Discovered: Harvard Biology Labs

A photograph taken by my grandfather in the 1930s. Where is this unusual entryway?

In recent weeks I have been reviewing old family photos in preparation for a covid-delayed memorial. Among the too many pictures of unidentified people and places are some intriguing treasures. The relatives who could tell me more about them are now gone. I can’t ask them, which is one of the more frequent and sad experiences I have these days.

But sometimes it is possible to follow clues in the photos to find the answers. In this case it is a photo that my grandfather took, possibly back in the 1930s. It shows a beautiful composition of light and shadow of a building entrance/lobby. I liked the lighting, but I really enjoyed discovering the detail on the door panels that were casting the shadows: insects and plants. What building would host such artwork?

Google search is an amazing technology. A response to “door panels insects plants” did not yield anything useful, but by adding “Harvard” to the terms (knowing my grandfather had studied biology there) and looking for image results, I found a unique building: the Harvard Biology Laboratory.

The building was built in 1931 and obviously impressed my grandfather, where he likely spent considerable time in it pursuing his doctorate. It continues to impress, as recent posts attest. As I look at the pictures of the outside of the building, who wouldn’t find it intriguing?

It turns out that there are three doors to the entry; my grandfather’s shot depicted two. But there is a hint of another– a bicycle is parked there, and sure enough the current pictures show a third door, adorned by sea creatures. All of them, and the sculptures outside, created by Katherine Lane Weems.

All of this makes me want to visit. I now have a memento from the past that would be fun to re-create!

Regulus Occultation

When the moon, in its monthly travel around Earth, moves across a bright star, it is called an occultation.  On this date, the moon is moving toward the bright star Regulus.  Here is a superposed series of pictures taken over 1 hour as Regulus apparently “approaches” and then is eclipsed by the moon.

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3 November 2007
Takahashi CN212, Newtonian configuration, f/4
Canon EOS 20Da, ISO 800
1/500 sec, superposition of successive exposures, one minute apart.

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Comet Holmes

In 2007 a comet passed through our neighborhood and allowed me a chance to try the high dynamic range (HDR) imaging techniques that were being developed at that time.  The idea is to combine a range of exposures to get a large range of detail.  In this case 10 exposures covering the range from 1 second to 8 minutes are combined, selecting the best tonal information from each.  This allows the otherwise obscured ion cloud surrounding the dusty nucleus to become visible as a faint blue-green glow.  I was able to use this image as an HDR example in a conference presentation I made on this topic the following week.

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2 November 2007
Takahashi CN212 in Newtonian configuration (f/4)
Canon EOS 20Da, ISO 800

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Pikes Peak

Pikes Peak dominates the city of Colorado Springs and can be seen for hundreds of miles around. I did not attempt to climb or drive it, but found a view from across the valley above Woodland Park. There is considerable light cast on the sky from these growing urban centers and the fresh snow dusting Pikes Peak reflects it. The clear mountain air shows the southern stars of the Milky Way traversing the space above.

This is a combined exposure (from film) of 3-1/2 hours. Even though this is a remote forest road, in that time there is certain to be traffic, and headlights can be seen traveling the road in the meadow below the great mountain.

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Pikes Peak, Colorado
1 Nov 2007
Pentax 6×7, 55mm at f/5.6
120 min + 90 min on Provia 400

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Monument Valley

Gouldings Resort is a historical island of lodging within the island of the Navajo nation within the state of Arizona. It borders the sacred area of Monument Valley whose iconic mitten shapes are seen silhouetted on the horizon. The resort itself is in the lower foreground, casting its bright lights onto the eroded red walls of the ancient mesa.

This is a composite of 14 exposures representing an elapsed time of almost two hours. Evening travelers through the reservation are seen on the distant road. Some are workers preparing for an upcoming weekend airshow event that will feature the monuments as a backdrop. Hollywood westerns were once the source of this activity, but the only signs of of those movies now are nostalgic photos and posters found in museums, and hotel lobbies.

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Monument Valley, Navaho Nation
8 May 2007
EOS 20Da, EFS 17-55mm at 35mm
8 min, f/8, ISO 400

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North Window

It is possible to drive to the floor of Monument Valley and enjoy a 17-mile loop that presents magnificent views of the geology wonders here.  At one point along the drive is this view, called the “North Window”, a particularly beautiful scene in the moments before sunset.

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Monument Valley, Navaho Nation
7 May 2007
Canon EOS 20Da, EF-S 17-55mm at 38mm
1/500 at f/8, ISO 400

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Mitten Buttes at Sunset

North Mitten in beauty light

West Mitten and East Mitten Buttes of Monument Valley are bathed in late afternoon lighting, the geology further reddened by the beauty light of sunset.

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Monument Valley, Navaho Nation
7 May 2007
Canon EOS 20Da, EF-S 17-55mm at 21mm
1/500 at f/11, ISO 400

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Zion Watchman

The Watchman is the peak that dominates the campground at the south end of Zion National Park. This is a view up the valley of the Virgin River over an hour and a half period, at the end of which the moon rose and illuminated the canyon walls. Trees and camping vehicles were occasionally lit by the headlights of a late-to-bed car finding the way to its campsite.

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Zion National Park
6 May 2007
Canon EOS 20Da, EF-S 10-22mm at 10mm
12 x 8min at f/5.6 ISO 800

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Indirect Endowment

[I write this not to gain credit or accolades, but as an attempt to inspire others who may have been blessed by similar good fortune or have been more successful than expected in saving for their futures to consider what to do with their “excess”.] 

My dad once told me that he was planning to “spend his children’s inheritance”.  It was his lighthearted way of saying that he was not going to restrict his spending during retirement.  He intended to pursue his passions for inventive projects and for philanthropic activity, especially for educational causes.  And that his children should continue saving for their own financial security.  None of us expected any different.

Well, he failed.  Despite his efforts to create the ultimate ham radio station, and to support his grandchildren through college, he left a surplus.  Not a Warren Buffet or Bill Gates level of wealth, but certainly more than we expected from a man who worked for a salary and who, while we were growing up, paid the mortgage by keeping our daily expenses to a minimum.

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