Monthly Archives: July 2007

How does light get to the back of the retina?

The eye is a funny thing. One interesting factoid is that the light sensitive rod and cone cells are actually buried within the retina, sandwiched between cells that give structure and perform the first parts of image formation. “If that’s the case,” you might ask, “how does light reach the photoreceptive cells?”

Research published in the May 15th issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that Müller cells actually transport light through the retina. Basically they’re little optical fibers that guide light directly to rods and cones, increasing the eye’s efficiency and explaining the unusual location of the light-sensitive cells. (I learned about the paper via a summarizing article in July’s issue of Biophotonics International.)

Here’s an executive summary from PNAS:

An image focused by the lens on the front surface of the retina is conveyed by Müller cells to rods and cones on the retina’s rear face. Kristian Franze et al. observed that, when light is applied to the dissected retina of a guinea pig, a lattice of bright spots 2 µm in diameter and spaced 6 µm apart appears on the far side. The authors stained the retina with dyes and antibodies specific to Müller cells and confirmed that these long, funnel-shaped cells, which bridge the full thickness of the retina, are responsible for the light transmission. Held in a laser trap, Müller cells transmitted light efficiently across an optical gap. The cells’ refractive index is higher than that of surrounding tissue, and although their shape is not as regular as that of artificial optical fibers, they effectively function as such.

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Folk Art

I’ve always been skeptical of folk art. If you’ve seen “Antiques Roadshow” on PBS, it’s likely that you’ve seen folk art pieces. You’ll know them because they’re quirky and frequently rough around the edges. They might not look like things you’d see in a museum, but sometimes you can make the case for them being there. Occasionally they’re worth a lot more than you’d expect; but more often, they’re made by anonymous individuals who create for the love of creation and whose names and works are lost to time.

After many years of wondering what kind of artist I am — non-artist, amateur artist, part-time artist, frustrated artist, failed artist — I now proudly call myself a folk artist.


This thought started coming to me as I toured the Milwaukee Art Museum‘s folk art collection. “Why is this ‘folk art’ not just ‘art?’” I wondered while seeing some really original and entertaining pieces. (Especially the two shown above by Edgar Tolson, which are part of a larger Genesis series.) Around the same time I was trying to decide who to include in my discourse on Indian fine art photography. “How do I pick ‘art’ from the wide universe of mass generated imagery, particularly given the large amount of good amateur work and photojournalism?”

It seems the answer lies in community. Artists — that is, professional “fine artists” — create works that, among other things, communicate in both contemporary and historical conversations with other artists through their work. They touch on the social condition, who we are, what it means to be human. Contrast this with folk artists who usually lack formal training and work alone outside the established art community. Their projects may have intense personal meaning and (I hope) might eventually acquire art historical value through a lifetime of acretion and originality, but that’s rarely the main goal of the artists.

Of course, I like my photographs — though not all of them work as well as I would like — and through them I do try to take part in some of the conversations in contemporary photography.* But it’s a hard conversation for upstarts to elbow into because some speak so eloquently and others so loudly, and so many, many voices are trying to be heard. Some day I may get the chance to drop the “folk” part of my amateur artist title. But I feel pretty happy with where I am.

* – I’m not counting my travel snapshots here, of course, even though that seems to be all that I post here these days. I really should get out of the house more.

Posted in Photography | 2 Comments

Public Service Announcement: E-mail

If you use e-mail for work or school, you owe it to yourself to watch Merlin Mann’s “Inbox Zero” talk. I think it’s probably one of the most useful productivity ideas around, which you would expect from the man behind a great productivity site.

For some reason this works well for me at work, but not at home. Probably because I’ve set things up so I rarely get “important” e-mail at home. Or maybe I have no friends. Nah, I’m just a packrat!

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Tourists and snapshots in DC

On Tourists: I’m a tourist, and I’m proud of it. If there’s no way you can blend in, why fight it?

On Snapshots: The snapshot has a bad rap. These pictures are who we are. If we’re lucky, they look good. If we’re even luckier, we look good in them. If we’re really, really lucky, we’re Wolfgang Tillmans, and people think that our snapshots are good enough for the museum. (Curators clearly see something that I don’t.)

So when we were in DC last week, I made some pictures of other tourists, many making their own snapshots. I will post our favorite snapshots soon.

