Tintype

This last weekend, at the Cobra Brewing Company event, there was a complex apparatus set up in one corner of the brewery. Scott M Hilton of Camera~Absurda was there taking tintype photographs on-site of the contestants in the beard contest.

The process was interesting to everyone – but to me; professional chemist, wannabee photog, enthusiast of the obsolescent, devotee of the unusual, and aficionado of the useless – it was irresistible. What an amazing collection of toxic chemicals, explosive reagents, antiquated equipment, and bright lights.

We were there early enough to be able to talk about the process before the crowd became too thick (though I’m guessing here about the exact chemicals used). They start out with a small aluminum plate and coat it with a collodion (basically gun cotton dissolved in ether – not too safe) solution and silver nitrate. That is exposed with a bright light in a camera.

They were using a powerful electronic strobe. I asked him why he didn’t go whole-hog authentic and use a tray full of flash powder. The reply was, “There are plenty of dangerous chemicals involved already, no need to add more hazard.”

Some magic is done inside a light-proof booth and then the print is developed in an acid solution. That’s the most amazing part, watching the image appear from a frosty cloud. In the age when this process was current, it would have appeared to be magic. Today, it’s still pretty damn amazing. The image is fixed (probably in a cyanide solution of some kind) coated and done.

The image is a prime positive on a metal plate – the image is therefore reversed. The tonality of the print is amazing. There is something about the contrast, tint, the detail, and the lack of grain that gives it an aura of primordial beauty. The portraits have that ancient dignity that you always see in historical photographs. I always assumed that people have changed – but it seems that is is only their snapshots.

There is no dignity in digital.

Here are the photos they took at the Cobra Brewing Event.

A guy standing next to me happened to work at Texas Instruments (on the same campus where I work for… somebody else) and we discussed the similarity of what the photographers were doing and modern semiconductor manufacturing. We speculated what we could do with metal plates and some sophisticated photoetch solutions.

One interesting thing was that the photographers were having the beard contestants sign a model release so that they could use their images in their projects. Instead of ink on paper they were signing an electronic release by swiping across an iPhone screen. If someone wanted to buy a print – they used a Square to swipe a credit card. Here you were using the most modern of wireless portable e-commerce machinery to facilitate the work of taking tintype photographs with technology out-of-date a hundred years ago.

The contrast was palpable.

The camera is focused with the ground glass

The camera is focused with the ground glass

A big electronic flash is used for the exposure.

A big electronic flash is used for the exposure.

Adjusting everything takes a lot of work.

Adjusting everything takes a lot of work.

Some sort of photographic chemical wizardry - kept from mortal eyes.

Some sort of photographic chemical wizardry – kept from mortal eyes.

The plate goes into the acid bath.

The plate goes into the acid bath.

Everything goes cloudy.

Everything goes cloudy.

And the final image emerges. Notice that it is reversed.

And the final image emerges. Notice that it is reversed.

Cobra Brewing Company

Rhythm and Beards playing at the Cobra Brewing Company in Lewisville, Texas.

Rhythm and Beards playing at the Cobra Brewing Company in Lewisville, Texas.

I often say (boast?) that with a bicycle and a transit pass I can get anywhere in the Metroplex. I think I have proven that (at least to myself) it is possible… but I never said it was always easy.

Jeffrey Sailer, a friend of mine that runs Bike Friendly Carrollton invited me to the Saturday event at the Cobra Brewing Company, a relatively new brewery in Lewisville. It looked like a great time – craft beer, three bands, beard contests, food (the party was also the first anniversary of Juniors Lone Star Barbecue Sauce) and lots more.

We were to meet at the Dowtown Carrollton DART station at 10:15, in order to get to the brewery by noon. Since I can always count on the Gods of Transit to be against me (every time I arrive at a train station, the train is pulling out, every traffic light I hit on my bike takes forever to change) I had to leave home two hours before that.

I packed up my Xootr Swift – carrying some extra weight (bottles of iced water) to verify that my homemade panniers are up to snuff – and rode down to the Arapaho train station. I bought the slightly more expensive regional day pass – until now I didn’t realize that it covered the A Train to Denton as well as the TRE to Fort Worth. I caught the Red Line downtown and then waited for the Green Line which took me out to Carrollton.

We met there and road a short trip to the Trinity Mills Station where we caught the A Train. One of these days I need to do this ride and take the train all the way to Denton (a fun city to visit and ride around in) but today we only rode it one stop to the Hebron Station then went the rest of the way on our bikes.

