Category Archives: Uncategorized

New Mexico History: The Battle of Columbus

Last week was the 100th anniversary of the interception of the Zimmermann Telegram (1/19/1917), in which Germany encouraged Mexico to attack the United States to keep them from participating in WW1. Ironically, the interception contributed to the United States entering the war in April. When we learned about the telegram in school as a child, the idea of Mexico attacking the US sounded laughable. In fact, Pancho Villa had attacked the town of Columbus, New Mexico nine months before. At the time of the Zimmermann Telegram, General John Pershing was hunting Villa in northern Mexico in the “Punitive Expedition.”

At the time of the Battle of Columbus, Mexico was several years into the Mexican Revolution. After 35 years, the presidency of Porfirio Díaz collapsed in 1911. A string of leaders followed; Francisco Madero ruled from 1911 until his assassination in 1913. Victoriano Huerto and Venustiano Carranza controlled different parts of Mexico in 1913-1914. In 1914, the United States assaulted the port of Veracruz, with Wilson stating his desire to overthrow Huerta. The United States then supported the presidency of Pancho Villa’s rival, Carranza.

The reasons for the Battle of Columbus aren’t fully clear, but they were probably partially motivated by Villa’s need for munitions and by his irritation that the United States was supporting his rival. Early on March 9, 1916, Villa attacked Columbus with 500 men. The raid didn’t go well for Villa. 90-170 of his men are estimated to have died. President Wilson sent General Pershing into Mexico to hunt for Villa for nearly a year. He evaded capture and entered pop culture fame. At the close of the Mexican Revolution in 1920, he agreed to retire to the country. He was assassinated in 1923 after re-involving himself in politics.

Some travel whining in lieu of content

Warning! Travel whining!

It’s been a rough Thanksgiving! We spent the holiday in Scottsdale, which was pleasant and sunny, but other aspects of the holiday went awry.

For Thanksgiving dinner, I was overconfident and ate some mousse. I was punished prodigiously for my dairy hubris; it was a rough night. We call it “Karen poisoning.” As you might expect, I am a delight on half a night’s sleep and a forcefully empty tummy. We drove to Sedona, which is beautiful, but has one crowded road in. The next day, we visited the spectacular Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix.

The drive back to Albuquerque includes some crazy (by my midwestern reckoning) elevation changes; Scottsdale is at 1200 ft and the pass near Payson (climbing the Mogollon Rim) reaches 7700 ft. The Petrified Forest is at 5000 ft, followed by the continental divide at 7200 ft, and Albuquerque is at 5000 ft. In contrast, my home of Missouri ranges from 230 to 1700 feet of elevation.

We hit snow on the pass by Payson. We climbed through white mist as the snow started to stick to the road surrounded by nervous Arizona drivers. After the pass, the sun came out and illuminated a field of windmills. At Petrified Forest, we hit snow again, this time after dark. So, with knowledge that the continental divide would be worse than what we had seen, we stopped in Gallup, New Mexico. In the morning, we made the last, uneventful leg of the trip. It was all over.

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Yesterday, my husband about exploded with food poisoning. Thankfully, I seem unaffected, since I’m still recovering from my dairy-itis. However, one is only so unaffected in a 900 sqft house. It’s too distracting for writing the blog and the day job, so I decided to bump my post to next week in favor of a little cathartic whining.

Next week post: my review of this book about the Haymarket Affair, a terrorist attack on the Chicago police inspired by labor and class tensions.

Exploring New Mexican Names: Mount Taylor

Mount Taylor is a volcano 80 miles west of Albuquerque, the most prominent feature in the western panorama looking from the foothills of the Sandias. It was named in 1849 for then-President Zachary Taylor. The Navajo call it “Tsoodził” (don’t ask me to pronounce that), and the mountain is important in the beliefs of the Navajo and local pueblo peoples. The mountain is rich in uranium, and was a mine until 1990. In nearby Grants, you can visit a mock uranium mine. Mount Taylor is also the site of the grueling-sounding Mount Taylor Quadrathlon, featuring biking, running, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. 

