Thursday, September 30, 2010

More lessons learned

I've been feeling the urge to get out and do more hiking lately. I feel it every time I try to zip up my pants. Most people would complain that their pants are shrinking, but I know what the problem is. So I went for a short hike to burn a few calories.

It's tarantula season. They guys are out looking for some cute gals.

I went wandering around near the First Water trailhead. I thought I would go someplace I hadn't gone before, but I fell into some old footsteps. It must have been humid yesterday because it wasn't long before I had sweat trickling down my temples. It fact, the air has been much more moist the past couple of years than when I first moved out there. The relative humidity is rarely in the single digits anymore.

Does this remind you of a dog?

I wound up on top of a small hill near the trailhead. I decided to experiment with making a Photosynth panorama without using a tripod and found out that I shouldn't do that. I also zoomed in quite a bit for the pictures. I shot in RAW mode and corrected for the vignetting, but the stitched result still has smudges in the sky.

I found out that if you click on the "expand" symbol on this, you can view the picture full screen.

I need to keep experimenting to figure out what the limitations are with the equipment I have now so I can decide if I want to go out and buy something like a Giga Pan. Maybe by the time I figure that out, I'll have taken huge pictures of everything I want to do that with. And no remarks about my prepositions, please.

Friday, September 24, 2010

From the south side

Thursday was a beautiful, cloud-free day. After work I headed out to Peralta road. I went to the top of a small hill south of the Superstition Mountains. I set up the tripod on the side of the hill and tried to get it level. I thought it was but for some reason I looked through the viewfinder with my left eye, and then it looked very crooked. One of my eyeballs must not be screwed in right. Anyway, I actually used the bubble level app in my new Droid phone to get the tripod level. Who woulda thought it could actually be useful?

I took pictures of stuff like this.

It was uncomfortable bending over to take pictures, so I didn't zoom in much so I wouldn't have to take a lot of pictures. Still, you can zoom into this picture quite a bit.

Photosynth panorama of the south side of the Superstition Mountains.

I had the camera set up correctly this time, so I think that helped it stitch together a little better. I took the pictures in RAW mode so I could correct for the darkening in the corners. As usual, I was hurrying to get the pictures taken before the sun got too low. When I was done taking the pictures I wanted, I grabbed a water bottle and stood there and finally looked around me. It was wonderfully quiet and the lighting was perfect and the temperature was perfect and there were no bugs buzzing around my ears. I'm glad I stopped and looked around before I hurried home to see the pictures.

I've been seeing a bunch of animals recently that I keep forgetting to mention, so I'll catch up now. On the way home from the hike along the top of Ittindi Rock I almost hit a deer that ran across the road in front of me. Something else ran across the freeway in front of me later, but I think that was my imagination. When I was taking pictures on Sunday for my first panorama of the Superstitions, there were a few bats flitting around near sunset. That's the first bats I've seen this summer. They were thick last summer but ominously missing this summer. Maybe that's why there have been so many bugs this year. Then, on the way home yesterday, I saw something that I've been trying to get a decent picture of ever since I moved out here. A roadrunner ran across Peralta road in front of me. I knew it would be long gone but I stopped where it crossed and it was still standing there. I knew it would be a wasted effort but I got my camera out to take a picture, and the roadrunner just stood there. It stayed there while I took several pictures. There was barely enough light, so the pictures are grainy but I think they are pretty good, considering.

Finally, a picture of a roadrunner!

I saw some cows, too.

Click below to see all of the pictures.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

The dark side

I was playing with ICE (Image Composite Editor) Friday evening and kept looking at the "Publish to Photosynth..." button. From what I remembered about Photosynth, ICE composites didn't belong there, but what the heck; I pushed the button. The result is below.

My first ICE/Photosynth panorama.

The cool thing about that is it's the full resolution image. You can zoom way in and see lots of detail. The viewing area is rather limited in this embedded image. You can go to my Photosynth page and look at it almost full screen there.

