Getting Back to Film and Away From Digital

I picked up a Zeiss Contessa a year ago and started shooting film again. I did it because I was always taking pictures with my digital camera and just storing the images on the computer and not really looking at them again. I thought that if I was shooting film, I would have to get the pictures developed and would then have pictures to put on the wall or in albums.

I got my first rolls of film developed and have learned that it is rather expensive now to get prints made. I’ve since gotten the supplies to develop my own film and while talking about how excited I was to try it out, they asked if I wanted to use their old cameras.

I figured why not, it couldn’t hurt to play around with some other cameras. My dad had an SLR (Single-Lens Reflex) and a TLR (Twin-Lens Reflex). I wanted to get away from SLRs and so took my dad’s Supper Ricohflex. My mum had her dad’s Voigtländer Brilliant which looked in rougher shape, but I took it as well.

The lens on the Voigtländer needed a good clean and the picture counter wasn’t counting. I was able to get the lenses off the front and clean them with some cleaner and lens paper. Getting to the back lenses was a little trickier. I had to borrow a pair of surgical clamps so I could loosen the ring holding the lenses on. In a stroke of luck, it was also the ring holding the whole front mechanism to the body. I was able to give everything a once-over, it looked like the timing mechanism on the shutter was working fine.

The viewfinder lens was held in with a couple of screws and although the spring flaps don’t come off, I was able to clean the mirror and the inside of the lens.

For the picture counter, I was able to take out the false wall on the inside. It was pop-riveted on, regrettably, I thought it was friction fit on and ended up pulling the rivet through the camera body.

I wasn’t sure if I could save the counter at that point but managed to drill out the rivet and saw that an M3 screw would fit nicely in the old rivet hole and I could use a washer to go over the now larger rivet hole on the body.

The spring on the counter needed an extra wind in its coil and the numbers needed a little glue to reattach to the front of the gear. I’m just waiting on a screw of the right length and hopefully, it will be taking pictures as good as new.

When a Theory is not a Theory

I was reading an article online from the Express when I read the following: “Black holes are often found at the hearts of galaxies and up until April this year have been purely theoretical.“ The statement threw me for a bit of a loop, mostly because black holes have been an active part of astrophysics since the discovery of Cygnus X-1 in 1971. Using the day to day word theoretical misleads the general public into thinking that black holes were not confirmed in science until this past April with the discovery of M87*’s shadow. This is a dangerous statement to make.

In day to day language, theory is used to mean a hunch or an educated guess. However, in the sphere of science, a theory is an explanation of what something is or how it works. Theories are often large bodies of work and research and are quite detailed.

Take gravity for example. Newton’s law of universal gravitation does not explain what gravity is, it only shows mathematically how two bodies affect each other through gravitational attraction. It is the theory of general relativity that explains how gravity works and what it is (a result of mass curving space-time). Black holes are part of the general theory of relativity. To start they were a mathematical quirk of Einstein’s field equations, but the discovery of Cygnus X-1 showed that black holes were not a mathematical quirk.

Further observations about black holes have been made over time adding to the theory and supporting the existence of these massive objects. Accretion disks, relativistic jets, active galactic nuclei, gravitational waves and other observations were all documented well before the Event Horizon Telescope document M87*’s shadow.

None of these observations, including the observation of a shadow, have moved black holes out of the realm of scientific theory. Instead, they help keep black holes as active parts of the general theory of relativity.

Science writers and communicators need to take extra caution when using terms like theory, theoretical, law, fact, hypothesis or conjecture. They have different meanings inside and outside of the sphere of science and using them inappropriately can build a false impression of what science does; that in turn can cause misunderstandings and mistrust of science as a whole.

I am not without fault and am often rereading and refamiliarizing myself with the different terms. It is part and parcel of the job as a science communicator. One of my go-to’s is this article from liveScience.com. Writer or reader, it is probably worth a second look and remember to give critical consideration when you see those terms in an article.

– KMSB

We’re Currently Fighting World War Three and The Enemy is Complacency.

