Monthly Archives: November 2009

Turkey times 2

For Thanksgiving this year, in addition to doing our usual turkey (a 20 pounder grilled on the Weber barbecue with apple wood), I decided to do a small one on my cheap electric brinkman smoker.

One of the disadvantages of this smoker is that it doesn’t have any heat control – the electric element is always on. This can cause some problems with temperature control, and there’s no thermostat either.

Wednesday was about 45 degrees, damp, and a bit windy. The guides I looked at said 30-40 min/pound at 225 degrees, which means something like 4-6 hours for my 8 pound bird. I waited until 9AM so that I would be back from my bike ride before it was done. A mixture of apple and mesquite went on for flavoring.

It came off at 9:45 that night.

I think I need some insulation around the smoker to keep the temp up. Or a better smoker…

The turkey, however, was delicious.

Sports Shooting #7 – My workflow and lightroom

It’s time to start diving a bit deeper.

To continue along with the theme, we’re going to take a few more things away from the camera. We’re going to shoot RAW…

Raw means that rather than letting the camera put JPEG images on our memory card, we’re going to have it put the data directly from the sensor (or, at least, more directly) on the memory card, and then we’ll control how it gets converted to JPEG. We’ll also have the opportunity to do some basic adjustments to make things look nicer.

I won’t spend a lot of time explaining the advantages of shooting raw – read the link if you want more details.

Camera manufacturers provide tools with their cameras that can be used to convert the raw to jpeg. I haven’t used the Nikon software, but I can say that the Canon software leaves a fair bit to be desired.

Enter Lightroom.

Lightroom gives you organization, keywording, raw conversion, and a bunch of other stuff. At $299 (or perhaps $250 on sale), it’s not cheap, and that kept me from using it for a while. I recommend downloading the trial and giving it a try.

My workflow

  1. Shoot the game. I’ll generally end up with around 600 shots from a game of lacrosse.
  2. Import them all into lightroom. I can – and sometimes do – apply a preset with some commonly-used settings during the import.
  3. Walk through all the images, and mark all the ones I want to delete by hitting “x”. I’ll get rid of the out-of-focus ones, and in sequences I’ll decide which shot of a series I’ll keep. That normally takes me down to somewhere in the range of 100 images. I delete these off the disk.
  4. Apply the per-pictures adjustments (more about that below).
  5. Export them through a plug-in that talks directly to smugmug.

The real power is in step #4, which I think is best illustrated through a sample.

Initial picture

It has potential. First step will be a crop:

After crop

That’s better. Note that the verticals are leaning to the right a bit. We’ll rotate the picture a bit counter-clockwise, to get:

After rotate

The next thing to address is the white balance, which controls how the colors render. If you have something that’s true white (such as the shin guards or uniform numbers), you can use the lightroom eyedropper to set the white balance automatically. I’ve found that people often look better if you shift the color rendition a bit away from blue towards yellow. That’s what I’ve done here.

Typically, I’ll set white balance on one of the first photos and then apply it to all the other photos at once.

White balance set

Much nicer. Now I want to deal with the light levels in the image. In most cases, the overall exposure is pretty good, though if it’s snowy I might need to push the exposure up. There are three areas I do want to deal with.

The first is highlight clipping. If you’re shooting in bright light, you are likely to be clipping off some detail in the highlights. You can view this in lightroom and by using the recovery setting, you can dim the highlights just a bit.

The second is what lightroom calls “fill light”. Basically, using fill light lets you bring up the middle brightness areas. It’s very useful if the face of a player is in shadow or inside a helmet.

The third one is black level. This lets you pull the lower part of the image towards black.

In this image, the highlights are fine and I don’t need to use the fill light. If you look at the blacks, you’ll see that they aren’t quite as dark as they could be.

Adjust black level

This gives the image quite a bit more snap.


Clarity is a setting in lightroom that increases local contrast. Bumping it up here gives us a bit more crispness to the image.


Vibrance increases the saturation of colors that aren’t already saturated. The effect here is to make the grass (well, fieldturf…) a bit greener, and the jersey a bit bluer.


