Thursday, August 31, 2006

In the backyard

I came home from work and the afternoon was so beautiful--mare's tales clouds, a setting sun, a cool breeze, and a lush greenness born of the four inches of rain we've had in the past few days. Perfect weather for doodling around in the backyard with the camera.

The 'Better Boy' and 'Early Girl' were somewhat disappointing this year. The Girls were small, not very sweet, and tended to rot quickly. Maybe I'll go back to 'Celebrity' next year again, like last year.

The 'Sweet Million' continues to give us all it's got.

Even the zucchini, which survived its repeated early encounters with hungry bunnies (not Niblet--some little Eastern cottontails), is still sassy. We've gotten some zucchini two feet long, man. That little plant's got it goin' on.

Despite a severe bee/wasp allergy, there's nothing sweeter than watching little honeybees do their thing in the flowers. Here, a little honeybee pollenates my way-gone-to-seed basil.

The last of the echinacea flowers that still looks pretty. I love that beautiful magenta color, and how the spiky centers of the flowers contrast with the soft petals.

Ignore the disgusting cigarette butts--is this a monarch caterpillar preparing to cocoon? I'd better dump out Kat's ashtray as carefully as possible to prevent the onset of pre-natal monarch lung cancer.

In the nasturtiums, which always remind me of my mother and my 'buelita (my grandmother in Mexico who passed away when I was young). Their sweet scent just makes me warm inside.

Check out our raspberries! Yum!

There are these weird white fuzzy-ish worms on this plant on the fenceline. Here's a (blurry) close-up photo of one of them:

They're not really fuzzy--they look more powdery, like a powdered donut. They also move very fast, if that helps in the ID process.... well, they're fast for caterpillars, anyway.

While we're playing "tell me what this is" what is this flower? Locally, they call them "snapdragons" but I've seen snapdragons, and these ain't it. I think they're called that because the seedpods, when they're ready, burst and shoot their little seeds out at the slightest touch. I love playing with them, watching the little pods just snap and spray those seeds. I feel like I'm helping the plant, like the bees who pollenate it.

A sure sign that fall is coming--the mums are huge and the blooms are beginning to open. Yeah, baby--I love the autumn!

The pear tree's limbs are bending low, heavy with fruit. Last year, we didn't get very many at all, but this year--we've got 'em coming out our ears. Yum again.

Slugs simultaneously disgust me and fascinate me. Something cool about a snail going around without his house on, hangin' tough, braving the elements.

Well, I may have set the record for number of photos in one post--certainly a personal best, anyway. I'll leave you with a few photos of the different-colored marigolds that surround my vegetable garden.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Beaming with Pride

For all my shortcomings and wrong turns and misguided notions about scope-building and optics, I have gotten a compliment from Astronomy Boy that's left me beaming with pride and feeling inspired. I asked him to look at the rainbow-connection photos through the scope, and he wrote back:

"I am impressed with the pictures of the scope itself. It really looks like a telescope! If you can get a decent objective, you'll be in business, I'm sure."

Aw shucks.


After writing to the great people at Surplus Shed, I've discovered the reasons for the rainbow view through the scope. According to Fred Lamothe, the objective is an achromat, but not for visual use. He says it may have been corrected for some military purpose, but as a scope objective--it's not. Plus my idea of the single-lens eyepiece? Not good either. Put these factors together, and you get Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, my friends.

So I've asked Fred to help me find suitable lenses. Perhaps if I had done this in the beginning, I'd be taking photos right now through my scope.

Updates coming soon on what Fred finds.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Full-Bore Horror Show

I promised pictures taken through the scope prototype, so here they are. I warn you--if you're drunk or feeling a little ill, these might push you over the edge.

Picture 1 is a view through the scope (with vignetting left for full effect) of a large oak across the marsh.I'll add a view of this same tree through my 9x35 binocs as contrast:

Note the increased magnification of the scope view--along with enough false color to power the sun for a few million years.

How about another view through the Psycho-scope, shall we?

