By Nathan L. Walls

Cosmos and bee

Cosmos and bee Cosmos and bee

One element I talk about in a pending post about photography practice is using my yard and immediate neighborhood as a practice area. We have several different areas of flowers and plants that attract plenty of bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, birds, and other pollinators.

A long lasting flower, cosmos are in three or four different parts of the yard. So, walking around with the telephoto lens, I framed the flower with some out of focus flowers and stems as background. Then, the bee pops in and lands. Perfect.

Transplant death by neglect

The most critical aspect post-transplant life for solid organ transplant recipients is staying on schedule with anti-rejection medications.

Transplant recipients ride a sometime precarious balance of keeping a healthy immune system, but not so strong that the body starts rejecting a transplanted organ. Depending on the transplant program, the match between the donor and the recipient, living with a transplant means at least one, but likely more, medication taken on a regular schedule, every day, for life. One my anti-rejection meds is taken twice daily, 12 hours apart.

Knowing this, it was utterly depressing to read of Dexter Barry’s death in Florida because he was arrested for a misdemeanor, could not pay bail, was jailed, and denied access to his anti-rejection medications.

Juliana Kim for NPR:

Barry, 54, pleaded with the arresting officer seven times back in November. He alerted the jail nurse and a court judge about his condition too. But in the two days that Barry was held at Duval County Jail in Jacksonville, Fla., no one allowed him access to the medication he desperately asked for.

Three days after he was released from jail, Barry died from cardiac arrest that was caused by an acute rejection of the heart, Dr. Jose SuarezHoyos, a Florida pathologist who conducted a private autopsy of Barry on behalf of Barry’s family, told NPR.

The article highlights that Barry waited 12 years for tranplant, and moved to increase his chances. Heart transplants require deceased donors, so I can readily appreciate finding an area where wait time for a deceased donor is lower.

I’m aghast at the repeated instances of preventable deaths in jails because seemingly no one can be bothered to follow-up and follow-through on making sure the incarcerated have the medical care they need. In this case, a man died, in part, because he could not readily pay $503 to satisfy bail conditions. Utterly abhorrent.

Rudimentary astrophotography

One great thing about living on a hill in the country is great sky visibility. Our visibility of the hill’s downslope starts to the southeast, so, at night, we get a great view of rising constellations.

Through the winter months, Orion and the Winter Triangle look fantastic. In January, with a New Moon, I can get the full Winter Triangle after it’s cleared the tree line from 8 pm onward. Heading towards Summer Solstice, the Big Dipper sits right over the yard, handle pointed towards the east southeast.

Our house isn’t in the darkest area, we can see sky glow around from Philadelphia to the south, the New York metro to the east, and the Lehigh Valley to the north and northwest. Even with the light pollution, the backyard is a fun spot to experiment with astrophotography.

Orion and the Winter Triangle

I’m working with single exposure images instead of image stacking until I get more experienced with focusing, exposure, and composition to make capturing, editing, and processing an image sequence worthwhile. The good news is modern cameras, lenses, and processing software are remarkably capable of yielding stunning results. On later dSLRs and recent mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, photographers can push ISO pretty high before really sacrificing image quality to noise.

Big Dipper just after sunset

As with other genres of photography, there’s a wide range of equipment useful for astrophotography. There’s not a lot of a equipment that’s necessary to get started. A recent interchangeable lens camera like a dSLR or mirrorless camera from any major manufacturer, a lens, and a tripod are enough to get started.

Some specifics to start with:

  • An interchangeable lens camera, either a digital single lens reflex, or a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera
  • A lens that:
    • Can be focused manually
    • Has a focal length somewhere between 12mm at the very wide end to 50mm at a standard viewing angle
    • Has a maximum aperture at f/4 or faster (3.5, 2.8, 2, 1.4)
  • A tripod
  • A way to trigger shutter release without shaking the camera
    • A wireless remote
    • A corded off-camera shutter release
    • A shutter release delay function on the camera

The limitations of the equipment you start with are worthwhile. There’s no moving star tracker here. Instead, the learning emphasis is on composition, exposure, and the part I’ve found the most challenge with, focusing. Throwing the lens into manual mode and setting the focusing distance to infinity ought to work, and yet, my results show an incorrect assumption with blurry stars. Using too high an ISO means photos get noisy and/or show banding. Too long of an exposure and the risk is motion blur from star travel. Star travel is fast enough that even at 24mm (in full-frame terms, 16mm for APC-C or 12 mm for Micro 4/3) exposure to exposure can be enough to see noticeable star movement, particularly shooting toward the equator.

