Garden Update

It’s been a while since I talked about the gardens here, so let’s take a peek at those. It’s been an odd season here with above normal rainfall and rather cool temperatures. It’s been good for some things, bad for others.IMG_0552.jpg

We aren’t sure what in the world happened to the dahlias this year. Those are the red flowers behind the cone flowers in the foreground. They just went absolutely crazy. I’ve never seen them get this big before, at least not around here. They’re 4 – 5 feet tall and so thick and lush that it looks like a jungle in there. The cone flowers seem ridiculously happy back there too as you can see. And the sunflowers — oh brother, they’re pushing 7 feet tall.

Handy hint – if you love birds, especially finches, put in some sun flowers. We’ve been putting a few sunflowers in back there for years. It’s right by the window above the kitchen sink and later in the season the finches swarm around that area going after both the cone flower seeds and the sunflowers. They’re great fun to watch, arguing with each other, dangling upside down like little acrobats as they go after the seeds.

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The butternut and acorn squash have completely taken over the garden at the back of the garage. We’ve had issues back there because it gets shaded out quite a bit. We’re constantly dragging the vines out of the lawn, out of the raspberries, out of, well, out of everything. They seem to grow a foot or more every day. Absolutely loaded with squash now and still blossoming. We hauled a lot of compost into this bed also last year and it’s paying off now.

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One of my issues with modern hybrid flowers is that they’re all show and no scent. I am a very scent oriented person, and it’s always disappointed me that so many flowers that I remember having amazing aromas when I was a child smell pretty much like nothing these days as the plant breeders have selected for ever more showy flowers, and sacrificed the scent, sort of like how they’ve selected vegetables for high yield and tougher fruit to make transport easier, and lost much of the flavor. The alyssum, though, make up for it. Tiny, tiny little flowers that put out an incredible amount of perfume. The scent is almost intoxicating.

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Then we have these guys. They sort of look like something from an alien planet or exotic jungle, these beans. The leaves are a foot across, a rich burgundy color when small, then changing to a reddish-green with red veins as they get bigger. They’re about 6 feet tall right now.

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The hostas up front have been enjoying themselves too this year. I’ve always loved hostas and we turned this into a hosta garden a few years ago. It had been a mish-mash of odd bushes, grass that never grew properly, some very invasive bushes that someone decided looked pretty. It was a mess. We ripped everything out, tilled up the whole works, put in the cedar fence and started putting hostas in. And we also seem to have pots of plants all up the stairs, along the deck… good grief, where did all those plants come from?

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Okay, this isn’t a plant. In the process of building a new gaming computer. My Razor Laptop died on me a couple of months ago and we’re building a new one. We’ve been working under the belief that anything that’s worth doing, is worth doing to excess, so this thing is fairly well loaded up with every goofy thing you can imagine. Interior lighting systems, the CPU cooler has a sort of vortex lighting effect built into it, the fans light up like multi-colored strobes, matching LED light strips inside, even the dopy RAM lights up.

It’s running a liquid cooled Kaby Lake Core i7 processor at 4.2 gigahertz overclocked to 4.7, a Samsung SSD, 8 USB3 ports, Thunderbolt ports, built in WiFi, bluetooth, 6 fans…

Unfortunately the Nvidia video card you see there was was DOA. It worked the first time we turned the computer on. Then we shut it down, did some work on the machine, turned it on, and the card was dead. Sigh… It works on the MBs built in Intel graphics, but that isn’t suitable for any kind of gaming. Grrr… So it’s going to be a while before we get it up and running the way it should be.

Still, dear lord that thing is fast. Eldest son was so impressed he’s thinking of building one for himself.

Stuff: New Photo Printer and the Bad Old Days

I’m a serious photographer and have been for something like 40 years. I’m not a professional, but I try to turn out photographs that are as good as I can make them. One of the problems photographers have always had is making good prints of the images they make, especially making prints that are larger than the usual snapshot sized print.

There are a lot of inkjet printers on the market that claim they are “photo printers”, a lot of them are really cheap, well under $100. But let’s face it, most of them aren’t very good, especially when you’re trying to make larger sized prints. The biggest size they can handle is the standard 8X10 or 8X11 sized papers, and the images they crank out aren’t that good when scaled up to that size, and all too often the inks and pigments used fade quickly when exposed to light.