When you shoot in raw, the image doesn’t have any sharpening applied to it, so the images will look pretty soft. Sports photos require a lot of sharpness, so I’ll turn it up relatively high, to 87 in this case. If you look at the full-size image, you’ll see that it’s much sharper, but the faces look blotchy because they are over-sharpened.


I turned up the masking control, which limits the sharpening to the areas that need it.

This image was shot in pretty good light using ISO 640, so there isn’t much noise in it. If there was noise, I’d apply some noise reduction and try to balance it against the sharpness of the sharpness loss that it causes.

If you go to the smugmug gallery, you can more easily do A<->B comparisons.

Sport shooting #6 – Cropping

Cropping is a really simple thing that can greatly improve the quality of your images by focusing on the things that seem important. Rather than talk about it, I thought I’d go through some examples. Here’s the first shot.


I like the shot – the shooter, goalie, and ball are all in focus. I don’t like the space above and below, #12 isn’t really helping the image, and I hate the Pepsi machine. Here’s the cropped version:

Much better.

You may notice that the resulting image is no longer the 3:2 ratio that we started with. This is an aesthetic choice; I tend to crop to best show the action (and get rid of the distraction) even if it results in a non-standard aspect ratio. Other photographers crop only to specific aspect ratios (3:2, 5:4, 5:3, etc.)

Here’s a simple one:

and one final one:


Today my daughter and I took a kayak tour, paddled into the wind and against the tide for 45 minutes, and then, while we were resting, happened to see this…

That’s Atlantis rising from historic pad 39A through a 200mm lens from about 10 miles distant (click on image for full-size). The atmosphere was pretty hazy, so the quality isn’t what I had hoped for. The liftoff is a bit strange – all you see initially is some smoke from the main engines (which *only* generate about 1.5 million pounds of thrust), and not a lot of light because they are hydrogen-oxygen and burn clean. *Then* the solids light and throw off a ton of smoke and steam and a ton of light from the incandescent smoke.

A few seconds later, already heading northeast. A bit of explanation is required…

If you have a launch pad on the equator and launch directly east (always east because you get a boost from the earth’s rotation), you would get an orbit that is directly over the equator. If, however, you are in Florida (25 degrees north latitude), when you launch on the most efficient direction, you get an orbit that is inclined to the equator at 25 degrees – the spacecraft will range from 25 degrees north of the equator to 25 degrees south of the equator. This is known as the orbital inclination. Big heavy satellites – such as Hubble – are at this inclination.

To go to a lower inclination is pretty expensive in terms of energy, so this is to be avoided if at all possible. Conversely, it *is* possible (for a reduction in payload) to reach an orbit that is a higher inclination than the latitude of the launch site, all the way up to a polar orbit.

ISS is a joint project with the Russians (among others), and the Russian launch site at Baikonur is at a latitude of 45 degrees, so that’s the minimum inclination for that launch site. That would drop the booster stages on China, so the Russians launch a little more to the north, and ISS is at 51.6 degrees of inclination. The shuttle can hit this inclination for the a reduction of about 30% of payload. This is significant, which is why Columbia (the oldest and heaviest shuttle) didn’t go to ISS.

There are two advantages (to me) of the high inclination. First, it means that ISS travels far enough north on its orbital track to be visible from Seattle. And second, it meant that the track today was northeast, kindof in our direction, so we had better viewing.

This is about 50 seconds into the flight, and at 10 miles, just about the time the sound gets to us. The northeast track means the shuttle isn’t pointed to us and the wind is from the north, so the sound is mostly channeled to the south. We do get a lot of bass out of it, but the most distinctive part is the crackle that it makes. You’ll notice at this point its climbed out of the haze and into the clear sky. I’m pretty pleased that you can see it so well in this shot.

Emerging out of the clouds at around 90 seconds.

At about 120 seconds, 50,000 meters, and 2800 MPH, the solid rocket boosters detach. The 3 main engines make a great searchlight, but produce no smoke and therefore there is no smoke trail. The two dots to the right are the detached boosters.

Overall, it was pretty cool to do, and the vantage point was pretty good. I would have preferred to be on Kennedy, but spots at the 6-mile banana river location are virtually unobtainable, and ones at the Saturn 5 center are impossible for mortals to get.

