Saturday, May 28, 2011

Warded off by Drunken Hillbillies

After much planning and scouting, on Friday, May 20, several friends and I set about running the Cahaba from the Highway 26-Riverbend Rd put-in in Bibb County to the Cahaba River Historical Park in Centreville. The run was a little over 8 miles by the river, with the plan being to camp on a sandbar off Harrisburg Rd and run the 13 miles from Centreville to Harrisburg Rd on Saturday.

Although the water was low fairly low (about 380cfs according to the Centreville gage), we had a nice paddle on Friday. There was not much current, and we were in no hurry despite our late start. We did the run in a little over 3 1/2 hours, including regular stops along the way. Most of the run is flatwater, but the last two miles or so include regular shoals that can be fun and break up the monotony a bit. We also ran across some bow fishers, who didn't appear to be having any luck.

Paddling the Cahaba near Centreville from Jeremy Richter on Vimeo.

After finishing the run about 4:30pm, we collected our boats and headed off down Harrisburg Rd to set up camp. Although the Cahaba River Historical Park has some nice camp grounds (which require making a reservation through Centreville City Hall, and a $10 site fee), we were looking for something a bit more secluded. And boy, did we find it!

Where the Cahaba passes under Harrisburg Rd is far removed from any form of civilization. Yet it is not beyond the reach of idle adolescents in possession of spray paint. The Harrisburg Rd bridge bears many names, messages, and pictures, most of which involve the male reproductive organ. We were not deterred by this, though perhaps we ought to have been.

Following some dirt trails almost to the river, we parked and began setting up camp. The tent went up, and shortly thereafter, a fire pit was created along with a precariously-arranged set of bamboo sticks to hold up the grill top. The chicken went on shortly after that, followed by still-husked corn.

With dinner wrapped up, we were beginning to wind down, planning to head to bed early so as to be ready for our long paddle on Saturday morning. The fireflies and frogs were out, but so too were some drunk locals. The Harrisburg bridge was about a quarter mile from our campsite on the sandbar, and we heard a big truck rumble up to the bridge and stop. Doors opened and closed. Voices and flashlights. "Hey, there's somebody on the sandbar!" Then the shouting was directed our way, as were the beams of flashlights, though we were out of reach. A couple of large-ish sounding things were then thrown into the river. Truck doors open and close again. The loud loping sound of a V-8 commences, and then the truck is riding around somewhere out of sight but behind us. It was then that my cowardice prevailed: "Fellas, it's time to go." With a consensus, we began to pull up camp at a much more frenetic pace than it had been set out. Impressively, despite the darkness and hurried state of affairs, we left nothing behind.

With all things properly loaded and battened down, we left bouncing out way through the dirt trails through which we had come. But then...a wrong turn was taken. A truck bottomed out. A gunning engine and low first get it through, but it begins to make a terrible sound. Once we get to the road, we hop out to see what the noise is; the bed has come off the frame, and the wheelwell is rubbing the tire. With some lifting and pushing and pulling, the frame falls back into place. But the truck won't start. The battery cables were jostled loose; nothing a socket wrench and some luck can't handle. Finally, we're off, and this before our hillbilly cohorts return to harass some campers on the sandbar, or perhaps with more malevolent intentions.

With no other real options available, we made the long trek home. The paddling trip of the following day, postponed for the indefinite future.

Tomato Puberty

The tomatoes (ten of them now) are morphing from their fuzzy adolescent stage to that era of firm, waxy skin that decries tomato adulthood. The transition seems to be manifesting itself nicely, with no signs of blemishes or odd malformations.

And there are plenty of blooms still to be found, which are yet to make that leap into tomato-hood.

Sunday Morning Update: We're up to a nice even baker's dozen now.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Tornado Stricken :: Tuscaloosa

Exactly four weeks after the fact, I visited Tuscaloosa for the first time since it was devastated by at least one tornado. Rebuilding has not yet begun. Reparations have commenced on those dwellings and buildings which can be restored. Some empty lots can now be found, which in recent days contained the remnants of buildings. But mostly, things lie as they had fallen... 

