The North Shore Trip

This past weekend the Hubby and I drove up to the North Shore, and we ended up cramming in a lot of activities. On Friday I had to work a half day, and that afternoon before we left the Cities, we took in the Minnesota History Center’s Prohibition exhibit. I did some museum tweeting, which you can see on Storify by clicking the image below. 


Then we drove 2.5 hours north on Highway 35 to Superior, Wisconsin, which is right across the river from Duluth, Minnesota. We checked into our hotel and I was ready to crash, but we somehow managed to drag our butts out to see The Monuments Men. It was awesome and totally worth the putting on of pants. [Read more…]

I am way too excited to visit this church.


Exploration! Adventure! Scavenger Hunt!

Okay…having used my weekly allotment of exclamation marks, let me take a deep breath and tell you about how I’m probably going to be spending my weekend.

I just clicked on a banner ad while I was in Wikipedia and was directed to the website Wiki Loves Monuments. It’s a big crowd-sourcing project designed to add photos to the Wikimedia library. And when I say “big” it’s like I’m saying “the sun is big.” 40 countries are participating and tens of thousands of people are expected to take part.

So here’s the exciting, scavenger hunt-like part. You don’t just upload any old photograph of any old monument; Wikipedia has a list of the monuments of which they want photos. I haven’t heard of a lot of these places so it’s time to go exploring! I downloaded the Wiki Loves Monuments app for Android – I can use the GPS function to help me find and identify local landmarks. But I can also find them beforehand using my country’s Wiki Loves Monuments webpage. Here’s the United States:

US level

Image shows a MapQuest map of the United States, Canada and Mexico with regional capitals displayed. Text at the top of the image includes instructions for how to use the interactive map.

When I get down to the Twin Cities level I start to see large circles indicating numbers of monuments in the area:

494 694 level

The 494/694 loops shows four blue circles with the number of monuments in those areas.

And at the city level – in this case, Minneapolis – exact location markers for each monument become visible.

Minneapolis level

Mapquest Map of Minneapolis – approximately 50 green markers are displayed.

I work in the southwest metro and one of the monuments that’s not too far from me is a Catholic Church called St. Hubert’s. When I click on the green tag, information about the monument comes up:

St. Hub

A zoomed in map of the Chanhassen/Eden Prairie/Minnetonka area. A pop-up window containing a photo of St. Huberts and the address of the church is visible, as well as four other green tags indicating other nearby monuments.

So…that’s how I’ve arrived at starting my weekend at a Catholic church.

I heartily support crowd-sourcing and free licensing (yay Creative Commons!), I love exploring, I love photography and I am a pretty frequent user of Wikimedia content. I am So. Excited. to get moving on this!

If you want to participate, make sure to check out the Wiki Loves Monuments webpage and the guidelines about uploading photos, find monuments in your country and area, and then go have fun! And if you are already participating or decide to start, let me know – maybe we will be able to do a post about the monuments that Biodork readers have visited!

Snorkeling the Reef

On Saturday I wasn’t quite scuba-diving ready; still a bit congested – but I was starting to salivate over the nearby barrier reef. From Dave and Noelle’s veranda you can see the waves breaking over the reef in the distance. I wanted to get into the water! So we decided to start slow – a snorkel one day and then a dive.

We ended up booking two tours on Friday night: a dive for Sunday (on the hope that I’d be well enough to go) and tickets for a Saturday 10:30am half-day snorkel trip to the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve from French Angel Expeditions. Our guide for the snorkel was Ash and he was pretty awesome.


French Angel Expeditions snorkel shop

[Read more…]

Traveling to Belize

This is the first of my travel-blogging posts! The Hubby and I are in Belize until May 12th. This is what we’re doing.

Our vacation started with 30 hours of travel. That’s right – 30. Here’s the deal: Last year we volunteered to get bumped from a flight and that earned us two round-trip tickets to anywhere AirTran flies. We wanted to get to Belize to visit some friends and to relax in the Carribean. AirTran flies to Cancun. There is a very reliable bus that drives from Cancun to Belize City. Tah-dah!

