Archive | September, 2012

Some Experiments with Oil and Water

30 Sep

I’ve seen a number of post on the net about photographing oil and water. This article “How I create My Oil & Water Abstracts” is particularly helpful and very pretty.

Seized by the urge to take some photos, Barbara and I hauled out some lighting, a glass container, water, oil, and food colouring. Some of the photos, purely by accident, ended up quite interesting. Setup details below, but first some more pictures to show the range of images we found:

Camera Setup

This was all set up in the kitchen, with what was to hand. A major factor is that, though a friend has lent me her nice Canon EOS 10D, I don’t have a macro lens or off-camera flash for it. Most of the examples I found on the net were of macro shots (some looking very pretty), but that wasn’t an option. We set the camera up on a tripod, as close as possible. One of the ubiquitous plastic “storage cubes” held the glass dish above a 125W halogen worklight, supported on a plate of glass (one of many salvaged from flat bed scanners).

The dish was the lid of a pyrex casserole dish, so it could take the heat. We didn’t know if the glass sheet would stand the heat but if it didn’t, the cube would hopefully contain the debris (especially after the water hit the hot 240V halogen bulb). The first box we used was red, rather than black and that caused quite an interesting tint to some of the images. We also tried inserting a yellow or blue cardboard sheet at one side of the box to add colour variation. The photo above shows a sheet of paper between the glass and the dish – that didn’t work very well at all and we left it out later. Note that the photo above is a composite – with the light on there is a tremendous glare that hides the details.

The accident was that, still being rather a noob at photography, I forgot to reset the aperture from when I was taking landscape photos in the morning. All the photos above were taken at 1/22 aperture which is very small for this setup. Since the camera was on Aperture Priority, the shutter speeds were very slow, generally ranging from  1/20 sec to as slow as 1/5 sec. This caused some really interesting swirling light traces as we stirred the mixture.

Playing with Photoshop

While playing around with these and other photos we took (about 95 for the session), I ended up with this image, which my daughter titled “High Velocity Alien Blood Splatter”:


D2O – A Proven Technique for Extending Lifespan

29 Sep

Here’s the optimistic theory advanced in June 1937 (Popular Science Magazine):

  • Dr James E. Kendall, the British scientist who advanced the startling theory that “heavy water” might prolong life

Is “Heavy Water” the Fountain of Youth?

Add ten years to your life!

That is the fascinating hope held out to men and women by a magic new fluid called “heavy water,” according to Dr. James E. Kendall, head of the department of chemistry at Edinburgh University, Scotland. Discovered only six years ago, it may soon be sipped by everybody, he foresees, as a means of prolonging the human life span.

Heavy water boils at a temperature three degrees higher, and freezes at a temperature seven degrees higher, than the common variety. Unlike the tasteless water you are accustomed to drink, heavy water has a sweetish flavor.

Would heavy water prove an elixir of life, a deadly poison, or a neutral substance like ordinary water? Daring experimenters have swallowed small amounts of it without ill effects. But mice fed with relatively larger quantities of the mysterious liquid died, as did tadpoles and small fish placed in tanks of it. Why? Nobody knows for sure, as yet, but chemists have discovered one significant clew. Many chemical reactions, they have observed, take place more slowly in heavy water than in common water. Thus heavy water may “apply the brakes” to life processes, with more or less effect according to the amount consumed.

  • Increasing amounts of “heavy water” have been sipped by Prof. Klaus Hansen to test its effect

Here is the basis for Dr. Kendall’s bold idea. By taking carefully regulated quantities of this heavy water, perhaps an elderly person could “throttle down” his internal mechanism thereby making it last longer by preserving it from all unnecessary wear and tear!

“In other words,” Dr. Kendall says, “the person drinking heavy water would be living only half as fast as the person drinking ordinary water. Doubtless, this would have drawbacks to men and women of working age, but it would be a positive boon to those in the Indian summer of life, who have retired from active work and wish only to enjoy the fruits of their labors.

“The heavy-water drinker’s reactions would probably be slowed, and possibly his mental processes also, but who wants to be fast at sixty? Fantastic as this development may sound. I believe than within the next ten or fifteen years drinking of heavy water by those who have passed sixty, as a means of prolonging the ‘reward years’ of life, will be commonplace.”

One formidable obstacle to be overcome, he admits, is the cost of producing heave water. Scarcer than the rarest wine, it once
sold for $300 a teaspoonful, and even today the same outlay will buy only a couple of glassfuls. At the current price, a year’s supply for drinking purposes would bankrupt a millionaire.