Screen Shot 2017-07-18 at 6.05.49 AMSo I finally broke down and got a professional grade photo printer, the Cannon Pixma 100. It’s at the low end of the professional level printer. It retails for around $500, and can handle paper up to 13 X 19 in size, which is big enough for my purposes. It uses dyes rather than pigments. There is a big argument going on between the dye proponents and the pigment proponents about quality of the images, their long term stability, color, etc. and I’m just not going to get into that nonsense. As far as I can tell, the two different techniques are about equal when it comes to overall quality and the lifespan of the images.

Now there are a lot of printing services out there that will take your images and make larger format prints for you, and they do a decent job. But if you want to print a lot of images, it doesn’t take long before you realize that it’s a heck of a lot cheaper to do it yourself.

There was a bit of a learning curve as I figured out how to get the most out of the printer, but now that I’ve discovered the right papers to use (stick with the Cannon Luster line of paper, that seems to work best), the right settings, and how to properly tweak an image for printing, I’m more than satisfied with the results. Some of the ads I’ve seen for the Pixma line of printers claim “gallery ready prints” and they aren’t far off the mark on that claim.

All of this got me thinking about how photography has evolved in the last 40 years or so, and the advances in technology have been mind boggling when I stop and think about it.

Screen Shot 2017-07-26 at 6.43.14 AMWhen I first got interested in photography on a serious basis, a good 35mm camera would set you back about $350 for just the camera body. The lens was usually sold separately, and a good one could set you back more than what the camera itself cost. The first good 35mm camera we had was a Minolta XGM, an almost but not quite professional 35mm SLR camera. That cost me $345 back in 1981. By the time I got a decent lens, filters and everything else I needed, I think the grand total was about $800 for the whole package. And that’s in 1980 dollars. Adjusted for inflation I suspect that would come to around $2,000 today.

Screen Shot 2017-07-26 at 6.56.24 AMIt was, for it’s day, a very good camera, especially when compared to the crappy pocket cameras like the Kodak Instamatic with it’s even worse film loaded into those dopy cartridges which was the most popular mass market photography system at the time. They were horrible. The photos and negatives they turned out were even worse, thanks in part to poor manufacturing, poor materials, bad lenses, and the cheapest, nastiest film you could imagine. While it was good enough for a small, wallet sized image, if you wanted to blow it up to a larger size, forget about it. The film was so grainy the images were totally unacceptable if you tried to blow them up to anything larger than a 4X5 print.

While I’m on the subject of film, let’s continue along that line.

Ah, film — The good old days of 35mm film. Well, no, they weren’t all that good, the film days. In fact, they were bloody horrible, the film days. The photographers who wax poetic about the “good old days” of film and how wonderful they were probably never had to actually work with the stuff.

Screen Shot 2017-07-26 at 7.16.03 AMMost people bought film in small canisters like the one shown here. The body was generally made of metal and the end caps were plastic. Film was wound on a spool inside of the canister. You can see where the film comes out of the can on the right side of the cartridge, it’s that little brown flap. That’s the leader. A couple of inches of film stuck out.

You’d open the camera, drop the canister into a space in the camera, pull a few inches of film out of the cartridge, across the shutter opening, onto a take-up spool on the other side, thread the film onto that spool. Then close the camera up and wind several inches of film through to make sure the take-up spool had latched onto it. Oh, and there were slots in the edges of the film that had to fit onto small gears in the camera to pull the film through when you turned the film advance knob or lever. And hope like hell the those holes lined up right and didn’t strip out, because if they did, you’re film wouldn’t advance and you’d lose the entire roll of film.

Film was not cheap. It wasn’t wildly expensive, all things considered, but it wasn’t exactly cheap, either, and most photographers gave careful thought to what they were shooting because you couldn’t afford to waste film or processing. And you only had a very limited number of images per roll, usually 24-36 images.

Screen Shot 2017-07-26 at 7.17.12 AMPeople who did a lot of photography often bought film in bulk and loaded the canisters themselves using gadgets like the one here. This is a bulk film loader. Your roll of bulk film would go in the big end, and then you’d use the crank to wind it into your film canisters. It was a pain in the neck, but it did work, and it did help cut costs a bit. I used to do this and it worked fairly good most of the time. Well, sometimes. Maybe.

Oh, and I should point out that whenever you were working with film before it had been processed into negatives you had to do it in total darkness. And I mean total darkness. Any stray light at all would fog the film and ruin it.

Then there was the question of what kind of film to get. There were dozens of different kinds, some intended for general use, some intended for special purposes. There was slide film. There was print film. There was B&W and color. Films came in different grains, different speeds… The list goes on and on.

