9/12/2011

Tigers Playoffs

Last September i was thinking of buying tickets to see a Detroit Tiger playoff game. But it turned out that the ALDS (round 1) was going to be September 30 - October 6. I was going to be in Italy those days so i wouldn't be able to go.

But i thought, i'll just try and see if i even could get tickets. I remember hearing stories of people going crazy trying to buy world series tickets a few years ago.


Here's what the process was like. I went to tigers.com the day the tickets went on sale and saw this
baseball postseason tickets
I clicked on Game 1 and was directed to this screen, the Virtual Waiting Room. I have to say that this is actually a good idea. It's not first come-first serve but sort of a random selection. And it stops people from just clicking the Refresh button 5000 times.MLB virtual waiting room, baseball, tigers, detroit
It said that it would automatically refresh the screen. But i figured if 1 was good then 10 would be better. So i went back and clicked Open in New Tab ten times. At the top here you can see all the browser windows i had open.
detroit tigers playoffs, tickets, virtual waiting room
I don't know if it actually helped though because all of a sudden, all of the windows went to this screen. I thought "great, it worked, i can buy tickets now." It turned out, not really. buy playoff tickets, online, detroit tigers
This was the next screen. I selected 2 tickets together in the Right Field Grandstand and clicked Continue. how to buy tickets, detroit tigers playoffs
It then went to everyone's favorite screen, the wavy text verification. This is so that they know you are a real person and not a computer program trying to buy up all the tickets, then sell them online for triple the price. So i typed in the words and hit continue. buy baseball tickets, verification
It went back to the previous screen with this error. buy tickets error, unable to process order, high volumes
So i tried again.

Once or twice it said this.buy tickets error, unable to process order
This process went on and on for about 20 minutes and i was really sick of typing in those hard to read words. Until finally it worked. I actually had given up on the right field grandstand and just selected 2 tickets, best available. Apparently the best available were $60 in row 22 of the upper deck. After taxes and fees (which are totally made up) the total would have been $140. approved buy tickets, mlb, baseball, playoffs, seats
The crazy thing is that there was time limits on everything. 2 minutes to pick your seats, 3 minutes to verify, 3 minutes to enter your name. time limit on playoff tickets for sale
It turned out to be a good practice run if the Tigers made it to the ALCS (round 2). I was going to have to order them at 4PM in the lobby of our hotel in Rome.

It ended up that i couldn't get tickets for round 2 (ALCS) because they went on sale at 10am the day i left for Italy.

The tickets were $110 face value.
Luckily with all the sports going on here in Michigan: Lions Monday night Football and MSU vs UofM.... the tigers got left behind a bit.

The day of the games the tickets were going for less than face value and Karrie bought right field bleachers (my favorite seats) for $25 each. It was game 4 and it was cold and rainy but it was great. Way better than upper deck for $250.


It started a few hours late because of the rain, then went into extra innings and the Tigers ended up losing but it was still fun.


Here's the tarp on the field before the game.
rain out, detroit tigers playoff game
detroit tigers playoff, panorama, stadium
comerica park playoff game, rain, 2011

Blog Stats

Blogger.com has the cool ability to show the stats of people who visit your blog. It shows tons of stuff like what country they are viewing it from, what operating system they use and what page they viewed.
blogger stats, audience, track
I was surprised to see that the most popular pages each month are always the IQ Light and TV Antennas and Fractals.
track blog stats, stats page, report
With over 200 pages i usually get around 1000 views a month, which is nuts.

CHDK

This all started when i searched Google for "how to take pictures of stars." Lots of links came up for this program called CHDK. CHDK Logo, RAWCHDK - Stands for Canon Hacker Development Kit.

The short explanation is that
Canon cameras have the hardware ability to do all of these cool things but the software installed by the factory doesn't allow for it. This is a free program that allows the camera to function at the limits of its abilities. It was created by many different people over the years and it all started by people just wanting to get RAW images from their camera. It has been evolving and added onto ever since.

If you are interested in how to install it onto your camera go here:
How to Install CHDK. It seems a bit complicated at first but it's not too bad. Just "prep" your SD card, add the program and any script files you'd like and you're done.
I installed it onto my old Canon PowerShot SD770 IS. This is a great camera, with a battery that lasts a long time.
Canon SD770 IS, Power Shot
Here's the 5 main things that i was interested in doing:

  • Intervalometer
  • HDR pictures
  • Very long shutter speeds
  • Very short shutter speeds
  • Motion detection
Screenshot at start-upHow to use CHDK with Canon Camera, start up screen
Main menu
CHDK Main Menu, canon, screen view


1st - Intervalometer

Intervalometer basically means
"takes many pictures in a row with a timed delay." I used the script file called Ultra Intervalometer.

