NOrtho Photo

Aspen seedlings and fireweed in a burned study plot.

While in Alaska in June I visited some mountain treeline study plots we established in 1998 to describe and monitor the population of white spruce at the transition between subalpine forest and alpine tundra. I searched the plots for new spruce seedlings and remeasured the ones that had been previously located and marked. A wildfire burned through some of the plots in 2004, and a new tree species has since established where the organic soil was consumed. Thousands of seedlings of quaking aspen now grow in the plots, and I recorded their number and height in subplots. These are healthy seedlings growing in the tundra where, prior to 2004, the only trees were a few stunted spruce. This invasion will be either a short-lived experiment that ends when the aspens try to grow taller than the winter snowpack, or the start of a novel treeline community. Monitoring these plots will eventually reveal how this plays out, so in the meantime counting and measuring a few things is considered to be science.

Giant Mountain

Somehow I convinced myself that the 4626 foot summit of Giant Mountain in the Adirondacks would be a good place to take some photos with a camera hanging from a kite. Yesterday I walked up there with two kites, three cameras, two KAP rigs, 1000 feet of line, and one sandwich. I think it might be possible to fly a kite up there sometime, but most of the time the wind on a mountain peak is not just blowing horizontally, it is moving up slope. This was obvious when I easily got the delta kite in the air from the summit and it tried to fly into the wind, over my head, and down the slope behind me. I realized that kites are designed to fly in wind that is perpendicular to gravity. When this geometry is lost, erratic behavior results, and the kite landed in a tree twice.

Little Tupper #5

Last weekend we made our fifth annual paddle trip to Little Tupper Lake with the same people, the same menu, and (as always) a new campsite. It was the second year we had to take a ferry from VT to NY instead of the Crown Point Bridge which is being replaced. The Photosynth panorama below of the new bridge was stitched from 12 handheld photos taken from the ferry at the dock.

I have made two Picasa albums from the trip. One has photos taken by a small camera attached to a kite line, and the other has photos taken by a DSLR which stayed close to, and more securely above, the lake surface. Below is a slide show from the KAP album.

Bread Loaf

Me in a very open field, far from arboreal things which could ruin my day.

Me in a very open field, far from arboreal things which could ruin my day.

The replacement for the Fled arrived in the mail today. The Levitation Delta made by Into The Wind is not as interesting as the Fled (it is a classic triangular sail with central keel), but it is half the price and collapses to 30″ instead of 43″. And it is big — nine feet between wing tips. It does not have the stability of the Fled when the wind almost stops, but neither does it buck like the Fled, jerking forward in certain conditions. Late in the afternoon I took it up to the Bread Loaf Campus at 1400′ where I hoped there would be a breeze. It was light, but the delta flew very steadily, so I put the full autoKAP rig on flew it over toward the compound of old yellow buildings which are being prepared for Tuesday’s arrival of 250 students for the Bread Loaf School of English. The wind was variable, so the KAP rig did not stay in the same place for long and it was hard to find more than a few photos that would stitch together well. There are seven photos in the Photosynth panorama below. I am not sure what to do with the other 800.

Photosynth Thesis

A couple of weeks ago I took some photos and video from the KAP rig lofted on the Flow Form 16 kite above a clearing behind the house. I did not get far stitching the images into a panorama, and had to move on to other business. Since then I have used Photosynth, which will not only display stitched panoramas, but the multiple unstitched overlapping images. The photos do not need to be taken from the same place, so KAP images should be well suited. Photosynth will create and display a 3D model of the surfaces in the photographs. The model consists of the points that Photosynth has determined are shared in two or more photos, and the 3D plot of those points based on photogrammetric analysis of the images. You can toggle a display of the point cloud in the Photosynth viewer below.

The final flight of the Fled

Bird's eye view, Salisbury, VT

A postcard from ca. 1900 with a view of the village of Salisbury

Around the turn of the 20th century, a postcard was made with a view of the village of Salisbury, Vermont from a field on the side of a hill. Repeating this photo would highlight the dramatic changes since then, such as the draining of “Mirror Lake,” and the rampant increase in shade trees in the village. But trees also cover the hillside now, so it is not possible to reoccupy the original camera location. I have had this project in mind as I practiced kite photography, wondering how I could fly a camera over the trees close to the proper place. When Friday afternoon arrived sunny and breezy, I hopped in the truck and headed to Farwell Lookoff, the site of an old cabin at the top of that same (now forested) hill. I had been there only once before, and did not remember whether the cabin occupied a large enough clearing from which to launch a kite. The jury is still out on whether it does.

