16mm Home Movies from Mid-20th Century

As I mentioned in an earlier blog entry, I inherited a collection of 16mm movies made by my two grandfathers, each an enthusiastic amateur and early adopter of photo technology.  I have been struggling with their fate, as they consume a not-inconsiderable amount of space in my archives.  Space that could be used to store other useless artifacts.

They have now been (mostly) digitized. And one can find them summarized at this page.

I have great difficulty getting rid of things.  As someone who respects the historical path that brought us to our current time, place, and relations, it is hard to discard mementos, especially (for me) photographs that captured moments along that path.  As a scientist, I am loathe to delete “data”, that might someday be valuable.

I have to acknowledge the slim likelihood of such artifacts becoming valuable.  I hold no conceit that some biographer will ever be looking for scraps and clues identifying the influences on my own childhood.  I like to think that my contributions to society have been positive, but probably not worth much more than an oblique reference in an obituary (“he was a curious man”).  But maybe there were things in those movies that would be of interest to someone else. I didn’t know how to find that audience.

So the movies, spooled on metal reels of various sizes, lay dormant for years.  When I wondered about their ultimate fate, I realized that eventually, they would have NO meaning to anyone, even if it were possible to view them.  If there was any value to be extracted, it would have to be now, by me. 

I described that initial effort in the previous post on this topic.  Here is what has happened since.

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LEGOs for Life

Grace and Hoan, with mom Poldi, after presenting me with this terrific gift.

I recently received a most unexpected gift, an extravagant thank-you gesture from newlyweds for being part of their marriage (as driver and other small supporting roles).  Somehow, they found something that would appeal to me on many levels, something I would never consider for myself:  a LEGO set!  And not just any LEGO set, a large and elaborate architectural depiction of an A-frame cabin, with thousands of parts.

It had been inspired by a LEGO enthusiast from Italy, who enjoyed creating Lego models of houses in his spare time.  Evidently, there is a large community of LEGO fans, large enough that there is a program for them to submit ideas and models for the pleasure and approval of other fans.  Those with the highest votes are selected to become an actual LEGO product.  How brilliant!  Let fans come up with cool ideas, and then manufacture the most popular, knowing that it has already passed the “will they like it?” test!  The A-Frame Cabin was the most recent of such crowd-sourced concepts, released just days earlier.

My step-son and his new wife did not know of my past LEGO history.  They did not know that I had been a member of the LEGO Builder’s Club with my son in the 1990s.  Or that his LEGO model of the Eiffel Tower had been featured in their newsletter.  They did not know that I had authored a software program, LegoShop, to create models on a computer screen in a time before computer graphics, video games and virtual reality had been fully invented.  They were unaware of how much time I had spent with a micrometer, reverse-engineering the basic LEGO brick and many other parts to make my virtual models.  They did not know, using that program, I had created a Christmas card featuring a LEGO ice castle with Santa and a reindeer.  They did not know that I had insisted on visiting LEGO Land during a visit to Malasia.  They knew none of this personal LEGO history.

Yet they somehow knew that I would fully appreciate this gift. I’m impressed.  

The LEGO Builder’s Club featured my son’s Eiffel Tower as a Member Masterpiece, circa 1992

LegoShop, an application that allowed the creation of LEGO models from a library of virtual parts.  Some older readers may recognize the window format of early Apple computers.

Our 1990 Christmas card, highlighted by virtual LEGOs

In LEGO-Land Malaysia, 2015

I have been a dormant LEGO builder for many years and have not kept up with the latest sets and themes.  But the skills to assemble LEGOs don’t go away, and even if they did, the remarkable instructions provided with the kits can be followed in any language, even by builders who, like some of my grandchildren, cannot yet read (but you DO need to know your numbers).

In the case of an enormous set like this one, the instructions run to 333 steps, requiring two books to contain all of the illustrations.  The thousands of parts are partitioned into 16 bags, opened one at a time while following the next series of steps to assemble them.  The process is much like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, finding the next target pieces, and mating them in correct position with the previous ones.  Eventually, the parts that tumble out of the bag are all in place, and I can take a moment to appreciate the growing model.

A view of the partially built cabin. The front door opens into an area with bookshelves, a guitar, and an umbrella stand. The owner appreciates rocks; a geode is prominently displayed next to the record player.

What a pleasure to receive a gift like this.  Something created by a LEGO fan and endorsed by a global LEGO community of enthusiasts!  I am savoring the construction steps as I go through them, but have recruited the assistance of other LEGO experts.  I plan to post photos of the completed project!