It seem silly to buy a train ticket for only one stop – but this is all new construction, fast stroads, and empty space filled with wetlands and there is no way to ride through there. Someday there will be bike trails, lanes, or more friendly roads, but now it is in the hands of the car-exlusive mindset of developers and suburban governments and they can’t see beyond the dark-tinted windshields of their Tahoes.

We climbed off the train at the Hebron station (the Old Town station is closer, but we wanted to get a couple of extra miles in) and rode up to the Brewery. Our timing was good, it was opening right when we arrived.

The event was a blast – one of the best Brewery Events I’ve been to. Good beer – loved their Best Mistake Stout (but I am a stout fan, after all) and their Junior’s Snake Bite JPA (a smoked jalapeño IPA) was really good. The jalapeño aroma was amazing and the heat was balanced just right.

Beer selection at the Cobra Brewing event.

Beer selection at the Cobra Brewing event.

Cobra Brewing Company, Lewisville, Texas

Cobra Brewing Company, Lewisville, Texas

There was a lot going on – music, classic Triumph sports cars, plenty of facial hair for the beard-growing contest, two guys doing vintage tintype photography, and vendors of everything from food to growlers to mustache wax.

It was also the one year anniversary for Juniors Lone Star Barbecue Sauce – there was a lot of praise for their products. They arrange their array of sauces by heat – most folks settled in at the jalapeño level, but I, of course, want to try the hotter habanero variety.

One nice thing about these brewery events is the wide variety of folks that show up. Young and old, rich and poor, bearded and hairless – everybody is there and everybody is friendly. This one was especially diverse and I’ll be back sometime… even if it takes me three trains and about a dozen miles of bike riding to get there.

The festivities went on until six, but I left a bit early – around four. That was eight hours after I had left my house and I was getting a bit tired and dehydrated. I rode to the nearest train station and drank the water I had packed – which made me feel a lot better. I thought about riding back, but my train pulled in and I decided to call it a day. Always better to leave too early than too late.

Picatinny Rail – DIY Bicycle Light

Bicycle lights can be pretty expensive, at least for the good ones. But battery powered lights aren’t what I remember from my childhood – where you had a big D-Cell light that would work for an hour or so and then go yellow and dim. The LED has revolutionized flashlights and, by extension, bike lights.

I have a couple handlebar-mounted lights – decent ones, if not top of the line. I usually set them to blink – they are lights that are designed for me to be seen, not for me to see with. On an urban road at night, that’s the most important thing. The streetlights are bright enough for a cyclist to see where he is going – but you want the cars to know you are there. Bright blinking is the best for that… plus batteries last forever.

But riding on trails at night is a different story. I needed something so that I can see – a steady white light facing forward. For example, one night coming home from Critical Mass along the White Rock Creek Trail (actually, it was the Cottonwood Trail, the wooded section just south of the Forest Lane DART station – my destination) at a little after midnight I came upon a group of homeless people sleeping on the trail. Luckily, I saw them with my light. Hitting someone sleeping on the bike trail would not be good for anyone.

Again – the dedicated bike lights cost a pretty penny – but small LED flashlights are powerful and very cheap. They sell them by the containerloads – they take three AAAs – most are adjustable. Very useful lights.

The problem is how to mount them on a bike. I actually want to mount them as low as possible. It would seem that a helmet mount would be the best – but if they are at close to eye level they don’t cast visible shadows. It’s the shadows that help you see objects in the path ahead. A low mounted flashlight will throw long shadows – easy to see.

I tried a number of solutions – velcro straps worked pretty well – but nothing was both strong, reliable, and still removable.

Until I discovered the world of Picatinny (and Weaver) rails. These is a whole host of accessories designed to mount on pistols, rifles, shotguns, or paintball guns. Laser sights, scopes, cameras… and, especially tactical flashlights. This seemed like a perfect thing to mount on a bike.

It didn’t take much searching until I found this Weaver/Picatinny rail mount with flashlight holder on Amazon – shipped from China for less than five dollars. I ordered a couple of them (for spares and different bikes) and after a patient wait, the package arrived from halfway around the world.

Now that I am outfitting my new Xootr Swift for city riding and commuting I decided to add a small front rack. I’ve found these to be indispensable for urban riding. For bike riding in the city, it’s not always about cargo capacity, it’s about organization and a front rack helps me keep organized.

I bought the cheap rack, and then mounted the rail on the bottom of the rack. Here’s how.

The Picatinny/Weaver rail flashlight mount as it arrived.

The Picatinny/Weaver rail flashlight mount as it arrived.

Four mounting holes go into the small front rack. Do this with some care - or the flashlight won't shine straight ahead.

Four mounting holes go into the small front rack. Do this with some care – or the flashlight won’t shine straight ahead.