Once your script file is loaded, you adjust the settings at the bottom. You can see that this is set up to take a photo every 10 seconds.
Here's what the menu looks like.
CHDK intervalometer, screen shot, view, settings
Here's what the screen looks like while the file is running. At the bottom left corner of the screen you can see it counting down before it takes the next picture.
Ultra Intervalometer, CHDK, screen, Canon, install, script
I did this from the walkway near 12 mile over I-75.

video

I set the camera up during my car ride from work. This was 150 pictures, taken every 10 seconds. Then using a program called PhotoLapse 3, a video is created by stitching all of the pictures together.
video

I did this by setting my camera and tripod on the roof of the garage and operated the camera through my upstairs window. The bad thing is that the exposures didn't adjust as it got darker, which is why it fades to black at the end. Next time i'll try and fix it so that it starts taking pictures of the stars at night.
video

This is the camera set up on the beach at Lake Erie for time lapse photos.
Canon camera, CHDK, tripod, time lapse sunset

It has millions of possibilities. In the future i plan to attach the camera to balloons or a kite and have it take pictures every couple of seconds while it flies over my house.




2nd - HDR Photos


To create an HDR image you take several pictures of different exposures and combine them to create one great picture
. It's a little difficult to explain and i think it's very difficult to do right. But the goal is to create an image the way our human eye sees things. Our eyes can see detail in shadows even when looking into a sunset, HDR photos try to do the same thing by taking the best parts of multiple images.

Bracketing menu.
CHDK bracketing menu, screen view
You can see that in one picture the shadow area might look great, then in another picture the sunny area might give the best detail. By creating an HDR photo it combines all of the best parts into one great photo. Here's 5 photos i took, without moving the camera. Using CHDK i just hold down the shutter button and it automatically takes the pictures at different exposures.photo bracketing example, thirds, exposure
After you have these photos you can use several programs to combine them.
I tried using several different programs. Picturenaut worked ok, but i think Photomatix is the best. They both have free versions.
Once the images are combined, then you screw around with Tone Mapping, save the image, then adjust it further in Photoshop. Here's the final result.
HDR, combine photos, exposure
The sunflower isn't a great example. The whole point is to take HDR photos in complex light and dark settings. This one i took on the beach of Lake Erie is a little better.
HDR, combine photos, exposure, CHDK
I'm still working on creating just one HDR image that i like. I'm slowly getting better.



3rd - Long Shutter Speed

This is something i have done before, but i was limited to the settings in the camera. This is the heart of CHDK, it enables the camera to operate at its hardware limits.

When i took pictures with my cameras before, the maximum i could keep the lens open was 8 seconds.

Flashlight in the backyard

Dry ice

And for what i was doing, 8 seconds was alright. But with CHDK it allows the camera lens to stay open for much longer, over 1 minute.


I took this picture outside of work one cloudless morning before dawn. I had the camera set on my mini tripod and opened the lens for 25 seconds.
Long Exposure, CHDK, stars and moon
Now to get the best result, this should really be done with a DSLR camera with a big lens to let tons of light in. Here's a professional example. This took several hours to take.


This is what i was trying to create.
Star Trails, photoshopThe cool thing is this shows why you should only follow the North Star, everything else moves in the sky.

The photo i created doesn't look that good. The problem was that my camera would not record the image fast enough. I left the lens open for 50 seconds, but after the shot was taken it took 40 seconds to record and take the next shot. That's why it looks like many dots instead of smooth lines.
How to create star trails, long exposures, CHDK, canon camera
I later bought a faster SD card (class 6) that records at 20mb/s but it was just as slow. That means that the problem is in the camera and there's really nothing i can do about it.

I've found that the best program to combine all of the photos into one is coincidentally called StarTrails. It's really fast, really simple and it's what i used to create the image above.

Here's the video created from those same pictures.

video

Here's other photos of the highway using long shutter speeds.

how to take car streaks, tail lights, camera photo
highway car tail lights, light streaks, long exposure at night
early morning highway car tail lights



4th - Short Shutter Speed


This is the menu that i use the most. Here you can adjust the shutter speed, ND filter (a sort of digital aperture) and ISO value.
CHDK menu shutter speed adjust
I tried shutter exposures between 1/1000 and 1/20,000. The camera was set up in front of a glass with water dripping down. Both the camera and glass were in the kitchen sink.
I took about 100 pictures in total, using the intervalometer to automatically take one photo right after another. I was was holding two flashlights on either side of the glass and also had the flash turned on. Otherwise the pictures came out way too dark.
F-Stop = f/8
ISO = 80
Exposure = 1/1000

I probably should have set the ISO a lot higher. I think that would have made everything end up in better focus.
water droplets, CHDK, exposure, fast water droplets, CHDK, short exposure
This one was at 1/1500 of a second.
How to take water droplet photos with CHDK
Here's what the process looked like. Notice how it's daylight outside. That wasn't enough, i still needed the flash, the light on, my big 3 million candle power flashlight and another LED flashlight held real close.
Water Droplet photo setup, light, tripod
The result was this. Now notice how dark it looks outside, when it was really sunny. That short of a shutter speed needs tons of light.