We woke up at 2am on Tuesday morning, showered, did a little last-minute packing, ate some cereal and then sat outside on our front stoop in the eerie, cool, silent night-morning. We had arranged for a car service to arrive at 3:45 am and the driver was right on time. Our flight from MSP-Humphrey Terminal was at 5:45am. Since we were flying international we wanted to make sure that we were there at least an hour and a half early, but since it was such an early flight we weren’t too concerned about lines at security. Everything went peachy-keen and soon we were on the plane to our connection in Atlanta.

Minneapolis Sunrise 1Leaving Minneapolis – one of two sunrises we would experience during the trip down.

[Read more…]

Alphas and Amanda

I’ve been gobbling up a TV series called Alphas over the past couple of days. I didn’t think I was going to like it at first – it seemed like another X-Men story line with a really annoying “how does that make you feel” shrink playing the Xavier role. And Misfits has been doing the “what if normal people had superpowers” thing for a couple of years now, so I figured I had seen Alphas already. But I’ve gotten drawn into the storyline, and I freaking LOVE Gary.

I managed to get some photo editing done last night and am super excited to show off my top five favorite shots from last Wednesday’s Amanda Palmer concert. You can see all 18 of my faves here on  my Flickr account.

Amanda Palmer introducing one of the upcoming acts – it was either Ronald Reagan or Neil Gaiman. 

[Read more…]

Pareidolia Play Along 3: The Reveal

This is a post by guest blogger Ellen Bulger.

In this installment, Ellen reveals the answer to last week’s Pareidolia Play Along.

It’s a bee, a blue bee! The genus is Osmia, the species probably pumila. The disk-like thing in the center of the shot is called a tegula and is positioned just above where the wings attach to body. If I’d been the one to name that particular bit of bee anatomy, I would have called them epaulets.

When I took the shot, I thought my oh my, this looks like a painting.

[Read more…]

6 O’Clock BS: Creative Commons is Cool

You never know where your stuff is going to show up!

I received this email in my Flickr inbox recently:

Hi Brianne,

I love your photo of Foggy Blue Morning Dive! We used it on Adventure Awaits, a blog and storytelling site for Washington State Parks.

You’ll see your photo on one of our blog posts here of Go Discover: Scuba Diving:

Again, thanks so much for putting your photos in Creative Commons – we love profiling great captures of our parks.

Tee hee! I’m on a website for Washington State Parks promoting scuba diving. How fun!

Here’s the photo:

Foggy Blue Morning Dive

And being the awesome Creative Commons-respecting website they are, the photo links back to my Flickr account where I originally posted it. The only annoying thing is that while I’m now “Washington State Park Go Discover Scuba Diving” internet famous (got a whole 27 views on that there photo – w00t!), my little sister gets the photographer bragging rights. Damn it!

6 O’Clock BS – Seesaw

Today I was feeling down in the dumps for no particular reason, or at least no easily identifiable reason. After work I started to recognize the  down in the dumps danger zone: All I wanted to do was eat everything in my kitchen and watch an entire season of some stupid sitcom that I’m a little embarrassed to admit I like to watch (yeah – it’s gonna cost you alcohol to find out which one). At the time I was all like, “Hell yeah I could go for some cereal and ice cream and baby carrots and guacamole and a popsicle and some leftover pad thai. And those episodes are only – what – 22 minutes tops? I can be done with a whole season in 18 times 22 equals [rummage for calculator] 396 divided by 60 is … 6.6 hours. Hah! I’ll be in bed before midnight!”

But I talked myself down, mostly by guilting myself into walking the dog. Once I got outside, I decided we’d just keep walking to the end of the block. And then to the next intersection. And then I thought we’d head over to the park. I’m glad we went to the park, because I got to see a lot of people running around, shooting hoops, throwing frisbees, scrambling around the jungle gym, and having a lovely summer evening. And then there were these two grown-up kids laughing their asses off as they tried to get the seesaw going:

When I walked over and asked if I could take their picture they grinned and laughed and attempted to seesaw even harder than before. Their silly mood was infectious and I was pleased to notice that I was out of the down in the dumps danger zone.

