Friday, May 28, 2010

Photo of the Day

Today's photo was taken on Lake Keowee, in Seneca, South Carolina, in late December 2008. It was a beautiful winter day, and the blue of the sky matched the blue of the water. The mirror effect of the calm water led me to break the rule against placing the horizon of the picture in the center. In this case, the reflection creates a sort of symmetry that I think is pleasing to the eye.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Photo of the Day

Last week I was complaining of the cold, and now I'm complaining about the heat. Since I live in the Midwest, it should be no surprise to me that we could go from March to July in three days. And so we did, over the weekend. Last week it was so cold I was running my furnace, and now it's in the 90s.

So my photo of the day is the of the Quad of the University of Illinois in winter. Cools me off just looking at it.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Travel Spot: Tsukiji Fish market, Tokyo

The Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market, commonly known as the Tsukiji fish market, is the largest wholesale fish market in the world, and and one of the largest wholesale food markets of any kind. Each day over 2000 metric tons of seafood is delivered by suppliers, auctioned to wholesalers, and then purchased by restaurants, caterers and food retailers. One of the most famous activities to take place there is the daily tuna auction, pictured above.

The market exists in two parts. There is the sprawling "inner market" a vast semicircular building in which the wholesale auctions take place, and also where almost 1000 licensed wholesalers operate small stalls like those pictured above, and below. Professional buyers then shop these stalls for their day's supplies.
The "outer market" is a warren of streets around the central building, packed with a mixture of seafood wholesalers, retail shops selling everything from kitchen supplies to candy, and sushi restaurants. If you want sushi for breakfast, and in the process want to eat the freshest fish of your life, the outer market is the place to go.
Tsukiji is an early morning operation. Wholesale activity begins at 3:00 a.m., with auctions running from about 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. Major wholesaling is done by 9:00 a.m. or so, and the whole place closes down by 1:00 p.m. During the hours it is open, though, the activity is relentless.
When my son Cory and I visited Tsukiji in May of 2005 we were able to move throughout the inner and outer markets unimpeded, watching auctions and visiting wholesalers. We saw very few other foreigners. Apparently, in recent years the market became popular with tourists, to the extent that visitors where interfering with the operation of the market, including interrupting auctions and handling seafood. As a result, the inner market has been closed to outsiders until recently, when a very strict set of rules has been imposed to allow a small number of visitors each day. It's a good example of how our behavior as visitors can affect the travel experience for everyone.

Good information about visiting Tsukiji is available here.

Friday, May 21, 2010


The New York Times online recently posted a large set of signs in what they called "Chinglish", which is Chinese that has been translated into English poorly, and often quite hilariously. The Japanese can have this problem too, usually referred to as "Engrish" or "Japlish", and in my travels in Japan I've come across my share. Here are some of my favorites. The sign above was hanging on a rope fence outside a wall at the Nijo Jo Castle in Kyoto. I have absolutely no idea what it is referring to.

On the other hand, I think I know what's going on in the Kyoto shop sign below, but it still sounds creepy:

An unfortunate name for a chocolate shop at Tokyo Station:

A wonderfully Zen location sign in Kyoto Station:

Conflating George Bush with Michael Jackson to get George Jackson (I admit, it might be intentional, but it's funny):

The rest I will post without comment. Your guess is as good as Mine:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

High Contrast

I have always had a fascination with photographing telephone poles and power lines--which will be the subject of a post soon. I chose this picture for today, because of the high contrast treatment I gave it. I don't do that often, but at the time I was just learning Photoshop and experimenting with curves. I discovered that if you took the diagonal line that crosses the histogram in the curves dialog box and pulled it into an "S" pattern, curving toward the bottom below the median point and toward the top above it, you got this very nice high contrast version of the image. In this case, the lines of the wires, and particularly of the jet contrails, were emphasized by the higher contrast, which in turn made it a more graphically appealing image.

(Canon Powershot A620, 1/1250 at f5.0)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Photo of the Day

Spring was here for a while and then seems to have retreated. To help counter the feeling of cold and the rain, I thought I'd post one of my favorite pictures from my trip to Nebraska and the Dakotas last summer. This scene is from rural Cherry County, Nebraska, not far from Valentine. It is another good example of using HDR to enhance a photo without overwhelming it.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Dubuque Week, Part 3: The Mississippi

In earlier posts we've looked at landmarks in Dubuque, Iowa, and at its architecture. It's time to talk about Dubuque's lifeblood: The Mississippi river. One of the great rivers of the world, the Mississippi at Dubuque has, through its history, provided transportation, commerce, culture, recreation, and scenic beauty. Dubuque wouldn't be Dubuque without it. The picture above, taken in 1984, shows the old Casino Belle riverboat casino on one of its daily cruises, just south of Dubuque's downtown. (The Casino Belle has since been replaced with the Diamond Jo, which is now permanently docked in Dubuque''s harbor, next to a massive new on-land casino of the same name.)