I could have mounted the rail with the bolts that come with the assembly, but I decided to use aluminum pop rivets for weight, strength, and neatness.

I could have mounted the rail with the bolts that come with the assembly, but I decided to use aluminum pop rivets for weight, strength, and neatness.

The rail mounted on the rack and the flashlight in the holder. My flashlight was a little too big, so I simply used the longer bolts that come with the unit - the ones that are intended to go around a barrel.

The rail mounted on the rack and the flashlight in the holder. My flashlight was a little too big, so I simply used the longer bolts that come with the unit – the ones that are intended to go around a barrel.

This is how it mounts on the rack. Strong and neat.

This is how it mounts on the rack. Strong and neat.

The rack and flashlight on the bike, along with a small pump (maybe I'll post how I hold that to the rack) and a little plastic box from Office Depot, held on with nylon bolts and wingnuts in holes drilled through the box and rack. It looks sort of stupid, but is very useful to hold my wallet, phone, keys, lock... that sort of stuff.

The rack and flashlight on the bike, along with a small pump (maybe I’ll post how I hold that to the rack) and a little plastic box from Office Depot, held on with nylon bolts and wingnuts in holes drilled through the box and rack. It looks sort of stupid, but is very useful to hold my wallet, phone, keys, lock… that sort of stuff.

Take some care in mounting the rack so that it is level. If the rack points up or down very much, you would have to shim the holder to get the light horizontal.

The flashlight is held on securely, yet it comes off easily for battery replacement. I ordered an extra set so I even have a spare flashlight to stick in if needed.

Yee Haaa.

What I learned this week, April 18, 2014

What Are the Least Outdoorsy Cities in America?

Dallas, no surprise, is #1.

Dallas is the sprawling place of ten-gallon hats and gleaming ten-miles per gallon SUVs. It’s the oil industry’s heart and soul (if it has a heart or soul), where only half of the residents are within walking distance of the tiny smattering of parks within its borders. Not that people walk in Dallas—or take advantage of the paltry public transportation system, or even bike on the scant number of bike lanes. The only way to get from point A to point B is generally to drive, and given the oversized amount of space, the route is hardly ever a short one. As for the park lands that do exist, one—the Mountain Creek Lake reservoir—is prohibited by the state health department from letting you from eat the bass or catfish caught there, because of PCB contamination.

I’m not saying that Dallas is Portland… but the paragraph above is largely a result of a stereotype rather than recent research. True, Dallas is massive – and the summers are toxic.

However, there are a few things that should be pointed out.

paltry public transportation systemDART has a lot of work to do, but it is the largest (85 miles) operator of light rail in the country – I can assure you that with a bike (for that last mile) and a transit pass you can get anywhere in the vast Metroplex with ease.

scant number of bike lanes – Again, a lot of work to do, but here’s the Googlemaps Bike map of my neighborhood (bike lanes/paths in green). The other residential streets are all rideable too.

Duck Creek bike paths/lanes

Duck Creek bike paths/lanes

All across the city trails, dedicated lanes, sharrows, bridge conversions are going up.

Tiny smattering of parks within its borders. I don’t know about that… White Rock Lake is as good as it gets. Then there are the more modern versions – Klyde Warren Park is amazing. It’s true Dallas parks are horrifically hot in the summer, but what the hell can you do about that.

The Dallas Park and Recreation Department maintains more than 21,000 park acres including 17 lakes with 4,400 surface acres of water at 17 park sites, 17,196 acres of greenbelt / park land, and 61.60 miles of jogging and bike trails at 24 locations.

(and that’s only Dallas proper – there are the suburbs too, plus Fort Worth is way ahead of its bigger brother).

The Great Trinity Forest is the biggest urban hardwood forest (virgin forest, btw) in the country. Despite a few missteps, it is being brought into an amazing asset for the area.

What my point is – the “outdoorsy” or bike-friendly aspects of an area are highly subjective. If you do the work, you can get outside. The need to drive all the time is in your head, not in your feet.

I think the current controversy over the tear-down (good idea) and Trinity River Tollroad (terrible idea) will be a bellweather event for the future of the city – and have tremendous ramifications beyond the fate of a few acres of concrete. It’s the chance for a paradigm shift for the city.

Some More Local Response to the article.

Bicycle Lanes on the Jefferson Viaduct from Oak Cliff into downtown, Dallas.

Bicycle Lanes on the Jefferson Viaduct from Oak Cliff into downtown, Dallas.

