Sunday, November 29, 2009

The World As It Is (was in 1836 anyway)

I own a lot of books. I mean thousands and thousands. I was given a few when I was a child and a few more since then but most of them I bought myself and they have tended to accumulate. Once in a while I have gotten rid of a few of them. Sometimes I have regretted doing so and Ihave never gotten rid of enough to make a big difference.
Probably the oldest book I own is called "The World As It Is: Containing a view of the present condition of its principal nations." It was written by Samuel Perkins and published, in its second edition, by Thomas Bellknap in 1836.
I bought the book almost fourty years ago in Belleville, Ontario when the Quinte Bookshop was closing down. It cost me a quarter. The owner of the store, Joy Nicholls, told me, I think, that it had belonged to her father. She was a little reluctant to see it go but she sold it to me.
She had run the bookshop on Bridge Street for a long time but she had decided it was time to retire. It was not a big place and the selection was not extensive. The service was personal and old fashioned. I remember her starting a special order for me which involved a handwritten letter. One of her big markets had been Grade 13 textboks back in the days when students had to buy their own books for that last year of high school. It goes without saying that I would never have addressed her as Joy, only as Miss Nicholls.
The book is in reasonable condition with more than four hundred pages of small print and engravings. Many of its pages are only slightly discoloured thanks to its publication before the invention of paper made from wood fibres which needed to be processed with acid.
The book is American in origin and viewpoint. It is patriotic and full of enthusiasm for the United States and the ideals under which it was founded:  "Every citizen enjoys equal privileges. His life, liberty and property are alike under the protection of the law. No person, however high his station, can trespass upon the rights of the humblest, without subjecting himself to make ample satisfaction."
Naturally, the word citizen in the quote means "white citizens"; the book notes that the inhabitants of the United States are of four classes: white citizens, free persons of color, slaves and Indians. Much of the language in the book reflects a fundamentally racist view but the author wrote honestly about the problems of "free blacks". For example, he mentions that people desired to set up colleges to provide a liberal education to free blacks and noted that no community "has been found willing to have such an institution in its neighbourhood".
The almanac has a lot of the kinds of details that endear a book of this nature to those who enjoy them. Much about the consititions of the individual states, their cities, manufacturers, religions and schools. To someone used to modern almanacs and books of facts, it seems odd that so much data is presented in narrative instead of tabular form.
The book covers the rest of the world. The British Empire gets a lot of pages although very few of them are devoted to what it is now Canada The author notes that some people have some reservations about Britain: "Its speedy bankruptcy and dissolution was long ago predicted, in consequence of its enormous national debt". However the Mr. Perkins is more optimistic himself, "Although it is certain that her national debt can never be paid; and that many of the principles on which her government rests are unfounded; and although the crown must in the usual course of events soon be placed on the head of a female now fourteen years of ago, entirely incompetent to understand or manage the concerns of the nation, a mere burlesque upon government; yet her duration for a long period on the present basis is confidentialy expected".
When I first strarted reading the book, that reference to the person who become Queen Victoria was the one that struck me the most. I was prepared for most of the prevailing attitudes and prejudices of the time but not to think of the Old Queen as a helpless incompetent.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Looking out the front door at night

For the past few days most of my pictures have been of the open water in the Moose River resulting from some unseasonably warm weather. There were still boats in the water on November 26th and probably will be for a day or two more.
It is a bad idea to focus on one subject to the exclusion of everything else and while I do want to document the unusual conditions on the river I wanted to get pictures of something else.
I looked out my front door tonight and was impressed by the view across the river. The clouds over Moose Factory were lit up and were reflected on the surface of the Moose River.

Took a few shots.
Nothing hard about taking these, camera on tripod with exposures of a few seconds and focus at infinity.
When I take shots at night the choice of white balance makes a big difference. Setting the proper white balance for a pictures is basically deciding which object should look white (or gray) and making sure it does in the picture. Most cameras come with a variety of preset white balances for common situations such as daylight, cloudy, flash, fluorescent and tungsten light bulbs.
This works pretty well when you have a scene that is lit up by a single type of light (e.g. daylight or flash). It gets trickier when there are lights of different types shining on objects in the scene.
Night time pictures in town are often illuminated by the ugly light of street lights. The worst are sodium yellow lights.
At nighttime the source of light can be the moon. That one is easy since the moon is, mostly of the time, pretty close in colour to sunlight, just softer and much weaker.
Tonight was cloudy and there was no moon visible. Everything in the foreground of my pictures is lit by street lights. What about the rest of the scene?
For one picture (the one that looks bluer) I decided that the clouds should be white and set the white balance that way. That is not the way the scene looked but it does a reasonable job on the grass in foreground.
I wondered why it works and realized that the clouds which were providing most of the light in the middle and background were lit up by the street lights in Moose Factory which are likely pretty similar to the ones in Moosonee. Taking white balance off them is almost the same as taking a white balance off the street lights here.
The funny thing with light from street lights is that things look yellow to people. Our eyes have a limited ability to compensate for the colour of light that is present and sodium vapour lights are just too far away from normal for this to work.
My camera choose a white balance that produced a picture that was much more intense than what I saw (the reddish picture). I changed the white balance in the other shot (first one in this blog) to make it look more the way the scene appeared to me.
You can fiddle with white balance in most image editing programs but the most flexible way to do is to shoot RAW pictures and do the conversion to JPG on the computer. RAW pictures do not have a defined white balance. The camera suggests one but you can set it to anything you like. Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras almost always can take RAW pictures. Some point and shoots can as well, e.g. the Canon S90. The drawback of RAW shooting is that the files are much bigger since they contain all of the data that camera picked up instead of a particular impression of it. I started out to write that there is no image compression but realized I needed to qualify that and say that it is a lossless compression. All of the data is preserved and just stored more efficiently. JPGs are compressed and the more you compress them the more data is lost.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Online in Moosonee in the early 90s and before.