Dubuque's relationship to the river has changed over the years. It was once a primary avenue of transportation, for both goods and people, and the waterfront in Dubuque was turned over to industrial and commercial uses in order to capitalize on the river's potential. Today the Mississippi is still a working river, but as transportation has changed and modernized, industry has moved away from the waterfront, and recreational and scenic uses have come to the fore. This is not a bad thing.

As the city stretches along the river, its relation to it varies. On the north end of Dubuque, Lock and Dam no. 11 crosses the river, part of the Army Corps of Engineers navigation system for the Mississippi. The dam creates a pool that stretches ten miles to the north, and is as much as two miles wide at some points. Eagle Point Park sits on top of the massive bluffs, overlooking the dam, and provides great views of the river to the north, as well as of the city to the south.

In the center of the city, the riverfront becomes more industrial. It is still a working river, after all, with commodities of all kinds being shipped by barge up and down the river. The picture above, taken in the mid 1980s, shows the old Dubuque Star Brewery and the Shot Tower when the area was mostly industrial. Today, the old industrial zone along the river on has been transformed into the "Port of Dubuque" a tourism and convention complex. The Brewery pictured above houses restaurants of various kinds, and the riverfront just to the left, where the towboats are docked, is now the site of a major new convention center and hotel. Nearby are a casino, and the National Mississippi River Museum. All are worth visiting.

To the south of town is Julien Dubuque's Grave, overlooking a broad stretch of river popular for its recreational uses, including many small islands suitable for camping and picnics.

Dubuque is a great place to visit. It has an airport, with daily jet service to Chicago O'Hare, and is easy to get to by car from Chicago, St. Louis or Minneapolis-St. Paul. There are other attractions nearby, including Galena, Illinois, just 15 miles to the east.

It's been over 15 years since I moved away from Dubuque, apparently for good, and I miss it. If you visit Dubuque, I think you'll see why.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dubuque Week, Part 2: Architecture

My previous post looked at some of Dubuque Iowa's landmarks and tourist destinations. But one of the things that makes Dubuque an enchanting place to visit relates to it as a place to live and work: Its architecture. Like a number of Mississippi River towns, Dubuque enjoyed a sustained economic boom in the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Centuries. The boom was based on lumber and manufacturing and produced quite a bit of wealth. That wealth, in turn, built buildings. Stores, factories, public buildings, and many thousand fine homes were built during these years, giving Dubuque quite an architectural heritage.

Over the years some of those buildings disappeared, but many of them survived. The result is that present-day Dubuque is a virtual museum of Victorian architecture. At present, Dubuque County has over 50 buildings and 13 historic districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That's pretty good for a town of 60,000.

Many of the commercial and public buildings have been lost, whether because of Urban Renewal, financial incentives or simple wear and tear, but some gems remain. One is the Dubuque County Courthouse, pictured below. Built in 1906 in the grand style, it was nicely refurbished in the 1980s and has one of only two gold domes in Iowa. The other is on the state legislature in Des Moines.

There are other restored public buildings worth seeing. The old County Jail, now a museum, City Hall, and the Orpheum theater are all worth taking in if you have the chance. There are also residential historic districts, which are essentially whole residential neighborhoods of Victorian mansions. Below is a picture of one part of the Jackson Park Historic District.

In 1984 I was leaving Dubuque for graduate school, and I didn't know if I would ever return. Before I left I spent some time taking pictures of my favorite homes and buildings in town. I've always been glad that I did. Below is a collage of some of my favorite residential buildings in Dubuque:

Information on Dubuque's historic districts is here, and a complete list of Dubuque buildings on the National Historic Register is here.

My next post will be about the Mississippi River at Dubuque.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Dubuque Week, Part 1: Landmarks

Over the last 25 years or so, my home town of Dubuque, Iowa, has evolved into a fairly major tourist destination. No one was more surprised than me. Dubuque is a town of about 60,000 people, located on the Mississippi River right where the mutual borders of Illinois and Wisconsin meet Iowa. It was a nice place to grow up, but seemed to me to be a bit sleepy and rundown to become a place people would visit.

What I wasn't seeing, though, was that most of the elements were already there: Dubuque has the Mississippi river, soaring wooded bluffs, and lots of beautiful Victorian architecture, left over from its river-town boom days in the late 19th century. In the mid eighties, fighting a recession, the Iowa Legislature added gambling to the mix in the form of a dog track and a riverboat casino, and a viable tourist destination was born.  Since then the town has grown and gentrified, and now it really is a place to visit.

Gambling may have been the engine that got things started, but along the way Dubuque has acquired nice reatuarants, museums, and performance spaces, and has become home to a number of festivals and annual conventions and gatherings. There's lots more to do than just visit a casino, not least of which is simple sightseeing.

Dubuque has always had a number of structures that were considered landmarks. All of the landmarks have been restored and cared for over the years, and the toruist boom has been especially good for them. One of the most prominent is the Town Clock, above, which sits on a pedestal in the middle of downtown.
The grave of Julien Dubuque, the town's nominal founder, above, sits on a bluff overlooking the river just south of town. Set in park-like grounds, it has wonderful views of both the river to the south, and the city itself, on a bend of the river to the north. The grave site is part of the Mines of Spain National Historic Landmark, a 1400 acre tract of undeveloped, undisturbed riverfront that teems with wildlife.

