Snowflakes

Snowflake photography is hard.

It’s snowing lightly this morning, quite a change from the 50-degree sunny weather that has worn hard on the snowbanks this past week. It’s a welcome opportunity to pretty-up the view of the nearby hillsides and to coat the dirty old snow in a fresh coat of white.

I recently read a New York Times article about the amazing snowflake photographs produced as a hobby by Nathan Myhrvold, a retired Microsoft executive, like the one below.

Image copyright Nathan Myhrvold, from the New York Times.

I decided to dash outside and give it a quick try. Needless to say, my attempts – photographed in about five minutes using a handheld Nikon camera and a routine lens, of flakes freshly fallen onto a microfiber cloth – are not even worthwhile saving. Myhrvold’s work has taken years of experimentation, custom-designed equipment, travel to remote locations, and incredible persistence. It’s beautiful work, and I highly recommend a scroll through the photos in the article.

Who knew microfiber cloths have such texture?

Icy soap bubbles

Not easy!

Inspired by a photograph I found online, I’ve experimented with soap bubbles in freezing conditions… they can turn to ice and persist quite a while. It’s harder than it looks! Here is my best early attempt – check the gallery for a slo-mo video too.

Soap bubble in freezing conditions.

I made bubble solution with water, Dawn dish soap, and an extra dose of glycerin for resilience. I found a fat straw and used it to blow bubbles directly onto a surface of snow – here, the railing of the deck. This photo is with my iPhone; last week I tried some with the Nikon D500 but, for now, I’m still learning the mechanics… blow a bubble, quickly set down the straw, pickup the camera, get into position, and snap a few shots before the bubble bursts. Repeat many times!

I need to find a better location – out of the wind, with a less-busy background, and where I can stand but not have myself (or the camera) reflected in the bubble.

Last week I tried this in colder temperatures (6ºF) and some bubbles would freeze (turn to ice) and stick around for 10 minutes or more, like those below.

Soap bubble in freezing conditions.

Honorable mention

One of my favorite photos.

From time to time I like to enter a few photos in a photo contest. Today one of my photos, below, received honorable mention in the “People” category, at the annual “Elden Murray photo contest” hosted by the Hanover library. Here’s a link to the photo on their site, where you can also explore the winning photos.

I chose to enter this photo because I enjoyed the colorful action of this elderly Rajasthani vendor while he was making chai (tea).

Chai wallah in Shahpura, Rajasthan, India.

The photo is from our 2017 tour of India; read the blog post.

Christmas trees

Fresh snow makes Christmas trees all the more beautiful.

This year, just as we do every year, we make the short pilgrimage to Nichols’ Christmas Tree Farm, just on the other side of the hill, to choose and cut our own tree. I returned today, with the snow still fresh and fluffy from the snowstorm two days ago, to explore this landscape under a blue sky and a white blanket. Magical!

Christmas tree farm, Lyme NH

Customer service

Amazingly great customer service from thinkTANK photo.

Close readers may recall that, several miles into my day-long hike along the Aletsch Glacier, back in Switzerland, that my backpack’s hip-belt suddenly failed – the padded belt portion simply became un-sewed from the body of the pack. Today I received the most amazing example of Customer Service I’ve ever seen…

Continue reading “Customer service”

Comet NEOWISE

The arrival of a visible comet encourages me to learn astrophotography.

This is my first blog post in a week, and the first since our return from Switzerland. I envisioned writing a reflective piece about transatlantic travel in the time of coronavirus or about the re-entry into US culture, but we’re stuck halfway through a two-week in-home quarantine and there is a far more photogenic topic to describe first. Read on, and check out the gallery.

Comet NEOWISE photographed in Lyme NH. This photo is better viewed in the gallery.
Continue reading “Comet NEOWISE”

Bellevue

A fountain with a fishy theme.

One of the most visible fountains in the city is at Bellevue, a large plaza in front of the opera house and seated at the corner of the lakefront. It is also a busy interchange of several tram lines, and a favorite for people who want to meet, sit in a cafe, and watch the world go by.

A large bowl fountain at Bellevue, with decorative spouts around the edge.

This fountain is of simple, bowl-shaped design, but exceptionally wide; around the rim are playful decorative spouts enabling anyone to stop by for a drink. While I was there one sunny weekend afternoon, so many people came by to fill their water bottle, that a line had formed.

A man pauses to refill his water bottle from the fountain.
Each spout is a different design, here of a boy riding a fish, each spouting water.

Warblers

Not a nightengale after all?

Our flat is fortunate to be surrounded by trees, and our mornings are filled with birdsong. As I noted last month, some of these birds have the most beautiful, complex song I’ve ever heard, and we suspect nightingales. I finally got a good look, and a good photo, of one of these special neighbors. It appears, though, that he is a Eurasian Blackcap warbler, not a nightingale.

His song is beautiful nonetheless! (I’ll keep watch and let you know if we perhaps have both blackcaps and nightingales.)

While leaning out my bedroom window to capture these photos, my camera shutter clacking away at high speed, our other neighbor – a woman whose window is just a few meters across the alley – poked her head out of her window. Fearing she might get the wrong idea about me and my long lens, I quickly pointed down at the branch where I’d been aiming, and indicated she should look as well. She understood my gestures, fortunately, and joined me for the next few minutes watching a busy bird, below, as it tucked a new twig into a nest in our shared Chestnut tree.

A (female?) bird seen from our Zürich flat.

Check out the full-res photos in the gallery.

Fountains of Zürich

Zürich has many beautiful fountains.

The city of Zürich has many fountains – in plazas and on streetcorners. Some are decorative, some are commemorative, and some are purely functional – but all are potable.  On my morning walk I pass at least two such fountains, and always pause for a drink.  They run constantly, even through the winter, and thus always taste cool and fresh.  It is a delightful public service and a boon to those who’d rather refill a water bottle than purchase yet another disposable bottle of water.

This elaborate fountain sits in a courtyard garden called Zentralhof, in one of the oldest quarters of the city beside Bahnhofstrasse and not far from some long-buried (but recently rediscovered) ruins of Roman baths.

Fountain in Zentralhof square - just off Bahnhofstrasse in Zürich.

In a common traditional design, the fountain pours into a pool over which metal bars can support a summer-time planter.  Such fountains (like this one on Bahnhofstrasse) also have streams that pour water over gaps in the metal bars, on which a villager could rest a pot to collect water.

One of many public fountains in Zürich.

Other fountains are more plain and functional; like many, this has a mini fountain at its base so your dog can drink as well.

A basic fountain in alt stadt, with a pretty reflection of morning light.

And some newer fountains take a more contemporary approach, yet blend it with the natural world so ingrained in Swiss consciousness, such as this rocky fountain near an entrance to the Universitätsspital.

An interesting fountain at the hospital in Zurich.

As I varied the routes of my morning walk, I began to realize the huge variety of fountains, and it occurred to me it might be fun to find them all.  Since most (if not all) appear on a street corner, i.e., at intersections, the challenge appeared to be similar to the famous Hamiltonian Path problem in computer science: given a graph of vertices (intersections) connected by edges (street segments), devise a path that visits each vertex exactly once.  No such option existed for me, as I spread my travels out over several weeks and must begin/end each walk at the same point.  But I’ve tracked my walks as a means of finding new routes to cover each day; here’s how it looks so far:Map of my fountain-search walks, as of May 18.

See the gallery for more shots of the above fountains. More fountain pix yet to come!

The city apparently has a project underway to refresh and renovate some of the historical fountains.

Fountain in Zentralhof square - just off Bahnhofstrasse in Zürich.