Wednesday, October 15, 2008


One more side road before I finish up my Spain pictures, which I've been meaning to do... but you know... work n' stuff.

Last night my friend Becky asked me a chemistry question, as she is want to do from time to time. She is a teacher at a science camp in Palo Alto and often calls upon my doctor of science abilities to help her figure out how to teach kids science things.

Apparently Becky wants to do chromatography of leaves, I assume to look at chlorophyll and other various leaf pigments as they start to change colors. The problem was that the teacher she was working with wanted to use ether to do the pigment extraction. Why is this a problem? Well, sometimes ether goes Boom-y Boom, also, they're little kids, and huffing ether is an adult past-time.

So, the question to me was: "Why can't I use rubbing alcohol?"

Well, I think rubbing alcohol would be fine, you really just need something relatively (relative to water that is) non-polar. Ether would work great, but dag, that's a tad rough on the wee ones. I didn't, however, know for sure that this would work, so I decided to try it myself. Here is my home-brew thin layer chromatography, just for Becky.

Mission #1, find some leaves. Luckily there are trees outside, and trees have leaves... at least for the time being. Mission complete:

Once I had the leaves I needed to cut them up small so it would be easy to extract all their juicy insides with the isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol. I just rolled a bunch of leaves up and cut them up with scissors. I got something like this:

And a bowl of things like this:

Once I had this I added some isopropyl alcohol (70%, just your standard rubbing stuff from longs), a spoon, and mixed a bit.

I did this twice, once I just mashed the leaves with the spoon for a while and it seemed to take a very long time for anything to leach out into the alcohol. In order to speed things up I put the whole shebang (minus the spoon of course) into a microwave for 10 seconds. This worked like a charm. I had a nice yellow alcohol and all was good.

Then the question is what to use as my chromatography plate... well, simple is good so I wanted a thick paper substrate. I had just the thing.

I hope that isn't illegal. If it is, I guess I'll just take one for science. This went into the "liquor" of my leaf, alcohol mixture and guess what. Things started happening:

Bands of color are even showing up!

I'm guessing this would probably work better with leaves that are more fully red, at least in terms of the number of colors you would see in the chromatography, but it's still pretty awesome... at least to me. I wasn't too happy with the intensity of the bands, so I let it sit in the liquid over night (8ish hours) and check it out:

That is totally sweet. Science in action. Home-brew style.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Spain! (Part 6)

Back to Spain...

The evening after the metal workshop pictures were taken, my Dad passed out early and I was restless, so I decided to go out and wonder around to find some interesting pictures to take. Without comment, here is what I found:

Okay, I know I said without comment, but I just have to comment on this. The below picture was not edited in any way, that is the color of the street lamps. It's really cool, they have normal street lamps, but attached on the underside is a set of LEDs which project down on the ground. The really cool thing is that they are variable color, so depending on the day or time, I'm not sure which, they change. One day they were orange, then green, then blue... I wish we had these here.

Okay, moving on to bigger and better things. The next day, while I was helping the lovely Bobby Jo and her Mom Mary Jane figure out Lightroom (photo editing software), they were assigned to shoot an artist and they kindly invited me to come along. We went to visit Nuria Valles, a local artist in Sant Cugat. Here she is in the alleyway in front of her workshop.

She does these amazing oil paintings of scenes in Europe. They're incredibly bright and colorful. It was amazing to see her working in her shop.

She went through the whole process with us. First she paints the entire canvas with this very thin, streak-y paint and lets it dry. It has a very nice effect once it's dry and this is what she uses as her background to put the oils on.

The oils are like big crayons and they dry out over time, so each time she uses one she needs to trim away the dry bits.

The way she does her work is she makes a sketch at the place she wants to paint. She does this on paper she's treated in a similar way as the canvas she'll use. She just paints a whole bunch of paper with many different colors and picks out the one with the color and texture that she thinks best represents what she's seeing. Then, when she gets back, she puts this down on canvas with the oils.

Like I said, she uses amazing colors in her work.

When she's finished the work, she coats it in a clear glaze to protect it, then it's done. That's pretty much the whole story as I got it. We were really lucky that she spoke excellent english. It's so much easier and interesting to work with people when you don't have to pantomime to communicate.

Some of her work tools.

A lovely portrait of her in between poses for us. She was a great subject.

I spotted her shoes and had to take a picture of them... I don't know why, they just totally struck me as artist shoes.

Anyway, she's interested in getting her stuff into a gallery in the US. If you're interested in her work, or know anyone who could help her, check out her web site and let me know.

A musical interlude

Well... I realize I haven't finished all my Spain pictures, however, something more pressing has presented itself. Last weekend we had a dead-raising good time at Meredith's birthday party. It was in the darkest forest of the Santa Cruz mountains. Unfortunately, due to freak "first rain of the year" rain, we couldn't use the awesome outdoors deck that had been slated for the party. In fact, there was much ado, due to getting the rental van out of the mud down by the deck.

Luckily, a giant 4x4 was called in and with a little chain/tow action the van was removed from the brink of destruction/watery doom. Meanwhile, dead Brian had snacks.

First on the agenda: dead dancing lessons.

