Thursday, June 26, 2008

"The colour in those photos has held up remarkably well."

The quoted sentence in this post's title is from a comment ronniecat made in the previous post, which included several images from slides more than 40 years old.

The "just taken yesterday" appearance of those slides is due primarily to two causes. First, my Dad's meticulous attention to detail, cataloging, and archiving. His slide collection is housed in a number of hand-made boxes, designed to keep the slides immobile, in order, and away from light and other contamination.

Dad's slide box #2

The other cause is this:

The Nikon Coolscan V.

... no, not the bear, but the gizmo the Alcatraz bear is sitting on: our slide scanner. The scanner and its associated software can do miraculous things for old slides. Through a combination of hardware, software, and a database of emulsions' aging characteristics, Dad's thousands of old slides are coming back to life. Here are two examples from the last post, the ones I called "Beach frolics" and "Mom and me in a roadside diner." Both photos were taken in April, 1961.

"Beach frolics" raw scan: this is pretty much what the slide would look like now if projected.

"Beach frolics" after the scanner removed most of the physical flaws in the slide: dust, scratches, etc.

Physical flaw removal seems to be accomplished by way of an infrared sensor that detects items above or below the surface of the emulsion (dust and scratches, respectively, for example) and proprietary software that "fills in" those areas according to the characteristics of the surrounding healthy emulsion.

Final stage: "Beach frolics" after software color reconstruction.

Since different emulsions' dyes "dark fade" in different ways, the emulsion type must be specified by the scanner operator. Looks like it worked pretty well for this Agfachrome shot.

Raw scan of "... roadside diner."

This slide had virtually no emulsion damage at all -- no scratches, fingerprints, etc. The reason for its pristine condition is pretty easy to figure out: it's a bad snapshot, one that's exposed well for the sunny parking lot outside the windows, but badly underexposed for the subject itself.

Restoration step 1: color correction and slight general brightening.

Restoration step 2: unveiling detail in the shadows.

This shadow detail restoration is different from simply brightening the image; note that the parking lot is still properly exposed, but the diner interior has been brightened and contrast-adjusted to bring it to life, too. I've elevated the shadow detail here and tweaked the color balance for dramatic effect; this is the more realistic way it appeared in the previous post:

Other examples of slide restoration in this years-long project can be seen here, and there are many, many more options, bells, and whistles in the hardware/software than I will ever learn how to use. But that's okay; the aim for me is to preserve Dad's pictures the way he wanted them to look, and I think we're doing that pretty well.

Side note: the computing resources this project takes up has given me an abiding appreciation for the staggering magnitude of a little 35mm slide's analog data storage. I store each slide's scan in a "raw" format, from which any number of graphics programs can operate on the image. To preserve as much information as possible, I have all of the quality preservation options maxed out, which yields a typical file size for a single slide of about 120 megabytes, and, even at that, I'd bet that I'm not within two orders of magnitude of capturing all of the information on each slide.

Look back at the second slide, the one showing the scanner. Next to the scanner, behind the dancing bears, is a DVD burner. Beside that, with the blue light, is a Seagate 500 gig external hard drive. Those are just a fraction of the data storage and backup that this project uses, but I worry about them. I wonder if the media they produce will even be readable as long from now as now is from when the slides were taken. Oh, well, maybe that will give Grace a hobby in 2056 or so.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Trip South and Back. Way Back.

Sherwood, evidently trying to run from the inevitable, Myrtle Beach, 1961.

Ruth recently posted this superb entry on her blog, which involved (among much else) reference to what things we hold so dear, outside of ourselves, that we would be irreparably lessened by their loss. Recently, two strikes of wildfire close to Ft. Harrington in the Santa Cruz Mountains have brought that issue into the forefront of our minds as well (as has the much vaster tragedy farther away, along the Mississippi.) The first local inferno was the “Summit Fire” in early June, which destroyed many homes in my friend Karl von Ahnen’s neighborhood, and the second was the fire on Ben Lomond Mountain, within sight of Ft. Harrington, that destroyed homes in the town of Bonny Doon, including this one:

John Steed sifting through rubble that a day ago was home. Photo by Lucjan Szewczyk, San Lorenzo Valley Press-Banner, permission pending.

