A respite

It is 66 degrees out, overcast, and drizzle has been falling intermittently for the past few hours.  In short, perfect.  Thank you, weather gods, for a long-awaited and much appreciated break from unpleasantness that is an east coast summer.

Long island sound

Looking out from Rye on Long Island Sound

Session B begins


Even after 4 years experience with it, I’m still not all that comfortable with the semester system.  Fifteen week blocks just seem too long, with things inevitably starting to drag around week 6 or so.

It also makes the contrast with the summer term even more jarring.  At Columbia, there are two summer sessions, each six weeks long.  As a result, classes that normally met twice a week for 75 minutes now meet twice a week for 190 minutes.  It’s a lot.

Still, it’s nice to have already finished one session and have started the second one on the first week of July.  Hopefully this one goes as smoothly as the last.  So far (today was the first class), so good.

Tilt lenses

One of the more exotic sorts of lenses available for interchangeable lens systems (mainly SLRs) are tilt lenses.  These lenses have a mechanism that lets you tilt the lens with respect to the film plane (normally, a lens is precisely perpendicular to the film plane).

The advantage that tilt lenses give is that by tilting the lens, you can actually alter the areas of the image that are in focus.  Tilt to a certain point and more of the image will appear in focus.  This is especially handy for landscape photography since it allows one to keep most of the image in focus even when the lens’s aperture is wide open.  Meanwhile, certain tilt distances will drastically decrease the portion of the image that is in focus.  This is mainly used to create a ‘miniaturization’ effect, or to simulate the look of a wide aperture (‘fast’) lens when the actual lens is not very fast.

The main disadvantage of tilt lenses on SLRs is that they tend to be specialized and expensive.  Canon and Nikon between them offer a total of 7 models currently that allow for tilt.

However, with mirrorless formats like m4/3, some enterprising folks have added in a tilt mechanism to the standard lens adapters for common mounts.  As a result, I was able to get ahold of a Nikon-to-Micro-4/3 adapter which provides 8mm of tilt to any Nikon lens attached to it.  This includes a ‘Coligon 28mm f/2.8 lens in Nikon mount that I recently acquired for the princely sum of $20.

Below is an example of the sort of selective blurring you can get by tilting.  I’ll be trying the adapter with more lenses in the future.  In many respects mirrorless systems are actually better for using tilt lenses because it’s very easy to magnify the view in the viewfinder, to ensure that the correct region is in focus (all tilt lenses currently are manual focus).

Rye Playland, (28mm f/4.0, ISO 200 1/3200s)


Ward Pound Ridge


Despite the fact that it’s directly adjacent to New York City, Westchester county actually has quite a lot of open areas, once you get beyond the main suburbs.  One of my favorite parks is the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, barely a half hour drive from suburban Westchester.

I’ve been to the park more than a dozen times in the past few years, but always in fall or winter.  So in the morning, I got up early, and took the drive up the Saw Mill River Parkway toward Katonah.

I opted for a short route out to one of the park’s lookouts.  It was a pleasant walk, but somehow not nearly as picturesque as I remembered.  In fact minus the colored leaves or the snow, it was almost monotonous winding through the trees and up and down the little hills, each almost indistinguishable from the rest.  It was good to be outside after several 90+ degree days, but I certainly didn’t get many interesting photos.  In fact the drive ended up being the more picturesque part of the trip.  Nothing is ever quite as one remembers it, I guess…

Congratulations, class of ‘012



My cousin received his Master’s degree today at Stanford (Department of Electrical Engineering)!

It was a typical June day in Palo Alto (read: warm – the black gowns did not look comfortable), and the event had the usual combination of seriousness and hijinks.  Plenty of crazy costumes on the field for the Wacky Walk, including a row of dominos, who obligingly collapsed on the field partway into the proceedings.

The department ceremony proved as hard to photograph as last year.  Harder actually, as I was using a manual focus lens on my Olympus E-PM1 (a 30-year old Nikon 135/2.8).  I did get a few photos though.  Probably will stick to autofocus lenses in the future, if I can.

I also made a visit to Sunnyvale, to the annual De Anza Tutor’s picnic.  Some familiar faces.  Looks like everybody is doing well (many have now transferred to Cal, SJSU, UCLA and UCSD).

High culture

Cities tend to offering interesting contrasts, what with crowding huge numbers of people from quite disparate backgrounds into a small area.  New York City certainly offers the extremes more than most.

I went with my grandmother and several of her friends to the ballet last night.  It was an interesting show (Firebird, Apollo, Thirteen Diversions) at Lincoln Center’s Metropolitan Opera House.  The venue itself was quite a sight, glittering chandeliers and a huge set of front windows showcasing a couple of Marc Chagall’s paintings.

As the restaurant we went to the previous time was closed, we ended up eating at a place on the second floor of the opera house itself.  A high-class sort of dining experience, as well it should have been, considering the prices.  It got me thinking as to the sorts of people who normally go to such places.  I suppose ballet (and opera) have always been primarily amusements of the well-heeled.  Certainly, it was amusing to look around at intermission and see all the folks milling about in their (to me) fancy clothes chit-chatting of this and that.  I suppose that’s what high-culture gets you.

The program itself was fun too.  I’d not seen Firebird performed as a ballet before, but this was apparently not the usual Ballanchine arrangement but one by another choreographer, and the costumes and set pieces were very elaborate and eye-catching.  I also enjoyed the music.

Thankful for Small Things

After several uncomfortable days, my left eye no longer feels like there are several large pieces of dust stuck in it.  In the grand scheme of things, eye irritation isn’t all that severe an ailment I guess (certainly better than the conjunctivitis that the doctor suggested it might be), but it was quite distracting, and frequently unpleasant.  Happily, the eye is mostly back to normal now.  Still, it’s a timely reminder to be thankful for the small things, as when they go wrong, they can take the big things with them too.

On a lighter note, I finally cracked the mystery of why I have been receiving invitations to the Society of Women Engineers meetings every few weeks (I had not signed up).  According to Columbia’s records, I am female.  I may just leave it as is, since the only person to notice so far was the nurse at Student Health Services.

Behind Schedule

After a surprise storm in late October, downstate New York hadn’t seen any real snow until yesterday.  Admittedly many people prefer it that way (it sure makes driving easier), but I’m of the view that you can’t have a genuine east coast winter without the stuff.  Besides, without the snow the countryside just looks bare and dreary.

For now though, winter is back on schedule.  There were even people out skiing at Rockefeller State Park.

Rockefeller - Lake

Swan Lake – Frozen and Snowed Over.

Winter Daze

In spite of the early snowstorm at the end of October, it’s actually been a very warm winter here in New York so far.  Feels a lot like winter on the west coast, except warmer.  On the bright side, the days are starting to get longer, albeit very slowly.

Here is the view from lower Manhattan on a gray, blustery morning.

Stormy skies

Revisiting Old Haunts

Rainbow over Reservoir

We are all creatures of habit, but some of us more than others.  When I was living in NYC in spring 2008, I would frequently take the 1 subway line up to 59th street, walk a few blocks across to Central Park, and make my way northward to the reservoir.  I almost always passed by the children’s zoo, the sailboat pond, the Belvedere ‘castle’, and the great lawn on the way to the reservoir.  It was always a nice way to spend the afternoon, and clear my head of whatever funk I was in.  I made the trip more than a dozen times from March through May of that year.

Today I needed to catch the train to visit my grandparents, so I replicated the route I used to take, in reverse order.  As usual the fountain was running in the reservoir, and I was lucky enough to catch a rainbow.  Even in the middle of the densest part of New York, you can still find a little tranquillity, if you look.