Zachary Taylor was the second and last Whig to be elected to the presidency. Both he and William Henry Harrison were generals, and both died early in their presidential terms. Taylor was mostly apolitical; the presidency was his first elected office. He fought in the War of 1812, against the Black Hawk Indians in what is now Minnesota, and against the Seminoles in Florida. He became known as “old rough and ready.” His daughter married future president of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis, but she died three months into the marriage.

Taylor came to national prominence during the Mexican-American War. This war eventually brought the territory of New Mexico into the union, and is detailed in Amy Greenberg’s A Wicked War. Taylor won famous victories in the Battle of Monterrey and the Battle of Buena Vista. The war was initially popular, and Taylor became correspondingly popular after his victories. Taylor privately opposed the war from its beginning, calling an early troop movement “injudicious in policy and wicked in fact.”

Democratic president James K. Polk (1845-1849), who had almost single-handedly created the war, grew frustrated that Taylor, a whig, was getting credit for what Polk considered democratic achievements. Before the Battle of Buena Vista, Polk stripped Taylor of a portion of his troops, leaving Taylor and his troops more vulnerable to attack from the army of Mexican general Santa Anna. Santa Anna was a busy boy in early Mexican history; he was president 11 nonconsecutive times, and he was the leader of the Mexican forces at the Battle of the Alamo in the Texas revolution. As time passed, the war grew unpopular, and so did Polk. After the invasion of Mexico City, the war stagnated, with US forces harassed by guerrilla warfare. US troops committed atrocities, such as the Agua Nueva Massacre. Polk wanted to annex all of Mexico, and some wealthy individuals in Mexico preferred this to the constant coups that plagued early Mexico. But would this territory permit slavery? And how would dreaded dark skinned Catholics be allowed to become citizens? Eventually, the upper one-third of Mexico’s territory was ceded to the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (a treaty that Polk opposed, but grudgingly accepted).

Taylor never saw Mount Taylor nor set foot in New Mexico, as far as I can tell. But he made his mark on the modern state of New Mexico in a couple of ways. The Mexican-American War brought most of the territory of New Mexico into the United States. And during his brief presidency, Taylor opposed Texas’ claims to the eastern half of New Mexico. Thanks in part to President Taylor, I live in New Mexico and not Texas.

Taylor assumed the presidency in March of 1849. Perhaps Polk resented this, but not for long; he had the shortest retirement of any president, dying just three months after leaving office. In the 1800s, presidents took office on March 4th after the election. Because March 4th, 1849 fell on a Sunday, Taylor refused to be sworn in. This led to “President for a Day” David Rice Atchison, who is slightly famous in my home state of Missouri. Taylor lacked specific policies and history considers him to be in the worst 25% of presidents. On July 4th, 1850, President Taylor ate some fruit and milk at a Fourth of July celebration. He became ill and died on July 9th, leaving Vice President Millard Fillmore, who is rated even worse than Taylor, historically. Polk, incidentally, is rated 10th best president, a ranking I suspect the author of A Wicked War disagrees with.

Perhaps someday I will learn how to pronounce Tsoodził, what it means, and the names and meanings of Mount Taylor in the Puebloan languages. Until then, I suppose Old Rough and Ready will have to do. He seems like the sort of person one makes do with.

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The National Parks Passport

Since moving west, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting lots of national parks and monuments. I love the hiking, the photography. I love learning about the geology, the flora and fauna, the history, and the archaeology of the parks. But one silly thing brings me a lot of joy: the national parks passport.

The passport is like a travel passport, but stamps are collected at parks rather than airports/countries. After the initial purchase of the book (about $10), the stamps are free. The stamps are generally located by the ranger in the visitor center. The simplest stamps just have the name of the park and the date. Sometimes there are graphic stamps, and this year, most parks have had 100th anniversary stamps for the hundredth anniversary of the National Parks Service.

