Archive for September, 2007

infrared digital camera part 1

September 28th 2007

Dark Tree by Zach Stern
Infrared photography a fun way to create some interesting and unusual images, like these. Photographs of outdoor scenery are the most impressive, where trees and grass look bright white instead of green (chlorophyll is transparent to infrared light). Once upon a time, the only way to take pictures in infrared was to use a 35mm camera loaded with special film, but nowadays you can modify any digital camera to capture infrared relatively easily.

I found this set of instructions for how to modify a digital camera and I thought I’d give it a shot. In principal all you have to do is remove the IR blocking filter from behind the lens, and put in some red plastic gel lighting filters in its place. But in reality, taking apart a digital camera involves working with a lot of miniscule screws and very fragile components, and there’s a high probability you will ruin your camera forever if you mess up even slightly. Options to consider are 1) paying a professional hundreds of dollars to modify your camera for you, like this place, or 2) practicing on a really cheap camera so that you won’t cry when you turn it into a brick.
25 dollar camera
I chose option 2. I went to Fry’s and picked up the cheapest digital camera I could find. This item here set me back a cool $24.99. Don’t be fooled by its stylish appearance. It’s 100% plastic and would probably disintegrate into a million pieces if you sneezed on it. It came in a big piece of plastic packaging along with a “digital photography for dummies” book and a CD full of dubious-looking software. The software was only for PC and it was unclear whether the camera would work with my shiny macintosh without it. But it was USB, so I figured there was a good chance it would just mount when I plugged it in, and I could pull off the images.
digital camera with book
I got it home and took two pictures of my feet, then plugged it into my computer. Alas, it didn’t mount. I’ve since returned it (my apologies to the next person who may buy the camera and find it loaded with pictures of my feet, there was nothing I could do). The quest to find a disposable digital camera goes on. While I was in the camera department of Fry’s a feeling overtook me, which I can only describe as megapixel-related-depression. My current “nice” digital camera is a Canon PowerShot S30 that was state of the art when I got it back in 2002. Now its 3.2 megapixels are easily outshined by even the cheapest digicam (of the ones that don’t come in plastic packaging).

Posted by dylan under machines | 3 Comments »

the ghost map

September 21st 2007

cholera map thumbnail
I just finished reading The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson (amazon). It’s an account of John Snow’s work in solving the riddle of the 1854 cholera outbreak in London, and how that changed the way we build cities. I won’t bore you with a book report, other than to say that the book was “good.” Steven Johnson also gave a very excellent talk about this subject for the Long Now Foundation, which is available as a free download here.

One of the sniglets I picked up from the book is that the International Society for Infectious Diseases has an email list that sends out daily notices about emerging infectious diseases and toxins. It’s called ProMED-mail and anyone can subscribe to the list. This is a way to keep your thumb on the proverbial pulse of the planet, a paranoid hypochondriac’s dream. I am now a proud subscriber. Here is the digest for today, September 21 2007, concerning topics such as ebola hemmorrhagic fever and the measles situation in Kenya. Note the interesting use of to disseminate information about bat rabies in Ontario.

ProMED Digest       Friday, September 21 2007       Volume 2007 : Number 485

News you can use. There you have it.

Posted by dylan under humans | 3 Comments »

