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Mystery Solved: The Death Valley Racetrack

The Death Valley Racetrack Moving Rocks

Moving Rocks at the Death Valley Racetrack
Click Any Image to Enlarge

This is a big day for humanity, folks. It's a HUGE day. That's right - they finally figured out how those mysterious migrating stones move all on their own at the Racetrack in Death Valley National Park. This is bigger than the moon landing!

Okay, maybe not. But I'm pretty damn excited about it because ever since I visited The Racetrack to photograph these moving rocks, I've been utterly fascinated by this natural wonder.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, The Racetrack is a massive cracked-dirt playa deep in Death Valley National Park. Dotting the south end of the playa are a bunch of boulders with long trails carved into the dirt behind them as if they up and moved all on their own. It's quite a sight, which is why people from all over the world come to see them.

I have a 30x45 print from The Death Valley Racetrack hanging in my office (the one at the top of this blog post) and almost every class I teach, a student asks "how does the rock move?" My answer for a cheap laugh is simply, "Aliens, dude." But then I follow it up with what was the commonly accepted theory: rain comes, wets down the playa, it turns the mud into a slippery surface, wind comes howling through, the rocks move, the rain dries up, and boom, you got yourself some migrating rocks. It was a good theory and it sounded right to me.

Well, turns out that theory wasn't right. The Slithering Stones Research Initiative led by Scripps Oceanography paleooceanographer Richard Norris finally figured out the real reason: ice. And rather than try to explain it myself, hear it from the horse's mouth in this video they posted on YouTube (they even filmed the rocks moving!):

Watch "How Rocks Move" on YouTube

Maybe I'm just a geography geek, but this is exciting stuff! Only nature could dream up such a marvelous display of the elements working together to create art. But a part of me is a little sad to lose the mystery of it all. I liked that we couldn't explain everything even in this modern age. Plus, the mystery made my photos of The Racetrack so much more interesting! But at the same time, the knowledge of how it actually works is too remarkable to ignore.

The theory proven in this video was actually thought up long ago along with the slippery-windy playa theory. I'd heard both years ago, but I thought the slippery-windy playa theory was much smarter. "Pssh...ice moves them. Yeah, right." But I guess that's why I'm not a scientist...

Enjoy the video and enjoy this newly discovered knowledge. And here's some more pictures from The Racetrack for your pleasure:

The Death Valley Racetrack Moving Rocks

The Death Valley Racetrack Moving Rocks

The Death Valley Racetrack Moving Rocks

The Death Valley Racetrack Moving Rocks

The Death Valley Racetrack Moving Rocks

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Well, ladies and gentleman, I jumped on the bandwagon. That's right, I did the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. It's all the rage right now and I was challenged by a friend of mine, so I figured "let's do it."

But I'm not the type to jump on bandwagons. When the Kony 2012 thing blew up the web a couple years back, I didn't even follow it. The reason I don't tend to get involved with these things is because I often feel like it doesn't really do anything valuable for the cause. Posting a status update on Facebook that says "I support breast cancer awareness" doesn't actually do anything to cure it.

However, this viral video thing for ALS is a little different. First, it's actually working. It's raised millions of dollars for the cause already and I wouldn't have thought to donate if this trend hadn't started, but I just donated to the ALS Association at www.alsa.org/donate (and you should too!) thanks to these videos raising awareness.

Secondly, this is a cause that really does need our help. It's a terrible disease, but it only affects something like 30,000 people in the US. That's a small number. And a small number means there isn't much incentive for those in the healthcare industry to cure it. And you can't blame pharmaceutical companies for working on more widespread diseases, but nobody likes when a minority doesn't get the help they need simply because they're a minority. Breast cancer is a worthy cause to get behind, but there's no shortage of awareness and support for that one. ALS doesn't get the same level of recognition and help, so this ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is much needed.

My brothers and I made a goofy video (a VERY goofy video) for our ice bucket challenge. I was hesitant to post this video and blog entry at first because I don't like when people use a trending charitable cause or tragedy to get website traffic, but I decided to post it after all in the hope that it will inspire some of my readers to donate to the cause as well. So jump on the bandwagon with me. Donate to the cause and dump a bucket of ice water on your head.

Enjoy the video and please donate to www.alsa.org/donate.

 

Nikon is Backwards

Nikon is Backwards

If you know me, you know that I really don't care about the Nikon vs. Canon debate. As I've said before, that rivalry is about as useful as the "my dad can beat up your dad" argument. The bottom line is that both manufacturers make fantastic cameras, both have their strengths and, most importantly, it's the photographer, not the camera. A great photographer can get great shots with either system.

BUT...

There is something I want to point out about these 2 systems that no one ever seems to address. It's something so simple and so basic that while everyone is arguing about megapixels, color reproduction and ISO performance, this point just never comes up.

The point I speak of is that Nikon is backwards. That's right! I said it! Nikon is backwards! Despite my Switzerland-like neutrality between the two systems, I can confidently say that Nikon is backwards. And I can prove it.