Naturally, I started thinking about what else I could do with this newly discovered capability. As an experiment, I decided to take a bunch of pictures zoomed in on the Superstition Mountains and throw those into ICE. Since it was kind of hot yesterday, I planned to wait until late afternoon. I waited a little too long, though, and was almost running to get to a spot with a decent view before sunset. I stopped at the first acceptable spot and took some pictures. Then I continued to the hill I wanted to be on for the pictures. There was still enough light so I took a bunch more pictures. Since I was in such a hurry, I didn't have the camera set up quite the way I wanted, but that didn't seem to have a detrimental effect. I was still in a hurry when I got home and the first time I put the pictures into ICE, the result reminded me of Brundlefly. While eating dinner I realized that I had put pictures taken at both locations into ICE at the same time. No wonder I got strange results. I had to geotag the pictures to figure out where one batch ended and the other started. One of the panos is made up of 31 picture and the other has 80 pictures. Not all of the pictures are perfectly focused. ICE had a little trouble stitching the pictures together in a few places, too.

Superstition Mountains super panorama composed of 80 pictures.

While I was skimming through the Photosynth blog, I saw that geotagged Photosynths are put on bing maps within a few hours. I thought that would be cool, but there were a couple of issues to overcome. First, even though all the pictures were geotagged, the final Photosynth isn't. I had to geotag it manually, which was a little tedious since Google aerial views and bing aerial views don't look exactly the same. A nifty feature is that you can also specify the orientation of the Photosynth, though. Second, and this is the kind of thing that makes me mad whenever I have to use microsoft tools, how to turn on Photosynth pictures in bing maps is far from obvious. I tried a couple of times Saturday morning and gave up. On Sunday morning I went down a path that didn't seem right but could not be ruled out, and there it was. Typical microsoft. If anybody else is able to figure it out, please let me know. I want to know if microsoft tools are really as obtuse as I think they are or if I'm just a dummy. Wait, maybe I don't want to know. I'd rather just grumble about microsoft.

I just remembered a third irritation. While geotagging the Photosynths, I thought it might help if I looked at the bing map in 3D. Guess what; 3D works ONLY in internet explorer. Typical microsoft. I'm getting mad thinking about all this. That's good. I haven't gone completely over to the dark side.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


No, not water ice. Not an In Circuit Emulator. Not In Case of Emergency, either. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Or maybe behind, because I'm not really sure where this started. Anyway, a couple of days ago I was walking along the top of Ittindi Rock and thinking about how I wished my Sweetums could see what I was looking at. The pictures are nice, but they just aren't the same as being there. Then I thought about making a huge panorama, with pictures taken horizontally and vertically, all stitched together into one huge picture that you can zoom into forever. Then I remembered that Skid had sent me a link for a contraption that can be used to take pictures just for that use. That would be something else to carry around, though, and I think my backpack is heavy enough. Plus, I'm usually too impatient to sit around waiting for dozens of pictures to be taken. I might look into getting one of those, though. Anyway, then I started thinking about how I sometimes take a series of pictures that could be stitched together but I don't do it and wondered if I have any software that will stitch both horizontally and vertically. Before I could think about the software much more, I was distracted by some ants that seemed to be going in the same direction I was, and so I started thinking about them. Then I started thinking about horned lizards and gila monsters but I had to stop thinking about that to figure out what to do about the fallen paloverde blocking my path. You know, I used to think about fun stuff in my spare time, not ants and lizards and trying to derive an equation that describes the error associated with determining the equation for a straight line using two points when the positions of the points are not known exactly (i.e., they're noisy) and how the error will increase as the points get closer together. Speaking of points, that is not the point, but I've wandered so far off track I'm not sure I know how to get back.