When I get the chance to visit my friend and his father on their family property, I always find myself whisked away to a different place or time. I’m not sure what it is about this former farmstead tucked away in the urban parts of Winnipeg, if it’s the Guffleworfs that stand watch along the driveway, the ability to feel like I’m in nature far outside of the city with an intrusive development of cookie cutter homes just behind the tree lines, or perhaps it is the tea and conversation that comes up with my friend’s father.

At 97 he is ever eager to listen and talk, to verbally parry and repost with his son in the same playful teasing way I grew up with in my family and he is always willing to talk about the war. He feels he must talk about it to make sure the sacrifices made are not forgotten and lost.

At the age of twenty and an only child, he left his widowed mother and the family farm to go to war. He could have stayed home, as the only child on a farm we would not have been obligated to go but go he did. He was part of the D-day landings, spent the war with his tank crew mostly ahead of the line, reporting back from their various observation posts. Then, he came back home, if only because, as he says, he dug more slip trenches than anyone else in the war.

The World Wars demanded great sacrifice and affected entire generations, but those individuals fought willingly for the freedoms, liberties and lifestyle we have today in hopes that we would never have to go to war again to preserve them. Yet, when we are faced with a climate crisis, as we knowingly continue to consume and put our livelihoods, liberties and freedoms at risk, we sit back and lose ourselves to the media-rich world we are a part of.

In the 1980s a small group of scientists came forward and warned us about a growing hole the ozone of Earth’s atmosphere. This small band was able to inspire, mobilize and change not only habits but laws. The world came together, and the growth of that hole stopped and has even reserved.

How is it then that when 97% of scientists agree on the human nature of climate change and that we need to act on it, we sit immobile – worse still we deny and refute. Are we that much farther in time from the Great Wars that their meaning, their importance, their sacrifice has been lost to us?

How can this be? I am only a generation removed from the war! My grandmother, God rest her soul, would be furious to see how we take all our liberties for granted, how we consume without forethought, how we squander and deny. As a spy for the resistance in Poland, she did not risk her life, suffer torture, and flee her homeland leaving family and all her possessions behind so that we should sit back and forget.

Although I know the real threats of climate change and know all too well it is happening right now, I am also guilty of my own complacencies. However, it is the memory of my grandmother, the look in the eye of my friend’s father, the Gretas, the Malalas, the students behind the Never Again movement that push me to step up and prepare myself to make sacrifices of my own, because we are already fighting World War Three for the future of our children’s lives, rights and liberties.

The enemy may not be a clear and present danger that we can name like in the past two Great Wars because it is sly, silent and ingrained. It is our own complacency, our own blurred views of what is a right and what is a privilege, our lapses in memory that privileges have responsibilities.

Freedom of movement is a right. Owning a car (or three) is a privilege.

Access to food and water is a right. Having tropical fruits and water in plastic bottles is a privilege.

We have to make changes and we are past the point of asking for them, we must take a stand and demand them! Demand reconciliation for our Indigenous populations so they can be heard!

Demand that public transit is accessible to help the impoverished and get the redundant use of personal cars off the road.

Demand for better active transportation so we can use healthy alternative means of getting around.

Demand that companies move to profit sharing so that the people who actually do the work can afford to live.

Demand that our packaging be 100% recyclable.

Demand that our governments enforce that producers and consumers take responsibility for the end use of their products.

Demand green energy sectors.

Demand, demand, demand and demand again!

How? Simple, like those who went to war before us, stand up and make sacrifices. Unlike during the Great Wars, these sacrifices are merely inconvenient at worst – they won’t kill you or those you love.

Are your vegetables wrapped in plastic? Don’t buy them and speak to the manager on the way out saying you won’t buy until they stop importing food items in plastic.

Do you drive to work alone in a car that can fit five? Carpool, take transit, walk, bike, commute!

Tempted to buy that new phone? Don’t. Use yours until it stops working and make sure it is recycled at the end.

Grow a garden, mow your lawn by hand, write to your politicians, have friends over for dinner, talk, discuss …

We have sat in our trenches of complacency too long and guess what? The sergeant is coming, and we all know what they will say, “Move soldier! Over the top! This climate war won’t win itself!”