Grandsons Arthur and Teddy, reenacting the extinguishing of a dangerous fire with a LEGO firetruck.

Texas Road Trip: Reconnaissance Resumes

After the eclipse ended, I packed up my equipment again; this time I collapsed the tripod legs—I would need the space to pack up my campsite, which I did the next morning.  I heated the dregs of leftover coffee thinking I would be stopping soon for breakfast on the road, including fresh brewed coffee. 

I made the mistake of not stopping in Fort Davis for that breakfast. I thought it was too soon, it was only ten miles from the campground.  But I should have stopped there anyway, because the next towns were too small, or too run down to support a café.  I went all the way to Del Rio, which was too large to have the local flavor of a small down diner.

I did find one however—a Mexican restaurant operating out of a Victorian style hotel.  The staff spoke Spanish, as did the other guests.  It was now lunchtime and I ordered the Monday special:  chili relleno (stuffed chilis?) which were delicious, and with rice and beans, too much.

I continued on toward Eagle Pass, the next large city, but in between was “Radar Base”, which is an intersection of roads where the 2024 solar eclipse is said to be at or near maximum—4 minutes, 30 seconds.  It is a miserable spot however—hot, dusty, windy, with heavy highway traffic and not much shade.  I’m not sure why it has a town designation—a local airstrip and a radio/cell phone/radar tower?

Radar Base. I’m not sure where the radar is. Click to enlarge.

I had intended to stay in Eagle Pass, but on learning that the room rates were $250+, I continued on to Uvalde, a town larger than I expected, and whose notoriety to the world would be established a week later.  There was some conference/convention going on, so the rates were still high, but I had reached the end of my range and desperately needed a shower, so I sprang for the room.

The shower was great.

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I wasn’t expecting to find an eclipse viewing site as I originally hoped—I was too late, all the prime locations had already been booked—or couldn’t be booked (the State Park reservation system only goes 5 months out).

But I felt obligated to document the candidates that I had looked up, as this was the purpose for traveling here.  I could at least take photos and maybe get contact info in case of cancellations.

I located a few more places along the Rio Frio, and the Lost Maples areas along the eclipse path.  There were various resorts and RV parks along a road east of the river, and I stopped at some and inquired.  Locals would stop and talk with me, just being friendly, and I learned a lot about the area. Here are my notes.

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Texas Road Trip: Lunar Eclipse

My cameras at work!

I started to set up for the lunar eclipse; it would occur tonight (this was not a drill)!  But by the time I had the tripods and mount in place, I realized that I had left a critical piece of equipment behind—my camp chair.  I left the stuff for a 10-minute trip back to the campsite to retrieve it.

On return, I found the other guy who had obtained a pass for the overlook (required if we wanted to stay past 10:00 pm).  He was an interesting person who was ok with my being focused on setting up rather than chatting. 

A few other visitors dropped by, including one who was on foot with some portable camera gear.  After a while he decided he wanted a different viewpoint and so he hiked away, disappearing below the crest. 

I was ready at moonrise.  This time I could see the moon as it appeared on the horizon.  I centered it in the cameras, started the tracking and started taking pictures.  The moon rose in a light orange color, brightening to white and then about one-half hour later, the eclipse began.

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AI for 3D

Rendering a photo in a particular artistic style with the help of artificial intelligence

New artificial intelligence (AI) portals such as DALL-E2 that can conjure an image to match a text description, DeepDream, that applies an artistic style to a photograph to turn it into a painting, and plenty of others, are changing the world; here is a fascinating survey

I recently stumbled upon an AI application that I would have loved to have been part of–  creating depth maps from standard, non-3D, non-stereo images.  Why didn’t I think of this?  What a brilliant idea!

A depth map of course, provides that third dimension of distance from the photographer.  And with that information, one can (almost) make a stereoscopic image, a scene in a virtual reality world.

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Building a “Dice Tower”

Parts for a dice tower, printed in blue PLA plastic

I had not heard this descriptor before, but when my son suggested it as a project to help his game-focused young family, I did some investigation.  A dice tower is a mechanism to manage the throw of dice in a way that is fun and relevant to the game being played.  Often the games are similar to Dungeons and Dragons.  And so, the theme of a medieval tower, where dice are dropped from the top and randomized by tumbling down to the bottom is a natural match for the theme of the game.

There are other benefits as well.  For my son’s young family, throwing dice is a haphazard and unpredictable experience.  Haphazard is a desired feature of a dice throwing outcome, but when the dice bounce beyond the table into the next room and have to be located and assessed, it slows down the game.  A more constrained way of throwing dice becomes desirable.  A dice tower, with an easily accessed upper deck to launch the dice, and a containment vessel to receive them below is the perfect solution.  