Today, everybody uses the internet. We take for granted that we have local high speed access to websites from all over the world.
Well, most of us do. There are still some remote communities where the internet is available only by very slow dial up connections or by satellite. I hope that will change very soon because having fast internet is, by definition, a good thing.
It was not always so. Public and local access to the internet arrived in Moosonee in 1996. The local telephone company, then called ONTEL (hence ONLINK) and now ONTERA starting providing dial up access that year. It would seem slow to someone used to using high speed but it was an amazing thing to have.
One of the best things about ONLINK was that it was a local number. Before it started up, anyone who wanted to use the internet had to either belong to a privileged group that had access via an 800 number or pay for long distance.
In the early 90s the internet was just transitioning to the World Wide Web. All kinds of text based systems were still in use, developed in the era of dial up where nobody could afford the bandwidth for fancy graphics.
Dial up access uses a modem connected to a telephone line.
The first time I ever saw a modem was in the mid or late 1970s. We got a portable terminal with a keyboard and a printer that used thermal paper. It had an acoustic coupler, something that you laid your phone into (remember all phones were identical in those days) and listened for the sounds of access. It worked at 300 bps or roughly 30 characters per second.
I think the first modem I bought for myself, around 1985, was a very impressive 1200 bps, a big improvement over the old 300 modems. I used it to connect with computer bulletin boards. These were basically computers that had one or more modems. You could dial one up and leave messages or files and pick up files from other people.There were literally millions of them at one time.
I also used Compuserve, a commercial dialup service and Quicklaw, a legal research service.
The big problems with these things was the cost. It came in two parts:  long distance bills and hourly charges. I think that I figured out that it cost $20 an hour to use Compuserve once you factored in the phone bills. Quicklaw was more like $150 an hour via an 800 number but fortunately, I was not paying for that myself. Still I found that I was paying out a couple hundred or more dollars a month to be online for ten to fifteen hours per month.
The early online services, while expensive, were great for keeping up to date on topics of interest. In my case these were mostly related to computers and amateur radio.
One thing I never thought of doing was setting up a bulletin board system (BBS) in Moosonee. That idea came from Colleen Kappel. She was a teacher at Moosonee Public School with whom I was teaching a computer course for teachers in 1993-94.
We first setup up a BBS using software called TinyHost that was just for the students in the course. This was well received even though not too many people had their own modems (or computers).

That BBS led to BayNet. This was open to anyone who wanted to call in and ran on a computer in Colleen's spare bedroom. It started off with one local number in Moosonee and eventually got a second line and a toll free number. The Mushkegowuk Council put up the money to pay for the computer and the telephone service. That was a major contribution -- the telephone bills were sometimes hundreds of dollars a month. But, it meant that people from the James Bay coastal communities had access. Other organizations also contributed to the service.
BayNet had messaging (people who used it could leave messages for each other), some pretty unimpressive games and forums or discussion areas. The forums included Computers, Cree Language, Education,General Interest, Internet, Language Arts, Legal Issues ("Ask a lawyer"), Music, Native Studies, Radio, Adult Literature, Children’s Literature, Nature, OPS Teachers Federation, Professional Development, School News, Special Education, Student News, Student Penpals, Swap Shop (Buy & Sell), Teacher and Videos. I suppose you could tell from that list that BayNet was operated by a teacher and a lawyer.
As the internet grew more popular, but still unavailable locally, we looked at ways of integrating it with BayNet. These would have been fairly expensive and probably quite limited. But, lots of BBS systems acted as portals to the internet for their users.
As soon as local access to the internet arrived, there was no point in running BayNet and it was shut down.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Watching the docks get taken out

There are things that happen on a regular basis, year after year. One of them is the taking out of the docks as winter approaches. Despite having lived in Moosonee for more than a quarter of a century I had never witnessed this. The obvious reason is that this task happens during daylight hours and during daylight hours I am sitting behind a desk.
This year I was lucky. I was looking outside and heard some geese. Could not see them but noticed a small Moosonee Transport Limited (MTL) tug near the public docks. Grabbed camera and came back out. The tug or utility boat was towing a group of sections of dock down the river, headed for winter storage. I got some shots of the tug and the dock sections as they headed by me.
Walked down to what was left of the public docks to wait for the boat to come back for the rest of them. I took some shots of the tug coming towards and tying up at the docks but then the operations took a break. The tug does not look immensely bigger than the canoes that are regularly on the river but it is a totally different kind of craft. The patterns of its waves were fascinating, especially when it was right in front of me and I could see how much water it was pushing out of the way.
I guess I could have gone back later to watch the rest of the docks get towed away but I figured that by coming out when I did I had pretty much seen the whole show and headed home.
In past years, when the removal of the docks was part of a contract handed out by the government from far away, the docks often came out much too early. Timing had nothing to do with local conditions and everything to do with the convenience of a contractor from out of town. Now that the Town of Moosonee has taken over the "Port of Moosonee", it seems that the docks come out much later in the year. This is convenient for people travelling back and forth between Moosonee and Moose Factory. The taxi boats stay in the water well after there is floating ice but getting in and out of them is less and less fun at that point.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Scanning film on a Sunday night

I know that my future includes or should include endless hours of scanning film. In theory and often in practice the results of scanning film are far superior to scanning prints made from that film.
I have years and years of film and prints that I SHOULD catalog and organize and preserve.
Scanning prints is fast. I have three (hooked up) flatbed scanners and can load them up with prints and do four to six at a time. Prints, by which I mean typical colour 4 x 6 or smaller images do not have a lot of detail in them. Pretty much any scanner is reasonably capable of doing a good job and recovering all of the information in the print. I usually scan at 600 dots per inch which guarantees getting everything. There is not a lot to be gained by higher resolution, the detail is just not there.
Film is another story. A roll or two is about all I can stand doing in an evening. And, remember that I am no perfectionist who removes slides from the mounts and scans them in oil on a glass plate.