-KMSB

A Black Hole’s Shadow and your Cloak of Invisibility

The buzz around the lunch table and my group’s D&D table is about the image of the black hole shadow in the galaxy M87 (M87*). People are talking, discussing, conjecturing and even imagining the future of space or time travel. Moments like this are great for both the scientific community and the public as it creates intrigue, wonder, and gets both communities talking with each other.

The shadow is really quite amazing, though it should not be confused with the event horizon as some lunchtime conversations have. The shadow of M87* is something separate from the event horizon and perhaps the best way to describe the shadow is to chat D&D, or Harry Potter if you prefer. Either way, we need to talk cloaks of invisibility.

Black holes are already invisible by their own right. They pull in light that comes towards them and trap it forever. This makes photographing them directly a pipe dream because there is never any light leaving them for us to see. The only way to see the presence of black holes is either when they have an accretion disk or strong jets, like M87*, or through their gravitational influence, like Sagittarius A* at the centre of our galaxy zipping stars around it at breakneck speeds.

A perfect cloak of invisibility might not absorb light like a black hole but instead works by bending the light around the person and focusing it on the other side again, giving the appearance of no one being in the way of the light. This type of cloak will also prevent you from ever being photographed because you too are not sending out any light to be captured by a camera. Unfortunately, not every treasure chest in your dungeon will have one, nor do most average witches and wizards have access to a personal Dumbledore. Us regular dungeon crawlers and novice wizards and witches are more likely to get a cloak of partial invisibility (or a cloak of un-invisibility, which is mostly good for a half decent ghost costume at your next themed party).

A perfect cloak of invisibility (left) and a black hole (right).

If we are lucky enough to get a partial cloak of invisibility it will bend light around you, but it may have some tells. The fringes might shimmer, objects might be blurry, or your feet are clearly visible because it is too short and there goes that lovely bonus on your sneak attack rolls (and forget that practical joke of levitating your friend’s lunch with wingardium leviosa unseen).

Black holes can act as a partial cloak of invisibility when lensing distant objects behind them. We still cannot see the black hole directly, but we see the multiple images of the object behind it being projected in a ring around the black hole. In this way, it gives itself away without revealing any interesting details about itself.

A cloak of partial invisibility (left) and a black hole lensing a distant object (right).


Like a lensing black hole, your cloak of partial invisibility is not working out very well and you’ve been spotted. If you can’t stay out of sight, maybe try being seen but not recognized. For this trick, you’ll need a hula hoop of light, available in lower level dungeons or your local Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes.

By keeping the hula hoop of light spinning around you, you might give yourself away, but people will probably be too distracted by the really neat shadow you’re creating between you and the hula hoop.

Most of the light from the part of the hoop that is behind you is absorbed by your faulty cloak of invisibility. Some of the light, however, is bent around you and focussed in front of you ahead of where the absorbed light should have been focused. The region where the absorbed light should have appeared is dark because it has no light being bent into it – in effect a shadow.

Ah, but what of the light from the ring in front of you that is cast backwards you say? Sharp eye young adventurer (wizard or witch), but just like the light from behind, the light going from the ring towards you gets absorbed by the faulty cloak or bent around behind you – no reflected light reaches an observer. With this disguise, you might not go unnoticed, but you could try for the Guinness Book of World Records as the first shadow to ever hula hoop.

Cloak and hula hoop of light (left) compared with a black hole and photon ring (right).

In the case of M87* its hula hoop of light is the photon ring that surrounds it. Just like our hoop, most of the light from behind the black hole is pulled in, while some of it is bent around and refocused in front ahead of where the missing light would appear under perfect conditions – just like with our cloak.

This leaves a dark region in front of the black hole between it and the distorted image of the photon ring (The ring is larger on the bottom because it is rotating towards us at that point. The Doppler shift makes it brighter – that’s another article.). The shadow exists in front of the event horizon but behind the ring and this is why it is interesting. The shadow’s presence is sort of a rough outline of the event horizon, but unlike the event horizon, the light that goes into the shadow has a chance of escaping – albeit slim. This is also what makes the image so amazing, by seeing the shadow we are effectively looking at a black hole. We have finally taken a picture of the one thing we’ve not been able to take a picture of directly. By seeing a shadow we have an outline of the event horizon! I would call that rolling a natural 20 or a performing a perfect Patronus as far as photos go.