The former residence of some friends in the Forest Lake neighborhood
...some with messages to loved ones, like the house which bore the message: "We love you Mamaw and Papaw." Still others warn off potential looters with clever messages reading: "If you loot, we will shoot!" But many contain notes regarding family pets, and on that front, at least, there seems to be good news.

Signs declaring hope and the soon returns of neighbors and businesses proclaim the resounding pride or fortitude of Tuscaloosa's residents, even in the face of constant devastation, from which there can be expected no soon relief.

The Remains of the Forest Lake District

Sloss Furnaces of Birmingham

The Sloss Furnaces were for decades a staple of the Birmingham economic community. Colonel Sloss established his pig iron factory in the newly-founded city of Birmingham in the years immediately following the Civil War. The Birmingham area is replete with iron ore, coal beds, and railways - all the essential elements for profitable iron production and distribution.

This relic, which lies in the heart of the city, serves as a constant reminder of Birmingham's great industrial past. It is a dinosaur whose skeletal remains cannot be hid.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Celebrating the Cahaba Lily

The Cahaba Lily, also known Shoals Lily in some parts, grows in the southeastern portion of the United States. It is known to exist only in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. The flower blooms from about mid-May to mid-June, roughly from Mother's Day to Father's Day.

More photos should follow in short order after our paddling trip along the Cahaba River this weekend.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Review :: Opteka Battery Pack Grip and Hand Strap for Canon Rebel T2i

Several weeks ago, I purchased the Opteka Battery Pack Grip / Vertical Shutter Release for Canon EOS Rebel T2i and accompanying Opteka Professional Wrist Grip Strap for my Canon Rebel T2i. I have vertical grips for all of my other Canon EOS cameras and find that it really improves the handling, particularly for smaller bodies like the Rebels.

For me the vertical grip serves several practical and one aesthetic function. Ergonomically, the vertical grip gives my pinky finger somewhere to rest; on the T2i, without the grip, my pinky is just wandering out there in free space, without a natural place to land. Additionally, the grip holds a second battery and provides some much needed heft to the T2i, which helps balance it when heavier lenses are attached.

Regarding the Opteka specifically, it has the same color and texture as the T2i. I had waffled for some time on whether it would be worth my while to spend the extra cash on the Canon brand grip, rather than a third party provider. But Opteka's reputation for compatibility and and durability is generally well-regarded. And I can find no reason to disparage it here.

Installing the grip is no chore. Remove the battery from the camera; remove the battery compartment door (easily done); then slide the male portion of the grip into the battery compartment; thread the screws into the trip mount; and you're ready to go. Don't forget to install the batteries into the grip, and turn it on. The camera will function without the grip being turned on, but the shutter release and function buttons on the grip will not.

I have, of late, found neck straps to be tiresome and often more in the way than not, yet I wasn't entirely comfortable holding the camera naked, without any way of securing it to my person - I do a lot of hiking and am far from remarkably coordinated. I have found that the hand strap serves to do more than provide this simple security. It is an ergonomic wonder. Having the strap somewhat snug allows for more dextrous use of my fingers, on my right hand, without having to remove my left from the lens. Because my fingers are not longer being relied on to fully support the weight of the camera, I am able to manipulate the control wheel and buttons more nimbly and naturally.

The hand strap can be attached by one of two methods: by using the plastic attachment that screws into the tripod mount (on either the grip or the camera, if you choose not to use the grip), or not. I have elected not to use the plastic bit; because the grip has a slot for a strap along the bottom corner (when the camera is positioned normally), I found it not necessary to use the plastic piece.

Now, with the important practical considerations out of the way, I find that a camera just looks better with a grip. It seems both more proportional and imposing. It becomes, of itself, a thing of greater substance.