National Gallery of Art

National Air and Space Museum

Mount Vernon, Virginia

Udvar-Hazy Centre, National Air and Space Museum

Polaris Missile, NASM

Presidential Classroom meets the purple shirts

The White House

World War II Memorial

Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson Memorial

Vietnam War Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

The Tarangini, Boston
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Digital Imaging Workflow

“Is it true that if you don’t use it, you can lose it?” — Steve Carell, “The 40 Year Old Virgin”

Sometimes . . . at least temporarily. Or so I discovered when my inkjet prints looked terrible. Colors were muddy or just plain wrong: yellow got into my blues, green got into my reds, green was the wrong green, etc. I had forgotten my not-so-secret sauce for printing from Adobe Photoshop.

Fortunately, I had written it all down a few years ago and could go back to the digital workflow that has worked so well for me. (Addendum: Make backups.)

Crisis averted. Confidence restored.

Posted in Color and Vision, Computing, Fodder for Techno-weenies, Photography | 3 Comments

Mount Vernon, Virginia

Lisa, her parents, and I went to DC earlier in the week, and we visited Mount Vernon while there. In addition to the restored planter’s paradise, there was the family burial plot. George Washington, Martha, assorted progenitors, and descendants all shared a rather large brick sarcophagus.

Nearby was a different sort of burying ground. Several dozen of the Washington family’s slave were buried in unmarked graves in a wooded spot on the edge of the current property. An oldish marker (whose text is printed here) was augmented with another more up-to-date marker (ca. 1985) and an interpretive sign (updated later). Throughout Mount Vernon, slavery is clearly an issue the “Ladies of Mount Vernon” have trouble addressing.

In memory of the many faithful colored servants of the Washington family buried at Mount Vernon from 1760 to 1860

Their unidentified graves surround this spot


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Newton Centre Burying Ground, Newton, Mass.

Lisa and I went to Newton today to get ice cream visit a cemetery that we must have run, walked, and driven past thousands of time while we lived there. If only I had started visiting these fabulous places sooner. . . .

You might think that the Commonwealth’s cemeteries only have unusual names. But you don’t really want me to give you the plain Janes, Marys, Sarahs, Timothys, Johns, Williams, Abigails, and the like who make up 90% or more the names. This particular cemetery spans almost 300 years and has some of America’s earliest Anglo families: Winchester, Jackson, Stone, Park, Clark, Cheney, etc. (My progenitors are buried elsewhere.)

Mr. Samuel Hasting’s whole Remains are here interr’d
Departed this life the 13th of May AD 1776 Ætatis Suæ 65

I love the fact that “this life” implies a common shared life that all people share rather than “his life” or “her life.” Contrast this to common gravestone phrases like “the 75th year of his age,” (which is what “anno ætatis suæ” means) and you can see how intentionally inclusive it is. Of course, it’s also meant to signify “this earthly life” as compared to eternal life, but I love how the phrase binds anyone who is or has ever lived.

A MEMORIAL of unsurpassed Ministerial Fidelity, Hallowed Affections, Social Virtues, and Holy Perserverance
Erected by his many Friends

  • Obadiah Curtis (♂ – †1811)
  • “Mifs Patience Pigeon” (♀ – †1777 Æ24) [1]
  • Deacon Ephraim Ward (♂ – †1772 Æ69
  • Jemima Parker (♀ – †1779 Æ34)
  • Mrs. Mindwell Fuller (♀ – †1777 Æ46)
  • Mrs. Experience Dyke (♀ – †1749 Æ83)
  • Mehitabel Meriam (♀ – †1770 Æ47)
  • Mehetabel Kenrick (♀)
  • Mehitable Seger (♀ – 1757-1844)
  • Ebeneezer Seger (♂ – †1813 Æ63)
  • Ebeneezer King (♂ – †1825 Æ53)
  • Ebeneezer King (♂ – †1818 Æ13)
  • Hester Curtis (♀ – †1802 Æ2yrs) daughter of Esther Curtis
  • Cornet Norman Clark (♂ – †1787 Æ77)
  • Sukey Mitchell (♀ – †1796 Æ3yrs)
  • Ensign Richard Park (♂ – †1746 Æ32)
  • John Fuller (♂ – †Jan. 21st, 1720/21 Æ75) [2]
  • Mrs. Thankfull Ward (♀ – †1742 Æ75
  • William Hide (♂ – †Feb. 9, 1754 Æ64)
  • Deliverance Hide (♀ – †Feb. 15, 1754 Æ65)
  • Job and Prudence Hyde (♂ – †1768, ♀ – †1795)
  • Pastor Lyman Cutler (♂ – †1855 Æ28)
  • Constantia Prince (♀ – †1853 Æ28)
  • Sylvanus Burnham (♂ – †1855 Æ51)
  • Rob Roy MacDonald (♂ – 1955-1974)
  • Phinehas Johnson (♂ – †1850 Æ72)
  • Hepsy Hastings (♀ – †1833 Æ51)
  • Silas Fuller (♂ – †1844 Æ79)
  • Edith O’Dowd (♀ – 1896-1935)
  • Hilda O’Dowd (♀ – 1921-1935)
  • Charles O’Dowd (♂ – 1935-1935)

[1] – It was common practice until around the turn of the 19th century to use an “f” when writing an “s”, efpecially in ligatures like “Mifs” = “Miss” or “confort” = “consort.” It does make deciphering names like “Grafton” rather tricky. Lisa informed today that “ye” was actually pronounced “the” even back in ye olden days, too; it was just written differently.

