Utah Rocks, Part II: Thor’s Hammer Monday, Dec 9 2013 

In my previous post from the Bryce Canyon National Park, I mentioned a rock formation known as Thor’s Hammer. It is one of the countless “hoodoos” in the main amphitheater of the park, but possibly the most imposing and easily recognizable.

Thor's Hammer, Bryce Canyon National Park

Thor’s Hammer, Bryce Canyon National Park

It gets its name from the shape at the top of the spire; through some fortunate geological coincidence, the sedimentary rock at the top of the spire is harder than the one below it, so it eroded less over eons, resulting in the characteristic shape. The rock is porous and the water that seeps in the microscopic cracks expands and contracts during endless daily freeze-thaw cycles, carving stone into hoodoos in the process. Geology meets mythology, you might say.

To get this photo, I simply walked down the path just under the Sunset point. It’s about as close as you can get to the Hammer, as it sticks out from the slope of the canyon. The rising June sun paints it a bright orange color while most of the rest of the amphitheater is still lit indirectly. One thing I love about the amphitheater is the shades of orange and red that it creates as light bounces around in the tight spaces in between the hoodoos.

It seems like Hammer has three siblings who live next door, but they are bunched together, and we’ll see over the next few millenia whether they turn into something quite as imposing as the Hammer. Who knows, maybe by that time the endless freeze-thaw cycles of Bryce Canyon would end Thor’s Hammer as we see it today.

Thor's Hammer At Night

Thor’s Hammer At Night

As it happens, I walked this path around midnight the previous night. The Moon was full and high up in the summer sky and it lit the amphitheater beautifully. There were even guided midnight hiking tours, where visitors got to see a very different Bryce Canyon. I took several digital shots, and was reminded of an old technical problem; without a remote shutter release, I could only take 30-second exposures, unless I wanted to hold my finger on the shutter button for an extended period of time. On top of that, I had to use a pretty narrow f/11 aperture setting, to keep everything sharp, since camera has a hard time getting focus lock in such low light conditions. As a result, I bumped the ISO on my Canon 7D camera to 1600, but it all worked out nicely — photo is sharp and not too noisy, and offers a different perspective of this great looking rock.

Happy Birthday, Sarajevo Saturday, Apr 6 2013 

April 6 is the anniversary of the liberation of my home town from German forces in World War II. Around the same time of the year, a more somber anniversary is observed in the city, that of the Siege of Sarajevo, the longest siege in modern warfare. With this post, I’m making a small contribution in marking these anniversaries.

Sarajevo, 4:30 a.m.

Sarajevo, 4:30 a.m.

This shot was taken during my June 2009 visit to Sarajevo; it’s still one of my favorite trips, partly because it extended to a few days in Dubrovnik, Croatia, but mainly because I spent it in the company of all my dearest family members. I wanted to finally take some good sunrise and sunset shots of the city from some of the many hills surrounding it. The trouble with that plan is that the days in the middle of June are really long, and the dawn breaks as early as 4 a.m.

After a few days of recovering from jet lag, I got up really early this one morning (this was taken around 4:35 a.m.), got into a cab and went to Jekovac, a little park overlooking the old town. I took this shot from the same place, and you can see how foggy it was back in October 2007. This time around, the sky was clear, but the actual sunrise was ruined by some low-hanging clouds, so I didn’t get good shots until a few days later.

I brought two film cameras to this trip, but one thing I wasn’t comfortable doing with them was long exposures. This was 8 seconds at ISO 100 with my Canon 20D digital camera; if I took a shot with my Velvia 50 film, it would have had to be 30+ seconds, due to film reciprocity failure.

In the foreground is the Old Town, anchored by the City Hall, built in the 19th century by the Austrian Empire and later converted into a library, which was then burned down by Serbian military forces in 1992, in the first days of the Siege. Bottom right is the cemetery dedicated to the defenders of the city during the Siege. Further westward, you see the modern buildings of the newer parts of the city, and above, in a fortunate astronomical circumstance, you see the full Moon, about to plunge behind Igman and Bjelašnica mountains.

Double White Line, Lewisville, TX Monday, Oct 15 2012 

Double White Line

Double White Line

The story behind this image might be my favorite photography story so far.

It begins with my purchase of the 70-200mm f/4L USM lens – I wanted to play around with the telephoto zoom, and this was one of the best bargains in Canon’s lineup. Fantastic image quality and great utility for a few hundred dollars. It was irresistible, and I loved it.

To test it out, I took it to a highway overpass to take some shots in the late afternoon light. I set up my tripod and had fun looking for a perfect long exposure shot, first on one side of the overpass, then on the other. A few people honked and I got a few looks, but I took it all in stride.

That is, until the police car pulled up next to me.

Canon Rebel XT with a 70-200mm f/4L USM lens

Canon Rebel XT with a 70-200mm f/4L USM lens

The officer couldn’t have been nicer. He said that there were a few 911 calls talking about a sniper on the highway overpass, so he came to check it out. I showed him that my Canon Rebel XT with the 70-200mm lens doesn’t look anything like a rifle, except for the fact that I “aim” it like a rifle and “shoot” with it.

We talked for a bit about photography, he laughed it off and left. I shot this shot a few minutes later.

Foucault’s Pendulum, Los Angeles, CA Saturday, Oct 6 2012 

When I’m asked at corporate meetings to tell “one interesting fact about myself”, I usually go with the “I was a state champion in Physics in 8th grade”.

I had a great physics teacher in elementary school, and it really came easy to me, so I was interested in all sorts of physics phenomena, from simple machines to electricity.

One of the most fascinating experiments is the Foucault’s Pendulum. It’s not much more than a simple pendulum, except that it is really, really long. The length of the oscillation makes the pendulum slowly change direction because it is affected not only by gravity but also the rotation of the Earth. The change in direction differs based on the location of the pendulum; for example, at each pole, the pendulum would return in the starting position after 24 hours. On the equator, the pendulum would not change direction at all!

Foucault's Pendulum

Foucault’s Pendulum

The photo is of the Foucault’s Pendulum inside Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California. The exposure was half a second, so you can see how the pendulum’s bob traces across the pit.

Now that I used “pit” and the “pendulum” in the same sentence, I have to mention the literary references. Other than the obvious Edgar Allan Poe connection there, it’s worth mentioning that “Foucault’s Pendulum” by Umberto Eco was one of the books I read during the siege of Sarajevo, 1992-1995. I loved Eco’s “The Name of the Rose”, although I remember “Pendulum” to be a much different book. No less interesting, though, with its conspiracy theories and secret societies, and it definitely made quite a few winter afternoons go by quickly.

Final note about a pendulum goes back to a story told to me in class by a different physics teacher, this time in college. She said that she heard of a university professor who would use Foucault’s Pendulum to test the student’s faith in the laws of physics. First, he would have the student displace the pendulum from a resting position by some distance and ask the student to simply release it. Pendulum would swing across the room and then start hurtling back towards the student.

If the student took a step back in fear of impact, they would fail the test.

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