There’s more info from Photography Life that concentrates on beginning Milky Way photography, but the general ideas there are valid for constellations, too.

Once I get a better sense of single-image composition and getting results I like in the backyard, I’ll be exploring night landscapes.

Attention: Slower, softer, smaller, focused, curious

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around focusing my free time pursuing creative outlets like photography, writing, and software development. There’s a ton of books and magazines I would love to read and a bundle of coding projects I’d like to be productive on all at once.

I’ve spent a long time wrecking my attention in a few different ways. First, I spent a lot of time being Very Online. Second, I spent a lot of mental energy planning my creative efforts, while also using all of the available time for them in the planning and being Very Online. I read a lot, but not enough books, not enough worthwhile magazines.

Part of my winter vacation involved taking a break from my customary online space and slowing down. Chasing fewer threads of stuff to react to, to get angry about. Refreshing my creative thinking with some timely reading from Robin Sloan, and a piece from earlier in 2022 from Nicole Chung. Synthesis: The work can be lonely, but it’s worthwhile. Both were wonderful pieces. Some things you see or read, you find when you’re ready for them.

I’ve spent a good chunk of the last couple of weeks reading and rereading material on open/indie websites and, if there’s one thing I’ve found super inspirational about all of it is discarding the notion that it has to be for anyone else. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out a larger point and a larger project instead of just putting words down and sharing images that I’ve made. If something else comes out of that, cool, but I need some time where that’s a secondary or tertiary benefit other than just reducing the thought and focus friction around writing, coding, and photographing.

I’ve been taking more time to be outside or looking out my windows at the sky and trees. More time for walking. More time for thinking.

When I was younger, I was briefly part of a social crowd that was habitual, but I realized I stopped enjoying who I was with them. Secondarily, my boundaries weren’t respected. Accordingly, I found it necessary and refreshing to no longer frequent their company. The particulars aren’t important. It just ceased being a situation I was comfortable with, let alone wanted to invest more time and energy in.

My social media break is ongoing and indefinite. The recovered time is going toward endeavors I consider more valuable. Some of it is creative. Some is just choosing to slow down and relax. Instead of soaking in anger, snark, and a general malaise of learned helplessness, I’ve seen a bunch of worthwhile and creative websites I’m looking to draw some inspiration from.

“Slower, softer, smaller, focused, curious” describes how I’m looking to spend the next chunk of time.

Slower in the sense of not rushing. Reevaluating how busy I am and how much I self-assign and choose that busyness.

Softer in the sense of being easier with myself and with others. I’ll have more to say about this in a subsequent post.

Smaller in the sense, articulated in the linked posts, that writing or coding for myself, on a platform I’m wholly responsible for, is fine. Software-wise, what I want is a spice rack, and what I’ve been thinking about and working on are Hammer Factory Factories. Writing-wise, thinking less in terms of just writing and more in terms of assembling cohesive topics.

Focused in the sense of spending concentrated bursts of time on one thing, not scattering my attention like bird seed.

Curious as I like to believe I always have been. Nerding out on things like maps, websites, photography, and code. I look forward to sharing my explorations here.

Snow geese and the moon

New Year’s Day was a stellar opposite, weather-wise, from New Year’s Eve. Dry, partly cloudy skies vs. fog. Over the winter, snow geese migrate in and eat among crop stubble for a couple of months.

Snow geese fly just below a waxing gibbous moon.

Around sunset, various groups of snow geese fly over our hill. There are corn fields elsewhere on the hill they might frequent, but they’re also crossing over from New Jersey, and flying between fields in the small valleys.

Snow geese against sunset lit cummulus.

Snow geese individually fly well, but are substantially less well organized as a group than Canada geese. Canada geese have the very formal Flying Vs and, at least as I’ve seen, fly in far smaller groupings than snow geese do. Snow geese formations bend and fold frequently. They’ll change direction, sometimes circling our hill or flying opposed to a second grouping, then ending up in a conflicting, fowl mess.

But, the great thing about seeing snow geese flying are their bright white bodies set against jet black wing tips. Catch them at the right angle with low angle sun, and they’ll all appear to flash in the sky overhead.