35mm slides shot with a decent camera can contain a lot of detail. I can scan at up to 5400 dots per inch to pick up all of the grain details.
Decent camera is a relative term. Tonight I scanned some shots done with a disposable (one time use) camera, some with a point and shoot (Olympus that conveniently printed the date on the negative) and some with a single lens reflect (Canon FTb). The disposable negatives are awful. The point and shoot shots were pretty good and the SLR shots were excellent (when I had the camera focused properly -- something that worked much better with younger eyes). I had forgotten how often we used disposable cameras, especially on trips where we didn't bring a camera. They are ok for making small prints but that is about it.
Dust is a big issue with scanning film. When I scan a print I am unlikely to blow it up very much. Dust is visible and fairly easy to remove. On film, tiny bits of dust show up as large defects when scans are enlarged.
There is some help from technology. Kodak has a product it sells to scanner manufacturers called Digital ICE (Digital Image Correction and Enhancement originally developed by Applied Science Fiction which was bought by Kodak). Digital ICE works in scanners that have both visible light and infrared sources.
I have a film scanner (the now discontinued Konica Minolta Dimage Scan Elite 5400II) that uses Digital ICE.
Digital ICE does not work perfectly with the slide film that I generally used, Kodachrome. Kodachrome was a special Kodak slide film that has a cyan layer that absorbs infrared light.
The point of Digital ICE is to get rid of scratches and dust. This is a big timesaver with both negative film (used for prints) and slide film.
Nikon has a scanner (Coolscan 9000 ED) that it claims can handle Kodachrome.This is very attractive to anyone who has piles of Kodachrome films lying around. Unfortunately it goes for $2729 in Canada. That is almost three times as expensive as the slide scanner I am using now so I may go on getting rid of dust manually.
I also use a third party product called Vuescan. This is software which can operate almost any scanner and which seems able to do a pretty good job with most kinds of film. Because a lot of scanner models have been discontinued and do not have up to date software, Vuescan can be very useful since it can run under current operating systems such as Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Mac OS X 10.6. Vuescan can be set to work with Kodachrome; it seems satisfactory.

Two great skies in a row

It's Sunday morning and I have just finished processing the pictures I took around sunrise. I looked out first about three quarters of an hour before dawn and the sky looked great so I grabbed a couple of shots from my front door and then got ready and headed out.
It was a couple of degrees below zero which is not cold if you are walking around but it gets to me a little when I am standing around taking pictures so I dress warmly.
The colours in the morning are best before sunrise when the sun is still below the horizon.
There is a bit of ice, nothing that is going to stop a boat but enough to remind me that we are living on borrowed times when it comes to open water.
Last night was great too. I noticed the sky when I was leaving the store (Moosonee is a small enough place that when you say "store" people know you mean Northern). A very kind person, Sharon Ross, saw me waiting with my groceries and gave me a ride home. That meant that I had time to grab a few shots of the sunset up the river.
I have been keeping my exposures down a bit when shooting sunrise and sunset. I have always tended to "shoot to the right", to make sure that my pictures have elements that show up at the right edge of the histogram. This means that the image, as recorded by the camera, should have bright things in it, even if the actual scene was not that bright. Things can always be darkened later. Sometimes I ended up with the nasty spike of overexposure. Yes, it can often be saved in Photoshop but I am finding that the colours are much better when I avoid that spike.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Shooting a meeting and a hockey game with a wedding camera

Warning: this posting has a lot of details about taking pictures and goes on and on about ISO's and f-stop's.
Tonight I went to a couple of events in Moosonee. Once was the 27th Annual General of the Moosonee Native Friendship Centre. This is an organization that I have been involved with, off and on and mostly on, since 1982. Every year the Centre puts on a meeting to present its progress to the community and let the members choose new members for the board of directors. I got nominated but declined but was really, really happy that Dechen Khangkar, the other lawyer in our office, accepted and got appointed. I spent 15 years on the Friendship Centre board and it was a very satisfying experience. I shot pictures at the meeting, mostly quick candids. Lots of shots of staff and artist John Reuben (shown here with Marguerite Wabano who is 105 years old) giving out door prizes as well as people sitting and listening intently to financial reports and brainstorming about a potential new housing project. I took no pictures of people eating or with food in their mouths although I was tempted.
After that, went home and switched lenses but not cameras. I put my Canon 70-200 f2.8 IS lens on a Canon 5DII. I had shot the meeting with the same camera with a 24-105mm f4 IS lens, mostly with flash.
The 5DII is a great camera, it is nice to work in full frame (sensor is same size as a piece of 35mm film so lenses act the same as they would on a film camera. That is great most of the time but for some things, the extra "zoom" from a camera with a smaller sensor is handy. Hockey is one of those times and tonight I was shooting Moosonee Men's Hockey.
At 70mm my lens gave a view of more than half the far end of the arena. At 200mm it was nowhere near as tight as I might have liked.
However, I crop a lot and usually post hockey in 2048 pixel size images so it is possible to get by.
The Moosonee Arena is not a bright place. Tonight I shot at ISO 6400 and started off at 1/500 of a second at f4. That was a little bit dark so switched to 1/400 of a second. Usually f4 instead of f2.8 gives a bit more depth of field which is nice. The pictures are a bit overexposed when it comes to the ice but pretty decent for the objects of interest, a bunch of fast moving men on skates.
I used a custom white balance taken from a whibal card, an expensive piece of gray plastic. The lights in the arena are not consistent, they seem to have two main colourations so alternate shots can look a bit different but the white balance is good enough.At times I have tried doing a white balance based on the ice but find that does not work too well.
I took more than 500 shots at the game so I shot jpg's. I processed them in Lightroom. There is no way that I was going to sit down and go through them and handle them individually in photoshop the way I might for a few very special pictures from a wedding or a sunrise. I picked 299 images including some of the scoreboard.
Most just needed cropping, some not even that. I moved around a bit at the game. I started up high on a ladder leading to a booth at one end, took some shots through the glass from one corner and from behind the goal and then got some from another corner and a few over the wall of one of the team benches.