Normally I would try and make those I make pictures of look as alive as possible... this, however, was not a normal situation. Hi birthday girl! Er... dead birthday girl... is that really possible? Now that I think about it, this was a very contrary party.

Also, nerds were involved. Much monster stomping was had by all... all 4 of us.

Don't forget the dancing.

And the fake blood:

There are many more pictures to be had, including the highly embarrassing shot of Mike Sims baring his soul. Check them out here.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Spain! (Part 5)

Today we went to a metal working shop that people from the workshop had found. This is the wrought iron type of place where they make railings and all types of custom metal work. They don't do much by machine however, unlike many of their contemporaries. It allows them to make completely insane works of art that go into peoples homes and businesses. Here's the workshop, at least the part that we were in most. There is a larger part to the left, but this is the interesting bit. That anvil weighs about 2000 lbs by the way... it sits on a tree stump.

This is the man who shared his work with us and told us what was up... at least he told Dane what was up and my Dad and I got some of it second hand. I wish I could remember his name. Actually, I need to get his name and email address from Dane so I can send him these pictures. Anyway, he was a great guy and had no problem talking to us about what he was doing... no problem at all. He talked a lot.

Here he is explaining to us why you can't use coal to BBQ. I believe the answer is: CANCER!

I like this picture a lot. This is him stoking the forge for us. Nothing more to say about this, just a nice picture.

Here's Dane getting the skinny. The guy would talk for twenty minutes, then Dane would say, "he's going to put the hot metal into the water to cool it off." Umm... I guess Spanish is a very inefficient language. I kid, I kid. Dane did a great job just keeping up with the guy. He was like a gatling gun of words.

Once he heated up the metal bar, he went at it with a hammer on that 2000 lb anvil, shaping it. He was amazingly skilled at getting this crazy hot piece of metal to do whatever he wanted.

This is the result. He tied the bar into a knot. I'm guessing it would take more than a day to learn how to do this... I could do it in photoshop. Does that count?


This guy has awesome hands. I guess working with them for a living your whole life will do that.

Here's the final product. We asked if we could buy one of these knots from them, and they gave us one each. How awesome is that? I don't know what I'm going to do with it, but now I have a big metal knot. Pretty sweet.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Spain! (part 4)

Welcome to day four. This is going to be a long post, so I'll apologize in advance. Many of these pictures are intended for the other participants of the First Light class, so I'll forgive you if you don't spend too much time looking at those. That reminds me, if any of you are interested in learning more about travel/journalistic photography, I can't stress enough the excellence of these First Light Workshops. If you have any interest, you should definitely check them out.

Back to the photography! On this day we took a bus up to the wine country (like the Sonoma valley, but in Spain) and we split into three groups at three different wineries. At this moment I can't remember the name of the one we were at, but as soon as one of my photofriends (tm) emails me to remind me what it was, I'll put it on here... also, I can't remember the name of the lovely woman who showed us around the place, but more about her later.

There weren't many people working the day we came, the weather was crappy so they sent everyone home early since picking grapes in the rain is no fun at all. Here is one of the die hard workers that were left, cleaning up the juice vats. Mmmm, vats of juice...

Most of what they make here is Cava, the Spanish equivalent of Champagne. If you're familiar with Frexinet sparkling wine, then you've had Cava. It's from this same region near Barcelona.

Look at that totally Hawt! photo action of Jay Kinghorn shooting our guide explaining sedimentation in wine bottles. I show this photo to demonstrate his awesome technique, and because my photo of same scene is no good. By the way, Jay is a great workflow teacher and a master Photoshop/Lightroom dude. Check out his web page if you need someone to help you figure out what to do with all your photos... also if you're interested in learning how to better use your computer for photo work...

This is a rack of muscato, a sweet dessert wine. We had some after dinner, it's tasty.

Although it might look like it from this picture, no radiation is used in the production of this wine. We were given a full tour of all their cellars. Lots and lots of wine, but not much light. Gots to be creative with the flash.

Why is this thermometer in Fahrenheit? I know it wasn't 75 Celcius. Maybe it's a humid-o-meter, I'm not sure, but I like this picture.

This was our guide for the tour, she also happens to be the wine maker. She's a pro! She told us all about how the bottles are filled, about the corks, about cleaning the bottles... all that kind of stuff. She was unbelievably kind to us and spent over an hour walking us around and showing us her craft. Once I find out her name and where she works, I'll make sure she gets these pictures.



Mi Padre!

Now we're moving on to the Mas Ferrer winery where we had a tapas party and drank a lot of Cava. We all piled back into the bus and made our way to this little hole in the proverbial wall.

Since the wine cellars at the winery from earlier in the day were less than photogenic, it was lucky that we got some time to take pictures in the Mas Ferrer cellars. They were beautiful and old. I hear a rumor circulating around that these were build as bomb shelters, and were converted to hold the wine. Whatever they were for, they're pretty awesome now.

Oooh, a wine ghost!

That's a lotta caps.

This is Albert. He owns this here place and was a great host to us. Cheers to you Albert!

The rest of the pictures here are of participants for the most part, so I'm going to leave it here for now, but some other time, when I'm not getting up at 4 am to catch a flight home, I'll add names to these faces.