The careful observer will see what might be labeled as ghosts by the paranormally inclined. However, it's actually a snapshot of cornstalks. Sigh.

Those ghosts can be slippery.

More corn, anyone?
Yeah. . . pass the peyote.

So you see my dilemma. The worst part is that, in some sort of unverse-taunting-me kind of trick, I went on the Surplus Shed site and saw these:
The description: 20x80 Konusvue Series Binoculars CTD with case. Price: $89.95. That's right--20X magnification with an 80mm objective. Wow.

Now I know what you're thinking--you're thinking, "No! Don't back down now! You've come so far!" And yes, I have come a long way from the days of getting lenses but not knowing how to mount them, the prospect of a 32-inch spotting scope monster, baby-pea-sized lenses and utter disappointment. But gees, this is getting ridiculous.

I did find a fascinating tutorial on optics and all the things that can go wrong with them, courtesy of an online microscopy primer. (man, since I figured out to how add links to text, I've been kinda over-doing it, haven't I?) I'm trying to read and understand that jibbah-jabbah so I can maybe improve upon the performance of the psycho-scope.

Still, it's so tempting to just get those big, powerful binoculars (which feature a mounting bracket and everything!) and just consider my little scope a project in progress. A little hobby. A learning experience on my road to greater knowledge. I've probably put in about $100 on the scope so far, with no real end in sight, quite honestly--given this whole chromatic aberration thing. I could just get the binocs, call it a birthday present (9/15--coming up fast), and then get my camera and be on the road to the cover of National Geographic!

And yet--what of the thrill of having built it myself? What of the hours of learning and fun I've had? What of the whole "it's not worth anything if it comes easy" work ethic?

What should I do?

I suppose I'll ask Kat tonight when she gets home from work.

Keep good thoughts in your heads for me, folks. This could turn ugly.

Monday, August 28, 2006

More about the scope prototype

Because I can't just leave it alone, I'm going to post some pics I took through the scope (sorta) with my camera phone (I left Niki's digital cam in the car, and Kat has the car).

Here, we have a photo taken through just the objective lens tube, no eyepiece and no diagonal:

Click on the photo to see the bigger view of it. Do you see the chromatic aberration on the Adirondack chair?

Here's another one:

It's hard to see in this photo--though you can kinda see it in the pear tree branches in front of the white outhouse and in the treeline against the horizon.

Still, this is nothing compared to the view through the assembled scope--remember Jan Brady's crazy red-white-and-blue-striped pants? Well, the view through the scope is even groovier than that, folks. I'll post a pic of that later, once Kat gets home with the digital camera. I'll warn you, though--it's going to blow your mind. The pine trees never looked so crazy, man.

I really don't quite understand the physics of it. I know that light bends, and different colors bend differently, but this is just ridiculous. It's impossible to view anything through the scope. This is a big set-back. I hope someone can help me figure it out. I just don't know what to do. Is there some sort of filter I can use? Or do I need to get yet another objective lens of a different type?

Monty the Magnificent

I've always been partial to praying mantids for many reasons. They're beneficial insects, eating aphids and other little pests, and they're kinda cool-looking. I love to find little baby mantids on my plants; they're so cute!

Today, however, I found a GIANT praying mantis on my gone-to-seed parsley plant:

In my book, all praying mantids should be named Monty. This Monty, however, is the biggest one I've ever seen. Maybe he doesn't look that big standing there in the parsley. But check this out:

Here he is with my hand next to him to give the view some perspective. I will admit, my hand is pretty small--probably not much longer than 6" going from base of palm to tip of middle finger. Still, that bugger's HUGE--4" at least. Note the aggressive-looking waving of his little arms in the air! Maybe he's a she--and she's pondering making quick work of my pinky!

I once read an article on the web about praying mantids actually attacking and killing hummingbirds. I bet Monty the Magnificent here could spear him a little hummer with no problems. That's pretty scary; I hope Monty sticks with little insect pests.

Homemade Scope: The Protoype

I've completed the first prototype of my spotting scope--FINALLY.