Today at work, I somehow ran across something called Microsoft Power Toys, and a tool called Tweak UI. I thought it would solve a problem I've been having with a computer at home, so I emailed the link to me. I installed it when I got home, but it didn't do what I wanted (preventing a window from losing focus), but when I ran it I noticed something called Microsoft ICE had been installed on that computer. While I was messing with Tweak UI, I remembered that I had installed ICE, but couldn't remember what it was. I started it up and then remembered the demo video I had seen. Some guy dropped a couple of hundred pictures of the Golden Gate bridge into it and it instantaneously stitched them all together. I think he must have been working with very small (640x480?) pictures or was sitting at a super computer because it isn't that fast for me, even with just 2 pictures. Anyway, the software figures out how the pictures fit together and stitches them. You don't have to tell it anything, or arrange anything for it. Just drop the pictures in the window and away it goes. It had a little bit of trouble with some of my pictures but that may be because of the way I took them. I'll have to read up on ICE to see what I can do to improve the stitching.

This is the best stitching result.

ICE had a little trouble putting the saguaro together.

Once I figure out how to get good stitched photos, I'll have to figure out where to put them. I tried uploading these to my web album at their original size. The photo information on the web album says that they are original size. But when you zoom in on them, they are NOT original size. In fact, I don't have to zoom in to see that they have been shrunk so that their maximum dimension is 1600 pixels. I'll figure all that out when I'm not so sleepy.

P.S. I noticed yesterday that the picture at the top of my blog got shrunk. What's up with that? I didn't do it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

To the top of Ittindi Rock

It was only 103 when I got home yesterday, so headed out to go for a hike. I was planning to go to Bulldog Canyon but along the way I remembered that my pass has expired. So then I headed toward Canyon Lake, not sure where I would end up. I eventually decided that I would go to the top of Ittindi Rock. I'm out of shape from staying indoors during the hot weather and I didn't want to do anything too strenuous. When I parked and looked out the window at Ittindi Rock, though, it looked anything but easy. It looked enormous. The sun was headed for the horizon, though, so I wasn't going to go someplace else.

Ittindi Rock doesn't look quite so tall in this picture as it does when you are standing there planning to climb it.

It had been long enough since I've been up there that I had completely forgotten I would be following a power line maintenance road for a while. That made the hike easier and faster. I got to the saddle where the real climbing starts well before sunset. Well, it isn't real climbing, but it's a lot steeper than a road.

Mormon Flat dam from the top of Ittindi Rock.

There seemed to be more of a trail up there than there was last time, though it's still pretty faint. Paloverdes had blown down on it during the recent monsoon storms, too. A trail isn't really necessary, though. Unless you are rock climbing there's only one way up, and only one survivable way down.

The views are very nice from the top. This is looking toward the Superstition Mountains.

A view of Canyon Lake. It's getting dark down there.

It wasn't as difficult to get to the top as I was afraid it would be. It was beautiful up there as the sun sank toward the horizon. I wan't to sit and enjoy the view for a while, but I also wanted to get down the steep part with plenty of light.

The Superstition Mountains, again.

My legs weren't too wobbly by the time I got back to the truck. It was a good workout, and hiking in 100 degree Arizona weather feels so much better than standing around in Texas coast mugginess. Click below to see all of the pictures.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

A welcome back to Arizona

I have just returned from about 10 days in Texas. It was good to see family and I enjoyed the peace and quiet at Mom's house. There's nothing quite like drifting off to sleep while listening to a couple of owls hooting in the woods. Anthony's excellent cooking put back the pounds I lost from cafeteria food the night before I left Arizona. I enjoyed watching the 3 inches of rain fall at Mom's house from tropical storm Hermine (she didn't get as much as surrounding areas) and then a few days later, watching the Colorado River rise with runoff. I missed the desert, though. Especially whenever I got out of an air conditioned vehicle and was blinded by foggy glasses or when I got wet with sweat walking to the end of the driveway to take a picture. It feels good to be back in Arizona. It was the same temperature when I got here as it was when I left Houston, but it felt soooo much better.

I stepped outside around 6:30 and the clouds looked like they might make some good sunset pictures. I grabbed the camera and headed up Meridian road. As I walked out to a spot from which to take pictures, I thought about how I should be selective in which pictures I put on my web album. I should just upload the 2 or 3 best. I couldn't do that, though. I uploaded all of them that I like, which is most of them. Click below to see them.