorA cold front swept in Friday night, and Saturday morning we had our first shovelable snow of the season -- although you could probably have used a big broom just as well as a shovel. The slightly snowy exterior was a gray and wintry contrast to the bright colors inside, where the Monona Terrace was all dressed up for the holidays, complete with giant snowflakes projected on the ceiling.

The snow was deceptive. Now it's just as gray outside, and almost all the snow has already melted. They're forecasting sprinkles, not snowflakes, followed by sunny weather from Thursday through Tuesday. A white Christmas doesn't seem to be in the picture this year. (Something that's not all that rare in Wisconsin, though it's been five years since it last happened.)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Lake Wingra has put on its winter coat

Lake Wingra Is Putting On Its Winter Clothes
Still no snow, but a nice slick skin of ice on the lake. Perfect for skating and ice boats, once the ice solidifies a bit.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The University Avenue Tree Lights are dancing again

The University Avenue Tree Lights Are Dancing Again
A Madison holiday landmark is all aglow again -- the University Ave. Tree Lights are once again frolicking in a festive swirl of color, a wall of light stretching exuberantly as far as the eye can see. Even the straight, no-nonsense railroad tracks seem about to get up and start dancing.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Night Flight

Night Flight
Canada Geese taking off at dusk from Tiedeman's Pond in Middleton -- wild, raucous honking, beating of powerful wings and water splashing everywhere. There's something primal about it.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Midvale Heights bison celebrate Thanksgiving

The Midvale Heights Bison Celebrate Thanksgiving
Bison Prairie Gateway, built by residents of the Midvale Heights neighborhood in Madison, under the direction of artist Bill Grover, who designed the two concrete bison sculptures. It has become a neighborhood tradition to dress them for the holidays.

Thanksgiving Eve Sunset on Lake Wingra

Thanksgiving Eve Sunset on Lake Wingra
Wednesday was a gorgeous day. Forecast for Thanksgiving is looking pretty good too. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice."

"The Arc of History Is Long, but It Bends Towards Justice."
The words of Martin Luther King Jr. at the Recall Walker Rally, Madison, Nov. 19, 2011.

Recall: One Signature at a Time

Taking Back Our State One Signature at a Time
Peg and Steve Arnold, collecting signatures to recall Scott Walker and Rebecca Kleefisch outside Trader Joe's on Monroe Street.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Friday, November 18, 2011

Winter Comes Early to Madison Thursday Night

Winter Comes Early to Madison Thursday Night

Winter Comes Early to Madison Thursday Night

Winter Comes Early to Madison Thursday Night
With 20 tons of snow hauled in by the Hoofers Ski and Snowboard Club for the 2-story slope they built at Union South at the UW-Madison. Mother Nature provided a cold night to match the snow, as the Hoofers held their 3rd Annual Rail Jam. It wasn't quite the Winter Olympics, but it was pretty cool.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

No snow in the forecast, but they'll be snow boarding and skiing under the lights in Madison tonight

No Snow in the Forecast, but They'll Be Snow Boarding and Skiing in Madison Tonight
They were putting up the hill last night in the Plaza of Union South at the UW-Madison. It's the 3rd Annual Hoofers Rail Jam, sponsored by the Hoofers Ski and Snowboarding Club. Tonight, from 5:00-8:00pm at Union South.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Taking the new lens on a ride

I liked the interplay between the colors of this battered old truck and the landscape. My favorite birthday elf picked up on my interest in the 35mm f/1.8 DX Nikkor lens for my D90, and I've been playing with it. Nice to be shooting with a "normal" prime for a crop-sensor DSLR (the lens is equivalent to a 52mm on a full frame sensor). One of its nice features is that the fast aperture means the camera focuses more quickly and positively in Live View, without endless aimless focus-seeking -- handy for photography at the wheel.

For many years as a film photographer, a normal lens was all I used (ranging from 45 to 52mm depending on the camera), In many ways, photography then was more about what my eye saw rather than what a collection of zooms and other lenses saw. Nice to try it out again.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Late Afternoon Walk Along Lake Michigan at Kohler-Andrae State Park

Late Afternoon Walk Along Lake Michigan at Kohler-Andrae State Park
We had Kohler-Andrae almost to ourselves yesterday for our late afternoon walk. Quiet and serene. The late afternoon sun slanting from the west turned the grasses along the dunes into golden flame. We were fortunate to see the park's little herd of deer, including a doe looking out over the crest of a dune at Lake Michigan. Later, as we walked along the beach we saw lots of deer tracks. They seemed to have been gamboling at the water's edge. Wish we had seen them.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Return to Standard Time

Return to Standard Time
What a difference an hour makes. The sun sets a lot earlier, and the darkness seems darker.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Goodbye, Autumn's Golden Glory

Goodbye, Autumn's Golden Glory
Now that it's November, not many afternoons like this left. Wingra Park, Madison.