-KSMogk

A Clever use of Binary Celebrates 175 Years

At 8:45 am on Friday May 24th, 1844 an individual repeatedly pressed two strips of metal together so they ever so briefly made contact before springing back apart. Each click sent an electrical impulse on a journey from its starting point in the old Supreme Court Chamber in Washington. The impulses travelled along a 16-gauge wire insulated with cotton thread mixed with shellac, beeswax, resin, linseed oil and asphalt.

As the impulses travelled along the wire, they crossed above the some five-hundred chestnut poles standing seven meters tall and almost six-hundred meters apart ignoring the world and people below them. Almost instantaneously the electrical impulses arrived at their destination at the Mount Clare railroad station in Baltimore.

Here, the impulses engaged an electromagnet forcing down a stylus into a ribbon of paper slowly moving by the steading rhythms of mechanical clockwork. The impulse gone, the spring hauled the stylus back up out of site until the next impulse hit, then the next and again and again until the impulses stopped.

Alfred Vail picked up the paper tape and began to decipher the code his counterpart back in Washington had sent:

.~~   ….   .~   ~      ….   .~   ~   ….      ~~.   . .   ~..      .~~   . ..   . .   ..~   ~~.   ….   ~

WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT

The celebration that day must have been incredible. Sure, it was not the first message via commercial telegraph, no Vail and his partner were some seven years late for that international title, which goes to William Cook and Charles Wheatstone of England. It was however the first transmission in the United States and certainly worth celebrating. What was really at play was the ingenious code that Samuel F. B. Morse used to send the message to Vail.

The binary use of Morse’s dots and dashes took into account letter frequency in English. Letters that are used more often have shorter codes and letters that are used less frequently have longer codes. This made transmission and deciphering messages much easier.

With time operators were able to pick up on the clicks of the code receiver and started writing out the code by hand. First, the mechanical code receivers disappeared, then here and there in the world small adjustments were made to Morse’s code to make the letter frequency more internationally friendly. In 1865 Morse’s code became a standard – International Morse Code.

In the new International Morse Code, Morse’s original message would be:

.~~ …. .~ ~ / …. .~ ~ …. / ~~. ~~~ ~.. / .~~ .~. ~~~ ..~ ~~. …. ~

And if you wanted to practice saying it out loud you can discover the rhythm and beauty found in it:

Di dah dah   di di di dit   di dah   dah       di di di dit   di dah   dah   di di di dit       dah dah dit   dah dah dah   dah di dit       di dah dah   di dah dit   dah dah dah   di di dah   dah dah dit   di di di dit   dah

By 1895 Guglielmo Marconi had invented the first practical radio transmitters and receivers and Morse Code went wireless, texting was born!

Today, Morse Code is still used by some amateur HAM radio operators (as you are no longer required to know Morse Code to get a licence). It may even appear that Morse is not as popular as it was 175 years ago, but it is finding a niche outside the enthusiasts. Individuals with speech and mobility difficulties have been able to use Morse Code to communicate and smartphones now often come with Morse Code keyboards to make input easier.

I personally started learning Morse Code when I hit with a big dip in my depression. Learning the rhythmic dits (dots) and dahs (dashes) was a way to pull my brain out of negative loops. Now well back on my feet, I use it to send coded texts to my older brother just for fun and keep up practice by using writing in my journal (For journaling I’ve traded – (dashes) for | (lines) making it more compact and easier to tell a dot from a dash with hurried writing.).

Morse Code has come a long way and Morse would surely see the great influence of his code beyond the telegraph, after all, we live in a world that runs on binary.

-KMSB

Bumble Charges Up to Assist Astronauts on ISS

Just a quick update about the Astrobees. The first of them, Bumble, is charging up and has under gone its first hardware check. Honey, who launched with Bumble on the Northrop Grumman’s commercial resupply mission on April 17th, hopefully will be up and running soon as well.