way too much cheese

September 15th 2007

This is the story of why I got 6 pounds of cheese in the mail. There’s this really fancy grocery store Andronico’s that is conveniently located on my way to work. It’s full of opulent and comically expensive foodstuffs, like a $10 jar of sea salt imported from Sicily. Normally I would have no business shopping there, but a while back I discovered the day old meat section in the butcher’s department. Of course it’s still perfectly fine meat, just not worth the exorbitant amount of money it would normally sell for. So I make a habit of going there pretty much every day on the way home from work to pick up some high-quality, drastically discounted meat that I immediately throw on the grill for dinner. It’s great.
Andronico’s also puts out little samples of very expensive food products on toothpicks that I like to munch on while in transit to the day old meat section. They especially do this on Saturday, and if you go at the right time you can pretty much make a meal out of it. A couple of weeks ago I had an experience that would forever change my perception of cheese. I picked up a toothpick with a little 1cm cube of cheese like I had done a million times before, but this one literally stopped me in my tracks when I ate it. I stood in the middle of the isle, floored by the taste sensations unfolding in my mouth. When I regained my composure, I went back to see what exactly I had just eaten. It was Beemster XO.
cutting the cheese
Immediately I ate about 6 more of the little sample cubes and picked up a big chunk for the road. The stuff was $21/pound, definitely not cheep but very much worth it. I spent the rest of the night curled up with my chunk of XO and a box of crackers, on a culinary spirit journey. I came to learn much about the cheese: Beemster is produced in the eponymous municipality in the Netherlands. Technically it’s an aged gouda, but that’s like saying a Rolls-Royce is technically a car. Besides, you’d never pin it as a gouda by its taste. It’s impossible to adequately describe, but the Beemster experience is a roller coaster ride that goes through several distinct taste stages and leaves you with the feeling of complete satisfaction. The cheese has some interesting physical characteristics too. It’s hard like parmesan and if you look closely you can see little white specs in it. According to the Beemster FAQ these are actually protein crystals – a product of the 26 month aging process it goes through. They have an interesting flavor and crunch that adds an idiosyncratic dimension of awesomeness.
cheese crystals
Over the course of the next week I ended up spending about $60 on cheese, at which point I realized I could not support a Beemster habit in my current financial situation. So I sought a cheaper source. Unfortunately, all the Beemster in the world is produced in one location that necessitates such things as the perfect nutritional content of the grass that the cows snack on, giving rise to perfect-quality milk, and the fact that the town of Beemster is located 20 feet below sea level, creating a unique climate in which to age the cheese, etc. etc. In other words, there is only Beemster and you should accept no substitute. They have limited distributors in America and it was only by happy coincidence that my day-old-meat retailer of Andronico’s is one of the few in California. Seemingly I was trapped in a $21/pound cheese habit with no escape. That is, until I noticed that also carries the product, for only $15.99. I knew it was time to invest.
cheese box
I noticed that was having a special on Beemster classic, which is the same as the XO variety, only it’s aged 18 months instead of 24. They were selling a 6 pound block, which came with a free knife, for only $69.99. I consulted with my financial advisor and concluded this was an opportunity not to be missed, so I placed an order post haste. UPS delivered the goods a few days later, arriving in a very large and strangely cold box. I opened it to discover what could have well been the shipping method for an organ transplant: the cheese was buried in a styrofoam container along with several cold packs and pieces of insulating material.
cheese knife
And then there was the knife. When you get something that comes with something else for free, you expect the free thing to be a piece of junk, right? Well does not mess around like that. Along with my cheese they gave me what could more accurately be described as a machete than a knife. It’s about 2 feet long, incredibly sharp, and has a solid, sturdy feel to it. You could definitely use it to defend yourself in a post-apocalyptic urban warzone, for example. It goes through the 4 inch-thick cheese like butter, and I love it. Did I mention that the knife came with it’s own wearable branded knife holder?
knife holder
For the past two days I’ve had Beemster for lunch and dinner. I hate to say it, but I fear the honeymoon is over. I am now realizing that 6 pounds is a lot of cheese and I really don’t know what to do with it. I hacked off about a pound from the master piece of cheese, basically an aliquot that I am working on slowly. The remaining 5-ish pounds are in the refrigerator, hermetically sealed as per the very detailed instructions on the FAQ. Does anybody want some cheese? Seriously, I will send you some of this very high-quality cheese, my treat. For now the best plan I have is to start leaving large blocks along with a box of crackers and a big sign saying EAT ME in random locations, like Johnny Appleseed.

Posted by dylan under food | 51 Comments »