  • This complicated apparatus at Columbia University, produces the mysterious liquid by electrolysis. It was in this laboratory that “heavy water” was discovered six years ago

And here’s the current thinking, as per our friends at Wikipedia:

Effect on biological systems

Heavy water is the only known chemical substance that affects the period of circadian oscillations, consistently increasing the length of each cycle. The effect is seen in unicellular organisms, green plants, isopods, insects, birds, mice, and hamsters. The mechanism is unknown.

To perform their tasks, enzymes rely on their finely tuned networks of hydrogen bonds, both in the active center with their substrates, and outside the active center, to stabilize their tertiary structures. As a hydrogen bond with deuterium is slightly stronger than one involving ordinary hydrogen, in a highly deuterated environment, some normal reactions in cells are disrupted.

Plants stop growing and seeds do not germinate when given only heavy water, because heavy water stops eukaryotic cell division. With over 50% of deuterium in the water molecules, plants die. Experiments conducted by Skladnev, Mosin et al. show that microorganisms can live in 98% heavy water.

It has been proposed that low doses of heavy water can slow the aging process by helping the body resist oxidative damage via the isotope effect. A team at the Institute for the Biology of Ageing, located in Moscow, conducted an experiment to determine the effect of heavy water on longevity using fruit flies and found that while large amounts were deadly, smaller quantities increased lifespans by up to 30%.

I first came across this idea many years ago, in a the science fiction novel “The Time Masters” (1953) by Wilson Tucker.

This rather interesting novel starts out with a detective plot as the protagonist is hired to find the missing wife of a scientist. It quickly develops, however, that both the detective and the wife have a surprising, and extremely ancient, past. They are survivors of a spacecraft disaster thousands of years ago. The detective had come from a planet where heavy water was normal and without it he was prematurely aging – indeed, he was showing signs of age after a mere 10,000 years!

“It was a peculiar kind of water, natural enough if one remained on the island during his lifetime, but really quite rare if one visited the other islands and discovered how unusual it was. It was a water with certain, special qualities not found in very many other places that the ships visited. Hence, those ships must carry huge stores of it to enable them to make complete round-trip voyages without refilling the tanks. The water of the other worlds was drinkable in emergencies — yes, but it was water of a  drastically altered nature which failed to yield the mineral qualities necessary to sustain the lengthened life span. It was a poor substitute which, if one were forced to rely on it alone, would not sustain life the natural span. It was, in short, a thin liquid to prolong life a short while — nothing more. The natural water of the island on which one was bom and raised was needed for a healthy life.”

The girl had been sitting very quietly, listening to his voice and watching his profile against the nickering fire-light. Now she said, “So Gilgamesh became a sailor. Despite the dangers to the mariner, despite the need for the peculiar water of his home world, he became a sailor. And he was shipwrecked.”

Two Adventures from the 1960s

27 Sep

Here’s a couple of old fashioned science fiction novels from the heyday of Poul Anderson – spaceships and interesting aliens.  Be warned, I’m an engineer and that shows in my choice of extracts. There’s also plenty of lively dialog in these stories, and interesting characters.

The Star Fox (1965)

One of my all time favourites, the story concerns an industrialist (Gunnar Heim) financing and then commanding an armed privateer to harass an alien species which has conquered a human populated world. The Earth government is dead set on appeasement and refuses to accept that there are any human survivors on the world so it’s somewhat of  a ‘man of honour doing what he must’ story. There’s actually relatively little combat but plenty of action, especially during a trek across the ruined landscape of a hydrogen atmosphere world, fighting off a walking forest and ancient sentinel robots. The alien Aleriona, exemplified by Cynbe ru Taren (‘Intellect master of the garden of war‘)  are also nicely drawn, an ancient race who distrust humans because we’ve developed so fast.

A ship raised from the planet. Forces pulsed in her gravitrons, meshed with the interwoven fields of the cosmos, drove her out at ever-mounting speed. As Aurore fell behind, space grew less distorted by the star’s mass. She would soon reach a point where the metric approximated a straight line so nearly that it was safe to draw the forces entirely around her, cut off that induction effect known as inertia, and outpace light.

A million kilometers away. Fox II observed her:  saw by visible light and infrared, felt with a ghostly quickly-brushing whisker of radar, heard faint ripples of her drive in space, snuffed the neutrinos from her engines, and came to carnivore alertness.