Astronaut Anne McClain performs the first series of tests on Bumble.
Credit: NASA
Bumble at its charging station.
Credit: NASA

B.O.B. Lives! – Well not quite but getting there

I have been living under a rock. Somehow I missed the launch of what could be the closest thing to a long-standing image of what robotics should look like from my childhood.

At some point in my childhood, I sat down with my dad to watch the 1979 classic The Black Hole. Truthfully, most of the film is lost to time in my mind (meaning I really should sit down and re-watch it) but two floating robots forever caught my imagination: V.I.N.CENT and B.O.B.

They were what all space robots should look like. Small, compact, cute and most importantly they float. Turns out not only does NASA have floating robots on the International Space Station (ISS) called SPHERES that have been on the station since 2006, but NASA has just recently sent up the second generation of these robots named Astrobee. These second-generation bots will conduct research, be an extra set of eyes for ground control and assist with certain tasks.

iss020e019069.jpg
Image courtesy NASA

SPHERES got their start thanks to professor David W. Miller of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Space Systems Laboratory gave his students a challenge. He wanted them to build a space robot that was like the lightsaber training droid in Star Wars: A New Hope. The result was three satellites that tested formation flight and docking control algorithms. SPHERES also started the Zero Robotics competition that allowed students to have their code tested in space!

Astrobee robot family
Image courtesy NASA
NASA Astrobee space robot
Image courtesy NASA

The Astrobees will continue this tradition alongside assisting with tasking on the ISS, testing robotic components, trying out navigation algorithms, and just being plain awesome if you ask me. The three Astrobees (Honey, Bumble and Queen) all use fans to move them through zero gravity. With little to no weight restrictions on their lifting capabilities, because they don’t have to overcome the effects of gravity, these little robots pack quite the punch. I am very excited to see how they will change life on the ISS and am now thinking I need to get into robotics so I can maybe get my code tested on these inspiring robots.

Curious to learn more about them? Check out the NASA webpage or the code on GIThub.

-KMSB

The Joy of Discovery

There is great pleasure in discovering new things. Be it a new restaurant or café, a new author, a friend, learning something new or, as in my case, an old newspaper.

My girlfriend and I are currently in the seemingly endless process of house upkeep and maintenance. This Sisyphusian process often leads to all kinds of discoveries that are more often financially … how best to describe it? stressing.

The first discovery was that the house’s weeping tiles are non-existent. This is going to be a costly repair, thankfully my girlfriend and I see our roles as caretakers of the house rather than homeowners. It’s a mindset that really helps when living in a century home (that and the fact that the bank still owns more of the house than we do) and the ever-growing list of things to get done.

As one might imagine, after learning of the weeping tiles we made a few more discoveries: mice, pipes freeze in the winter, bricks need re-mortaring, and toilets constantly keep running.

Over the winter and the last few months, we have been slowly saving for the big fixes but have also been tackling some of them ourselves. We re-mortared the foundation outside and then came inside the basement to re-mortar from the inside as well.

We first had to take down the drywall and pull out the insulation and a good thing we did. The insulation was mildew covered and the drywall not far behind. Once all that was tossed, we discovered just how beautiful the basement looks with the exposed foundation. We are still not sure if we will put drywall back up, the idea of using the basement as a cold storage for wine, canning and preserves is rather tempting too both of us. Plus, the drywall would hide some of the amazing historical features of the house that are still visible.

The old coal shoot is still in place, along with the small furnace for heating. Hard to imagine that it is what kept the house warm at some point in history.

As we were finishing up and checking the bricks between the floor joists, I found a cavity and pulled out loose rubble and fill when something odd caught my eye: a lump of crumpled paper. At first, I thought it was likely homework that a former resident had hidden away to get out of doing it. Once I had it out and in my hands, I saw that it was an old newspaper.

Cautiously my girlfriend and I opened the paper. It revealed mouse chewed holes, but also some lovely looking ads and articles of the day. Once it was all laid out, we had a few pages of a 1924 Winnipeg Free Press! only ten years younger than the house itself. It’s a mystery how it ended up between the foundation walls, however, one ad in the paper that was still in okay condition made us smile.