The most important was probably film speed. That’s what that big “400” is on the canister above, the ISO rating of the film. To keep things simple, ISO was a rating of how sensitive the film was to light, basically how quickly the film could capture enough light, so to speak, to make a usable image. Generally speaking, the bigger that number, the “faster” the film was, i.e. the more sensitive it was to light. The faster the film, the less time the shutter had to be open to allow the film to capture enough light to make a usable image. ISO 100 was the most common in use for hobby photographers, but it was considered a “daylight” film, in that it needed bright lighting conditions or use of a flash or strobe. Otherwise the shutter had to be open so long that you needed a tripod to keep the camera stable so the image wouldn’t be blurred.

ISO 400 was a much faster film that permitted faster shutter speeds, reducing blur, and reducing the need to use a flash or strobe in lower light conditions. But there are always trade offs. ISO 400 films were not as fine grained, didn’t give as good detail in the final image as the slower speed films did. It was also a bit more expensive. In the 1980s the technology and chemistry improved to the point where some ISO 400 films were almost as good as the ISO 100 films when it came to grain size and image quality and for general use most people had switched to the 400 speed films.

ISO ratings ran from about 30, a very, very slow film, up to about 1,600, if I remember right. And then there were tricks you could do to “push” film to a faster ISO rating through processing back in the darkroom. Some films could be push processed with some success, some couldn’t. And again there were tradeoffs. Image quality degraded rapidly when you push-processed film in most cases. I experimented with push processing, pushing 400 film up as high as 1600 or more for night photography, but the results were not very good.

Now, you’ve got the camera, you’ve got the lens, you’ve got the film. You’ve taken some photos, now, let’s take a look at them, shall we? Uh, well, no. Not yet. If you open up that camera at that point, all you’ll do is ruin the film and all of the photos you took.

Remember that canister, and the takeup spool and the gears and all that stuff inside the camera? Once you reach the end of the spool of film, now you have to wind all of it back into the canister before you can even open up the camera. You’d turn a little crank or knob on the camera to wind it back into the can. Once you did that you could take out the canister safely.

You now have to get the film processed into negatives and made into prints. Most people took them to a store where you’d stick it into an envelope with your name and address on it and it would be shipped off to a lab somewhere, and in a week or so you’d get your film back in the form of negatives, and a set of snapshots, small prints of the images you’d made. And the results were, well, terms like “generic” come to mind because all of that film was fed through massive developing and printing machines that used standard processing and exposure times for everything that was shoved through them. If al you were taking were snapshots of the family vacation, they were fine. But if you were a serious photographer and were making images that were in any way outside of the norm, well, forget it. That kind of thing meant shipping it off to a custom processing lab, which was expensive, or you did it yourself as I did.

First you had to get the film out of the canister. You’d pop the end off, pull the film out, and then…

Oh, did I mention that you have to do this in complete darkness? Yeah, you do…

Screen Shot 2017-07-26 at 7.19.13 AMYou then put the film on a special spool that fits inside of a developing tank. Once you get the spool in the tank and get it closed, you can turn the lights back on because the tanks were light proof.

Now comes developing. You mix up a witch’s brew of developing chemicals. Exactly what you used depended on the kind of film you were using. Pour it in the tank, then gently agitate the tank for the specified amount of time. Then you rinse it with clean water, take out the spool, and bingo, you have negatives. They have to hang up and dry, then you generally cute the long strip into shorter lengths with about four to six images per strip.

And you aren’t done yet. Now you have to take those negatives and make actual prints of them on special photographic paper.

And just as there were many different types of film, there were many, many different types of papers, and which one you used depended on the kind of film you were using, what kind of prints you wanted, what kind of surface you wanted the finished print to have… There were dozens of different kinds of papers for color and black and white.

Oh, and the paper has to be kept in totally light proof boxes, and can only be used in total darkness. Those “safety lights” you’d sometimes see in darkrooms that allegedly let you see what you were doing without damaging the paper? Uh, about those… They only worked with a very limited number of paper types, and even then, they had to be kept so dim they were virtually useless or the paper would be ruined. So most of us worked in complete darkness.

Now, to make a print, you need still more special equipment. You need an enlarger, a timer, and a laboratory that looks like it came straight out of the Mad Scientist’s Handbook.

Let’s look at enlargers first. Why do you need one in the first place? The reason is that 35mm film yields 35mm negatives. Which is why they call it 35mm film in the first place. Duh… Now you could make a print by just laying the negative on the paper and shining a light on it. But that will give you a 35mm print, and that’s just, well, silly, okay? You want something larger, like an 8X10.