Water Droplet photo setup, light, tripod, faucet
Here's the tap turned on a bit faster.
frozen in time water droplets, super fast exposure
This one didn't turn out as well as i hoped. I tried to get the starting of a lighter. Again with the fast shutter speed i needed more light.
cigarette lighter, flame



5th - Motion Detection

Motion detection is a script file and it can be used in many different ways, from
taking photos of lightning or used as a trail camera.

Here's what it looks like when the motion detection script is running. It's a little hard to see but the whole screen has green boxes covering it, and instead of face detection it is now motion detection. Once you input the sensitivity, and movement will cause the camera to take a picture.
CHDK motion detection, screen, script
The cool thing about the motion detection is that you can put the camera on a tripod, aim it at an approaching storm and when lightning strikes it will take a picture, capturing the lightning bolt. It might be a while before i get a picture of that. It's sort of a right place at the right time kind of thing.
Anyway it's been great to experiment with and i've enjoyed having the ability to do all this stuff without buying a really expensive camera. It's created tons of new possibilities.

9/11/2011

More Drain Pipe

In mid September i installed yet another drainage pipe in my yard. This time however i used black corrugated plastic pipe instead of PVC. I should have used this stuff from the beginning. It's much easier to use, cheaper, can bend around corners and doesn't need additional fittings.
The new pipe is at the back of my house.
prepare to install drain from roof gutter downspout
I first dug a small trench
. This went a lot faster since i didn't hit tree roots like last time.dig trench near rain barrel, roof drain
Although i did have to dig up some potatoes in the process.
dug up potatoes, garden
I also unearthed my bamboo roots.
bamboo root, rhyzomes, dig, dirt
But i laid the pipe and backfilled the trench with grass clippings
. Then dumped dirt on top. Like before, i used grass clippings to try and allow the water to seep into the ground. If i just backfilled with the clay soil it would never drain.underdrain cap, filter, backyard, gutter
Although i did make sure to pack the pipe near the house with clay. That's the one area that i don't want the water to drain into the soil, because it would then leak into the basement.


This was easy compared to the other times. No 300 pound slabs of concrete to move and no tree roots to chop.
It took a couple hours to dig. final drain backyard, gutter, roof drain pipe

9/07/2011

Italy - Days 8-10


venice italy, shoreline, gondola dock, grand canal
Day 8 - VeniceOctober 3
We had to get up real early to catch the train to Venice. bus ride to termini station, rome italy
The train took a little over 3 hours and made 4 stops along the way. Here's Karrie deciding what to get on the food cart. food cart, italy train, rome to florence to venice
Finally arrived and this was the view walking out of the train station. venice panorama, italy
While waiting to buy tickets for the vaporetto (water taxi) we found out that there was a 24-hour strike. Time to panic.
24-hour strike in venice italy, vaporetto
But it turned out that just one boat was running, from the train station to the Rialto Bridge. So we bought a ticket and got on. It was really crowded, we sat up front.vaporetto, venice italy, boat ride
The Grand Canal.
grand canal, venice italy
The Rialto Bridge.rialto bridge, grand canal, venice italyrialto bridge, grand canal, venice italy
View from on top of the bridge. view from rialto bridge, venice italyportrait from rialto bridge, grand canal, venice italy
I would have to say the the theme of Venice for me was "too much for my brain to take in." There was water and buildings and docks and boats. But it was amazing.
video


view from bridge, venice italy, river boat
boat dock, venice italy, vaporetto
gondola, boat, sunset, night time, venice italy
grand canal, river, venice italy, boat ride
Then we walked from the Rialto Bridge to St. Marks Square. We were a little nervous about getting there. We had planned on riding the vaporetto the entire way, but since they were on strike we had to walk.

At first we thought that if we just followed the river we would eventually make it. That didn't last long, the pathways just ended. So we decided to take the direct route and follow the signs. It turned out to be just fine, it only took 15 minutes. The map made the city look a lot bigger than it was.

panorama st marks square, venice italy
portrait st marks square, venice italy
I really enjoyed feeding the pigeons there.
Here's a video of Karrie feeding them.

video


feeding pigeons in st marks square, venice italy
We then walked to the church and then over to where the canal ended. The view to the islands was awesome.
famous gondola, shore, venice italy, grand canal
I liked Venice. There were no cars or mopeds to run you over. Everyone said that Venice was really expensive, b
ut it didn't seem any worse then the rest of Italy. Although we did stay away from the popular places while shopping so maybe that's why. We had planned on stopping at Harry's Bar to eat, but when we got there it looked very fancy so we kept going. I'm glad i did, people said that one drink was €15.