Shooting through the glass is not always great. Reflections, odd colouration and blur from dirt and scratches are the order of the day. Tonight, I did not do much to the shots taken this way except to make them less soft by adding black.
When I see the amazing shots in Sports Illustrated where they are using a million watts of lighting so they can shot at small apertures I am very jealous. Even at f4 I am putting up with not much depth of field. But, it is better than f2.8 or f2.0. And sometimes, I rationalize keeping a shot where some of the players around the edges are a bit (a bit?) blurry on the grounds that I am taking the shots to show what happened.
Taking pictures of a hockey game is, for me, confusing. Biggest reason is that I do not know the first thing about hockey. I do not skate so I have never played myself. I lack the player's (or fan's) appreciation for what is going on. It just seems like a bunch of guys moving very fast. After taking pictures at maybe a dozen games I am still confused about what is going on. Perhaps I will get better but for now I find that I do not capture the "decisive moments". These for me would be the goals and the saves. I get a few but not enough.
As for the camera--the 5DII is not a sports camera. It only shoots at four frames per second so sequences of action do not always work out that well. I do not trust any of the focus points except for the centre one but it works reasonably well, after all, I am shooting bright and contrasty objects against a white background. But, the high ISO performance makes possible taking shots at a reasonable speed and then being able to use them, right out of the box. When I shot hockey with my Canon 1DIIN I did not dare go above ISO 1600. That meant that I had to up the exposure in processing with predictable results.
Sports cameras are expensive but I am dreaming about getting a 1DIV. I suspect it would be just as nice at ISO 6400 as the 5DII and likely better. If I could shoot with it at ISO 12800 I could up my speed a bit so pucks would look better or use f5.6 once in while. Of course, it would be nice to get back that higher shooting rate and faster focus.
Enough about equipment.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Making maps and since when is Moose Factory not on an island

There was a great article in the New York Times about the ways in which ordinary people are getting involved in making maps of their communities.
On line maps are very important and useful. They can be up to date and can let you choose between road maps and satellite views. Some now incorporate Bird's Eye views that can make me believe I am flying around in a low altitude aircraft. Traditionally they have been made by businesses who have people who go and check things out or rely on previously published materials.
Now, more and more people are getting involved in gathering the data needed to make maps.
The New York times article mentions how a couple of hundred volunteers set out in Atlanta last month to get information missing from current maps.There is hope for a worldwide collaboration to produce accurate and current maps of everywhere.
For some people involved in producing maps, it is important that what they produce will be available to anyone instead of being owned by a corporation and used for commercial purposes or kept hidden from the public.
 OpenStreetMap is a user generated street map of the world. It has a lot of fascinating stuff such as traces of people's travels from their GPS's and diaries written by the kinds of fussy, careful people so vital to the generation of accurate maps.
I look at online maps from the point of view of someone in a small place that is out of the way. Right from the start I have noticed that online maps of where I live tend to have interesting errors.
For example, according to Google Maps, there is a place called Killarney in the part of Moosonee that used to be Canadian Forces Station Moosonee and that everybody here calls "the base". There is a place called Killarney and a Provincial Park but those are on Georgian Bay in Southern Ontario.
Also on the Google map: various Moosonee roads are labeled "Local Services Board of Mooson". There is no such body; Moosonee is a town now and was a Development Area before and was always spelled "Moosonee".. There is a Local Services Board in Moose Factory so perhaps that accounts for the confusion.
Still, the Google map is pretty good and the satellite photos let you see your own house in Moosonee.
If you choose to search with Microsoft's search engine, Bing, you did a different picture of this area.  You will see that Moosonee is clearly on the mainland and on the north shore of the Moose River. Moose Factory is moved off its island in the middle of the river and shows up on the south shore. That's on the map version, if you check out the aerial shots it is in the right place although you cannot zoom in as far as you can with Google.
Being a coward and a respecter of copyrights, I have not reproduced the map errors in images but provided links to them. I hope that at some point in the future, somebody will correct the errors. And yes, as you probably guessed, I already sent in corrections, years ago.

As someone alive to importance of visuals, I decided I would include an aerial shot of Moosonee. Here are some more aerial shots taken from a helicopter including a few of "the base"; perhaps somebody can find Killarney on one of them. In the interests of being fussy and accurate I should and will mention that they were taken on October 1st, 2005 from the right rear seat of a helicopter being used to transport people out to look for gravel up the Moose River.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Getting up for the Leonid Meteor Show

I never tried to take pictures of a meteor shower before. This year I decided to keep an eye on the sky. It was cloudy early in the evening the night before but it gradually cleared up giving me a bit of hope.
I had read that the best viewing location was somewhere in Asia but that I might see 10 meteors an hour.