Let's look at 4 undeniable, undebatable, and - dare I say - astonishing bits of evidence that prove Nikon is backwards. Allow me to remove the shroud from over your eyes...

 

Exhibit A
The light meter/exposure compensation scale

When you look at the exposure compensation scale or the light meter scale (both use the same exact scale) of a Canon camera, you see something like this:

Canon Exposure Compensation Scale

Positive on the right, negative on the left. Makes sense. That's how we were taught in school and that's how pretty much every other meter on the planet is designed - positive to the right, negative to the left. That's how society is set up - to have higher numbers to the right and lower numbers to the left.

When you look at a ruler, the higher numbers are to the right, the lower numbers are to the left. And if a ruler had negative values on it, they would be on the left side of zero. Same deal for a radio dial, a speedometer, and book pages.

But now picture a ruler where zero is off to the right and then as you move left, the numbers progress up 1, 2, 3... Or picture your speedometer with 0 mph on the right and as you accelerate, the dial sweeps to the left. Doesn't feel right, does it?

Well, here's your Nikon scale:

Nikon Exposure Compensation Scale

It's backwards. Plain and simple. It just doesn't jive with how we think of numbers. We think of positive numbers on the right, negative on the left. Nikon decided to throw caution to the wind and flip the positive and negative. I don't know why, but they did.

So, there you go. Nikon's exposure compensation and light meter scale is backwards.

Strike one, Nikon.

 

Exhibit B
The lens mount

What's the old rule for fastening a screw, nut, bottle cap, or jar lid? "Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey." You rotate to the right (clockwise) to secure something tighter, you rotate left (counter-clockwise) to loosen it.

So now instead of a bottle cap or screw, let's attach your lens to your camera. With your Canon lens, you line up the dots and rotate right (clockwise) until the lens clicks into place. Fasten it on just like a jar lid.

Okay, let's do the same thing with your Nikon. Take your lens and line up the white marks, now rotate clockwi-NOT SO FAST, AMIGO!

You're going to have to throw out everything you've ever learned about fastening things to other things because on a Nikon, you rotate the lens counter-clockwise to attach it to your camera. So instead of righty-tighty, lefty-loosey, you'll have to remember "righty-removy-the-lensy, lefty-attachy-the-lensy." Doesn't have quite the same ring to it, though.

So, there you have it. Nikon's lens mount is backwards.

Strike two, Nikon.

 

Exhibit C
The rear lens cap

As a result of the lens mount being backwards for a Nikon, the rear lens cap also fastens on backwards. Rotate right to loosen it and remove it, rotate left to attach and tighten.

But just like the lens attaching the camera in a seemingly backwards way, I'm sure this clockwise to loosen and counter-clockwise to tighten thing only seems backwards to us. Surely only us Americans with our crazy imperial measuring system are on this page. I'm sure this "backwards" tightening/loosing business makes complete sense to the rest of the world.

What's that? It doesn't? It's backwards everywhere?

Damn. Strike three, Nikon.

 

Exhibit D
The zoom ring

Let's look at the zoom ring for a Canon lens:

Canon zoom ring

Ah, yes. Lower focal length numbers on the left, higher focal length numbers on the right - just like inches on a ruler and mph on a speedometer.

Now here's Nikon's zoom ring:

Nikon zoom ring

Hmm...okay. Lower focal length numbers on the right, higher focal length numbers on the left. Backwards from every other scale we're familiar with in the rest of our lives...alright. Makes sense, I guess, when everything else on the camera is already backwards. I mean, if I have to think backwards when attaching the lens and using the light meter, why stop there? Better to go 100% backwards than only partially. Right?

Strike 4, Nikon. You were out one strike ago.

 

Closing Statement

I have no idea why these things are backwards on a Nikon. My guess is that they just had to be different than Canon. Too bad being different makes everything backwards in this case.

So, in summary, this backwards business is the main reason I recommend Canon over Nikon. Now some of you gear heads out there may be thinking "that's ridiculous to recommend Canon over Nikon based solely on these trivial matters. Nikon is clearly better in image quality/ISO performance/auto-focus/blah, blah, blah."

Well let me respond to this imaginary devil's advocate with 2 statements:

First, these "trivial" matters actually play a huge role in the usability of the camera. If you're constantly fighting decades of training on what's considered forwards or backwards, then you're fighting an unnecessary battle. A camera's controls should get out of your way. They should be so easy and intuitive to use that you never have to think about using them - you just use them.

And secondly, Nikon doesn't have better image quality, ISO performance, auto-focus or blah, blah, blah. Canon doesn't either. Sure, you can compare MTF charts and side-by-side sample images. You can do an in-depth analysis of noise performance and color reproduction. But most of that stuff has no practical application in photography. Plus, Nikon and Canon are always out-doing each other. Canon may be the top today, but Nikon will be back on top on a few months. It's a never-ending seesaw of who has the latest technology, best image quality, and better auto-focus system.

So don't worry about Nikon vs Canon. Concentrate on learning how to use your equipment to the very fullest. Concentrate on becoming a better photographer, not a better gear reviewer.

But all that being said...let the angry letters begin!