In the past few months, I’ve graduated to a DSLR, a Canon 7D. Since then, I’ve been amazed at how much time one could put into understanding how to make good use of such a high-quality camera. The path I’ve been taking is to simply try one thing at a time. Tonight, it was a good time to learn how to shoot fireworks. I would have liked to have shot from several vantage points, but it would have been difficult to move around once it got dark in the thick crowd at the St. Louis riverfront. There are many people with ideas out there on how to set one’s camera. I started out at f11, 100 ISO and bulb shutter, making use of a remote shutter cable. I eventually moved to f8, in order to brighten up the arch and buildings better. I made a mistake by failing to set focus to manual focus, which caused the camera to struggle and delay on many shots, because it had a difficult time focusing on the darkness, which was when I often tried to open the shutter–I didn’t realize that mistake until after the fireworks show.
It’s great fun trying to anticipate the best way to compose these shots. Post-shooting production was rather minimal. Mostly I used Lightroom 4 to nudge down the highlights and the darks, plus add a bit of clarity. There are no filters on any of these 4 shots, though, even though they look a bit surreal. Click on the images for a higher res view.
I live in St. Louis, where major league baseball is taken seriously. After I was invited to attend the opening day game as part of a business function this year, and I attended as an amateur anthropologist, not as a baseball fan.
A bit of background: About 15 years ago I was an avid sports fan. I followed all of the St. Louis professional teams. I watched some games on television, attended occasional games and read the sports page almost every day. For reasons I don’t really understand, I decided to stop being a sport fan. I was frustrated that I didn’t have enough time to get to attend my alleged priorities, which included trying to become a writer and trying to achieve a deeper understanding of cognitive science. What could I do to make room for those things in my schedule?
Well . . . I was spending about 10 hours per week being a sports fan. If I went cold turkey, I’d have about 500 hours more per week to do other things. That’s the equivalent of 12 weeks of vacation. So I did go cold turkey (interrupted only to follow the St. Louis Rams for a few years while they were Superbowl winners and contenders). For the most part, I’ve successfully cultivated a high level of apathy for professional sports. I don’t feel any compulsion to spend any money on tickets or to ever to read the sports page. I really don’t care whether the team won last night. My experiment was a success. A bonus is that I now have a privileged perch from which to appreciate the extraordinary lengths to which sports fans spend their money and invest their time in order to root for their teams.
In St. Louis, rooting for the Cardinals is far more than entertainment. It’s much like a religion. Check out the schedule above (you can click on any of the images for an enlarged view). It is the official list of 162 holy days of 2011. I know many people who plan their schedules around the baseball calendar.
Being knowledgeable about the local sports teams is also the preferred ice-breaker at many business gatherings: “So, do you think LaRussa left the starting pitcher in for too many innings last night?” Sorry, but I don’t know. Sometimes I admit, “I gave up sports.” Inevitably jaws drop. I don’t dare follow up by blunting saying, “I wanted to live more in the real world.
Therefore, a few days ago I attended the St. Louis Cardinal’s opening day game as a member of an out-group. I was much worse than a luke-warm fan. You see, if you offered most sports fans 12 extra weeks of vacation, they’d spend it watching more sports and thinking more about sports. It wouldn’t occur to them that they should go cold turkey and pursue anything else. What else is there of equal of greater importance?
In this religion of St. Louis Baseball, Albert Pujols is the Savior. Incredible amounts of ink have been spilled over whether this man will sign a new contract with St. Louis. People relate to Albert; apparently, they think that they are Albert. If you attend a St. Louis Cardinal Baseball game, you will see many hundreds of people wearing Pujols jerseys, and most of them are adults. What are they thinking? Are they thinking “I’m like Pujols because I am wearing his jersey”? Are they thinking “I want people to think I’m a bit like Albert Pujols when I wear his Jersey”? Are they thinking that they somehow get credit for Pujols’ accomplishments because they are wearing his jersey? Even after leaving the stadium, you will see Pujols jerseys all over town (I spotted the one to the right at a grocery store after the game). Playing into the role of “Savior,” Albert has an interest in a local Christian radio station.
[And do check out the image to the left, where I caught Pujols having a chat with Pujols.] The physical church is Busch Stadium, of course. I see people staring at it even in the dead of winter. People have been known to get married at Busch Stadium (there was a wedding in the snow last week). You would have been amazed to hear how the team “needed” a new stadium a few years ago. When something is considered “sacred” there is no rational bargaining. The owners said we need it, so we go the new stadium.
There are sacred food items in the religion of baseball. I do believe that nachos serve as the bread of the religion of baseball, and the “wine” is obviously beer. At opening day, I was greeting with twin 30-foot bottles of beer.
But it can’t be a religion because the fans are really attending those games because they are serious about baseball, right? Well I’m not so certain of that. If you had to guess what people do the most of at ball games, it would either be eat and drink, or socialize. The food stands are ubiquitous, and I would estimate that far more than half of the people attending aren’t concentrating on the game much at all. How else can you explain that thousands of people are leaving a close game in the 7th or 8th inning? They paid $50/seat and they aren’t going to watch every pitch?