Until six months ago, I’d never heard of the passport. I felt like I’d missed so many stamps already. Many friends hadn’t heard of the passport either. Now, walking to the ranger station with my passport, sheepish at my childlike delight, is a part of my park ritual. As of this post, I have 38 stamps from 12 national parks and national monuments. It’s a great way to record travel dates, and a terrific hit of silly endorphins. Most of the national park service sites have the stamps, from national seashores to historic forts to national monuments and parks. North Carolina’s lighthouses have stamps, DC’s memorials have stamps, and the St. Louis Arch has a stamp, to name a few examples. If you have a collecting streak and travel to parks sites, the passport might be a great little friend to you.

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The passport is available in national parks gift shops. We leave ours in the armrest of the car, so it’s always ready to go.

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Some southwestern stamps from Gila Cliff Dwellings and Chaco Canyon. Chaco has a graphic stamp, which is exciting!

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You can by regional stickers separately. Confusingly, there is also a Fort Union in New Mexico, but it was not a trading post. There are stamps for hiking trails and heritage areas, as shown above.

Bookbinding once more!

There’s nothing like a cross-country move to raise one’s creative spirits. New words, new faces, and new ideas. But a big move also challenges order. Everything goes into boxes, and even when you bring it back out, it goes into a different room and belongs in a new place. Then everything in every other room is similarly displaced. And there are new restaurants and new people and new sights, and pretty soon, you’re hopelessly in disarray.

So last week, I finally fought back against entropy. For me, a good workspace has my favorite tools in arm’s reach, but never in the way. I set forth to accomplish that goal.

The ultimate test of a working space is simple—does it inspire work? Over the weekend, I tested my space. It does inspire. I made my first three books in New Mexico. They are relatively humble, but they are setting the tone for the work ahead.

I am inspired. =)

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HDR: Nik Software is now free!

Last week I posted about using software to merge HDR or High Dynamic Range images. Well, just a few days ago, that software went from $150 to free. So that means an awesome refund for me, and even more incentive to try Nik Software for everybody else. Nik Software includes an HDR merger and a variety of effects ranging from black and white to faux vintage. I’ve had the package for three weeks, and I’m still finding new and exciting aspects.

I spent the weekend in northern New Mexico and Taos. I’m behind on everything, but I still couldn’t wait to assemble a few images. Without comment, here they are below. Happy photo editing!

High Dynamic Range photography: beyond Photoshop

Have you ever taken a picture where the brightest areas were lost to white and the darkest areas were lost to black? It’s an old photographic challenge with fun new solutions.

For over a century, photographers have used clever techniques to incorporate large brightness ranges in images.  Ansel Adams used dodging and burning to compress the dynamic range of film to the smaller range possible on paper. For challenging scientific shots, scientists produced film with three layers, each capturing a different film speed. Today, given multiple exposures of a scene, computers can auto-merge the best parts of each image in a process called tone mapping. The resulting shot has become known as an HDR or High Dynamic Range image. In just the last decade, the process has become much simpler and more useful.

Photoshop is the most famous of the merging softwares, but it isn’t the best. For years, I wrestled with Photoshop’s clunky and artificial looking HDR outputs. If you think of HDR as a pejorative, Photoshop may be why. Fortunately, there are other pieces of software out there that do a better job. I recently purchased the Nik Software package, which includes HDR Efex 2. I have several hundred old captures that I gave up on in Photoshop that are new and exciting and beautiful again. If you’ve ever tried making HDR images and felt disappointed, you should check out the market again. The results from HDR Efex and Photomatix are glorious. Happy tone mapping!

A note to Mac users: as of March 2016, the HDR Efex plug-in for Lightroom does not always work. I had to email the company and get them to send me a module file. Their email was detailed enough to suggest that this bug is common. With the module file, it was an easy fix, so contact the company if you too encounter this challenge.


HDR Efex (left) and Photoshop (right)

In the case of the cave image, I vastly prefer the HDR Efex image. The Photoshop controls aren’t intuitive, and even their built in presets mostly look awful. Some of the Nik presets are too extreme for my usual preference, but many of them look great immediately. In the case of the waterfall image, I prefer the HDR Efex image, but I don’t dislike the Photoshop image. The light is more exciting in the HDR Efex image, and I did it quickly and easily.