How to take pictures of a meteor shower?
Lots of advice on the internet. Clearly this is something to be done with a camera on a tripod and a longish exposure and probably a wide lens.
The widest lens I have is a Canon 15mm f2.8 fisheye. The nice thing about using it is that it will cover a lot of sky.
Next question, shutter speed. Long time. The camera can take a 30 second picture on its own but that did not sound long enough. Last year I bought a Canon TC80-N3 timer/remote. Tonight I decided to actually use it. Opened the box, nice piece of equipment but where are the instructions? Not to be seen. Fortunately, found a pretty decent set of instructions by Julian Loke. Spent a bit of time playing with the device. It has four functions that can be combined with each other. It lets you set the camera to take a series of long exposures at specified intervals. In my case, take half a dozen shots of five minutes each, wait a few seconds in between and wait a few seconds to start the sequence.
Outside I headed. I live across the street from the Moose River. This is a big, wide, tidal river. The river bank is steep now due to stabilization work but nicely frozen so it made a good platform. The only obstacles are the street lights (remember the fisheye is picking up 180 degrees of light) but I managed to keep those mostly out of frame. The lights and haze from Moose Factory across the river probably didn't help but a lot of stars were visible anyway.
I stayed out for about 45 minutes. I saw five meteors myself but only captured one with the camera. Not sure why. None of the meteors that I saw had very long tracks but four of them were within the area of sky the camera was covering. I was leaving a few second between frames so it is possible that I missed one or two that way. I shot the first five minute exposure at f4 and then switched to f5.6. That could be the problem but the later exposures had lots of stars too. However, the stars are there for the whole five minutes and the meteors only for a second or so perhaps the exposure change was the problem.
Still I did get one shot of a meteor which to me justifies getting up in the middle of the night. Next time I will keep the lens open and perhaps increase the exposure time to give each shot a better chance of capturing a meteor trail.

I looked more carefully at my shots later and did find one that had a potential meteor trail. So I suspect the problem was the change in aperture (although the one track I did get was bright enough that it is hard to image that a one stop change would make such a difference).

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Displacement Activities of Common Ravens

Displacement activities is a fancy phrase that I heard somewhere and found again in "The American Crown and Common Raven" by Lawrence Kilham. Kilham was a doctor and professor of medicine as well as a very devoted and methodical birdwatcher.
Typical displacement behaviour includes twig pulling, pebble tossing, beak cleaning, grass pulling and preening. Sometimes it appears the birds are bored or trying to pretend that they are not interested in something. Other times they may be nervous.
Today I watched a raven perching (remember, ravens are the largest of the perching birds (passeriformes) on a cut down tree. It looked around, it scrapped its beak and it grabbed and pulled off twigs.
I suppose the displacement refers to displacing nervousness or fear or boredom into some kind of basically harmless activity. I got a few shots of the activity and put them together in a composite.
Getting that composite where I wanted it made me remember something. I uploaded it to a website and found that it ended up far away from the component shots. I sort images on that site by date taken. The composite shot had been put together in a blank image in Photoshop and so had no date taken. The solution, which I should have remembered, was to open a shot from the sequence, open the composite and paste it on top, flatten the image and save. That way the composite had the same data taken as the pictures in the sequence.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Missed again

I am not a very serious railfan.
I can tell you the models of the Ontario Northland's locomotives and I know where to lookup where their passenger cars originated but the minute I see much else I am hopelessly lost. I have never spent days chasing trains up and down dusty roads or climbed high cliffs to take spectacular shots of trains in mountains.

What I do is walk over to the station when the train is going to be there and take some pictures. One time this summer I did wait for the Northlander (Toronto to Cochrane) where the tracks crossed a river channel just north of New Liskeard but that is about it.
I have taken lots of pictures of the Ontario Northland tracks that go out to the airport in Moosonee. These are a relatively recent feature of the line -- the extension of the tracks past the former military base and across Butler Creek was a bit controversial. Local truckers feared they would lose business when freight that was formerly offloaded to trucks at the station and driven to the airport ended up staying on rails the whole way there.
Today, there is a small bridge across Butler Creek and a couple of tracks at the airport that are mostly used for cargo heading up north or into the warehouses near the airport.
Two pictures I do not have are those of a train crossing the Butler Creek bridge and of switching at the airport itself.
I have lots of pictures of trains crossing the Store Creek rail bridge; I have a pretty good idea when the train is going to go across and sometimes I have the patience to wait a few minutes for it.

Freight activity does not have to adhere to the same kinds of schedules as passenger traffic. It is not easy to predict when a train is going to be at the airport. Twice, I have been at the former base when I saw trains running along the line to the airport.
Tonight was one of those nights. Naturally no camera with me. It was raining and it was dark but I bet I could have gotten some kind of shot as the locomotives and their cars headed past on the other side of the former military buildings as I watched from the parking lot of the convenience store at the base, Le Tempo.
Oh well, another time perhaps I will get lucky.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Moosonee: Development Area to Town

