"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Friday, October 26, 2012

Lake Michigan dons a Diffuse Glow

My quest continues to redeem low-quality photos by employing Photoshop filters. Frankly, I think this time the results are great. On my recent vacation, I visited the Lake Michigan coast. Here is what I was able to do in Photoshop with two pictures taken on a cheap digital camera.

Click on images to see the sharper, full-size versions.

Lake Michigan - Photoshop Diffuse Glow Filter - Vivitar ViviCam T027

Above is the view looking northwest from Rosy Mound Natural Area near Grand Haven. Below is a southwest view, also treated with the Diffuse Glow Filter in Photoshop CS5.

Lake Michigan - Photoshop Diffuse Glow Filter - Vivitar ViviCam T027

Lastly, here is a traditional image taken at Rosy Mound Natural Area using a
Kodak EasyShare.

If you'd like to see a few more images of this wonderful Michigan locale,
visit my Picasa album. Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Walking the Planets: Michigan Style

Most, if not all, depictions of the solar system you've seen are woefully inaccurate. It isn't a matter of deception. Rather, no textbook or computer screen is big enough to faithfully render the scale of our solar system without reducing the individual planets to tiny dots. By human standards, the distances are too vast. However...!

Thanks to planet walks set up around our world, you can get a sense of just how far apart the planets are from one another. One such walk, the Foster Planet Walk in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was a destination point for me recently.

The inner planets, as depicted on the Foster Planet Walk

Located on the beautiful campus of Aquinas College, the Foster Planet Walk begins near Albertus Hall on Robinson Road SE. Each planet is marked by an easy-to-spot boulder, including the four above that represent the inner planets. Mars is closest in the above photo, then Earth, Venus and Mercury. Now let's talk scale. The half-dozen steps between the Mars and Earth boulders above depict a distance it took the recently-landed Mars Curiosity Rover over 8 months to traverse.

I found the Foster Planet Walk to be a leisurely stroll most of the way. There is some uphill walking, but it's all paved. Take another look at the inner planets above, so close and cosy. To reach the outermost planet requires walking all the way across campus.

Standing at Jupiter's boulder, the inner planets are visible through the far trees

Strolling to Jupiter, the distance dramatically multiplies. The Juno spacecraft, currently headed for Jupiter, launched over a year ago. As a rough estimate using NASA's mission webpage, Juno is right now located about where the two college students are walking above. But it has to swing back around Earth next year to get a gravity-assisted boost in speed. So, let's pretend one of those college students above is the Juno spacecraft. It will take her another four years to reach the boulder with Jupiter on it.

Looking back at the inner planets from next to the Saturn boulder

Even standing in front of the Saturn boulder above, you can still see the inner planet boulders beyond the bridge near the top of the photo. However, this is the last point at which the planet boulders are visible from one another. Getting to Uranus and Neptune requires walking around buildings, across a parking lot and up slopes. This is where my brain started grasping, however feebly, the vast distances of our solar system.

The long walk from Neptune to Pluto

The above section of sidewalk is about half the distance from Neptune's marker to the Pluto boulder. A walk that started with a literal hop, skip and jump from Mercury to Venus ultimately required me to walk the full length of campus, from bottom to top. Enjoying the chilly autumn drizzle, I turned 90 degrees to the left after taking the above photo. At last I spied Pluto off by its lonesome.

Tucked up against the backside of a campus hall, Pluto sits isolated

Though not a planet according to current scientific classification, Pluto is a fine ambassador for the icy region on the periphery of our solar system. A walking distance of about 15 minutes for me represents a journey that is currently taking the New Horizons spacecraft nine years. From here I walked back to the inner planet boulders. The whole tour took about 45 minutes, including stops to take pictures.

For additional photos of my afternoon on the Foster Planet Walk, go here. The link at the top of this post will provide you a map and additional background information. If you are ever in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I highly recommend this attraction.

Thanks are due to space blogger Pillownaut, who made me aware of the Foster Planet Walk. Check out her Google map of Planet Walks. There is likely one near you!

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Shininess of 'Shine Shine Shine'

Shine Shine ShineShine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: Part of my difficulty getting into this novel was a bias toward the chapters set in space. That is an area of great interest for me; however, I think author Lydia Netzer does a good job of thematically linking the sci-fi subplot to the main earthbound storyline. Robotic colonization of the Moon notwithstanding, this book is ultimately about exploring a woman’s haunted soul.

Shine Shine Shine is something of an interdisciplinary novel, which is what drew me to it (via the moon mission element). At times this multi-faceted approach enriches the story, at other times it causes the plot to lag and wander. Regardless, there are some great lines. From Chapter 5, here is one that masterfully sums up the protagonist’s journey: “Sunny sat like a rip in one of the landscape paintings on the wall, a little hub of disbelief in the center of a perfectly good hallucination.”

Netzer mines her share of prose gems by infusing housewife fretting with galactic conceit. Here is great example from Chapter 19: “But the wig sat on her head, doing its job, keeping the roof up, keeping the stars up, keeping the planets aligned.”

Still there are times when Shine Shine Shine feels stylistically overindulgent. There is something excessively rehearsed about the prose, like a magician waving a coin one too many times in front of your face before making it disappear already. I sometimes grow tired of intentional use of fragments, of ritual choppiness, of trending stream-of-consciousness so you can score big with otherwise pedestrian cadences. It’s almost as if the novel wants to be a prose poem.

Netzer plays incessantly with chronology as well and throws in a major spoiler or two in case you were thinking of losing interest. Would the novel seem as compelling if it ever took a chance on being straightforward? I don’t know. In any case it is a good novel, at times incredibly good.

As the portrait of a troubled woman and the planet-sized forces pulling at her family, Shine Shine Shine is a worthy piece of fiction. The characters are interesting and believable. The plot is an assortment of conventional developments artfully arranged to amplify effect. For me, the book’s greatest attribute is exploring real-life dynamics against the backdrop of a post-Einstein universe. Netzer displays a keen understanding of how physics and math can generate existential crises every bit as tormenting as the age-old question, “Why does God allow suffering?”

View all my reviews

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Quick Vacation Update from Michigan

Childe Jake is enjoying his first full week of paid vacation in quite some time. Photos and a post or two will follow in the coming weeks, but for right now he remains on vacation. Here is a list of places and activities he has enjoyed thus far:
  • Quality time with nieces and nephew: including playing catch; going for breakfast; having ice cream at the mall; playing the piano; and enjoying gabfests in the living room
  • Two afternoons at Rosy Mound Natural Area on the shore of Lake Michigan
  • Tastings at three wineries: Lake Effect, Cherry Creek, and Sleeping Bear
  • Completing the Foster Planet Walk at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids
  • Delicious breakfast at Back to the Roots in Chelsea, MI, including a caramel latte that made him swoon
  • Performances at Williamston Theatre and Encore Musical Theatre
  • An annual reading of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage by Lord Byron (in progress)
Special thanks to his sister and her wonderful family for hosting him during his stay in Muskegon, Michigan!