Tucson Stadtrundfahrt

Although I arrived in Tucson back in August and had been pretty busy before then experimenting with my photography, I haven’t taken my camera much around the city. So earlier yesterday morning when I was faced with the decision to continue working on Saturday or do something else, I decided that it was finally time to try and capture some of life out here and pass it along to my friends. The full album of pictures is available over at Flickr.

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My tour started just outside our door. It’s hard to believe sometimes that it’s the middle of January. I’ve never experienced weather like this in the winter. Granted, it is chilly, but a very tolerable type of cold, all things considered.Tucson Stadtrundfahrt-003

My friend Lance pointed out that the white spots on the cacti pictured here are the source of a saturated red dye. The cottony white substance coats the red Cochineal insect pods.

My bike-ride into town and through the university passes some beautiful neighborhoods. The houses are all varied in their architecture: adobe, brick, concrete block walls; flat, slanted, and multi-tiered roofs; gravel, grass, and stone yards. Shade trees are few and far between, but there’s a surprising diversity in plant life with fruit and cacti and tall palms and others. The closer one gets to the university, the more impressive the houses become where some have exquisite yards and artistic installations.

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Lots of activities on campus meet outside. A long green stretches from one side to the other and the grass is curated perfectly. Over near the dorm area I found a group of guys playing voleyball while throngs of students were walking towards another game in the stadium up the street. It’s common to see musicians, athletes, dance troupes, and groups of cyclists gathering here. The campus is a beatiful place to be.

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Further westward I came to 4th Avenue full of ethnic restaurants, bars, creative shops, marijuana social clubs, a Goodwill, an arcade, and more. 4th Avenue is where most of the festivals and parades in town take place – right around the open-air stage in the middle. One of my favorite coffee shops – Cafe Passé – is just down the street across from the Food Conspiracy cooperative. Actually, there are several good ones along this stretch of road: Epic Cafe, Revolutionary Grounds, Cafe Passé, and Cartel Coffee somewhat sits at the terminus downtown on the other side of the tracks. Had I been on my way downtown I would have continued down 4th to cross underneath the Union Pacific tracks. Instead, I turned around to meet Mandi and head to church a couple of blocks over.

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That’s it for this journey. It usually takes me about twenty to twenty-five minutes to cycle into town from home. These are some of the common sights I see each day. Of course, this is prettier than the more direct Broadway route, and I prefer to ride through where all the people are, so it would be somewhat uninteresting for me to have taken my camera there: Safeway, Del Taco, the FedEx store, etc… My last picture came from the end of my favorite time of day: a window approximately twenty minutes long where the sun is at such a point that the sky fades from blue to orange all the way to black. If you watch at the right time, you can see the most gorgeous sunsets every day.

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See more from this album at Flickr.

The souls are all proceeding

Too many people have been waiting for me on this…although I promised that it would take some time before I could publish the edited photos, it took me much longer than anticipated. In fact, I don’t think it’s ever taken me this long before to go from photo-shoot to Flickr, but I started out with five hundred pictures and have ended up with eighty-six.

It’s very difficult to delete so many pictures that I’ve taken, but this is one of the best disciplines for shooting. If I left in all the photos I liked, I’d bore you to death and you’d never be able to pick out the best ones from the rest of the group.

These are just my favorites, but you can follow-on to my Flickr site to see my whole album for the Tucson All-Souls Procession and download higher-resolution copies.

So many things…

Last week was our all company meetup in Park City, Utah. We rarely had more than a couple of minutes pause throughout the entire seven-day get-together. We spent the time working, eating, and having fun (not so much sleeping). As a distributed company, we don’t normally have much time to “rag-chew” or “shoot-the-breeze.” It seems kind of crazy that we could be “busy” having fun together, but this is the time in which we build the relationships that make our teams work. It’s pretty valuable to get to know the people you interact with and these meetups foster good communication.

Four hundred of us came from all over; some had traveled over thirty hours jumping through airports and over oceans. I was thankful to hangout with friends I’ve made over the past year and a half and glad to meet new ones. I’m really surrounded by amazing people at Automattic. We’ve got such an incredible mix of people from various background and interests and skills and it’s pretty unbelievable to cram all that together in one place.

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My attempt at rocking the cowbell with my coworkers – Team Simperium

Now that I’m back in the United States, my team stays in pretty good contact due to timezones overlapping – we hail from Buenos Aires, Nashville, San Francisco, Seattle, and Tucson. That’s it for now though as we won’t see each other again until next year.

This year at the meetup was a bit busier than last year for me because I was leading a project group and we had to come up with something and demonstrate it at the end of the week. We made some tools to make making tools easier for developers. Programming for programmers to make programming easier. Anyway, long story short we were helping make it easier to write better code and evaluate the quality of code different developers submit day in and day out.