Update: July 4, 2011
I am still pleased with the hand grip, but have one peculiarity to note:

Regardless of how much charge the battery actually has, whenever the Opteka grip is installed, the camera reads as having a full charge. This became a problem the other day while I was out shooting. The T2i gave me an Err 20 message, which told me to turn the camera off, re-install the battery, then turn the camera back on. I did accordingly, and received the same message. Did the same several more times, with the same result, until eventually the camera would not turn on at all. The Err 20 problem indicates the following: "20 - Malfunction related to the mechanical mechanism has been detected." I didn't realize it at the time, but the batteries had run down to the point of being unable to operate camera. Once I charged the batteries, the camera began to function as it should.

Please feel free to leave any comments or questions you might have. I strive to make this as informative as possible.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

We Have Tomatoes!

This is the greatest day in my short stint as a gardener. After getting up this morning, I (in what has become part of my regular routine) went out to check on my tomato plants, and lo-and-behold there are several tiny little tomatoes, where once there were blooms.

Anna thought it was ridiculous how much joy I was exuding from this small success. She said to me the other day, "I hope you care for our kids as well as you take care of those tomatoes."

Friday, May 13, 2011

Running and Shooting at Ruffner Mountain

I went running today at Ruffner Mountain Nature Center in East Lake. It was my first time over there, so in addition to my running apparel, I carried my handy-dandy Panasonic LX3. I took a trail that led me first to the wetlands.

Then I went a bit further, maybe another mile downtrail.

There I came upon Lizard Loop, where I eventually turned around and headed back to the nature center. After 3.5mi of (somewhat stop-and-go) running, and an additional mile or so of walking, I have to call my first trail running excursion a success, both aerobically and photographically.

First Quarter at Dusk

Canon T2i, Tamron LD Di 70-300mm at 300mm, 1/80s @ f/11, ISO 200

A Bust at the Bama Flea Mall

So I talked Anna into going to the Bama Flea Mall in Leeds today. I was in search of old film cameras, or at least one. I figured with 57,000 sq ft of floor space, I would be positively overwhelmed with options. Not to be.

All we chanced upon were a Kodak Tourist II folder camera, which was overpriced considering it only takes 620 film that is no longer manufactured (sure you can adapt your 120 spools, but that's a lot of hassle).

But then I found a gem - Konica S2 Auto. Alas, it had a busted lens (I know no other way to describe it) and was missing a winder knob. So we walked away almost entirely empty-handed...almost, in that Anna found a little magazine basket.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Waxing Crescent, I believe

Canon T2i, Tamron LD Di 70-300mm at 300mm, 1/40s @ f/8, ISO 200

Friday, May 6, 2011

La Luna

Canon T2i, Tamron LD Di 70-300mm at 300mm, 1/10s @ f/8, ISO 100
I left this one at a large resolution so that when you click on the photo, you can view it at its full size and see the detail in the craters. This isn't a superb lens, and there are certainly some much better, but I'm pretty pleased with its performance here.

I had the camera on a sturdy tripod and was using Live View so that the mirror would already be up (thus eliminating any shake from the mirror slap), and the only moving component would be the open-and-shut of the shutter. Additionally, I was using a remote to trigger the shutter.

In Full Bloom

My tomato plants have a combined sixteen blooms, which is up about three fold from a few days ago. That compost most really be working its magic, because I haven't used any other additives. I am worried about a couple of rabbits we've seen in the backyard of late, though.

Update: I was mistaken, there are 24 blooms, rather than 16.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

First Efforts at Time Lapse Photography

Today saw my first real attempts at time lapse photography. I recently acquired an intervalometer for my Canon 550D, which allows me to do this. I am excited at the possibilities with this. Below is my first humble attempt.

I set the tripod up in the backyard and began shooting about 7:30pm. I set the timer to take a photograph once every minute, and it continued to do so for about the next hour and forty-five minutes. The lens I used is a Tamron 70-300mm Di LD at 70mm @ f/8.