I love taking photos. I am lucky to always have a camera with me, and I often find myself looking around wondering how a particular scene or moment would look framed in a shot. And sometimes, like today, I’ll get really lucky and find myself around people who are willing to let me share in their moment.

I shoot in all sorts of moods, but photography is a great way for me to get out of my head. Sometimes all it does is distract; the problems don’t always resolve themselves, and the moods don’t always abate by the time I put the camera down, but sometimes a distraction is all you need to get you over the hump, or out of the dumps.

Side note: I had to take my Nikon into Best Buy to get the lens replaced. A darling 5-year old knocked my camera off of the table during a wedding reception and it landed flat on the lens, and the UV filter shattered, and glass got in between the lens parts, and the lens parts are all wobbly… so yay for that 3-year accidental damage insurance! Until then I’ll be shooting with my smartphone. Because as awesome people have told me time and time again – the best camera to have is the camera you have on you.

Happy World Photography Day

This post is a bit camera nerdy. But there are pictures for those of you who don’t like to read.


Ahem…it’s after midnight and I’m getting a little slap-happy. Moving along!

Today is World Photography Day!

In honor of WPD I got myself a treat. Okay, it wasn’t because of WPD, it was because I had been thinking about getting a new lens. Well, there are three lenses that I have thought would be very cool to add to the camera bag:

  • The AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 200-400mm f/4G IF-ED: This one would let me take really good pictures of far away birds – $6300
  • The AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED: This one would let me take really good close-up pictures of bugs and flowers. – just under $850.
  • The AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G: This one would let me take good portraits and decent low-light photos. –  $220

Guess which one I bought? Hint: It wasn’t the $6300 (ohmigod, that’s more than I spent on my current car!) or the $850 lens.

Yay – new lens!

I also picked up an expanded manual (i.e., a pretty picture book to teach me how to be as smart as my camera) and some new UV filters – one for the new lens and replacements for the other two lenses because the old ones were getting a bit smudged and scratched.  I almost broke down and bought a circular polarizer and a star filter, but I managed to pull myself back from the edge before I reached the checkout counter.

Because the new lens has a fixed focal length, it’s thought by some people to produce a clearer image than a zoom lens, and because it has a f/1.8 I should be able to take clearer pictures in lower light than my other two lenses (the lowest they have between them is a f/3.5).

I was a bit worried when I first took the lens out for a test drive this evening. I wasn’t seeing much of a difference in the preview screen between my standard 18-55mm lens and the new 50mm. And in the low-light I couldn’t figure out how to get the camera to actually shoot. But I eventually picked up on a few things:

  • If shooting with auto-focus in low light, it helped to keep the AF-assist flash on. Otherwise the camera had trouble finding its focus and wouldn’t shoot.
  • The camera is happy to let me shoot manually in low light. I think it’s the camera’s way of saying, “No prob, it’s on on you, bub.”
  • It’s really hard to shoot at night with the UV filter on the lens. I couldn’t figure out why I was getting a funny reflection in most of the shots in which there were stoplights, headlights or reflective surfaces:

I suspected that I was getting a reflection off of the lens back onto the UV filter (let me know if you can confirm that), and when I took the filter off, the flare-slash-reflection went away:

So, it’s going to take me a while to figure out the benefits of this particular lens. At the end of the night I was encouraged by this set of shots. The first was taken with my standard 18-55mm, and the second was taken with my new 50mm. This was a poorly-light corner outside of one of the local Walgreens.

18-55mm lens

50mm lens

I know – they look exactly the same here on the blog, but when you view the full, larger files (which you can do by clicking on the images) there is a subtle yet obvious difference between the two shots. The photo taken with the 50mm lens has better contrast, and the patterns in the wood are much more striking than those captured by the 18-55mm. I think this could pay off for printed photos and higher resolution online images.

And later in the evening I snapped this photo of Prada with the new lens:

I mean, the crap lighting is courtesy of the nearby fluorescent lighting in the kitchen, but the crispness of the image impressed me.

So we’ll see. I’ll do some more playing. I think that I’m going to like this new lens, but it remains to be seen if I’ll like it $220 worth of like.