I’ve had HDR Efex for about three weeks. The first two weeks are free with a fully functional trial copy. Below are some of the images I’ve assembled. I’m pretty happy with it so far, especially after years of feeling uninspired by Photoshop’s HDR function. Happy photographing!

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Altering reality in wide angle

Wide-angle lenses are lenses that, as the name suggests, capture a wide angle of view. They’re great for fitting a wide scene into a single shot. A wide-angle lens can catch a long parade marching down the street, spreading to left and right; it can catch a massive sprawling mountain range.

Wide-angle lenses can be tricky, too. Humans don’t see in wide angle, so these images are distorted and unnatural to our eyes. Sometimes, that’s a feature.


Wide Angle to make something feel large

Large things loom. Whether that large object is your parents when you’re a child, a huge skyscraper, or a thunder cloud, big objects have a sense of hanging over you. Wide-angle lenses can capture that sense, even for modestly-sized objects.

Below is a shrine at the Albuquerque Botanical Garden Japanese Garden. It’s maybe 15 feet wide and 15 feet high. But with the help of wide angle, it can fill a whole frame. The top frame is as a 16mm wide-angle lens captures the shot. All the lines that should be straight are curved, because this lens is a type of wide-angle lens called a “fisheye”. This could be the desired effect, or you can correct the curvature, as in the second picture. This time, I was pursuing the second image. Sometimes, the other is the goal. That’s one cool thing about digital photography–both are available in any given image.

The shrine at the Japanese Garden

Shrine at the ABQ Biopark Japanese Garden, with fisheye distortion uncorrected.

The shrine at the Japanese Garden

With corrected perspective.


Wide Angle to capture a wide scene

This one’s obvious, but still awesome. Some images need a lot of space. Sometimes, you can get a wide-angle image by stitching several traditional images together. But as in the top image, only a single capture can catch the ducks taking flight.

In the bottom image, the angular distortion from the fisheye lens is fine uncorrected, because there are no straight lines on that rock to betray the distortion. And the wide angle here allowed me to get the sun in the frame. The distortion to the sun here is called a “sunstar.” You can get them by shooting with small apertures, which leads to light diffraction. Here’s a nice brief article if you want to learn more about sunstars.

ABQ Biopark Japanese Garden wide angle, ducks taking flight

The pond at the Japanese Garden

Bisti Badlands and Sun Star

A rock formation at Bisti Badlands


Wide Angle for composition

Wide-angle lenses give a photographer different options in guiding the viewer’s eye in a photograph. You may have heard that long lenses compress depth, thus why they are pleasing for portraits. Wide lenses exaggerate depth. The righthand side-view mirror on cars is slightly wide-angle. This is why “objects may be closer than they appear.” Your side-view mirror has exaggerated the sense of depth.

Additionally, wide-angle lenses can focus on nearby objects. My 85mm lens has a minimum focal distance of 1 meter. My 70-200 varies from 1 meter to 1.5 meters. My fisheye can focus nearly up to the point I bump into the subject.

Both of these factors give the photographer different creative freedoms when composing with a wide-angle lens.

In the first image, I found this hanging rock fascinating. I put my lens right next to this rock when I shot, but because of the exaggerated depth, it doesn’t feel as claustrophobic as the shot was. The rocks in the background are only a few feet away, but they feel more distance. Here, I also employ the wide angle to make the rock loom large. That hanging arm was no more than 3 feet long.

In the second image, the ability to get close to the statue in the foreground meant I could fill more of the frame with it. And I can fit the building comfortably in the background. So I can make a relatively small object the same size in the capture as a large object.

Rock formations in the Bisti Badlands

Rocks and sun at Bisti Badlands

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University of New Mexico campus, and statue of school mascot, the Lobo

 

Did I miss anything? I love a good photo discussion, so let me know!