When I first lived here, Moosonee was Ontario's only Development Area. It was not a town, village, city or even an improvement area. It was governed by the Moosonee Development Area Board, the MDAB.
Some day, I will know the story of why it got this unique status. How it got it is easier to answer, from a legal point of view.
I assumed at first that a Development Areas was a kind of municipality defined in the same manner as towns and cities. I was wrong. Moosonee had its own law.
In 1966, the Ontario legislature passed the Moosonee Development Area Board Act. It was revised a little over the years but remained mostly unchanged. The Act appeared in the 1970 Revised Statutes of Ontario and the 1980 Revised Statutes of Ontario. When it came time to do the 1990 Revised Statutes it was decided to save paper. The Moosonee Development Area Board Act was relegated to the "Table of Unconsolidated and Unrepealed Acts" along with such legislation as An Act to provide for the establishment of a Hospital for the reclamation and cure of Habitual Drunkards ( 1873), the Temperance Act of Ontario (1877)and An Act respecting Tithes (1897). Putting it on this list meant that nobody who looked in the 1990 Revised Statutes would find it.
The Moosonee Development Area Board Act provided for a board appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council. This nice phrase simply meant that the members were officially appointed by the government. In practice, what happened is that elections were held and the government appointed the people who won the election. That practice was modified a little bit when the Bob Rae government was elected. The next time Moosonee held elections, the winners were asked to submit resumes to the government. This request was generally seen as an insult to the voters.
The Act explained and set out the powers of the Board and listed the situations in which it was or was not treated as a municipality. It was accompanied by two schedules. The first set out the boundaries of the Development Area (see Note 3) and the second was list purposes for which the Board had all the powers of a township (Note 4).
Section 11 of the Act made clear that "The Development Area shall remain territory without municipal organization".
All this came to an end with the passing of the Town of Moosonee Act in 2000 which turned Moosonee into a town, pretty much like any other from a legal point of view.
Anyone can easily find the Town of Moosonee Act online, I think that it would be useful if the older legislation was online as well. The new Act makes reference, for example, to the geographic description of Moosonee but does not include. To someone, someday, knowing the exact boundaries may be a vital piece of information.
For now, I will do my best to make sure we do not throw out our old law books.
This posting is dedicated to Mary Etherington, long time secretary-treasurer and Maude Tyer, long time board member.

Note 1: Statutes are laws passed by the legislature of Ontario. They are numbered by year. In the past, approximately every decade they were consolidated into the Revised Statutes of Ontario to make things handier. The last edition of the Revised Statutes was 1990. Since then, people rely on the internet.
Note 2: One reason I hate writing about anything about is law is the compulsion to be precise. When I say approximately every decade I mean that they were consolidatedin 1990, 1980, 1970, 1960, 1950, 1937, 1927, 1914, 1897, 1887 and 1877. The province of Ontario dates from 1867 when it was created as part of the creation of the Dominion of Canada. Prior to then, it was Upper Canada or Canada West, etc. The Revised Statutes did not contain all laws, only the most likely to be used laws.
Note 3: Schedule A was a lengthy description of the land included in the Development Area. It starts off: "All and singular that certain parcel or tract of land and premises situate, lying and being in the District of Cochrane and Province of Ontario, being composed of the whole of the geographic townships of Caron, Horden and Moose, including the Moosonee Townsite, part of the part of the right-of-way of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission and part of the Moose River, which said parcel or tract of land may be more practically described as follows:
Commencing at the southwest angle of the said Township of Horden;
Thence due north astronomically along the west boundary of the said township being along the centre line of the allowance for road between the townships of Winnington and Horden, as established by Ontari Land Surveyor H. W. Sutcliffe in the year 1932, a distance of 1 Mile (5,280 feet) to the 1-mile post;.......
Note 4: Schedule B included purposes such as fire protection, street lighting, licencing of cabs, sewage, cemeteries, library services and part 1 of the Dog Licencing and Live Stock and Poultry Protection Act.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remembrance Day

One of the perks of working where I do is that Remembrance Day is a day off. One thing is almost always do is watch the ceremoy from Ottawa at 11 a.m. This year it included both the future King (Prince Charles) and the Governor General.
I also did some scanning of pictures my father gave me. Mostly shots he took when he was in the army. He didn't leave Canada the way other uncles and relatives. His pictures show activity at bases and life in barracks. In one, he is shown with a group in what almost seems like tropical uniforms.
He kept his regular uniforms after the war. In the 50s when I was young it was not uncommon for boys to dress up in elements of their fathers' World War II uniforms. I remember worrying though if we could get in trouble from the police for so doing.

I still have most of the uniforms and am proud that I have a grandson who wants them when I am gone. He knows all about the military service of his greatgrandfathers and his great uncle.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The eyes are easily deceived

I took a lot of pictures right after work today. I left the office at 5:00 p.m., a little while after sunset. The sky to the south was a beautiful red/purple and I hurried on to get shots of taxi boats and docks at dusk. I kept my exposure a bit on the low side to accentuate the colour in the sky so the boats and things on the ground ended up as silhouettes.
Later in the evening, I looked downriver and thought I saw something bright near to the middle of the river. At first I wondered if it was the rising moon although it lacked the colour that is often expected when the moon is close to the horizon. I decided it must be a barge or a barge and tug on the way north or the way back from further north. Moosonee is the port where cargo arrives by rail and is loaded onto barges to be delivered on both sides of James Bay.
I decided to get a shot of whatever it was and hoped that it was not moving too fast.
Went inside and grabbed a tripod and put the 100-400mm lens on a Canon 5DII.
Fortunately, whatever it was had not moved much if at all. It was too dark for autofocus so aimed for infinity and then adjusted by eye until it looked ok. Hey, these eyes did manual focus for years and can still manage it once in a while. Fortunately the object had some nice vertical lines that were easy to focus on.
It looked like the tail end of one of the barges. Probably headed north I thought.
Time to turn up the exposure and the ISO. The 100-400 at 400mm is an f5.6 lens so could not do anything that way. Should have left the 70-200 f2.8 lens on.
However there was enough light to make it clear what it was.
It was an empty barge, tied up on the river bank but long enough to appear that its stern was way out in the river. What I thought might have been the back side of the stern was the front. The barge is mostly black with some light colouring on the vertical structure at the stern which was reflecting the dock lights. When I cranked up the exposure and reduced the focal length got a picture of a dark barge at dock
Nothing so exciting as a barge on the move. Just something still tied up where it was earlier in the day.