My Technium on Winfrey Point, White Rock Lake. Dallas, Texas. Look carefully and you can see a guy on a unicycle. (click to enlarge)

My Technium on Winfrey Point, White Rock Lake. Dallas, Texas. Look carefully and you can see a guy on a unicycle.
(click to enlarge)

The crowd at Ciclovia Dallas on the Houston Street Viaduct with the Dallas downtown skyline

The crowd at Ciclovia Dallas on the Houston Street Viaduct with the Dallas downtown skyline


And for an alternative view:

Texas is on Fire! And other Great Texas Happenings


FXX is going to show 24 seasons of The Simpsons in a legendary 12 day marathon.

FXX to Stage Epic, 12-Day Simpsons Marathon

In the same vein, here’s a guide for watching shows from begining to end.

The Paste Guide to Binge-Watching

In the past, I particularly enjoyed bing-watching The Tudors and Battlestar Galactica. I’m sort of stalled now, but am trying to work through Mad Men and Breaking Bad. I tend to wait until a series ends before even starting to watch – ever since I was burned with Carnivale. I was hooked on the series – but apparantly I was the only one… it was canceled before it finished. Pissed me off.


I meant to put this in last week, but never did.

10 Foolproof Tips for Overcoming Procrastination


How the makers of Corona sell so much bad beer

There is a reason so many people stick limes in the necks of the things – it’s to disguise the simultaneous foulness and tastelessness of the swill.


Big Boy 4018 (click to enlarge)

Big Boy 4018 (click to enlarge)

Huge Big Boy steam locomotive coming back to life

Unfortunately, this isn’t the Big Boy engine that I watched them move out to Frisco last year - one just like it. It is an amazing piece of machinery and history.

Big Boy 4018

Big Boy 4018

The massive drive wheels on Big Boy 4018 (click to enlarge)

The massive drive wheels on Big Boy 4018 (click to enlarge)

Big Boy 4018

Big Boy 4018


A Pollinator Bock on the right, Dallas Blonde on the left.

A Pollinator Bock on the right, Dallas Blonde on the left.

The FDA wants to regulate spent grains, and the beer industry is not having it

The Beer Institute points out that “taxes are the single most expensive ingredient in beer, costing more than labor and raw materials combined.” They cite an economic analysis that found “if all the taxes levied on the production, distribution, and retailing of beer are added up, they amount to more than 40% of the retail price” …

The federal government, however, is looking to potentially jack those government-imposed costs up ever further — all for our own good, of course. Last October, the Food and Drug Administration proposed a potential new rule via the Food Safety Modernization Act that would regulate brewers’ spent grains the same way as pet food, requiring that the grains be dried and packaged to ward off contamination before they come into contact with other humans. Seeing as how this would completely mess up the mutually beneficial arrangement between many brewers and ranchers wherein ranchers come and pick up brewers’ spent grains and then productively and inexpensively recycle them as a feed source for their livestock, this rule poses something of a problem.

But the beer industry is arguing that they have no idea what exactly these foodborne illnesses are supposed to be, since the grains are already declared fit for human consumption before they start the brewing process and because they have been working with ranchers for decades without problems. A bunch of brewers are currently protesting the proposed rule, arguing that the equipment and processes they would need to install would make the whole thing too expensive, and that they’ll just end up trashing their spent grains into landfills — while ranchers are worried that they’ll lose a valuable source of feed…

people3


It’s Time to Stop Talking Past Each Other on I-345 Teardown

The teardown of I-345 represents the most immediate and large-scale opportunity to reverse a pattern of growth that has led to the dilution of Dallas’ urban form. The very fact that detractors characterize urban life as a kind of designer lifestyle, a playground for the young and well-to-do, is either a reflection of an ignorance of what it is like to actually live in a city or a caged animosity for forms of living that look anything unlike the homogenized stratification of life in super-sprawl suburbia whose highest civic value is individualistic autonomy (“What if it were your daughter?” Jones threatens). But what is at stake is more than a real estate gambit. The teardown is an opportunity to begin to reverse 60 years of failed planning and begin to move towards building a future city in North Texas that achieves the economic efficiencies and social edification that are absolutely necessary to sustain the region’s viability.


Blur

There is more to life than increasing its speed.

—-Mahatma Gandhi

Superdrome, Frisco, Texas

Superdrome, Frisco, Texas

Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. At least there is the fact that once you increase its speed past a certain point, all is a blur. There is a comforting mystery in a blur. Like a hummingbird’s wing – you can forget the delicacy and fragility… seduced and confused by the motion.

An object in motion tends to move out of the frame. Unless you manage to move the frame. Maybe the world deserves to be smeared across the concrete. It is softened but also obscured. Detail disappear; unseen patterns emerge. Is the truth better seen unfocused?

But who wants a clouded truth?