It seems as though most people go to the ball game to bask in the crowd, and to display their loyalty. When you are surrounded by 50,000 people, regardless of what is going on, it does seem important. And that is very much how it is in most churches.
There was recently a big winter storm across the Central and North Eastern U.S. In my local town, it had the potential of exceeding the record one-day snowfall set 29 years ago. All the local news stations talked about the major storm approaching. Thunder snow, a rare occurrence here, was predicted. Stores were stripped of snow shovels, salt, water softener (salt), milk and bread.The governor called in the National Guard, and all the utility and road crews were on high alert.
When the freezing rain started on Monday, the media warned people to stay home for the next day or two as the storm passed over. I grew excited. The little kid in me was hoping for a big snow. But our town was right on the freezing line. Just south of us, there is rain. North of us, snow. The band from rain through freezing rain, sleet, snow, up to full blizzard is only a hundred miles wide. As Tuesday dawned, we had a glaze of ice, and sleet was falling. I woke early and spent a couple of hours learning how to hack my new super-zoom camera to force it to take a time lapse picture series. I hoped to make a nice video of the yard disappearing under a foot or more of snow.
So I set up my camera and started it early in the morning, when there was still just a glaze of ice on the path and plants. The day wore on. At noon I it was still just sleeting. I changed the batteries in the camera. By sunset, there was just a couple of inches of sleet. It was fun to walk on top of what looks like snow. But the yard is still visible. Had the freeze line been a couple of dozen miles farther south, that thin layer of sleet would have been about a foot of snow. What a gyp! So I let the camera run overnight, in hopes that we’d get some snow on the few inches of ice.
But as Wednesday dawned, Groundhog Day, there was only a little more snow. Sure, the roads are all iced over, and icicles hang from everything. But this is a far cry from what the hue and cry of the media had us expecting. Granted, the next county over (and half the state) is snowed in. Interstate 70 is closed between the Saint Louis metro area and Kansas. And the temperature will drop below zero (-18°C) tonight.
But how did we get Left Behind from the transcendental fairyland, a heaven of deep snow? Obviously we hadn’t prayed hard enough to the God of the clean white snowy world above to deliver us from mundane weather. Or we didn’t believe sincerely enough in the snowy salvation offered by his half-breed son, Jack Frost. Maybe some around us are heretical worshipers of the Daily Commute, and counteracted our prayers.
So we beseech those who were called up to the snowy realm to share with us their good fortune. Show us unworthy shovelers of sleet what the True Light of real snow is like. Maybe it’s not too late.
Although St. Louis was founded as a fur trading post, it is no longer well known as a place to view wildlife. But you can still spot wildlife. Yesterday my family traveled about 10 miles north of downtown St. Louis to the “Old Chain of Rocks Bridge,” which spans the Mississippi River.
The bridge was for a time the route used by U.S. Route 66 to cross over the Mississippi. Its most notable feature is a 22-degree bend occurring at the middle of the crossing, necessary to allow river traffic to have uninterrupted navigation on the river. Originally a motor route, the bridge now carries walking and biking trails over the river. The bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.
I do need to add that this was a brilliant use of an old narrow bridge. Click on the thumbnail for a panorama showing the view south from the bridge (Downtown St. Louis is on the horizon to the left). The bridge is located in a big wide relatively quiet area (except for one other bridge that runs parallel), where one can enjoy the Mississippi River and the surrounding undeveloped areas, just north of the Chain of Rocks rapids and a bit south of the confluence between the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. For one weekend each year, this wonderful bridge is featured as the venue for Eagle Days, a prime spot for viewing American bald Eagles. This is rather cool, to be able to spot wild bald eagles right in the heart of the Midwest. Here’s a bit more description of their migration relevant to the Mississippi.
[More . . . ]
I love photographing the most famous monument in St. Louis, Missouri, the Gateway Arch. I’ve spent time at the riverfront downtown St. Louis for the past two nights. Last night, it was for a business meeting, where I shot this panorama (click the photos for a expanded views):
Tonight, my wife and daughters returned to watch the sun set–the river water was high, making the river look much larger than usual. I focused on the sky, though, including this vertical panorama:
Shortly thereafter, while walking back to our car, my 11-year old daughter JuJu was struck by the color of the river bank lit by the streetlight. That image is the somewhat eerie ending to this little gallery:
For those interested in the geometry of the arch, Wikipedia offers this:
This hyperbolic cosine function describes the shape of a catenary. A chain that supports only its own weight forms a catenary; in this configuration, the chain is strictly in tension. An inverted catenary arch that supports only its own weight is strictly in compression, with no shear. The gateway arch itself is not a catenary, but a more general curve called a flattened catenary of the form y=Acosh(Bx); a catenary is the special case when AB=1. While a catenary is the ideal shape for an arch of constant thickness, the gateway arch does not have constant thickness as it is narrower near the top.