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Member since: 2002
Number of posts: 34,951

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Infinite America, Part 2A: How to take pictures through a window

I made this photo through the window of a speeding train. Notice there are no reflections from the glass. Here's how to do it.

You'll need three pieces of equipment: a camera with filter mounting threads on its lens; a rubber lens hood; and a tripod. If you're shooting film, get some ISO 400 film; digital shooters can just crank up their ISO until they get...oh, 1/500 at f/8 will be plenty good. You don't need a gyrostabilizer to get good photos - which is a good thing because they are very pricey.

The procedure is very simple: push the camera right up against the window until the lens hood forms a seal all around.

Once you have your images back you'll probably have to color-correct them; the windows on Amtrak trains are darkened for passenger comfort, which makes your photos look like they were shot through a tobacco filter.

Rites of Passage, or Amtrak from Spokane to Chicago: Infinite America, Part 2

The first installment is at http://www.democraticunderground.com/1018825480

Where we are so far: I have a USA Rail Pass with this trip loaded:
Spokane to Chicago (Empire Builder)
Chicago to Washington, DC (Capitol Limited)
DC to Boston (Northeast Regional)
Boston to New York (Northeast Regional)
New York to Chicago (Lake Shore Limited)
Chicago to Denver (California Zephyr)
Denver to San Francisco (California Zephyr)
San Francisco to Seattle (Coast Starlight)

I have reservations in hostels all along the way. I have more expense money than I think I'll need, a spare set of camera batteries, lots of film...let's get started!

The very first picture of the whole trip:

Everyone thinks the Empire Builder, which runs between Seattle and Portland (the consist is in two pieces; half of it departs Seattle, the other half Portland, and they're coupled in Spokane) and Chicago, sounds like the coolest trip in America because it goes through Glacier National Park, in Montana. This is true, and you get to see things like this...

Unfortunately, you ALSO get to see things like this:

There are two "cool" parts to this segment: Glacier National Park, and the Upper Mississippi River...

Between the two is a LOT of farmland. Also, Empire Builder runs over freight tracks, and the people who own the tracks claim right of way, so you get to park in quite a few sidings. There's only one track running across the top of America, and they could really use two - when you unload a train full of North Dakota wheat in Seattle, you then have to get the train back to North Dakota! Ah, it's not all bad - I managed to read all of Henry Wilhelm's "The Care and Preservation of Color Photographs," which I had on my tablet.

You spend most of your first day in Montana, cruise through St. Paul and Wisconsin Dells during the day...we were supposed to get to Chicago just before 4 pm and arrived about 5:30. With all the stopping you do to allow freight trains past, I didn't think it was that bad. And while this was the most boring part of the trip, what happened next made up for it.

Coming tomorrow: Chicago to Boston!

Now it can be told: I went around the United States in 15 days by train

Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone...
--Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi

If the Republican Party had a tenth of a chance in hell of getting away with it, they would abolish Amtrak tomorrow. With the knowledge nationwide passenger rail, the most efficient form of long-distance transport, could be gone with the stroke of a pen if America is stupid enough to ever allow the Republicans control of both Congress and the White House, I took what could possibly be my last chance to ride the rails and made a Lap of America in October.

I set four rules for this trip: see things most people usually miss, eat nothing I can get at home, visit at least two West Coast cities, two central US cities and two East Coast cities, and shoot all of the 100 rolls of film I brought with me.

This is going to be an eight-part message. Today I will discuss the route I took, the things I carried with me and prepare you for the journey ahead. Then we'll start seeing photos from December 26 until New Year's Day.

Shall we begin?

Amtrak offers the USA Rail Pass - lots of miles, not a lot of money. They come in three versions:
15 days and 8 segments (I took this option and paid $459; please refer to Amtrak's website for current prices)
30 days and 12 segments
45 days and 18 segments
I chose the 15-day pass.

A "segment" is a trip where you board a vehicle at one station, travel on that vehicle to a different station, and leave the vehicle. Segments are not mileage-limited or time-limited; Newark Liberty Airport to New York Penn Station and Chicago Union Station to Emeryville Station in California are both single segments. (Having said that, if you really do go from Newark to Penn Station via USA Rail Pass, with all the other ways you can get from Newark to NYC, you are dumber than you look.)

Here's the rules, and they're not hard:
You must purchase your pass and make your reservations not more than six months prior to travel.
You can't buy a pass at an Amtrak station.
Your travel has to end at midnight of the last day of your pass - if you have a 15-day pass and you start on January 1, January 15 is the last day you can go. They used to let you start your last segment on the fifteenth day, but no longer.
You don't have to end your trip at the same station you started it from. You can also request a trip where Segment 1 ends and Segment 2 begins at different stations - trains no longer go from New Orleans to Florida, so you can go to Florida by train, use Greyhound or the airlines to go to NOLA, then pick up the train again from that point. It's a really flexible way to travel.
You must pick up your pass at a staffed Amtrak ticket counter before your travel begins.
You must use the least-expensive seat on the least-expensive train between any two terminals - IOW you can't go from NYC to Washington on the Acela...but if you look at the timetable for trains between those two places, Acela isn't much faster than the Northeast Regional, which you can use.
And you may not travel over the same set of rails more than three times on the same pass. You can go from Washington to NYC, then to Philadelphia, then to Boston and be okay, but you can't then go back to NYC because that's a fourth trip. However, if you went Washington-Philadelphia-NYC-Boston it would count as one pass over the same rails and you could go back to NYC with no problems.