Screen Shot 2017-07-18 at 6.24.54 AMSo, here’s an enlarger. I had a Durst enlarger back in the day. Mine was considerably more elaborate (and expensive) than the one in this ad.

How they work is the negative is placed in a frame that is inserted in the head. There is a lamp in the head which shines the light down through the negative, through a special lens, down onto the paper placed on the bed below. Enlargers could get as complicated and expensive as you cared to make them. Probably the most important part of the enlarger was the lens, because that determines the quality of the image that is projected onto the photo paper.

Now you also needed a timer, because that image had to be projected onto the paper for a specific period of time. Too short and the image would be pale and ghostly. Too long and you’d end up with a print that looked like it was taken at midnight or even completely black. Exactly how long you exposed the paper depended on a variety of factors; the film, the film density, how bright or dark you wanted the print, the kind of paper you were using. Proper exposure could take just a few seconds, or it could take many minutes depending on what you were doing and the materials you were using.

Screen Shot 2017-07-29 at 6.26.53 AMOnce you have the photo paper exposed with the enlarger you’re still not done. Now you have to develop the paper using a variety of different chemicals. You need several trays big enough to hold the paper, a dark room, timers, a sink, a water supply, and lots and lots of yummy chemicals.

The paper has to be soaked in various chemical solutions – developer, fixer, etc. for varying lengths of time until the image appears on the paper. Then it has to be washed in clean water and hung up to dry. Oh, and most of that has to be done in complete darkness as well. That photo up there is red because they’re using safety lights. But about 99% of the time you were working with film and papers that could only be handled in total darkness, and even the dim safety lights would ruin them.

Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 7.07.58 AMNow the lab up there looks pretty good, it’s probably a professional or semi-pro lab. Most home darkrooms looked more like this because they were squeezed into basements, large closets, even special built rooms in spare bedrooms or wherever they could be crammed in. They were messy, smelly, nasty, and you were working with some pretty hairy chemicals sometimes, many of which were poisonous.

And this was just for B&W photography, by the way. If you wanted to do color, it required a whole different setup, with much more complex and expensive enlargers, processing tanks, timers, heaters…

Now I admit that every once in a while I feel a bit of nostalgia for the “good old days” of film photography. But then I take and aspirin, have a little lay down and I feel better and remember that the “good old days” were bloody awful. And I have gladly, even gleefully traded all of that for digital cameras and computers and modern photo printers.

Photos Along The Trail

I generally don’t take the good camera along when I’m out on the bike because it’s awkward and heavy and I already am carrying a bag with a tire repair kit, tire pump, tools and other things to deal with a breakdown, so I make due with the cell phone. But yesterday I lugged it along for some reason and I’m glad I did because without the telephoto lens I never would have caught this guy sunning himself.

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There are a lot of turtles around here, but you just don’t see them very often unless one makes the mistake of trying to cross the road. I found this fellow sunning himself yesterday morning down by the old stone bridge. Beautiful little guy, maybe about 8 inches across. If I hadn’t had the telephoto I never would have been able to get this picture. Took it from about 25 feet away. You can see he’s already looking back to see what the heck is going on, and he slipped off into the water just a few moments after I got this picture.

This guy, though, wasn’t going anywhere.

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He was happy, sunning himself, and was entirely content to just sit there even with me perched on the bridge above trying to take his picture. I can’t believe the number of frogs we have this year. It’s amazing. They’re everywhere this year. Great to see them because without them and other creatures like them we’d have so many mosquitos, biting flies and other nasties it would be impossible to even go outside around here this summer.

I finally got a photo of the kingfisher! Well, sort of. This one below is the best I’ve been able to get.

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There are about a dozen of these guys down by the stone bridge area this year, and they’re beautiful birds, enormous fun to watch, but it seems every time I have a camera, they suddenly have the urgent need to be somewhere else. Been trying for over a month to get a photo and this is the best I could do. Sigh…

And, of course, we have to have some flowers, right?

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Not technically from along the side of the trail. Found these when I was going through the Ledgeview Nature Center just south of Chilton yesterday. We are very fortunate to have Ledgeview and the Brillion nature center. They help to restore the area’s native plants and animals, work with educational programs with the local schools, and provide everyone with an opportunity to just get outside and enjoy life. Some of them are open year round, with cross country skiiing and hiking during the winter. Ledgeview even has a snowshoe program, teaching people how to use snowshoes to get out onto the trails when the snow’s too deep for normal hiking.

