Thursday, September 29, 2016

It was a good idea, but darned ghosts

This morning I found myself a few blocks down from where I often parked when I was working downtown, wondering what the sunrise would be like. There I was, happily shooting away, mildly astonished at the number of trains rumbling by. Exchanged waves with one train driver. Wondering what the vibration would do to the shots, since sometimes the whole Penn West building shook when a train went by. (It messed up only one, to my surprise.)

It was nice watching the sunrise. There was a bit of haze, and I had high hopes that I'd get that rosy background again. I did for a little while, then later the buildings got that golden glow that's nice if there isn't too much of it.

The good idea was to take one of the photos from earlier, with the rosy background, and combine them with another with the nice but not too much glow, and another with nice balanced light. The camera had been on the tripod for the entire sequence of shots, no change to the zoom, only to the shutter speed. What could go wrong, I thought?

Stupid crane driver messing up my shots.

As I was importing them into Photomatix I realized that one of the shots I wanted had a crane moved into the frame on the right. No big deal, I thought. It's called ghosting, where part of the 3 shots doesn't line up because something moved between the shots. Either I didn't do something right, or this was a really strong ghost. Even after importing, you could see where it was, sort of. Trying to correct it just made a bigger mess, then I realized the golden glow had got out of hand. While I was playing with it, wondering why it didn't look focussed, I realized the camera had moved ever so slightly between the set of shots. Back to the beginning.

I ended up doing two separate shots, one with the crane, and one without. One was shot just before sunrise, and the other just after it. You can tell me which you like better.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Sky, trees, water

Most people use sight as their main tool for sensing the world. Light from the sun or some other source bounces off various objects and enters our eyes. Our brains have learned to interpret this so we know that's our friend Kim, we can see our destination across an open area, and that's a car coming towards us quickly.

Our other senses don't let us move as quickly or confidently around in the world. Compared to dogs we don't have a sense of smell. Our range of hearing isn't particularly good. Our fingers and sense of touch are good as far as they go, but any octopus can do better. Taste only works on things that are in our mouth.

There are other senses as well. If we've seen an object we want to pick up, even though we can't currently see it, we can reach out and pick it up. Our sense of balance is pretty good; we are the only creatures that have mastered walking on two legs all the time.

But our eyesight is not infallible. In fact, it's pretty easy to fool us. We only actually really see a tiny fraction of what is in our range of vision. Our brains stitch this together so we perceive an unbroken whole. Usually this works pretty well. But there's a famous video where watchers are asked to count the number of times one team of basketball players pass the ball. Afterward they are asked if they noticed anything else. Most don't. That video has been updated, and I was fooled again. You can see several of these here.

I think one of the reasons I like reflection shots is they distort reality, and remind me that so-called reality was already distorted even before the light enters my eyes. A simple example of this is a ray of light bouncing off a surface. The exact mix of light wavelengths and the colour, texture, opacity, and other qualities of the surface influence what my eyes will perceive. Then there's what the brain does with the information. There are many ways we can be deceived or deceive ourselves.

Then we come to photographs. There used to be a saying, "the camera never lies." It did, and it does, and did so even before Photoshop. I've already had some fun playing with photographs. It's trivially easy to manipulate a photo to appear unreal. But even an ordinary photo is likely to have been manipulated in some way. The photos that make you go oooh and ahhh are certainly manipulated, often producing an unreal effect that nevertheless is accepted as real. What I'm working on these days is to produce an image that is still a photograph. Tweaked and tuned to make it the best photograph possible, what our eyes might see under ideal conditions. If I tweak and tune too much, I hope viewers consider it art instead of a badly edited photograph.

The first is near Baker Park, and the second is in the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Over the hill, the old, the dead, but not morbid!

I was just a tad dubious this morning. Dubious about the whole darned thing, starting with getting out of bed. Still, it was supposed to be a nice day, and I was mostly awake, especially after the excitement of signing up for a Lightroom course put on by the famous Neil Zeller.

At first I thought of shooting downtown from a location I've run a number of times, but then realized the light was coming quick, and I wouldn't have time to get there. Then I remembered a suggestion that Tom Campbell's hill was good. I didn't know where to park, so I goofed there, but made it to the top of the hill just in time.

The light was never what I'd call spectacular, but it was pretty darned good, and I'm still at the stage where I'm working on reliably getting good images to work with. My theory is, get good at the ordinary images, then I'll be ready to take full advantage when spectacular comes along. In Calgary, that's every few weeks, on average, if you're in the right place at the right time. (There's an app for that.)

Downtown, looking over the hill. Yes, the purple and blue haze was there.