Here's a photo. Just remember to be kind--for several reasons:
1. I have a master's in English, not physics or astronomy or engineering.
2. This is only a prototype--it's going to be rough.
3. My feelings are rather tender after this two-month-long process!
4. The photos were taken with my camera phone--I'm sure that's got to make the scope look much worse than it is!

Here are some exploded views:

This is the scope all apart.

Note the high-tech features:
1. eyepiece is made of two small coin-like slices of wood with holes bored in them

2. it's just shoved into the 1-1/4" opening of the diagonal (no photo of this--it's too embarassing)

3. the focusing is just the smaller piece of PVC covered with felt, with the larger PVC sliding on it

4. the objective is actually taped to the PVC pipe, because I didn't have anything that would hold it on there in a secure fashion. This is actually quite secure--if a little silly.

What can I tell you? It's a prototype; I'm planning to make some refinements. I mean, I'm sure Galileo didn't get his scope right the first time, right?

Obviously, the eyepiece really needs help. I need to get some special drill bits though, and a 1-1/4" metal pipe to mount it onto the diagonal. Still efforting those items, though.

Further, the objective needs a better mounting. Not to mention the chromatic aberration I'm getting from the objective lens. It's an achromat, but it's giving me this wild psychedelic rainbow halo around everything. Not good. Still trying to figure out what's up with that, with the help of Astronomy Boy Jeff DeTray. I may have to find another objective lens. Can anyone help me with a better recommendation that's NOT a $350 apochromat lens?

The important thing is that I'm finished with the prototype, and now it's just a matter of fine-tuning. Then I'll have to finally decide on a camera (still vacillating between several models), make an adapter, then couple the cam to the final version of the scope.

Hopefully without the acid-flashback rainbows. . . . Not that I would know. Seriously, I'm more "just say no" than Nancy Reagan ever hoped to be.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Niblet in the garden, part 2

We continue with the story of Nibble running around in the garden.

He's such a sweet little baby; I never tire of watching him. He's standing up here, trying to figure out what that strange noise is next door--the dog is barking. He's never heard this before.

I'll leave you with this photo, taken only seconds before he demanded that we stop taking pictures of him. He needs his private life to stay private.

"What is this, Hollywood? Turn off that camera! I might need to poo, and for that I'll need my privacy!"

Niblet in the garden!

Niblet had his first outdoor adventure the other night in our garden. I don't have a harness for him, because I've been terrified to take him outside--I have fears of him slipping out and running off, going native with some lady cottontail.

However, our garden is fenced-in, so we took him out to nibble on the lettuce and whatever else he decided to taste.
Here he is, disapproving of the weeds I've allowed to grow wild in the garden paths.

"I understand Cinnamon now. I see why she disapproves of her mother so much. You humans are very strange, and you need disapproval in the worst way! Weed this garden, you lazy human!"

He loved exploring -- though he started out a little timid, just hanging out in the dirt under the cherry tomatoes ('Sweet Million'):

He found his courage and began to wander down the garden paths.

Look at his little bum! He's just the cutest little bunny in the world.

Surprisingly, he didn't take advantage of this opportunity to eat every leaf of lettuce in sight, despite the fact that inside, he'll eat every bit of it that I'll give him.

I guess he was too busy checking out this new place.

For some reason, Blogger has decided that I've posted enough photos of Nibble in the garden. It keeps giving me the "done" window, but no photo appears. Hmph. I'll try a new post--part two of "Niblet in the garden" to come!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Still can't load photos

This is getting old--I'm still having trouble uploading photos. Oh, Blogger, get it fixed!

Exciting news: my lenses arrived. I still need to get tubes, etc. and put this together, but I should be up and running by next week! I'm also shopping for digital cameras, and I've decided on two models (I'm buying two--one for me, one for Kat):

Sony DSCS60 (or maybe the 90)
Nikon Coolpix L4

If anyone reading this knows of any reason to NOT get either of these for digiscoping, please let me know!

And now I'm gonna try to upload a photo of Niblet, just to see if this crazy Blogger will let me. . .