[2] – It’s unclear whether the death year was simply unknown on the memorial stone — wealthy families often added these showy markers years after burial — or if this imprecision reflects the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. Perhaps both.

Posted in Burying Grounds | Leave a comment

North Purchase Cemetery, Milford


Earlier in June, I finally got around to visiting a burying ground in Milford, the town where I live. Lisa came along; it’s always enjoyable having someone else point out the things I miss as I gawk at names. Milford has more ethnic and economic diversity than most of the neighboring communities, and the names reflect that fact. Around the turn of the century the house of Usher (John, Susan, Olivia, Walter, Byron, Alvin, and Agness) gave way to names like Kapatoes, Charzenski, Volz, MacFarlane, Thiebault, and Lucier.

This cemetery is still active, which makes me wonder: Who decides who can be buried in a two hundred year-old cemetery?

  • Sturtevant — Father, Mother, Leon
  • Gustaf Carlson (♂ – 1895-1984)
  • Triphena Madden (♀ – †1810 Æ21)
  • Parna Hancock (♀ – †1869 Æ62)
  • Howland Tyler (♂ – †1872 Æ32)
  • Eliphalet Bailey (♂)
  • Cortes Cheney (♂ – †1869 Æ37)
  • Perl LeRoy Sorty (♂ – 1883-1919)
  • Laurensine Larson (♀ – 1862-1922)
  • Rufus Cheney (♂ – †1872 Æ71)
  • His first wife: Cynthia Alexander (†1825 Æ21)
  • His second wife: Ruth Staples (†1845 Æ39)
  • His third wife: Lucretia Burr (†1883 Æ73)
  • Floyd A. Nezgoda (♂ – 1926-2000) & “His Sexy Wife” Janet F. Drobnica (1924- )
  • Oremandel Quimby (♂ – 1832-1921) 19th Unattached Mass. Infantry
  • Joliaett Cushman (1846-1900)
  • Liberatore Schiappucci (♂ – 1916-1997)
  • Kusta Anderson (♂ – 1869-1943)
  • Hiram Miller (♂ – 1837-1920)
  • Margaret Miller (♀ – 1843-1917)
  • Lillian Mabel Miller (♀ – 1872-1872)
  • Cora Maud Miller (♀ – 1876-1877)
  • Emeline Bertha Miller (♀ – 1873-1877)
  • Ida May Miller (♀ – 1866-1877)
  • Baby Miller (♀ – 1881-1881)
  • Susie T. Miller (♀ – 1870-1918)

Update – 5 August 2007: Lucretia Burr was Rufus Cheney’s third wife.

Posted in Burying Grounds | 1 Comment

Backups, part deux

I got everything off the hard drive that I could get, which was about 80% of my photographs. The crash spared most of the older data, while toasting many of the newer images. Ironically and tragically, all of those older images were backed up to DVDs. Not so with the newer ones.

So what lessons did I learn?

  1. R-Studio does a pretty good job retrieving data off damaged drives. It’s a long process, though. I think I spent about 20-30 hours scanning drives, recovering files, sifting through broken files [1], and reconstructing the directory structure I like.
  2. R-Studio and other similar applications won’t work on network attached storage devices. They’re actually computers (usually running Linux). Apparently there is no way to recover a network attached hard drive, which is pretty lousy.
  3. Don’t chain together multiple external hard drives.
  4. Make physical backups of really important data. Using a second hard drive is not good enough. Using a service like Mozy is probably even better (as long as they don’t go out of business).
  5. I can’t prove it, but I think that using the media server on the LaCie Ethernet Disk Mini recovered poorly after the power failure on the attached disk, taking all of the data with it.
  6. LaCie’s tech support seemed thoroughly incurious when it came to what might have caused the drive to fail.
  7. Image and audio import software should be as fault-tolerant when reading files as possible.

I’ve had my moment(s) of anger about the situation, but now I’m moving on.

[1] Some of the files were actually copies of deleted images, which contained nothing but garbage. I was going to say that it’s basically like dereferencing a freed pointer, but that’s a bit geeky.

Posted in Computing, Life Lessons | 1 Comment