Another famous attraction is the 4th Street elevator, said to be the world's shortest, steepest railway. For a nominal fee, it lifts riders from downtown to the top of the bluff, where a viewing platform provides panoramic views of the city. The picture at the top of this post was taken from the viewing platform.

The Shot Tower is another landmark. It was built as a civil war lead shot smelting tower that made bullets from the lead that was mined from the bluffs. The shot tower is not neglected now, but unlike the others it is strangely off the tourist path and undeveloped, hiding behind railroad tracks in the side yard of a factory.
Finally there is the lovely Washington Park, a one-block square park with a gazebo (another picture of the park and gazebo is here). It plays host to many of Dubuque's arts festivals and outdoor craft shows, and is a pleasant place downtown.

This is not an exhaustive list. Some landmarks are more personal. I grew up across the street from Wartburg Lutheran Seminary, which is modeled on a German castle. Below is a picture of Wartburg taken from across the golf course of the Dubuque Golf and Country Club.

My next post will examine Dubuque's architecture, and after that, we'll look at the mighty Mississippi as it flows past Dubuque.

Information on visiting Dubuque is available here. Information on annual festivals is here.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Photo of the Day

This is the baptismal vestibule of the ancient cathedral in Lund, Sweden. The wall decorations have been preserved from the Middle Ages. I took this photo in June of 1990, using a Yahsica Mat 124G with120 film, which resulted in the square format. I scanned the negative, but it didn't require too much post-processing.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Power of Photoshop

(Photo copyright Timothy P. Hogan; used with permission)

This lovely picture of Trafalgar square in London is by my good friend, Dr. Timothy P. Hogan. Tim does not consider himself to be a photographer. He was on a trip to London with a friend, and took along a digital point-and-shoot (a Canon Powershot SD400), as any tourist would. He came away with this shot, which personally I would be proud to have taken. Or at least he came away with something close to this. The actual JPEG that he downloaded from his camera looked like this:

Coming out of the camera, this was a nice a nice shot, but lacked the vibrancy and color of the version at the top of this post. When Tim was showing me his pictures from his trip, I saw how nice the picture was, and begged him to send it to me, so that I could work on it in Photoshop.

I consider myself to be a Photoshop novice, but working with the program has greatly expanded my skills, and helped me fine tune my eye. In this case, what I know about Photoshop so far helped me recognize that I could bring out details in Tim's photo and balance the lighting in a pleasing way. In practice I had to try various techniques, some of which failed, in order to get the final result. Still, the power of Photoshop to transform a picture is amazing.

Post-processing in Photoshop is something that is beyond the abilities, or interests, of the average user, but it can be the difference between a good picture and a great one. Photoshop itself is massive and complex, not to mention expensive. But look what even a novice can do in a fairly short time. I think the results speak for themselves. Any serious photographer will need to learn post-processing, whether in Adobe Photoshop, or one of the simpler, and cheaper, alternative programs such as Adobe Photoshop Elements, or Corel's Paintshop Photo Pro.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Travel Spot: Iowa City

The Mid-West is blessed with some really wonderful college towns--outposts of culture, learning, and fine dining--and all with a comfortable, informal vibe. Madison, Wisconsin; Anne Arbor, Michigan; Bloomington, Indiana; Lawrence, Kansas; and many others all have reputations as fun places to visit and great places to live. My favorite among these is the often overlooked Iowa City, Iowa. Best known as home to the University of Iowa, which boasts top-ranked medical and law schools, and the world famous Iowa Writer's Workshop, Iowa City is a beautiful town with a population of about 70,000, some wonderful architecture, and a broad array of cultural and educational resources. Yet it retains a small-town feel. Tennessee Williams, when he was student at the University of Iowa, said it reminded him of "an old southern town".

The University got its start when the state legislature decided to move from Iowa City to Des Moines, and leave behind the State Capitol building as the first building of a new state university. The iconic Old Capitol, pictured above, became the center point and symbol of the university. It has served administrative and class room functions, and for many years was the law school, but now is preserved as a museum showing its function as the original capitol.

The campus straddles the Iowa river, and along with the town sprawls onto the bluffs around the river. The downtown area has a pedestrian mall, and is home to many fine restaurants, coffees shops, and other stores, including the famous Prairie Lights Books. All are worth a visit. The view above is of the campus bridges over the Iowa river, with the wonderful Hancher Auditorium on the upper left. Unfortunately, much of that part of the campus, including Hancher, the music building, and the art museum, were heavily damaged in a devastating flood in 2008. The spirit lives on though, with arts performances under the Hancher name being performed at other venues until the buildings can be restored.

Above is a view of my alma mater, the College of Law. I had the honor of living in Iowa City for several years at two different times about ten years apart, while pursuing various graduate degrees. It was a lively, fun, energizing, and very comfortable place to live, and I would encourage you to visit.

Information in the University of Iowa is here, and information on visiting Iowa City is here.