When I did finally get some free time I took to the skies! Actually, I took my camera out to shoot the skies, but it sounds better that way. I also had the chance to tag along on a photo tour through the Albion Basin with a professional photographer guide.

Throughout the week we fed on nutrition, coffee, and adrenaline. I probably tallied an average of three and a half hours of sleep each night and totally hit it hard when I returned to Tucson. I was out and a little bit under the weather, but a few good nights of sleep restored me (for more adventurous fun at an educational hackathon). It’s pretty amazing the kind of tradeoffs we can make (for a short bit of time). Oh yeah, and watch out for those Automattic parties – we’re a rowdy bunch!

Clicky Steve put together an excellent photo journal of the week on his blog, all my friends are jpegs.

Angry Moon

The moon was angry last night. It turned red. If you happen to miss the news, we had a rare coincidence of two reasonably normal events: the moon was at the closest point in its orbit; and there was a full lunar eclipse, producing what we call a “blood moon” because of its red color.

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While originally I was planning on finding a good spot to scout it out, I stumbled upon an organized group at the University including some people from the astronomy department and also the local astronomy club. They had all sorts of telescopes and computers and equipment and knowledge. I had lots of fun interacting with people (people make all things better, right?) and even bumped into someone I had met at a programming meetup.

Unblurred Utah Sky

When you sacrifice sleep you can accomplish great things (for a brief period of time). Finally, after about a year of work, I have come up with a workflow to automatically enhance my stellar photography.

This picture is worth zooming in on. Some places look like they could be galaxies but unfortunately are nothing more than noise caused by over saturation from bright stars.
This picture is worth zooming in on. Some places look like they could be galaxies but unfortunately are nothing more than noise caused by over saturation from bright stars.

The image above was produced with my collection of 518 source images taken last year. I’m not sure how much better I will be able to make it (ignoring the fact that I haven’t yet corrected for the coma-distortion in the corners). The reconstruction was a fun process which I will write about later, but the following animation demonstrates how the various stages look.

Moving from raw imagery to reconstructed imagery. Notice how the two overlapping stars near the center of the image separate towards the end of the process.
Moving from raw imagery to reconstructed imagery. Notice how the two overlapping stars near the center of the image separate towards the end of the process.

This reconstruction is mainly a combination of two algorithms: the first aligns and sums the individual frames, reducing the noise and increasing the SNR (signal-to-noise ratio); the second takes an inferred PSF (point-spread function) and performs an iterative deconvolution to estimate the original unburied scene.

The biggest surprise during this project was discovering that the pictures I took were out of focus. In the first frame of the animation, you can see that each star looks like a small donut – a ring around a dark center. This is most likely caused by the fact that the point where all the light should have landed on the camera sensor was actually behind or in front of where it needed to be. Thus, every spot in one of those tiny rings represents the same physical spot in space.

Luckily, by using a bit of math and lots of processing power I was able to remove that out-of-focus blur and recover the sharper stars, now appearing as points. The image produced is literally a higher-resolution image than is physically possible for the camera to capture. It’s only by the application of algorithms like these that we can cheat reality to admire the treasures hidden inside.

Next step? Apply this process to some of my other more-recent astrophotography, then try and capture a portion of space through a telescope and capture galactic arms.

Sex Tractor Preview

No, it’s not a racy post. It’s a play on words some funny programmer chose for the name of this StarExtractor. Actually, it’s called sextractor without the space, but I digress.

It may not look that impressive now, but it carries massive implications.
It may not look that impressive now, but it carries massive implications.

This represents a big step forward in my pursuit of a clear shot of the night sky. The process that I have worked out requires automatic alignment of each shot from my nocturnal photo-shoots, but the algorithms I have been using keep failing. My suspicion is that they fail because they are looking for features and the stars are just a bunch of points – featureless.

This, however, changes everything. This is a line drawn among the fifty brightest stars in the central area of the image and I was able to produce it automatically with the help of sextractor, which identified and classified the stars in the image. These lines will hopefully be enough of a set of features for the other algorithms to match.

Onward and forward!

Making up for Dubai

My trip to the desert of Dubai was nixed by means of a malfunctioning jumbo jet. There were stars out there in the dry clear sky and no one to see them (well, not me at least). Though that ship has already sailed, I am trying to recover the opportunity here in Ireland and will do so if the clouds stay away. I hope you enjoy this journey-journal. It’s a long post and somewhat stream-of-conscious, but I wanted to do the best I could to share this memorable excursion with you all.

Continue reading “Making up for Dubai”