Two wildfires within twenty miles of Ft. Harrington was enough to spur us to ready ourselves for evacuation. It is just June, and the high fire season hereabouts is generally three to four months from now, three or four months that generally provide no rain at all. This whole area is explosive now, and it’s only prudent to upgrade to “probable” what we used to think of as “unlikely.”

So we prepare to evacuate. And the first thing to do is to decide what we can’t do without, and what we couldn’t live with ourselves for leaving behind.

We can’t do without each other, so we’ve established all connection possibilities for any time of day. We couldn’t live with ourselves if we hadn’t arranged for evacuation of all of our mammals (sorry, chickens), so their portable cages and emergency supplies are right at the front of the shed by where the trucks are usually parked.

So, what else? Insurance papers? No, everything of importance is digitized. Birth certificates? Passports? No, all of that sort of thing can be replaced now without actual pieces of paper involved.

So that leaves photos and my Dad’s voluminous diaries and unpublished stories. And that’s what I’ve been spending just about all of my “free” time working on for the last month: backing up, duplicating, and distributing in various media to various places all of that stuff.

Along the way, just a few days ago, I ploughed my way through the scanning of Dad’s slides from our spring trip south in 1961. We lived in upstate New York, but my mother’s family was (and is) in Atlanta, so we periodically traveled the thousand miles from Norwich, NY, to Atlanta, Georgia, usually at Christmastime and Easter. By 1961, we had settled into a Spring auto trip routine that would continue annually until 1965: Norwich – Myrtle Beach, South Carolina – Daytona Beach, Florida – Atlanta, and back.

What struck me after a while was how modern all of those photos from 47 years ago looked, and, on further head-scratching, how unexceptional our experiences were compared to what they would have been if the trip had been taken in 2008 instead of 1961.

1961 was 47 years ago. 47 years before 1961 was 1914. I don’t know for sure, since I don’t have access to a collection of home snapshots from 1914, but I’d imagine that the differences between 1914 and 1961 would be vastly more than those from 1961 to now.

I’m not talking about “big-picture” things, like politics, or about faddish things, like zoot suits or hippie garb or parachute pants. I’m talking about day-to-day, grinding, boring, what-life’s-like things, such as how we go from one place to another, how we’re entertained, and whether or not our streets are paved.

For example, in 1914, the trip would have been made by rail, not road. Entertainment would have been by person, not by radio or recording. Roads, mostly would be unpaved, not paved. And so on, and so on, and so on. But the differences between 1961 and 2008, as far as their impact on a pre-adolescent int he back seat, would have been negligible.

So, why was there such a big difference between how we lived in 1914 and 1961, but not so much of a difference between 1961 and 2008?

The easy answer would be that we had a huge war between 1914 and 1961 (or two huge wars, depending on whether you treat 1918 – 1937 as an interstice or a breather – machts nichts) that force-fed technological change at an unprecedented rate. But I’m not sure.

I’m not sure that the difference is even real, frankly.

Maybe we always see things that happen within our own lifetimes as familiar, but those before it as quaint and strange. Maybe if I were writing this in 1961, looking back at photos from 1914, I’d be marveling at how different 1914 was from 1867. And maybe it was.

But would one of my ancestors in 1647 think that 1600 was pretty modern, but 1553 was odd?

Dunno. But here’s your challenge: can you identify things in the below photos from 1961 that mark them as from then, not from now? Have at it in comments, folks.

Brookgreen Gardens, 1961.

Shuffleboard with my Mom in Daytona Beach, 1961.

Beach frolics, 1961.

Now that I actually am over 60 and bearded, I don't find this quite so amusing.

Mom and me in a roadside diner, Florida, 1961.

Visiting relatives near Orlando, 1961.

Edith Johnson Murphy (my maternal grandmother), Mom, and Carolyn, Atlanta, 1961.

Dad and me at a motel swimming pool in Virginia on the way home, 1961. This is the precise way that I even now view his and my relationship to one another.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Like Flies, I Tell You [Updated anew]

Another salute:

To Theriomorph.