The lithograph of a boy and father with paint brushes sat above an ad for paint. The wording emphasises the importance of upkeeping a house for maintaining its economic value and that regular painting is part of that maintenance. It goes on to wonder if the father will teach his son the importance of upkeep on the house and if the son too will buy paint when he is of age and has a house of his own.

We plan to frame the advert if we can. Not only does it represent the legacy of this century home (along with the coal shoot and old furnace), but it also embodies our idea of being caretakers. This house will outlive the both of us and there is a certain joy in knowing that we will also leave our mark on it and maybe leave a few mysteries to be found a hundred years from now.

– KMSB

Gears on the Brain

A couple of years ago I wrote about how failure is a learning opportunity. It is something I try to embrace as I learn new things and when I also fail to get things on the first go. Much like when I tried to fix the automatic mechanical pocket watch my partner got for me.

After it broke, she told me it was not all that expensive, which gave me the guilt-free pleasure of not only opening it up and poking around but also scratching a bucket list item off my list: learning about mechanical watches.

When the tools I had ordered arrived, I tore into the watch with delicate patience and glee. It was a marvel to take out the screws one by one, crown gear, balance wheel etc. I did my best to name and identify the parts, keeping them together as I had learned from various online videos.

The one thing I did not do was take pictures as I took the watch apart then cleaned the pieces. When it came time to put the whole thing back together I was left with a puzzle. It took me three days, but I was eventually able to piece it all back together between a combination of memory, logic and trial and error.

I was so excited to almost finish the project that I swapped in a right-hand screw for the left-hand screw that holds the crown gear. Then I lost the left-hand gear trying to put it in a right-hand threaded spot. I had sprung gears across the room several times during my tear down and put together, however this time I was not able to find it.

I eventually broke the right-hand screw out of the crown hear and decided to order a set of assorted screws for pocket watches. These came in a few months ago. I had been avoiding it in part because work was keeping me busy, but also I was still a little afraid of not being able to fix it.

With resigning from my work, I had some time between job hunting and writing to go get the screws and give it a go.  A couple of hours of tinkering and trying the various screws ended in me not getting any further ahead – none of them fit.

I am sad that I could not get the watch working again but am, as always, gleeful at the fun and learning I had during the process. Although I am not likely to get the watch fixed (a blog on repairing watches did warn me I was likely to break the first one I tried to fix) it has gotten my brain wondering about gears and gear ratios. I’m thinking I need to explore them further.

Stay tuned.

– KMSB

Review of John Read’s 50 Things to See on the Moon

John Read sent me a copy of his latest book 50 Things to See on the Moon. I much enjoyed his last book, 50 things to See with a Telescope – KIDS and his new book does not disappoint.

Once again Read takes us through the basics of terminology and instruments that you need to observe the Moon. From there he walks through the 50 targets on the surface starting at the New Moon phase and picking out targets as the Moon’s shadow gives way to the growing lit surface of the Moon. By the time of the Full Moon, Read has walked us through his various targets.

Read supplies readers with views of his targets not only as seen with our eyes or binoculars, but also how the targets look when looking through different telescopes that can flip or rotate the image. This is something I have found useful when taking his book out under the Moon to explore.

Read also brings the Moon to life through interesting facts about how the craters or features got their names, how features were formed or about the many and various moon missions that have taken place. He also brings his wealth of experience and tricks and tips to make the experience fun and enjoyable. I have already found his approach of using a series of craters that form an L to remember that the L is for “landed” and points in the direction of the location of the Apollo 11 landing site.

Given that the book is again geared at new initiates to Moon gazing and likely a younger audience, there are at times technical terms or wording that is cumbersome, such as “Image of the same region on three subsequent nights.” instead of perhaps my personal choice of “Image of the same area over three nights.” This aside, the guide is accessible to both children and adults and makes for a great addition to any amateur astronomer’s library. I know I will be pulling it out again soon to go Moon gazing.