Barges and trains at lunchtime

Today was a surprisingly nice day so headed for a walk at lunch time. Had seen a partially loaded barge so went and got a shot of that.
Then heard the sounds of a train and realized that the freight train was switching nearby.
Most train photographs from Moosonee show the Polar Bear Express but there are also two weekly freight trains (Tuesdays and Fridays). They bring cargo and also do switching on the tracks on Ferguson Road (oil tanks), Revillon Road (barge docks for cargo heading up north), the Moosonee Airport and loading platforms for commercial vehicles on Airport Road.
Well, I was on foot as almost always so not a lot of speed. But managed to get one shot of the locomotive on Ferguson and a few more when it crossed Airport Road and Bay Road. Much of the time I was shooting into the sun which didn't help things. When doing that you have to decide what to expose for:  the overall scene or the train (which will be dark if you expose for the overall backlit scene).
The freight train headed out towards the airport. One shot I have not been able to manage is one of a train crossing the bridge over Butler Creek just before the airport and today was not going to be my lucky day.

Still, it was a much better walk than I expected when I set out.

(Full size images located at )

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Nictating Membranes

Ravens, like other birds and many other animals, have a third eyelid or nictating (or nictitating) membrane. When it covers the eye it gives it a milky appearance.

I have usually avoided posting pictures where the nictating membrane is exposed. Today I decided what the heck and I posted some. Perhaps I did this because they were decent images or perhaps just because there is no use in pretending that the eyes of ravens are always uncovered.

What a great day outside

Today was unbelievably nice, clear skies mostly, not cold (got up to 13C or 55F). I spent a lot of time outside with a camera.
First went earlier in the morning down the river bank towards the Moose River. This whole area was the subject of a stabilization project over the last couple of years.
Last year they shot 1700 soil nails into the ground and placed a lot of very nice granite from a quarry near Peterborough along the water's edge.
This year they got rid of the vegetation and shaped the bank. The result is a quagmire. You have to be very careful where you walk or you will sink in. Poor drainage, I suppose. Probably an expected consequence of getting rid of the plant life and spreading dirt around. I sink in once in a while, usually not that bad and I have learned to wear rubber boots. Today a little worse, almost over the tops of my boots. Ok, remember the drill. Put the camera in the plastic bag that is always carried (to deal with condensation in cold weather, rain or situations such as this). Put two hands on the ground to get the weight off the feet and struggle out and hope nobody is watching (laughing). Go home and wash the clothes.
Then, change cameras. I went out with a Canon 40D with 100-400mm lens. With crop factor of the 40D this is the equivalent of 640mm on a 35mm film camera. Did not have a lot of luck. The combination is not really quick focusing enough. But, got a few shots of ravens coming for eggs and one smart one deciding why bother with the ones on the ground when you can get more from the carton.
When I came back out I decided to stay on the grass as much as possible and brought out my Canon 1DIIN with the 300mmf2.8. While the camera is a few years old this is a much faster focusing combination for birds in flight. It is a heavier setup but tolerable.
Birds are flight are a tough group of subjects for me. I find that I throw away the vast majority of my shots but I imagine that is true for many people. The 300mm lens with the 1D is the same as a 390mm lens on a 35mm camera. This is not very long but my expectation was that I would be mostly photographing ravens. They are big birds and they come pretty close. Sometimes, in fact, too close for effective focusing or useful depth of field.

First thing I noticed was the flock of geese on the sandbar. Naturally taking pictures of them was shooting into the sun. So no great results and the geese did not have the common courtesy to come and fly over to the shoreline and perhaps give me a chance at some beautiful shots of birds lit up by the morning sun. Did a few shots but nothing spectacular.

Spent more time with the ravens. They come for eggs, not my personality. Today I went through a lot but got a few good shots of the ravens in flight and on the ground. One of them grabbed an egg and flew off and then somehow dropped it on the road so got a few shots of it and then, after I threw out a fresh egg and that bird took off with it, a more timid raven finishing it up.

I love the shapes the ravens assume when they fly especially when they are landing or turning or flying close to the ground or buildings. I try to focus on the eyes/head because once the birds get really close there is not way that the whole bird is going to be in focus with a 300mm lens. I turn exposure compensation way up, usually plus 2. Ravens are dark birds and I want to get details in them more than in the landscape.

Noticed myself in the eye of a raven in one shot so blew that up a little.

I posted a bunch of pictures from today on under Ravens and Birds - General

Friday, November 6, 2009

Websites and mysteries

Right now, I have three websites meaning web space for which I pay out money. I am not counting free stuff such as Facebook or Bebo or etc. Oops, forgot about a fourth website where I put family stuff.
I churn out a lot of content. Most of it is pretty narrow in scope. I live in a small town and take pictures there of the town of Moosonee, sometimes Moose Factory, often the Moose River and its traffic and birds, mostly Common Ravens. I should not forget the trains that come here, mostly the Polar Bear Express and sometimes freight trains.
As a former computer programmer, I feel guilty that I have never learned how to set up fancy, interactive websites with lots of amazing features. I drag and drop pictures and thumbnails or just upload pictures to fit into templates that other people have developed.
I started off with just one website. At first it had the name assigned by my service provider then a better name became available and I went for it.
I do this website in Microsoft Frontpage. It has a bit of text but  mostly pictures. I started out with some tight space limitations so the pictures are 800 pixels wide or 1024 pixels wide. Because I do not use a fancy setup for it, just pages of pictures with thumbnails, it is a bit of a nuisance to update. If I want to add descriptions I have to put them in separately. Sometimes it is a pain to add pictures of different shapes. However, I have it, it uses my last name and is my only CA website. This site is hosted by which, while not cheap, has superior customer service and reliability and is hosted in Canada.
A few years ago I signed up for pbase, a photo sharing website that is not too expensive. I am limited in how much space I use there so I keep the pictures to 1024 pixels wide. What is the difference between this site and Sometimes the same pictures but I have used the pbase site more for events such as weddings or carnivals in the past. Pbase has had some issues lately, they were down for several days in September and are still working on their recovery from that downtime caused by a power failure at their hosting company. The severe impact of that failure somewhat surprised me. As with the site, pbase requires manual input of descriptions.