Independent project

Four months ago Galen and I sawed down a white ash tree to get some green sapwood to bend into the keel of a model ship. Yesterday Galen presented the completed Viking warship at his school, as each student presented his or her “Inquiry” project. The consensus is that Galen enjoyed his project almost as much as his Inquiry mentor (guess who?). The video below tells the story of the construction of the model.
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Built to fly

I awoke this morning to see that not a leaf on the hornbeam was fluttering, and my head fell back to the pillow in dismay.  This was a sure sign that I had a new hobby.  It was the KAPer’s lament: no wind. I had flown a camera on a kite for two days in a row, and the thought of a calm day was discouraging.  But I had started a stitch of yesterday’s aerial panorama before I went to bed, so I got up two hours before Galen had to be at school to check on it.

All the parts before assembly

All the parts before assembly

I built my first KAP rig last week from one of Brooks Leffler’s kits. I have never built anything with servos and dip switches and carbon fiber legs, but I got to use my Dremel tool, so it felt safe.  Brooks has designed an elegant system for suspending a camera so that it can point in any direction.  The pointing and shutter release are done either at predetermined intervals (autoKAP), or by radio control from the ground.  The kit I built had servo motors for both panning and tilting and electronics to automatically point in as many as 76 directions and take photos potentially covering a downward-looking half-spherical view. By replacing the tiny circuit board with a radio receiver, the motors and shutter could be controlled via a transmitter on the ground.  It is based on the RC airplane/car/boat/helo standards, so compatible equipment is readily available.

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My Flying GigaPan

It took a couple of weeks for Jeffrey Warren’s message to sink in.  At first I thought his workshop on balloon aerial photography at the Fine gigapixel conference in November promoted a fringe pursuit – lofting cameras on tethered helium balloons to make better maps than were currently available.  But this pursuit emerged from the elegant convergence of modern camera technology and traditional lofting methods (balloons and kites).  It was now possible for anyone to make good, current “maps” from stitched, low-elevation vertical photographs.  Jeffrey is committed to inventing workarounds to the technological and financial obstacles that would otherwise put this process out of reach of the communities that might benefit from good maps.  This was the focus of his thesis at MIT, and he has had great success bringing communities together around these new map images and the experience of making them.  He has made the objective so compelling, and the process so simple and inexpensive that I soon realized I had to try it.

Beyond Prezi

Today I presented some preliminary results of a five-year winter wildlife tracking project my town’s conservation commission has just completed. I was part of a workshop on wildlife connectivity at the Vermont Statewide Conservation Conference in Rutland.

We had some spatial analysis and mapping of the tracking done by Kevin Behm at our county’s regional planning commission, and I wanted to display the mapped results in a compelling way. Google Earth was an obvious candidate for display, but driving Google Earth for a live audience is asking for trouble unless the show is simple. So I used the Movie Maker tool in Google Earth Pro to record three minutes of video highlighting the non-simple results and their context.

Christmas Garden

GCLaser N scale Tower B-12

Galen’s Uncle and Aunt gave him a nice set of N scale model trains a few years ago, and we have added track and accessories since then. For his birthday in May, Galen got three building kits from GCLaser.com. Although there are lots of HO scale plastic model kits of buildings, N scale is too small to work well for the molded plastic kits, and the available kits are 2-4 times the price of the HO kits even though they are smaller.

The GCLaser kits are all wood. The pieces are precisely cut by laser from micro plywood. The material and quality control are excellent, and the parts fit together beautifully with almost no shaping or cleaning. They are more expensive than plastic HO kits, and much harder to assemble, but the results can be impressive. When I received the kits it was obvious that they weren’t quite appropriate for Galen, so I selflessly stepped up and assembled them myself.

The succession of precedence

Google has digitized the text of five million books. The old ones are in the public domain and you can read them online at http://books.google.com/. Most of the more recent ones are still protected by copyright law, but that law did not anticipate the ingenuity at Google. The individual words and phrases in all those books are now in a huge database that anyone can search. Maybe you can’t read every book online, but you can learn how book writers have used the language over the past two centuries at http://ngrams.googlelabs.com/. This allows a very new kind of literary research – answering questions without reading.  Although it turns out that some reading is still required.