Snow Canyon

Snow Canyon State park. We found a lot of canyon, but there was no snow to be seen. We did find some lava tubes though.

Snow Canyon State Park, UT
A bluebird
A cactus
More of the canyon
More canyon cacti
A lava tube, subterranean tunnel left by lava flows millions of years ago
Its a lot bigger than it looks (and it keeps going down)
Halfway down to the floor
An off shoot with no end in sight
The main cavern
Back topside to see the other side of the canyon

Valley of Fire

First stop on the the trip and only an hour from Vegas was Valley of Fire state park. A beautiful park which was the filming location for many movies including Star Trek Generations. The Valley of Fire was the desert planet where Kirk meets his end. Luckily for us we did not encounter any perilous metal bridges.

Valley of Fire aptly named; but in October this warning is a little overkill
Fire wave
Jonathan for scale
A local resident
Through the petrified dunes
A well camouflaged mountain goat
A small canyon
The road through the park
In the middle of the valley a rock wall remains from the set of 1966’s The Professionals
The wall from The Professionals from behind
A grasshopper
A dragon fly

Out in the Desert

I’ve just gotten back from two weeks hiking in Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. I have a thousand photos to go through and pick the best, but while I process all the pictures here are a few choice pictures which I shared on instagram while on the road.

Fire wave at Valley of Fire State Park, NV
Snow Canyon State Park, UT
Hoodoos at Bryce National Park, UT
Zion National Park, UT
Angel’s Landing’s chain at Zion
Zion Valley from the top of Angel’s Landing, Zion National Park UT

For these pictures I was experimenting with a newer faster photo editing workflow; still taking the pictures in RAW on my mirrorless camera, then transferring them to my phone to be processed with Lightroom mobile for posting to Instagram. The process worked pretty well, letting me post pictures from my camera almost immediately after the hike, and with almost the same level of post processing as if I were editing on my computer. The major missing feature was lack of support for HDR bracketing which I used a lot in the shadowed canyons of Arizona, so those pictures still need to be processed.

May the Fourth

May the Forth be with you!

Today is May the Fourth the semi-offical Star Wars day, simply for the pun. This is a special May 4th for me because I am also now two weeks past my last vaccination, and by CDC guidelines can consider myself amoungst the vaccinated! I brought out a few extra Star Wars trinkets to adorn my Zoom background to celebrate.

Stickers

Around my neighborhood their are two common forms of street art; live venue concert posters which can coat lampposts like tree bark, and sticker tags which can be small and numerous enough that its easy to pay them no mind. If you do stop to look at the tags they are all very interesting, and some are beyond weird; I hope they all mean something to someone.

To borrow Portland’s catch phrase; stay weird.

Bagels

I have been working on making the New York bagel here in Seattle. This is journey which has taken me years, with many failures along the way.

Nov 2018

Looks pretty good for not knowing what I was doing

My first attempt at bagels was on a bit of a whim. I felt like baking something and bagels seemed like a good idea. I looked up a couple recipes online to see what would be kneaded and took stock of what I had available.

I knew that bagels are boiled before being baked, but I had always assumed that they were boiled in regular water. Reading recipes I found that there are key additives needed when boiling and there is not consensus over what these additives should be. Recipe’s called for sugar, honey, malt syrup, baking soda, baked baking soda, or lye.

Boiling the bagels before baking is done so bagels will develop their signature tough and tasty crust in the oven. The crust of the bagel is so good because of the maillard reaction, the process by which amino acids and sugars turn into a tasty brown crust when exposed to heat, like when searing a steak. The amino acids will come from the gluten protein in the flour. The need for sugar explains recipes adding sugar/honey/malt syrup to the water, as a sugar coating on the dough will help that brown crust form. The form of the sugar seems to be for flavor, with barley malt syrup being the most traditional. I went for plain sugar as I didn’t have malt syrup or honey stocked.

Boiling the bagels

What about baking soda or lye? This seems like another chemical trick to help the bagels bake. Baking soda, especially if you bake it for a while by its self to concentrate it, is very alkaline. These additives are to get the pH of the water relatively high. I didn’t have any lye on hand and to properly prepare the baking soda it should sit in a hot oven for almost and hour, so I skipped these additives. Several of the recipes I has looked at did not include an alkaline in the boil.

Looks good, but how do they taste?

The rest of the bake was pretty straight forward. Very similar to making rolls but for the shape. A little proving and the bagels puffed up to their expected size. A quick boil and a bake and I had some very good looking bagels.

The taste and texture where not quite right, though. The bagel crust formed was more similar to a bread crust and didn’t have the shine or dimpling of good bagels. Also because only sugar was used in the boil the bagels had a very sweet taste to them. These were very edible, but not the bagel I was trying to make.

A well earned breakfast

Feb 2019

For my second attempt I got barley malt syrup and lye to strive for the authentic bagel. This time I followed Cook’s Illustrated recipe which differs in two ways, the malt syrup is added to the bagel dough to make sure the malt flavors are there, and the bagels are left overnight to rise in the refrigerator to develop more flavor from the yeast.

Caustic lye, must be handled with care

Following this recipe and carefully boiling the bagels in lye I got bagels with a beautiful crust, but were completely inedible. Either the yeast I was using was dead to begin with or I had somehow managed to kill it while making the dough but there was no rise in my roll. The bagels were the size and consistency of a hockey puck, and just as appetizing.