“If races less powerful than we change, that makes nothing more than a pullulation among insects. But you, you come in ten or twenty thousand years, one flick of time, come from the caves, bear weapons to shake planets as is borne a stone war-axe, you beswarm these stars and your dreams reach at the whole galaxy, at the whole cosmos. That can we not endure! … Would you, could you trust a race grown strong that feeds on living brains? No more is Alerion able to trust a race without bounds to its hope. Back to your own planets must you be cast, maychance back to your caves or your dust.”

Satan’s World (1969)

An interesting story of interstellar conflict. The protagonists are Nicholas van Rijn, some of his employees, and an interesting alien species who, though rather primitive in some ways,  had built a civilisation around massively automated technology. I particularly liked the alien taskforce of  twenty three warships which turns out to have only one live alien in the entire fleet (which is part of his personal possessions). The prize is interesting; a frozen planet, not bound to any star, which is going to be heated up by a near miss with a star and can then be used for massive industrialisation.

He did find that the nineteen destroyers or escort pursuers, or whatever you wanted to call them, were streamlined for descent into atmosphere:  but radically streamlined, thrice the length of his vessel without having appreciably more beam. They looked like stiffened conger eels.  The cruisers bore more resemblance to sharks, with gaunt finlike structures that must be instrument or control turrets. The battleship was basically a huge spheroid, but this was obscured by the steel towers, pill-boxes, derricks, and emplacements that covered her hull.

You might as well use naval words for yonder craft, even though none corresponded exactly to such classes in the League.  They bristled with guns, missile launchers, energy projectors. Literally, they bristled, Falkayn had never before encountered vessels so heavily armed.  With the machinery and magazines that that entailed …  where the devil was room left for a crew?

They were meant for aerodynamic work.  They had orders to catch and kill a certain vessel.  They were robots.

They did not have sophontic judgment, nor any data to let them estimate how appalling these totally unprecedented conditions were, nor any mandate to wait for further instructions if matters looked doubtful.  Besides, they observed a smaller and less powerful craft maneuvering in the air.

They entered at their top atmospheric speed.

Muddlehead had identified a hurricane and plotted its extent and course.  It was merely a hurricane — winds of two or three hundred kilometers per hour — a kind of back eddy or dead spot in the storm that drove across this continent with such might that half an ocean was carried before it.  No matter how thoroughly self-programmed, on the basis of how much patiently collected data, no vessel could hope to stay in the comparatively safe region long.

The destroyers blundered into the main blast.  It caught them as a November gale catches dead leaves in the northlands of Earth. Some it bounced playfully between cloud-floor and wind-roof, for whole minutes, before it cast them aside.  Some it peeled open, or broke apart with the meteoroidal chunks of solid matter it bore along, or drowned in the spume-filled air farther down. Most it tossed at once against mountainsides.  The pieces were strewn, blown away, buried, reduced in a few weeks to dust, mud, atoms locked into newly forming rock strata.  No trace of the nineteen warships would ever be found.

Why ‘Still Life’ is Recommended for Learning

26 Sep

As part of my “teach myself photography” project, I decided to try a simple still life. Quite a few of the (numerous) online tutorial sites suggest that it’s a good exercise. Instead of worrying about catching a fleeting image (especially for sunrises and sunsets, which I’ve concentrated on), you can just take your time and work through getting lighting, focus, composition, white-balance, aperture, and timing all sorted out.

  • Dalek and Spikey


I set up a quick grouping in the garage, using a couple of work lights for illumination and some toys as subjects. With the tripod in place and a so-so composition in place, I hit my first snag straight away and had to dive back to the manual before I could take a single shot! In this case I realised I needed to tell the autofocus to shift to an off-centre point. Easily done, but one of the many items in the manual that I’d put on the “later” pile. I wanted to change the ISO rating (light sensitivity) as well, and I had at least looked that up. Once I took a few photos I realised why the issue of white-balance (how red-ish or blue-ish the lights are) was so important, and there was another part of the manual for me to hunt up.

For a quick exercise, I can really recommend it.

  • Spikey and Minions

(Note: Spikey’s minions are made from chunks of lead that I melted and poured into cold water, then soldered the resulting sharp/organic shapes together. Dangerous but fun.)

A Little Practice with the Clone Tool

25 Sep

This is Linwood Avenue, a pleasant but busy road near my home in Christchurch. Two rows of trees, with daffodils planted amongst the grass between them. However, there’s a two lane road on each side of it, then surburban houses. The blocks are a reasonable length – a few hundred metres – with signs on the cross streets. I decided to practice my cloning skills by extending the trees and removing the cars, streets, and houses.