Now, here's how to do this.

Step One is to figure out where you want to go, and don't get your heart set on one exact trip if you don't want to pay extra. These passes are not huge moneymakers so only a certain amount of seats on each train (the "inventory") are available to the pass traveler. I wound up plotting five trips, and ended up with my second-choice journey. It was still a good choice, so no worries, eh?
Step Two is to go to www.amtrak.com on a computer with a printer, and purchase the USA Rail Pass you want. They will e-mail you a confirmation message. Print this out because you'll need it.
Step Three is the fun part: call the Amtrak national reservations desk - no, you can't set this up online because a reservations clerk needs to check each train's inventory level before selling you a seat - at 1-800-USA-Rail. You'll read off your confirmation number and request the trains you want to use. If there's no pass inventory on a particular train you want, you can pay an upgrade fee to use a better-grade seat. When all this is locked in, they'll e-mail you another confirmation message. Print that out too.
And finally: Take both printouts to any Amtrak ticket counter and receive your paper tickets. Wait until your trip begins, and you're off!

After about nine months of fiddling, I finally bought the pass, and this is the route I chose:
Spokane, WA, to Chicago. Stay one night.
Chicago to Washington, DC. Wait until the red-eye train arrives and go to the next point.
Washington to Boston. Stay two nights.
Boston to New York City. Stay one night.
New York City to Chicago. Transfer to a different train.
Chicago to Denver. Stay one night.
Denver to San Francisco. Stay two nights.
San Francisco to Seattle. Stay one night, then return to Idaho.

How I packed was very simple: as little as humanly possible. I intentionally bought a pack that was too small to encourage minimalism - and to make it even more minimalistic, I then proceeded to put eighteen five-roll packs of 120 film in it. (The other two went in my camera case.) So...I had, in addition to the clothes I had on:
four pair of socks
four pair of underwear
two long-sleeve t-shirts
personal care items
Mamiya 645 Pro TL camera with the AE Prism finder and two backs
45mm lens
105-210mm lens
Travel tripod
100 rolls of film
Pencil pouch with all my paperwork in it

I took a big coat that also served as a blanket.

For tomorrow: The journey begins!

I have destroyed the market for Dr. Seuss parodies in one foul stroke

We printed "Why the Grinch Stole Christmas" today...


"All the Whos down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot
But the Grinch, who lived just north of Who-ville...did NOT!

The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please donít ask why. You know damn well whatís the reason.
Itís not that his head isnít screwed on just right.
Nor that his shoes are too big or too tight.
And though the Whos claim itís the biggest reason of all,
Itís not that his heartís even a little bit small.

No, he was workiní retail.

Where should teabaggers see themselves in the Christmas story?

One of my weeklies has a slightly interesting thought from a local minister: "Where do you see yourself in the Christmas story? Would you be Mary, Joseph or Jesus?"

Most teabaggers would see this question and think, "Jesus. I would be Jesus without question."

In reality, almost all teabaggers should see themselves as King Herod.

What do you want our next president to do? Give ten items

For purposes of this exercise don't think about who you want as president. What would you like them to do? I will start.

1. Repair or replace the two worst bridges in each state, each year - so by the time the president's term limit hits 800 bridges will be fixed.

2. A total ban on "naked" derivatives.

3. Three cent per share transaction tax on stock. It'll totally fuck the high frequency trading business, which is the point.

4. F-35 program ends now, and no stealthy planes will ever be bought again. If a war isn't important enough to risk pilots on, it's not important enough to fight.

5. Federal welfare programs administered by federal officials.

6. Any politician who calls for a tax cut within two weeks of calling for a major spending increase will be returned to his or her district by being strapped to an Air Force cargo pallet and dropped out the back of a C-130.

7. Reschedule cannabis to Schedule 3 immediately, to Schedule 5 (the cough syrup schedule) in 18 months and deschedule it 18 months after that.

8. The official religion shall be Haitian Vodou. If we gotta have a state religion, let's at least pick one with fun church services.

9. Single payer healthcare.

10. Campaign contributions will be banned, and so will attack ads that don't explain why you're different. I don't just want to hear your opponent fucks farm animals, I want your assurance you don't.

Who would win: Jimmy Conway or Darth Vader?

Why is Martin Shkreli so interested in antiparasitic drugs?

The new Star Wars movie? It BETTER not suck.

I remember when The Phantom Menace came out...before it opened everyone thought, "oh, Return of the Jedi was twice as awesome as A New Hope so The Phantom Menace is going to be awesomer still."

And then out trotted Jar Jar Binks. All of a sudden 95 percent of the moviegoing world saw what would without Jar Jar be a perfectly serviceable "Darth Vader's boyhood" flick as an atrocity of biblical proportions.

After two years of hype for this movie, if this thing isn't awesomer than any movie has a right to be - if there's even a frame of suckage in the whole spectacle of awesomeness - someone's gonna steal a howitzer from the National Guard and use it to shell George Lucas's house flat.

Could on-vehicle CO2 catalysis cut down on global warming?

This is done over one of several catalysts:

2CO2 -> 2CO + O2

Or in English, carbon dioxide dissociates into carbon monoxide and oxygen. Chemical plants that make things from carbon monoxide (a LOT of things are made from it) run the smoke from their heat sources across catalysts, recover the CO and use it in their processes.

Now, here's my idea: since carbon monoxide is a fuel gas, why couldn't they put a catalyzer in the exhaust system of a car and feed the carbon monoxide into the intake manifold?
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