Remember I promised a week ago to get the Tower, the Palliser and the Grain Exchange into an old skyline shot? Here it is, though you have to settle for the back of the Exchange building. Unless you've got a magic lens, or a honking big mirror (hmmm) there is no way to get the front of the two buildings, and the tower, with no other buildings in the same photo. Give it a try, if you like, I'd love to see your results. Now that I think of it, I'm pretty sure I can get the back of the Palliser, the side of the exchange, and the tower in a photo, but I'm not so sure about the no other buildings part.

The dead are sometimes good companions. They don't talk much, they listen if you want to talk, and they don't mind if you do other stuff like read, or take photos. Of course, this is ordinary light, nothing special. I'll have to come back earlier in the morning, later this year, when the sunrise is right.

My question about the whole morning is how did I not know about Tom Campbell's hill? That's a lovely place to go for a sunrise or sunset walk. I got a number of other potentially nice shots from up there that I'll have to develop. I am amazed and happy that some developer didn't snatch it up to sell off lots for expensive homes.

I scouted out a few other promising locations while taking the scenic route home. The wind picked up but it was still nice for a 5 K, 33 min run, 6:36/K pace that felt pretty good by the end. It started a little clunky and I didn't feel as strong as I would like, but it's in the books now.

Monday, September 26, 2016

And X never marks the spot

Where have you heard that before?

We all know, or can know (there's an app for that) how many days since we were born. None of us know how many days till we die, not even those who have been told by their doctor to put their affairs in order.

That number of days is probably biggest variable in retirement planning, and nobody knows the number. Leaving money to your children is ok, but it's money you earned and could have had fun with. Or if you don't have children, and your money lives longer than you do, you can gift it to an organization you like.

More fun, though you won't live to see it, is to gift it to a relative. There are many novels built around that premise, where the rich deceased leave their money to an already rich person, or to a relative not in the line of succession, or one considered undeserving. If you're really over the top you can put clauses into your will to torment those left behind so they earn your money. Such fun!

The living longer than your money thing is on my mind lately. Medical technology has been extending life expectancy by leaps and bounds. It seems reasonable to consider the possibility that they will continue to extend it, perhaps to the point that death becomes a voluntary act. At that point your choices would seem to be working on a regular basis, though perhaps nothing close to full time. In that case you'd better be doing work you like. Or do something that lets you accumulate a pot of money big enough that you can live on it in perpetuity. With a sensible lifestyle that number is probably smaller than you think. Part of the problem is that almost everything people are exposed to leads them away from a sensible lifestyle.

My current thinking is that I could work more now if an interesting project came along, or if it turns out there is something really expensive that I want, maybe I'd work on a less interesting project. (Really expensive is more than a new car and less than a new house, in case you were wondering.) But as time goes by it becomes harder and harder to work, and the pay gets less and less, and paradoxically, the work gets harder and harder. Working as a Walmart greeter, for example, pays the cube root of diddly squat and is a close approximation of hell on earth. Wait too long to find out you are living longer than your money, and there you are. Some might consider it a suitable punishment.

To not change the topic, this morning I was listening to the swim club kids in the hot tub. They are mostly high school age, and perhaps the oldest are in university. Their outlook on life is charmingly naive. They have a mental model that says if they do certain things, that they'll get certain results. A car, a boy or girl friend, a degree, a job, whatever, they just have to follow the path laid out for them. I wish them well in the learning experience they are setting foot on.

The famous X on the map that marks the spot never moves. In the books I read as a child it marked buried treasure. The books never talk about the getting past decomposing corpses on the way to getting the pirate's treasure chest out of the ground, or the finder's disappointment in the contents of the chest. Or even if they survived the experience, since there were usually other people hot on the trail. By definition it's someone else's map, not yours. That's what you get for chasing someone else's goals.

So much of what passes for information about life is all one time satisfaction. X marks the spot. X being marry the prince and live happily ever after (LHEA). Win the lottery and LHEA. Get that right job and LHEA. Live in the right neighbourhood and LHEA. Drive the right car, date the right person, drink the right beer, it goes on and on. But so does life. It's more than a one time thing. How many divorces do you hear about where the people involved were sure they were marrying Mr or Miss Perfectly Right? Yeah.

Happiness in life isn't a one time event. It's finding happiness every day. What makes you happy today might not make you happy tomorrow. Find happiness today. What will you do, or have already done today to find happiness? Feel free to tell me in the comments.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Still have colour in our garden!

We've had several fairly hard frosts, but Linda has been diligent about covering the plants or moving the most delicate into the garage. Yesterday we were out and about for Doors Open YYC. We visited Lougheed House; their garden is spectacular! I was looking at ours in strong evening light, and realized there was still a ton of colour to be had, if you looked carefully. So here you go. If you want to know what is in the photos, you'll have to leave a comment and ask Linda.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Witch-King of the oil patch

So I promised, so I deliver.