Nope. Still won't let me load. I tried saving the photo down to low dpi and size, but still no dice. Grr.

Monday, August 21, 2006

My first digiscoping adventure--sorta

Last week, it occurred to me that I could digiscope through my old Leupold binoculars (9x35) and my pal Niki's HP digital camera. Not great power on the binocs, but what the heck? I thought I'd give it a try and see what happened.

I went out in the backyard to snap some photos of the baby herons, which were sunning themselves in the evening's golden sun. Unfortunately, I got out there later than I wanted to, so that golden sun didn't last too long. I am not happy with the quality, but it was my first time. Here's the result:

UPDATE: Hey! I'm getting to upload photos! Here's the first pic:

I captured two of the three juvenile herons in their little tree--I circled them because the focus is so bad they're just two blobs. Mother was nowhere in sight--though she could've been watching from the nest or a nearby tree.

The photos are pretty dark, but I guess I expected that, as I went out pretty late in the afternoon. However, the focus is ridiculously bad--which I don't understand. The view through the binocs was good, but the camera didn't capture the image in focus. Admittedly, my "rig" was not exactly top-flight. I set the binocs on a fencepost and held the camera to the right eyepiece. When I make my scope (update forthcoming on that!), I'll definitely rig an adapter and use a tripod or monopod to stabilize everything.

As I got shots of the herons, I turned to see a hummingbird flitting among the wildflowers at the back fence near the platform feeder. He perched on a branch and just sat there--despite my presence only 20 feet or so away. I guess maybe he thought I was a fencepost? So I sloooooowly turned my body and the binocs and captured a few shots of him. Actually, I'd say it was a her--she was rather plain: an off-white breast and brown back, long downward-curved beak. No distinguishing marks that I could see.

I got a few photos of her, but these too are not very in-focus.

I tried different "mode" settings on the camera (landscape, portrait, etc.--which offer preset f/stop and aperture settings). Nothing really helped much. Still not in focus, and you can see an obvious camera-shake effect. Perhaps that's my problem? Not to mention some obvious camera shake.

Here, I got some decent focus, after zooming back on the camera and allowing vignetting:

The next night, I tried again--but no herons! Still, I did get a tufted titmouse at the platform feeder. These photos were not much better, though the lighting was better.

I love watching tufted titmice eat--holding the sunflower seed between their feet and pecking away at it to get at the nut. Their cries are quite unmelodic, but they're sweet birds.

My lenses are in at the mailbox place, and I'm hoping to pick them up tonight and start working on the scope. Oh, the joys of 20X magnification--here I come!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Rejuvenated and refocused

Well, leave it to the greatness of Astronomy Boy to say the words that would rejuvenate my will and reestablish my focus on the goal. When I first started this scope-building vision quest, my goals were to get a good scope for a decent price and to get the satisfaction of having built this scope myself. Astronomy Boy reminded me that he had similar goals when he began building his eyepieces, and it took a little initial investment to build eyepieces that he could have just as easily purchased for about the same cost. Yet it was the personal satisfaction of building them himself that kept him going.

As I long-time woodworker, I should’ve known from my experiences gained while learning woodworking that trial and error can be a harsh mistress. I’ve built my share of wobbly tables, chairs you can’t sit in or they’ll break, mismatched wood grains, etc. to know that it took me a long time to gain the skills that enabled me to build my last big project, this 12x9 built-in bookcase that now graces our living room:

Learning to build a spotting scope—a high-powered optical instrument capable of viewing birds at long distances, made for digiscoping (another skill I have yet to even begin to master)—will require a similarly long and not-so-vertical learning curve. As such, my disappointment with my English-pea-sized lenses will only be a temporary setback. I will not give in! I will not be defeated!

I will find a short focal length, larger-diameter eyepiece lens/set and persevere. I have to! My pride and my force of will require no less.

Thanks, astronomy boy, for your encouragement and your wisdom. I’ll press on.