I made a lot of exposures with a 200mm lens trying different focal points in the slanting light of a windy late afternoon. This is one in which the combination of sharply focused leaves and out-of-focus leaves and grasses seemed to perfectly suggest that windy, autumnal rustle of the last leaves blowing away.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Rainy Day at Occupy Madison

Rainy Day at Occupy Madison
Day 27 of Occupy Madison is a dark, gloomy rainy November day, but that didn't do much to dampen their spirits. They apparently weathered a threat to shut them down because they didn't have a camping permit (local government agencies that didn't seem to be talking to each other) and had time to march to the Square in the rain, joined by some East High students, and stage an action against the banks.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!
This began as a photo I took five years ago with a 2mp Minolta Dimage X shooting through one eyepiece of my binoculars at Owen Park, Madison. The lens being recessed in the camera body behind a small window made it especially easy to hold the camera flush against the eyepiece. Bats and color tints added more recently. Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Occupy Madison Day 23: Settled in at their new, more permanent home at 800 E. Washington (old Don Miller lot)

Occupy Madison Settled in at Their New, More Permanent Home on E. Washington
Saturday was Day 23 of Occupy Madison. They're now in a more permanent home a short walk from the Capitol and actions in the downtown area -- including Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerc, just up the road at 501 E. Washington. The place already has a lived-in look after a few days, and in the old Don Miller car lot they have much more visibility on a major thoroughfare. There's room to grow and for people to drop in. They're in it for the long haul. Like Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy movements it launched around the country and around the world, Occupy Madison is not going away -- no matter how much critics try to marginalize it. It's hard to marginalize people representing the other 99%. You can find out more at their website.

March in Solidarity with Scott Olsen and Occupy OaklandThis is one of the things Occupy Madison was doing Saturday, along with the Clarence Kailin Chapter of Veterans for peace -- the solidarity march for Scott Olsen and Occupy Oakland. Scott Olsen is the Wisconsin Marine from Onalaska who was hit by a police projectile and suffered a skull fracture in the police assault on Occupy Oakland -- a more dangerous place for Scott Olsen than two tours of duty in Iraq. Olsen's injury and the brutality of police in Oakland against peaceful protesters exercising their First Amendment right to freedom of assembly has galvanized Occupy movements around the country.

Getting the woodpile ready for winter

Getting Ready for Winter
This looks as if it's far from Madison, but actually it's on River Road just north of the city (geotagged, click on photo to see map in Flickr).

Friday, October 28, 2011

Crows Just Wanna Have Fun

Crows Just Wanna Have Fun
And nothing is more fun than harassing a big, old (relatively) clumsy raptor, who by now just wants to get out of there. (No wonder the word for a flock is "a murder of crows").

I was walking through Wingra Park and heard a big, raucus commotion in the sky. A group of crows were driving a hawk crazy, taking turns doing aggressive fly-bys from weird angles. Most of the crows soon broke off, but kept chattering. One persistent crow, however, looked as if it was having so much fun it just couldn't get enough. This behavior is called mobbing. It seems to be protective territorial behavior, since hawks are not averse to swooping down on crow nests, especially when they have young in them. A hawk could tear a crow apart, but given the crows' agility, it's too much work when they're in the air -- especially when there is a group. So the hawks generally retreat. It's just not worth the energy to retaliate. It's always fun to watch the much smaller birds go after the big predator.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Occupy Madison 'Cause 99% of Us Are in the Same Leaking Boat

Occupy Madison 'Cause 99% of Us Are in the Same Leaking Boat
On Day 21 of Occupy Madison, I stopped by their new location at Olin Terrace, in front of the Monona Terrace, but they had already moved on to their new home at the old Don Miller car lot at 800 E. Washington Ave -- but not without leaving a message.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Too many nuts, not enough time

Too Many Nuts, Not Enough Time
A squirrel's work is never done. This one was doing it at Goodland County Park on Lake Waubesa.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Thunderstorm turns out the lights in part of Madison and dark social metaphors ensue