I saw this really cool music store that sold ocarina's. I would have gotten one if they weren't €35. I figured that i could make one when i got home.
music store, wood ocarina, venice italy
Karrie and i got Canoli's for €1 each. They were alright, only slightly sweet.
canoli, venice italy
Weeks ago we decided on eating at a restaurant called da Sandro. It was only around 2:00pm and we weren't that hungry but i wanted to find it anyway.
So Karrie and i walked down alleys, over bridges, until we popped out of one alley and we were surprised that we were standing right next to it. So we stopped and had a drink outside. da sandro bar, restaurant, venice italy
Then we walked back to the Rialto Bridge and took the only boat back to the train station.
canal, gondola, venice, italy, city
venice italy sunset
Riding back on the vaporetto.
buildings, grand canal, venice italy, sunset
gondola drivers, venice italy,
We had dinner across the river from the train station, met up with the rest of the group and took the train back to Rome.



Day 9 - RomeOctober 4


We didn't have any real plans for the last day. So we decided to take our time walking to the train station, then go to the Mediterranean Sea. We stopped at a lot of shops, bought some belts from these guys.
street vendor, venice italy, square
From Termini station we took 2 metro trains then walked to the beach. I didn't like riding on the first metro, it was dark, creepy and super crowded underground. The second train was better.

Here's what the beach looked like when we finally got there.
italy ocean coastline, beach
We were kind of tired so Karrie and i took the metro back to the hotel. This pyramid was outside on of the stations in Rome.
pyramid in rome italy
During the trip i had collected lots of seeds. I picked up limes and palms from the Roman Ruins, seeds from a palm tree that had a €1500 price tag on it, cedar seeds from trees growing on the Appian Way, and lots more. I thought it would be "difficult" getting them through customs so i decided to mail them to myself.

So i put them in zip-lock bags, wrapped them in another plastic bag then got directions to the post office.
seeds from venice italy
The guy at the desk gave me directions but said that they might be closed.
rome italy, street, woman
The building was difficult to find then once i got inside it was super confusing. I first bought an envelope. But the tough part was figuring out what line to be in. There was E, F, A, U, Ea... I got in the wrong line twice before i figured it out.

They charged me €14 and said "that's it." I wasn't sure if it was going to make it, but 2 weeks after i got home the seeds arrived.

mail package from rome italy
I walked back to the hotel, took a rest then Karrie and i went to dinner. We ended up going to the place i was going to originally take her for her birthday, before i made reservations at Ciampini up on the high road.

It was fine, nothing real fancy though. We were both glad that i changed the reservations on her birthday.

rome italy restaurant, thats amore, pasta
The rest of the group walked by while we were eating, they were looking for some place nice to eat. We said Ciampini was great, so we walked there with them. When they came back to the hotel they agreed that it was super nice, but expensive.

Here's Karrie by one of her favorite mini garbage trucks.
mini garbage truck, rome italy
We also made one last stop by the Trevi Fountain. As usual it looked amazing.
trevi fountain, rome italy, at night



Day 10 - FlightOctober 5

The last day. We woke up real early, 4:30am. Again we had the van take us to the airport for €80.
hotel in rome italy
We told the driver what airline we were taking and he took us to Terminal 5 and then drove off. Something didn't look right. Firstly because it was closed, the doors were locked.

When we got inside there wasn't anyone working. We finally found someone and they said this was only for international flights. It turns out that since we were flying from Rome to London we needed Terminal 3. So we hopped on the airport shuttle and went to the right place.

Here's everyone at our first layover at London Heathrow airport.

london heathrow airport
This flight wasn't bad at all, we had tv's in every seat. You could play games like tetris or watch different movies.

During the flight from London to Chicago we flew over Greenland. There was zero clouds so at 30,000 feet we had some amazing views.
aerial photo, greenland coast line
We could see some huge icebergs floating in the ocean.
floating iceburgs off the greenland coast
We came into Chicago from the north a bit and flew over the Mackinac Bridge.
aerial photo, the mackinac bridge
The last thing we wanted to do was get on another airplane, but we took the last flight from Chicago to Flint and the trip was over. I think it was 11pm by the time i got home.


  • The weather was great the entire time we were there, 80 and sunny.
  • A good map is a necessity to know what streets and bus stops you want.
  • Our schedule/itinerary was great, we did basically everything we had planned.
  • Restaurants can't serve tap water so you have to pay for bottled water, usually €3-4.
  • All hotels in Rome charge you a €2 fee City Tax for every night you are staying. We were surprised we had to pay it up front when we arrived.
rome hotel city tax, 2 euro per day



trevi fountain, rome italy, crowd at night