Great Blue Herons on the marsh

There’s been a great blue heron out on the marsh for a while now; I finally learned her patterns and have been able to watch her every morning now for a week as she sits perched at the top of a small tree, preening. I actually digiscoped some photos through my binoculars using a Fuji disposable camera! I don’t know whether any of them will come out. I’ll try to get those developed this week and see what I got. I only took three exposures, and two of them were hand-held. Probably they’ll be of the sky or my finger or something. But for the last one, I put the binocs on a fence post for stability and snapped the photo that way. I’m hopeful that one will turn out.

The real excitement occurred yesterday evening when, at about 7pm, three juvenile herons alit on the same tree—their nest must be near the base of the little tree. I watched them for about a half hour as they preened, looked around from their higher vantage point, and pretty much hung out. I read that herons will build a nest on the ground in a marsh, so they must’ve enjoyed getting a larger view of the world. I’m hoping they’ll repeat this pattern and I’ll be able to get some shots of them some evening this week.

Seeing them out there really renewed my commitment to birding and learning to digiscope. Speaking of digiscoping, I'll enter some thoughts on my recent disappointments next.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The agony of defeat

I'm beaten. I give in. I quit.

Why so disappointed? Why else? I got my lens, the 4mm fl one. It's precisely the size of a LeSeur baby pea. The young English baby teeny tiny pea.

I hardly know where to go now or what to think. Kat tells me that when she returns from New Orleans, she'll look at the whole thing and "crunch some numbers" for me (she's a math genius). I don't know if that means she'll crunch numbers to just buy me a damned scope and be done with it, or crunch me some numbers to figure out just what the heck kind of lens I should buy.

For a moment, I thought I had some success. I'd taken the little eyepiece lens off my Optic Wonder and put that with my 200mm fl 50mm diameter objective lens, and it was a nice image at a length of about 5 inches. I was excited for a few minutes until I noticed that my binoculars gave a bigger image. Sheesh.

I know you're getting sick of reading about the continual defeats I suffer at the hands of the science of optics. But I must vent.

What will I do? I thought--I'll look for the the specs on those super expensive scopes and just get lenses like those! But alas, they don't tell you things like focal length of the lenses etc. I suppose one might be able to figure it out, but I don't know how. Perhaps these are the numbers Kat will crunch for me.

I have a tiny little spark of faith left, but it's dim and barely lit. I'm pretty disappointed right now.

P.S.--I have some good draft posts of the NYC trip along with photos, but I can't upload images right now. I'll do it at school tomorrow, if I can get a moment to look up.

Friday, August 04, 2006

What’s the hold-up?

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Why the heck haven’t we had a homemade spotting scope update? I just can’t go this long without hearing the latest chapter in the Scope Saga!” (no relation to the Scopes Monkey Trial)

Here’s the latest: I have just purchased an 8mm focal length RKE eyepiece set and the image-erecting diagonal that will enable me to view everything right-side-up and oriented correctly from left to right. I dropped $46 and change on the diagonal at Orion Telescopes, and $8.50 on the new eyepiece. I sent back my beautiful 70mm X 800mm fl objective lens and have decided to keep the 50mm X 200mm fl one. I’ll have 25X magnification, which I think will be good.

Today I also began my online shopping for a digital camera. Turns out, I’m going to have to buy two. I just heard from the Hen (Kat) that when I buy her a digital camera, I’ll have to ASK PERMISSION to use it. I know you’re now thinking, “Gees, what a hard ass.” Yet, if you lived with me and knew of my obsessive ways with borrowing things from her and then playing with them until they’re broken, you would understand her hesitation to just say, “What’s mine is yours!” No big deal. I’m going to splurge a little early and get a camera (or two) for my birthday (September 15). I’ve found some great camera prices on, of all places. I’m also shopping amazon and other sites. I want to be sure I get the best camera for the best price, so I’m taking it a little more slowly than I did the lens shopping.