Thunderstorm Turns Out the Lights in Part of Madison and Dark Social Metaphors Ensue
There are some who are in darkness
And the others are in light
And you see the ones in brightness
Those in darkness drop from sight

When the thunderstorm swept in and the power went out, our electronic devices wailed and beeped their various death throes, everything went dark and there was stunned silence. We groped for candles and suddenly were back in the 19th century. T and M seemed happy just to enjoy the warm glow and wait for the lights to come back on. I was more restless and wanted to drive out and survey the extent of the outage. It was so dark outside you couldn't see another person ten feet away. Driving was disorienting with no streetlights or traffic signals, and the inky black, wet streets sucking up the beams from the headlights. I soon established that we were an island of darkness, surrounded by the people of the city blithely and brightly going about their business. In fact, the power was just out of reach—lights shone brightly just a block away. On Monroe Street, shown here looking east, the dividing line was Woodrow Street, to the west of which darkness reigned. It was infuriating.

"It's like a metaphor for our society," said T. "The people living in the light have no idea how others are doing, how hard it is to get by in the dark." When T said that, I was reminded of the seldom-heard last lines of Brecht's "Ballad of Mack the Knife" ("Die Moritat von Mackie Messer"). They weren't in the original version of the ballad in his and Kurt Weill's The Threepenney Opera, but he inserted them into the G.W. Pabst film, which was much more savagely bleak than the stage version. I only saw the movie once, years ago, but have never forgotten the passage, which T reminds me is itself a dark echo of William Blake.

Here in Madison, our lights came back on after a couple hours. No big deal. As a society, however, we could do so much more to bring light to all those who live in darkness.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Seed launching pad

Seed Launching Pad
Every fall I can't resist photographing milkweed pods. Mostly they don't turn out, but sometimes they do. (Stricker's Pond, Middleton.)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Spelling "the rest of us" with exactly 99 pumpkins

Occupy Madison, Day 7
Occupy Madison, Day 7. The edible ones will be donated to an area food bank. The ornamental ones will go to schools.

Monday, October 10, 2011

We Are the 99%

Occupy Madison, Day 3

2011 Giant Pumpkin Regatta: Don't Try This at Home

That Sinking Feeling
Hey, she never said she knew how to drive this thing. Her name is Caroline, and she was one of the first two contestants paddling giant pumpkins on a challenging Lake Mendota course Saturday.

The 2011 Giant Pumpkin Regatta, cosponsored by the UW Horticultural Society and the Hoofers Sailing Club, took place in perhaps the best weather the event has ever enjoyed. In 2009, heavy waves and wind blew the boats all over the place. Last year the regatta was canceled due to inclement weather -- making this either the 6th Annual or 7th Annual Giant Pumpkin Regatta, depending on whether you count the cancellation. However on Saturday, with temps in the eighties and not too much wind, conditions were perfect.

"My Name is Biddy Martin"It all begins a big pumpkin and a big knife. Wielding the latter was Prof. Jim Nienhuis of the UW-Madison Horticulture Department, who grows these giant water-loving vegetables with his students. To host a Giant Pumpkin Regatta, you have to be equal parts impressario, stand-up comic and horticultural expert with a solid understanding of the fluid dynamics of the giant pumpkin. Nienhuis is all of the above.

"My name is Biddy Martin," he quipped to this student reporter when asked what his name is. "I don't know why I'd ever want to leave here." With the silly business over, the serious business of the day got under way. There were pumpkin boats to be carved and launched. There were releases to be signed in case anything catastrophic hapened in the waters of Lake Mendota, all of 1.5 feet deep beneath the race course. The pumpkins had to be boarded, with dupas being securely nestled in the zuccas (thanks to Caroline for the Polish terminology and T for the Italian). And then the competition itself, which might best be described by the phrase "hilarity ensued."

Words can't do it justice, so here's a slideshow. (Note that the "Show Info" tab on the upper right will bring up caption information. There also are controls for the speed of the sideshow).

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Last monarch of the season

Last Monarch of the Season
What an incredible day, mixing the warmth of summer with the colors of a sunny day in October. Given the nasty, cold weather we had until a few days ago, I thought I had long since seen my last monarch butterfly of the season, but no -- this splendid creature seems to have passed up the last bus south. It lingered on, and its reward was to have paradise (Tiedeman's Pond, Middleton) all to itself.