About three years ago I started using smugmug. They have basically unlimited traffic and webspace and a very sophisticated hosting service that uses Amazon's S3 service so things are backed up all over the States. Still, they have had down time as well. I usually upload full size images to this site and a few videos. I have by far the most stuff on the smugmug site. One thing I really like is the fact that smugmug can extract descriptions and keywords right from my picture files. Since I mostly set those fields up in bridge or lightroom, it means that it takes no extra work to descriptive information to my pictures.
So which sites get used the most? I use google analytics to analyze the traffic. Remember, these are hobby sites that I run, traffic in terms of visitors or bytes is tiny compared to commercial sites. All together I get a few thousand visitors a month, maybe more if I have uploaded content from a popular event here such as a wedding or the rising of the river in the spring.
One thing that intrigues me is how the sites get searched. I notice that smugmug is a poor third. For some reason, pictures on the other two sites seem to show up more often in search engines. When I look at google analytics this is confirmed, a much lower percentage of the traffic on is from search engines than on the other two sites despite the fact that the images there have far more descriptive information. I have tried various things, mainly adding detailed descriptions to pictures, lots of accurate and meaningful keywords. But, in the end, the smugmug hosted site does not impress the search engines. This is too bad because it has the best versions of my photographs and often far more photographs of a given item or theme.
I used to print a few photographs but now I just tell people they can download the pictures from the sites and print themselves. Alternatively, they can order prints through the smugmug site ( or ). There is not a lot of demand for this, I have not sold a lot of pictures but then again I am doing this for fun not for recouping expenses let alone making a profit.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Sometimes it pays to live in a small town: H1N1 vaccine delivered well

The problems in vaccinating millions of people across Canada for protection against H1N1 are in the news every day. There are pictures of lineups and accusations of special treatment for bankers, hockey players and clients of private clinics.
When I talk to family and friends down south I realize they have gone to considerable trouble sometimes to get their shots. People miss work and school and spend hours and hours waiting.
Once in a while, I am compelled to say something nice so say something nice I will about the Porcupine Health Unit and its nurses and assistants in Moosonee.
I arrived five minutes before the start of the first H1N1 clinic and was the eighth person vaccinated there. I was out of there in less than half an hour, including the 15 minute wait around and see if you collapse period after I got my shot.
Porcupine Health had three nurses giving out shots. It was not instant because there is a lot of paperwork involved but it sure beat standing in line for hours in Toronto.
What's more, it didn't hurt (great needle skills).
The injection site was tender for a couple of days but I could not say my arm or anything else was sore.
The session was well organized and well delivered. It was the first of ten clinics in Moosonee on different days and in different locations.
It seems that some organizations were not ready for the vaccination program. Porcupine Health was ready or, if they were not, they did an awfully good job of hiding it and getting large numbers of people vaccinated.

A dilemma of degrees

A long time ago, I graduated from law school and got a diploma that says I have an LLB (Bachelor of Laws) degree. It sounded ok to me at the time. The diploma is on the way in my office although the view of it is somewhat obscured by all the other junk in there (I was trained to not see clients in my office so it is not impressing anybody except the cleaners).
Now I have a chance to switch it for the degree of JD (Juris Doctor).
Some people think that it needs to be made clear that an LLB, despite being a bachelor's degree, is not a first degree. Almost everyone who earns one today or when I went to law school already has an undergraduate degree, another Bachelor's degree.
In the States, the common degree for lawyers is the JD. Canadian law schools that used to give out LLBs are switching to giving out JDs.
Somebody wants to make sure that everybody understands that Canadian lawyers generally have two degrees and that the law degree is a graduate degree. The Wikipedia mentions that English LLB degrees do not require prior degrees whereas Canadian ones generally do. When I went you only needed two years of university, now anything less than a degree is an option mainly for mature students.
So, for a nominal fee, I can get a nice new JD degree.
By the way, I do not have to mail back my LLB either. Hmm, something else for the wall.
So, what to do?
My parents got my undergraduate degree very nicely framed. I got everything else framed the same way at a cost of $400 which was and is for me a small fortune. I put all the framed paper (degrees and legal qualifications) in a box. Then, one day, the lawyer in the next office stuck her degrees, etc. on the way. She did it with thumb tacks and no frames but the main thing is that everyone saw how many she had. I felt unqualified so I ended up putting mine up too and there they have stayed. The most impressive of them is my certificate of being a Notary Public, a qualification which cost me no study and only $100. It even has a bit of ribbon on it.
The obvious problem is getting my JD degree, if and when I get one, framed to match the others.
There is a little urgency, the fee for getting the JD will go up after a while so I can save a few dollars by doing it now.

At various times I have thought it would be good to get a Masters degree, an LLM. Getting this JD is much easier with few fees and no work. Very attractive.
But if I get my JD and put it up on the wall will I take down my LLB or put a note in front of it saying replaced by JD or will I secretly hope that people will think I have a third degree and that it is some kind of doctorate? Am I so vain? Perhaps someone will even say Dr. Lantz and will I immediately snap back that it is inappropriate to call me that with a JD instead of a D.Jur. (Doctor of Jurisprudence)?

A few views of the same part of Belleville

I wrote yesterday about figuring out the viewpoint/direction of one postcard by looking at another. To do so I went through a bunch of old cards of Belleville. Interesting to see how many come from similar viewpoint. the most recent one could be aerial but wonder if the others done from the top of the city hall clock tower?
The first one shows the lower (Bridge Street) bridge shown in the postcard I posted earlier, the last two show the current arched bridge.