My Wednesday blog had a dressed up overly-dramatic photo of sunrise over Calgary. The second photo, not the first. Or you could look at it embiggened here. I'd suggested a couple of story lines where this photo could be used as illustration, but nobody commented on the blog. One of my facebook buddies mentioned "It's the Witch-King of the Oil Patch donning his armour."

I suspect all my readers know that the witch-king is a character in Lord of the Rings. Once a mortal man, he was seduced to the dark side, I mean, corrupted to evil by a ring of power.

So who is the Witch-King of the Oil Patch? My take on this is corporatism drunk with profits. Corporations are made up entities that exist to make a profit, and insulate the people running the corporation from whatever bad things happen as a result of corporate activities. Everything else that corporations do is to serve those goals.

Compared to the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, the oil and gas industry is a very new kid on the block. It's only in the last 100 years or so that we've figured out how to extract the black goo and make it into useful products with a reasonable degree of safety. That last bit, safety, has been hard won. Safety was often the last thing on corporate owners minds. They wanted production now.

The result was a lot of people killed or injured along the way, and the dramatic expansion of regulatory bodies around every aspect of the industry. The bigger companies, by and large, have embraced safety culture as part of the social license they seek to keep operating. They've discovered that it really is cheaper to keep a worker healthy, than to deal with an injured one.

But there's still a bit of a cowboy mentality out there, that it's a manly profession, get in there, get'er done, get paid, and bugger off to the next job. I remember the first time BP started testing for Benzine in pressure vessels before people went in. (Exposure to Benzine is one way of getting cancer.) There was lots of pushback. "What do you mean, go in under mask? It's not sour, get on with it!"

Some of the other standards are a little tougher. Take pipelines, for example. Pipeline are the safest way of transporting petroleum products, provided they are built and maintained to the appropriate standards. And there's the rub. When a pipeline ruptures there are typically 4 possible root causes.

1) A known condition such as corrosion was allowed to continue without adequate mitigation for too long. (It's easy to believe that a functional pipeline will continue to be functional for another year. Or two.)
2) Something changed in the product stream that introduced a new condition, such that existing mitigation activities were no longer adequate. (Sometimes that change is known of, sometimes not.)
3) An external event happened, such as an equipment strike, or a flood washing away the surrounding earth. (Some of these can be planned for. There are extensive procedures around excavating soil near a pipeline.)
4) Something was not correctly understood and allowed for. At one time Stress Corrosion Cracking and Hydrogen Embrittlement were new and not well understood. Sometimes new materials do not behave as predicted.

When a company wants to build a new pipeline it's easy to say that they will adhere to all the relevant standards and implement a robust maintenance plan. Then budgeting happens, and it becomes all to easy to "tweak" the model, and defer work, or use a cheaper chemical, or something. Then we read about a pipeline rupture. The least damaging outcome is a fresh water leak, but even too much water in the wrong place can be a bad thing.

Other products getting outside a pipeline get to worse consequences very quickly. An explosion can cause many deaths and catastrophic equipment damage. Sour gas can kill quickly and with little warning. We've all see what happens with oil leaks; fouled waterways coating the creatures living there with oil.

I've been in the oil and gas industry for 25 years or so, and by and large it's been good to me. It's been quite the roller coaster ride, but it's very easy to make the case I'm one of the lucky ones. Mostly I work in an office in Calgary dealing with nice clean data, though I've done time out in the field getting my coveralls dirty. Not as dirty as some, I'll be the first to say.

There are lots of people that the industry has not been good to, mainly those unexpectedly exposed to petroleum products as a result of some incident. I can completely understand why various groups protest pipeline expansion. It's one thing for an executive approving a risk ranking to say that a certain level of risk is acceptable. The protesters rightly point out that executive isn't bearing the risk; that the people living next to the pipeline (or other facilities) are the ones that have to live with the consequences of an incident, not just now but forever after.  They have to trust the goodwill of a corporation, not just now, but every year into the indefinite future. There are lots of reasons why that might not seem like a good bet.

The recently ousted PC provincial government was hand in pocket with the industry. It's hard to say which was running the show. Decades of power corrupted the PC's and everything associated with them. The new NDP government is still rooting it out, and discovering the temptations of being in power. Just after the election there was lots of talk about uprooting and going to seek greener pastures. Greener meaning not yet plundered and with weaker guardians. Except that there really aren't any. I've heard of companies going bankrupt, but not of pulling up stakes and moving elsewhere. And no, the NDP didn't cause low oil prices.

There was talk of fighting the government, as if that would get anyone anywhere. Remember that social license? The NDP was a newly elected government. There isn't an oil company in the world that would come out on the good side of a name calling match. I had to admire the honesty of one executive who said something like "Our industry has always faced various winds and this is another; we will set our sails accordingly." I suppose one can read that several ways.

And after a big rant, the photo of the day. I hope you haven't read Day of the Triffids lately.


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