Inedible

April 2019

The third attempt using fresh yeast and the same recipe as attempt number two was more successful. With the bagels getting closer to their expected size.

Notice the classic NYC twist in the dough for a chewier bagel

There were a couple things I think could be done better. Its pretty easy to see all the raw bagels were not the same size and this lead to an interesting range of sizes.

These third round bagels are still not a big as the first attempt and I think some slight misreading of the instructions were to blame. I added some of the salt before adding the yeast which will slow its production of carbon dioxide. And I think I needed to let the bagels prove longer outside the fridge before leaving them overnight.

A lot of work for a breakfast sandwich

October 2019

Dough

To get more rise in my bagels I decided to leave them on the counter to rise overnight instead of moving them to the refrigerator. A full batch of bagels looking excellent. I also experimented in forming the bagels with half the batch made with “twisted snakes” and half the batch formed by punching a hole in a sphere. After kneading and forming I covered with plastic wrap and left it to rise.

Bagels left to rise

After rising overnights the bagels and the plastic wrap became inseparable. I had forgotten to oil the plastic wrap which caused it to to stick to the dough. Removing the plastic wrap ripped open the developed gluten layers and ruining the bagels.

A sticky mess, Look away if you suffer from Trypophobia

June 2020

Its a few months into quarantine and everyone has been baking, including myself. After a few loaf of bread I was feeling confidant enough to try making bagels again. Though now I have a sourdough starter, so lets try and make some sourdough bagels. I found this recipe for a New York Style sourdough bagel that was very similar to the recipes I’ve used in the past.

To test the concept I started only with a half batch.
Formed and ready to rise

To avoid the pitfalls of covering with plastic wrap from now on I will just use a clean damp kitchen cloth. Keeps the dough from drying out and doesn’t stick like plastic.

In the oven
Two plan and two onion
Looking good on the outside
Looks good on the inside, but how do they taste?
One way to find out.

The sourdough bagels were a big success. With halving the batch, they were a little under salted, but by far the best bagels I’ve made yet. The first ones which looked like they really could have come out of a NYC Deli. Encouraged by this test it wasn’t long before I tried making a full batch.

Bagels ready to boil

Following the same sourdough recipe (with a few adjustments) resulted in another excellent batch. This time I used a little molasses in the boiling water (the presence of sugar helps the maillard reaction which forms the crust). I think it was a little too much, because combined with a little overcooking these bagels came out a little like pretzels.

Pretzel-bagels?

August 2020

With the process mostly figured out; becoming a routine. Whole wheat sourdough everything bagels are a go to; making a big batch and freezing them to be enjoyed later. With butter, cream cheese, or as part of a breakfast sandwich it is always good to have a bagel in hand.

Would I lye to you?
Using more whole wheat flour results it much darker bagels

Shooting Macro

Here is an experiment which demonstrates how I take a lot of my macro shots, and what gives those photos such a smooth creamy background. For the most part I take photos with a Sony 24mm-105mm f4 full frame telephoto lens. Mostly because its a really good multipurpose lens to have around.

This lens is not a dedicated macro lens but its able to take pretty decent macros shots without any modifications.

Minimal focal point of an unmodified 24-104 f4 telephoto lens; about 195mm
With no modification or cropping a 105mm lens gets a pretty detailed picture

That looks good but what if I want to make that dime bigger? The easiest way to make something bigger in the frame is to get closer to it. With this lens we cannot get closer to the subject without losing focus, as we are already at our smallest focal length.

This is where an extension tube can help. Extension tubes are very simple and inexpensive additions which sit in between the camera body and the lens. This moves the plane of focus further back from the lens, which results in a shorter focal distance.

My extension tubes.

I have to extension tubes, one 10mm in height and one 16mm in height. My tubes have all the electrical contacts to keep the lens connected to the camera, which keeps auto focus working. A must for fast flying insects.

Lets add one tube extender and see how that changes the picture.

Increase the distance between the lens and the camera by 10mm

Adding one tube extender allows the camera to get closer to the subject which makes the subject larger in frame, with more detail.

Shifting the focal plane by 10 mm, the minimal focal point is now around 125mm
The dime takes up more of the frame, giving a more detailed shot.

The tube extenders shifting of the focal point also has some other effects. With extension tubes added a lens will no longer be able to focus out to infinity, so they cannot be used for landscapes. The shifted focal point also results in less light hitting the sensor, so it works best in bright areas or with good lighting. Lastly the focal shift narrows the depth of field making it harder to keep subjects sharp, but adding an extreme blur to the background.

Adding another 16mm for a total of 36mm

Extension tubes can also be stacked! Adding more space between the lens increase all the effects. So with 26mm of extension we can get the camera even closer.

The minimal focal point is now around 91mm
Subject crisp and large in frame, background completely blurred out.

There are many other components to macro photography and lots of other ways to get similar results. This is the setup I tend to use most often, as with out the extension the 24-105 lens is good to have for wide landscapes or tighter head shots. And now that you know the secret to large detail pictures of bees and spiders is getting as close as possible, you may appreciate the small amount of peril involved in getting some of the pictures I’ve taken.

Inside an Amp

I finally got around to cleaning out my headphone amplifier today. There was some dust in the volume potentiometer which was creating a hissing sound when adjusting the volume. Some contact cleaner has it better than new. While I had it open I thought I would take a picture to share.