Queen Ann Lace and More Stuff

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Queen Ann’s Lace (Wild Carrot)

Queen Ann’s Lace grows along the roadsides, along lanes and trails, and while a lot of people treat it like a weed I’ve always thought the flowers are absolutely beautiful. We had it growing on the farm when I was a kid. It would pop up along the lanes, on sunny, sandy hillsides in the woods. It was very common. Still is.

It’s actually a wild carrot. Supposedly the roots are edible, at least when young, and taste like, well, carrot. Apparently some people claim they eat the leaves and flowers, and other people claim it’s poisonous and will kill you. I certainly am not going to volunteer to try it and find out which is true.

My mother loved them too. She’d collect them during the summer, tie up bunches of them and hang them in the garage to dry the flowers. She also told me that some people apparently made tea out of the stuff. According to the stories she’d heard as a kid the local Native Americans made an herbal medicine out of it by steeping parts of the plant in water. Years later I learned that apparently the stories were more or less right, although not in the way she thought. A local historian told me that it was used as an abortifacient and contraceptive.

Then along one of the bike trails this stuff is popping up:

It’s a striking plant, can get very tall, and the flower head is spectacular when it’s in full bloom. This stuff used to grow along the trails and fence lines on the farm too. My father called it “Indian tobacco” or wild tobacco.

It’s actually the common mullein, and isn’t native to North America. It’s fairly common. It isn’t a nasty plant, but it can harbor some nasties, like cucumber mosaic virus and powdery mildew, so you probably don’t want it growing in your garden.

And it seems my father wasn’t really wrong because while it is not tobacco, the Native Americans apparently did smoke it as a treatment for breathing problems. it’s also been used in a wide variety of other allegedly medicinal preparations.

It’s interesting how I seem to have come full circle. As a kid, seven, eight years old, I’d spend hours wandering around the more wild areas of the farm, watching the animals and insects that congregated around the stream, walking through the woods examining the plants and wildlife with intense curiosity, and now that I’m retired I find myself doing the same thing and enjoying it just as much as I did when I was a kid.

Stuff, Nonsense, and More Garden Photos

Mr. Spiny, the cactus we rescued from the town compost pile, has gone totally goofy this year. He now looks like this:

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I counted around 13 flowers, with about a dozen more buds ready to flower in the next day or two. I kinda, sorta knew that cactus flowered, but I had no idea they did this! We thought it was a really neat plant before, but now– Wow.

Mrs. GF picked up a packet of old seeds on sale for a few cents earlier in the season, threw them in one of the gardens, and then these things came up —

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I had no idea she did it so I was astonished and delighted when these brilliant orange poppies started to appear last week. The color on these guys is so intense they almost glow in the dark.

With some plants you don’t appreciate their beauty until you get up close to them and really look at them. Like the oregano we’ve been trying to kill off for years now. The stuff turned out to be horrifically aggressive, taking over the entire plot of ground, and even taking over the lawn in that area. And while it does smell amazing when I mow the lawn over there, we would like to grow something besides oregano there, so we’ve been rather ruthless in keeping what’s left in check.

But that very annoying plant, well, even it looks neat when it starts to come into flower as it is now.

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The Fuji camera I use has a pretty darn nice macro-zoom lens on it and while depth of field and focus is a pain to get right when I get this close to something, the results are worth it.

Heck, even the lowly cucumber looks pretty when you get close to it:

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Other stuff–

We’ve been going to state parks this summer. Wisconsin has one of the finest state park systems in the country. The places are absolutely beautiful.

Or perhaps I should use the phrase “had one of the finest state park systems”. The state government has decided, in its infinite stupidity, to cut off all funding for the entire state park system. It does not get any funding from the state any more and is going to have to survive entirely on entrance and camping fees, donations, and any other money it can scrounge up. I wouldn’t be surprised to find them out on the beaches with metal detectors looking for change people dropped to try to keep the parks running. The new paradigm down in Madison seems to be that if it doesn’t make a profit for someone who can funnel bribe money [ahem, excuse me] campaign contributions into their bank accounts or fund their PACs, it isn’t going to get any of our tax money. Sigh…

 

Along the Road…

More stuff along the roadside–

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Well technically these were in a parking area in the wildlife area not actually on the road, but close enough.

 

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This was along the roadside. They don’t look like much until you stop and look closely at the flowers. It isn’t until then that you see how pretty they really are.

Then there was this goofball–

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This dopey killdeer… Not exactly a good place to lay your eggs, bird.