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Texas Road Trip: Driving Adventures, Mistakes Made

Looking over the (dry) Rio Grande to Mexico. The white canvas arch covers the US Border Station where I would soon be detained.

I intended to visit Big Bend Park and found it on my Texas road atlas southeast of Marfa—except that it was labelled “Big Bend Ranch State Park”.  It had what appeared to be a major route through it, Casa Piedra Road, that I could take and see the terrain and park facilities, then continue through to the town of Presidio, where I could find lunch, and then take another major road back home.

So that was the plan.  But it turns out that Big Bend Ranch State Park is entirely different from Big Bend National Park. I was confused but it didn’t matter. I missed the turnoff for the road through the park and stayed on US 67 to Presidio.

And I continued to follow US 67, thinking it would show me how to get to Big Bend Park.  Eventually I found myself approaching a major checkpoint—the customs and border inspections.

I looked for a way to turn around before actually getting there, but I saw no convenient way to do this and suddenly found myself going through a covered channel with many many speed bumps—aggressive and alternating sides of the lane, then full width and strategically placed.  There was no place to exit; the lane continued on and I thought maybe there would still be a turnaround opportunity.  But there wasn’t, and I was now passing a long line of cars headed in the other direction, nearly all with Texas plates, stopped, waiting their turn to be inspected and pass into the U.S.

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Texas Road Trip: Historic Fort Davis and Marfa

Prada Marfa, one of several roadside art installations outside Marfa TX

Fort Davis is the name of the town, “Historic Fort Davis” is the reconstructed early fort, established here in the 1850’s to protect the growing number of emigrants, and the mail and freight traffic to support and supply them in the westward expansion.  My national parks pass gave me entry and access to a walking tour of the fort grounds to see the buildings that have been restored, and exhibits in some of them depicting the conditions and resources of a military outpost.  It was very interesting to learn of the difficult conditions on the frontier, and the life of enlisted men stationed at the fort.  It is probably not so interesting to small children; a rudimentary awareness of US history is helpful.  I recommend visiting in the morning, before the temperatures become excessive.

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Texas Road Trip: McDonald Observatory and Lunar Eclipse Practice

A peek through a guest observing port at the HET. The mirror is held by the blue-green frame; a curved reflection of struts can be seen on its surface.

This is a very dark sky part of Texas, and so it makes sense to locate an observatory here.  It is semi-open to the public for self-guided tours at the visitor center, and the grounds hosting three major observatory domes and many smaller ones.  One of them allowed a peek at the 10-meter Hobby Eberly Telescope, a multifaceted composite mirror on a huge mount structure.  I saw it in its resting position, perhaps for maintenance, or an instrument changeover.  As I tried to identify the mirror segments, I realized that what appeared to be the interior of the dome building, was actually its reflection on the mirrors, their reflectivity so high as to make them seem invisible!

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Texas Road Trip: Diversion to Fort Davis

Sunset at Davis Mountains

I turned away from the path of the eclipse onto a route that would take me to deeper and darker skies.  There are a number of dark sky areas in Texas, and one of them hosts a famous observatory-  McDonald Observatory, home of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (10m aperture, tied for 2nd largest in the world).  The nearest town is Fort Davis (population ~1000), a 45-minute drive away. 

Just outside of Fort Davis is Davis Mountains State Park, where, earlier in the day, before leaving the wifi and phone services of Leakey, I was able to reserve a campsite.  I learned by calling that there was a lodge at the state park, but it was full (and had been and would be for quite a while).  Similarly, I learned that the campground was nearly full—six sites remained!  So I provided my credit credentials and reserved one. 

I am still adjusting to the new way of getting away, through the use of smart phones and websites to make camping arrangements.  I understand this can make the process of accommodating an ever-growing set of camping clients more efficient, but it removes some of the spontaneity of life on the open road– exploring without fixed destinations, and deciding at whim the right place to stop for the night.

On my way to claim my reserved campsite, I was diverted from the highway to a Border Patrol checkpoint.  Two uniformed officers, one with a dog, questioned every vehicle.  I asked what they were looking for.  “Narcotics and human trafficking” was the response.  I replied I had neither, eliciting a harsh look.  After noting my Minnesota license plates, they gave me a pass and I continued on.

This was on US-90, at a location a hundred miles or more from the border.  It seemed odd to me that there would be a large permanent checkpoint here.  But I don’t know the patterns of drug and human smuggling.

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