First, Chris Clarke rips Creek Running North away from us like a bandit snatching a purse strap from our necks, breaking the fabric's cords without concern for the neck below them.

And now the Theriomorph backs away from the blogosphere, more slowly, more hesitantly, but gone none-the-damn-less.

I'm pouting now. I'll have to adjust the blogroll here, but not right away.

Update, June 7th: I couldn't throw them off, so I made them emeriti (see "Blogs Emeriti" on the sidebar.) And, as long as I was fussing with the blogroll, I added one that should have been there long ago: see "Vicki" at the end.

Update later on June 7th: Another blogroll entry that's long overdue is Mary Ellen Carew's. Check the third slot in the blogroll (which is alphabetical.)

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Weekend of MayToJune

These are the times that we live for, really. Times like this, simple times but so keen that they chisel, not write, in our memories. Not big deals. Probably nothing special.

Just the reasons for our being.

Kelsey, Jax, Grace, Adam, Lynda, Scout, Emma -- Big Basin State Park, California, June 1, 2008

This past weekend, Adam and Lynda brought Grace and her friend, Scout, down to Boulder Creek for the weekend. (Grace is my granddaughter, Adam's niece, Doug's daughter, and Scout is that special friend we all wish we had when we were five. Lucky Grace: for her, Scout is real.)

Grace (in pink) and Scout

Scout loves animals -- so, of course, she loved Ft. Harrington. Emma loves little girls -- so, of course, she loved Scout.

Emma and Scout

Grace and Scout gathered eggs from our girls on Saturday evening:

Adam, Grace, Diane, Scout, and the spaniels. Note Scout's stylish footwear. And that all of her gathered eggs are in one basket.

Ever since this entry in SherWords, Adam had been itching to get at the Brown Box of Lost Photos. Here, he dives into it:

Adam, Diane, Lynda, Scout, and the spaniels

Treasures he found there include:

... himself in 1981, and...

... his brother (as an infant) with their Uncle Bob Kroeger, forty years ago. Bob is now, among many other things, the only professional croquet player I know. Note that baby Doug is swaddled upon a guitar case, a simple variation of Chekhov's gun.

Later that Saturday evening, after Lynda, Adam, and the girls had retreated to their rented cabin in Boulder Creek, the animals all seemed oddly agitated and happy simultaneously. Here, twitchy, nearly-feral Finn (the orange one), approaching his first anniversary here in the Fort, snuggles up with big, goofy, wonderful Cooper:

Finn and Cooper

The next day (today, June 1st), we all went for a little walk in Big Basin State Park, only a few minutes' drive from Ft. Harrington and Boulder Creek. This little outing proved well the fundamental nature of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels: they are bred to adore children.

Jax and Emma. They are both offspring of Sandy Drake's Kanga (officially, GardenGate Beach Rose), SierraView Kennels, Fresno, California.

Scout and Grace, Big Basin, June 1 2008.

When Diane and I take the dogs for their walks, Kelsey is, of course, all business. ("Of course" because old Kelsey is all whatever-he-thinks-business-is all the time, awake or asleep.) The little spaniels, though, are usually kind of put out about the whole dirt and exercise and trouble thing; they'd rather be at home resting on their pillows or eating bon-bons or whatever.

Except when children are involved. Then they spring into excitement, puppy-hood, and mega-sparkles. Really. It's like somebody flips a switch.

Jax and Emma were in spaniel heaven this afternoon, each having a five-year-old girl at the other end of the leash!

Scout and Jax.

Grace, Scout, and spaniels

Scout and Emma

Grace and Jax

An image branded in memory. (Needs to be viewed at higher resolution -- click on the image -- to be appreciated.)

While all this was going on, Adam was wielding a video camera. A five-minute video (and audio) amalgam of our time in Big Basin Park will appear here when I figure out how to make that sort of thing work here on Blogger now:

Coda: Brian, I haven't forgotten the astronomical posts I've promised you, and they will appear, I promise again. Life, as you know, just sometimes gets in the way, and sometimes joyously.