The interesting thing is that most of the digiscoping sites I’ve read recommend the Nikon Coolpix of various model numbers – 995, 4500, etc. Nikon doesn’t even make these models anymore. They’ve moved on to fancy letter/number combinations with letters like L (which stands for “lifestyle” according to their web site) and P (“personal”). This is all fine and good for them, but what the heck does “lifestyle” or “personal” mean when it comes to what kind of camera it is? Frustrating. Dumb-down your marketing, Nikon. This “lifestyle” crap isn’t helpful.

Any suggestions on a great new-model camera for digiscoping? I learned what Bill of the Birds uses today on his blog, but that Canon is also an older model. Granted, I can get an older model on Overstock or Amazon, but I just want to be sure I take advantage of any new technology that might enable me to take better pictures even though I’m an idiot!

As you know, this past weekend we went to New York City, and I had Niki and Ian’s digital camera. It was wonderful to take pictures and have them instantly! However, the image screen on the back of their camera, an HP-M415, was kind-of small and I could tell that if I used it for digiscoping, it would be difficult to make sure my bird was in focus. So I want to be sure I have a nice big screen on the back, like some of my fellow tourists did. I did well to hide my envy.

I know you want to see the bird pics from NYC, and here they are!

My first bird photo, taken without benefit of a scope, proper lighting, digital photography experience, or exotic subjects:

Um, yeah. That’s two robins in Battery Park. It was better in person.

Here’s a few sparrows taking a little dip in a puddle in Battery Park. Guess you had to be there.

This is the best bird photo I’ve taken so far! Let’s hear it for some Canada geese who were hanging out in a mall parking garage in Passaic, NJ! (by the way, what’s with the malls being closed on Sunday in Jersey?)

So to review:

Countdown to scope completion: I’ll say seven to ten days, depending on the mail and my free time.

Countdown to camera purchase: Let’s give it 30 days (then it’ll be close to my birthday and I hope I’ll have found the best camera for me).

If only I had one of those little “countdown” programs! I’m sure the excitement would be overwhelming, though.

New York was dizzying!

Finally, I'm able to upload photos, so I'm going to catch up on some old drafts and post them. Here is the first one from our New York trip about a month ago.

This is an art shot. Can’t you tell? No, I didn’t take it while riding in a moving car down the bumpy streets of Manhattan and that’s why it’s crazy like that. It’s crazy like that because it’s ART.


We had great time, though the heat and humidity were Texas-bad. We moved to Central PA three years ago, and I am no longer used that heat anymore! I felt many times as though I might be havin’ a Southern-belle-style sinkin’ spell, and I might oughtta lie on my faintin’ couch and sip a mint julep.

Or at least a bourbon and coke.

I recovered, however, and took this photo of the Statue of Liberty from Battery Park. Kinda blurry, but not bad for digital zoom.

and now for the BIRD PHOTOS!

I had always heard that there are all kinds of hawks and other birds flying around New York. We didn't see any of those. Here, however, is a rather dark photo of two robins.

I also snapped some pigeons and starlings having a snack in Central Park.

We didn't see any nesting redtailed hawks or anything. I was a little disappointed. And the ice cream sandwich I bought for FOUR DOLLARS had been in that guy's little freezer thing for at least ten years, I'm sure of it. It was like eating a cold, vanilla-flavored rock. but we were in New York!

That gave it some flair.

Finally, I leave you with a photo of some Canada geese who, along with us, were quite surprised to find that the malls in New Jersey are closed on Sunday. What is this, the 70s? Blue laws?

We found these guys hanging around an empty parking garage at a mall in Passaic.

Here they are, taking advantage of all the great parking!

"Hurry, I think they're having a sale at Barney's!"

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Computer disaster

Well, it's happened. My computer blew up, and I've lost all my photos of my house and pets, all my old links, all my stuff! I tried desperately in the dying moments to copy them to the network at work--didn't happen. Crashed in the middle of it.

My sadness is overwhelming.

I had some great pics from NYC to put up here--luckily, I still have those at home. But the rest? Gone for eternity, locked in the bowels of a hard drive that refused to yield its secrets, refused to let me have access to my things.

My sadness is. . . well, you know.