I can’t say a lot about our guides, “A day away outfitters”. They had more people than they could really handle (53 people with 5 or 6 workers), and missed out on a lot of things that would have made it more memorable. And the husband and wife who own it argued about how they should be doing things in front of their guests.

Mercury Atlas


On February 26, 1962, John Glenn climbed into a Mercury capsule perched atop a slightly-modified Atlas intercontinental missile for a planned orbital flight.

Today, I stood and looked up at that tiny capsule, and marveled at the crudity of the whole thing and the bravery it took to climb into it.

(click on image for larger version. Canon 40D, IS0200, F6.3 @ 1/2000th)

Faster #10 – Cadence revisited

I had an idea a while back.

I’ve noted in my previous article about cadence that riding a slower cadence can be faster. And I’ve been playing around with this on rides, and found that a cadence of about 80 seemed to require less effort at a given heartrate – I can ride at 150 BPM and 80 RPM much easier than 150 BPM and 95 RPM.

But is it a real effect, or am I just imagining it? Well, it’s fairly well documented that fast-twitch fibers are less efficient because they (at least some of them) use anaerobic metabolism, but I’m not sure where the switchover is or if that’s what’s going on.

Time to do a ‘spearment to find out…

The hypotheses

  1. At a given heartrate, power output will vary inversely with cadence (ie I will generate more power at a lower cadence than a higher one)
  2. At a given heartrate, perceived effort will vary directly with cadence (ie I will feel better at a lower cadence than a higher one)

Experimental method

Ideally, one would use a power meter, but this one doesn’t own a power meter, so I’m going to do it by measuring speed on a hill climb. It won’t give me absolute measurements, but it will give pretty good relative measurements.

The plan is to do repeated hill climbs at various cadences – I’m going to start at 100RPM and go down from there. I’ll to try to to stick around 140BPM, since that heartrate is just a bit below my LT heartrate.

The test

I picked a dry Sunday morning to do the test. I go out and warm up thoroughly, including one climb where I spike my HR up above 160 (if you don’t do this, your results will be less repeatable). I set my Polar (720i) so that it shows cadence and total time (I don’t want to see speed since it might influence me).

I head over to my test hill (NE 8th up from Northup in Bellevue), shift to my lowest gear, and start spinning up at 100RPM. 30 seconds later, I’ve stabilized on the climb – at 70 RPM and 160 BPM. It’s waaaay too steep for this test, but now I’m very warmed up, so I head over to 164th.

I descend to the bottom, stabilizing my HR at 100 BPM, then I turn around and crack up to 100+ RPM and shift and get my HR to 140BPM, and head up the hill. 0.9 miles later I turn off at the top and coast (so I can find the top in my data log), descend and repeat at 90 RPM. Then 80 RPM. Then 70 RPM, and home to read in the data and do some number crunching.

The data

I import the data onto my laptop, and select each section of data. Here’s a table of the data:


Trial 1

Trial 2

Trial 3

Trial 4

Time in seconds





Average HR




















The first 4 items are directly from my polar softrware. I used the Bicycle Power Calculator to estimate the wattage.

I’m pretty impressed by the how close I got to my target on both the HR and the cadence.

Here’s a pretty graph:

Perceived exertion

It takes a fair bit of attention to watch your cadence and HR and shift up and down to keep them in the right range as the gradient changes, so I only have my recollections.

The first trial was pretty hard, I was fairly out of breath. The second and third ones got easier. The last one was really hard on the legs and I was a bit toasted at the end.


The data quality is better than I expected – you could fit a very nice curve through the points. Going from 103 RPM to 80 RPM increase my wattage 20%, which is a lot more than I expected. Going down to 70 RPM nets me another 7% or so, but I don’t have the leg strength to do it for long. It’s weird that I see an improvement because if I fatigue quickly, I should be falling back more on fast-twitch fibers which should make me less efficient, not more.

On the other hand, I have been working at improving my leg strength which means I’ve been riding a lot at 80 RPM (or lower) on hills in my aerobic zone, so there may be some training effect there.

That’s assuming that HR is a reasonable proxy for energy use, which I believe is true.

So, what does this mean for other people? Not really sure. So go out, give it a try yourself, and let me know what works for you.