Here’s the source photograph, taken from slightly off-centre and with the camera about 400mm above the ground:

As well as copious use of the clone tool, I used GIMP’s resynthesis plugin which helps build chunks of texture out of sample areas. That helps avoid the dreaded “regular pattern syndrome” which can easily occur when cloning.

When I had a reasonable looking image, I copied it, shrunk it to 25% size, and blurred it:

That section got pasted into the distance of the image, roughly along the lines of perspective.

And this is the result (so far):

I expect I’ll try some more of these to improve my skills.

Before there was CGI

24 Sep

Back in the 1930s and 1940s, there were a number of movies made where most, or all, of the action took place underwater. I’m slightly puzzled as to why they were made, but this article from 1941 shows just how tricky they were to make. I suspect that Health and Safety would shoot down any attempt to do this nowadays.

Wonders of Underwater Movies

  • Firing a stove in undersea classroom. Dry ice is used to give a realistic effect in movies of smoke pouring from chimney.

DOWN on the ocean’s bottom a school for mermaids is in session. Each damsel sits at her desk, taking down with pencil and paper the lecture of the “teacher,” who illustrates the lesson with chalk on a blackboard.  Now one of the fair students raises her hand. “I’m cold, sir,” she complains. “Would you mind firing up the stove a bit?” Teacher pokes around in the stove, and a cloud of smoke pours up the chimney.

This scene from a recent underwater movie is realism to the nth degree. The players look so natural and comfortable you’d insist they were in their subsurface classroom 15 minutes or more.

  • This sketch shows the cameraman crouched in his floating tank, shooting movies through glass window.

For 12 years, Newton Perry has been acting, directing, and writing scrips for underwater films. Perry has made about 15 feature films and a score or more of news-reel shorts.

How are underwater movies filmed? The photographer goes down in a steel tank four feet square and seven feet deep. One section is glass and the top is open. The cameraman can shoot as deep as 20 feet, or tilt his camera to film the surface. Usually no special lighting is required, for the shots are made in sunlight.

  • Enjoying soft drinks at a submarine soda bar; stage “props” are weighted down to keep them in position.

Before each scene the actors are carefully rehearsed. If Perry is directing, he simply asks: “Ready all?” Cameraman nods, cast does likewise, they dive in and the “take” is made. Most scenes require 20 to 30 seconds; a few have taken twice as long. For instance, in the wedding scene of “Underwater Romance,” it took the preacher, the bride and groom and congregation a minute and 15 seconds to file through the underwater church doorway. Perry’s actors and actresses range in age from about 16 to 25. Three out of four are girls.

A good surface swimmer isn’t necessarily a competent underwater swimmer. Perry would rather start with an average swimmer and teach her his methods than try to train a girl who has had quite a bit of surface swimming and imagines she’s a topnotcher. Give him a good novice with sturdy heart and lungs, strong physique and a will to work and Perry is satisfied he can teach her the technique. A main requirement is that all the actors learn to hold their breath at least 45 seconds. With this in mind Perry teaches them to “bob“; that is, to take a mighty breath just before they submerge and then exhale vigorously. They’re all called upon to do this 100 times in succession. For two weeks prior to making a picture they bob at least an hour and a half each day.

Next they learn a special stroke Perry has developed for underwater high jinks, a variation of the crawl that utilizes a trudgen kick, or four beats and one scissors kick. All his girls learn to swim in unison as if they were ballet dancers. Each must learn to stay under water for at least a minute and swim under water at least 60 feet at a stretch. With a couple of weeks’ training they’re able to do this with considerable grace and ease. The training starts with surface dives, followed by underwater swims of 20 feet, gradually increased to 60 feet or more.

No More Australasia

23 Sep

Alas, this movement from 1928 (reported in Popular Science Magazine), never got very far:

New Zealand Opposes Burial of Identity in “Australasia”

GEOGRAPHIES must revise their nomenclature if the commercial interests of New Zealand succeed in a new movement to suppress the use of the term “Australasia.” The New Zealanders are tired of bring the tail to the kite of Australia, due to the use of the general geographic name applied to the island groups of the Pacific. The name “Australasia” was coined to indicate that the islands were an extension of Asia and that their central and most important division was the continent of Australia. In its restricted sense Australasia embraces Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania.

In a circular to foreign consular officers, the associated Chambers of Commerce of New Zealand say: “These offending terms both ignore our identity and submerge our individuality. Many people regard the words as descriptive of a greater Australia. We are separated from that country in ways other than the 1200 miles of ocean between us, and we want the world to know of the existence of New Zealand, and that our identity is separate from that, of Australia.