Western skies: Lenticular clouds

The western sky is as vast as the western landscape (that I have admired in so many other posts). It’s full of dramatic colors and exotic clouds. And because I am a geek, I bought a book about collecting clouds, The Cloud Collector’s Handbook.

I was inspired to buy this book after seeing several lenticular clouds. Lenticular clouds, sometimes mistaken for UFOs, look like giant horizontal lens in the sky, thus the name. They’re beautiful. Here in New Mexico, I see them over the tops of mountains, just hovering there. Unlike other clouds, lenticular clouds tend to stay in one place. That’s because lenticular clouds have an interesting formation mechanism.

Do you remember standing waves from your high school physics days? Lenticular clouds are a grand natural example of them. In our class, we bobbed a metal sphere up and down in water, and depending upon the shape of the container, waves would either travel or “stand.” In a traveling wave, the maxima travels across space; in a standing wave, the maxima is stationary. Standing waves are resonance patterns–if you recall the famous Tacoma Narrows bridge collapse, that was a result of a standing wave pattern.

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Standing wave example in the surface of a drum (Wikipedia). Note that the maxima doesn’t travel in space, it just oscillates in magnitude.

So, lenticular clouds are standing wave patterns in the sky, made visible by the condensation of water. They stay put because that’s what standing waves do. They tend to form over mountains or hills because these structures disrupt the movement of airflow and cause eddies that sometimes lead to lenticular clouds. If you have ever watched a flowing river and observed a whorl behind a log or rock, well, a lenticular cloud is like that, but in the sky. Pilots avoid them because of the strong winds that create them. Though they look serene, they are not!

Below are some great example pictures that aren’t mine. This time of year, lenticular clouds are rarer, and I was too busy gawking this summer to take pictures. So as the spring winds and summer rains of the west approach, keep on the lookout for lenticular clouds. I will be!

 

My Florida Bird captures

I’m wrapping up three weeks birding south Florida, testing my new 70-200mm lens. I was inspired by a recent photography class through my local Albuquerque photography club, the Enchanted Lens. The instructor showed many beautiful images of birds using 600- and 700mm lenses. I can’t afford 600mm lenses. I wanted to see what I could accomplish with my new (and already very dear) 70-200mm. I’ve had a 70-300mm lens for 8 years now, but it is optically weak. It takes gray, lifeless images. It has a resale value of $12. With my new, colorful, sharp lens,  I’m falling in love with the 70-200mm zoom range all over again.

Below are my captures on this trip. I always learn more when I bring my camera; I get to study for an hour that which I saw for a moment. I see that macaws can have multiple colors on one feather. I find out what macaws are. I see which parts of the color were skin and which parts are feathers.

Some of the images below I shot in the wild. Others I shot at the Peace River Wildlife Center in Punta Gorda, Florida and at the Sarasota Jungle Gardens in Sarasota. I uploaded many more pictures at full res at my Flickr site, and my birds album.

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A wild great egret

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I couldn’t figure out what this guy was! He resembles a double-breasted cormorant, but all the example images I found of them had orange beaks. I found this fellow hunting in the wild.

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A brown pelican at the Peace River Wildlife Center in Punta Gorda, Florida.

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A rescued sandhill crane at the Peace River Wildlife Center in Punta Gorda, Florida.

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A great blue heron at the Peace River Wildlife Center in Punta Gorda, Florida.

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A yellow-crowned night heron at the Peace River Wildlife Center in Punta Gorda, Florida.

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A white ibis at Sarasota Jungle Gardens in Sarasota, Florida.

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A flamingo at Sarasota Jungle Gardens in Sarasota, Florida.

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An indian ringneck parakeet and a sun conure parrot at Sarasota Jungle Gardens in Sarasota, Florida.

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A hyacinth macaw at Sarasota Jungle Gardens in Sarasota, Florida.

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A blue and gold macaw at Sarasota Jungle Gardens in Sarasota, Florida.

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A military macaw at Sarasota Jungle Gardens in Sarasota, Florida.

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A female eclectus parrot at Sarasota Jungle Gardens in Sarasota, Florida.