Saturday, October 30, 2010

I’m just a Digitizing Fool

The other day, one of Daniel’s 4th grade teachers asked Kim if I could convert the kids’ production of “Call 9-1-1!” on VHS videotape into a TV-ready DVD. Since we always try to help the school out when we can, Kim took the tape from her knowing that if I didn’t already have the capability to do the task, I soon would.

Fortunately for the budget, I already had a DVD burner, and after purchasing a $35 video digitizer and borrowing a VCR, Ms. Zupko had her DVD. The Blooper Reel at the end of the short production made the effort worth it.

Other than wasting a few blank DVDs for various reasons, the process went fairly smooth, and I thought about burning extra DVDs for the grandparents and others to marvel at Daniel’s acting in the ‘Good Reason #5’s segment. Then it dawned on me to just post the clip on YouTube.

To protect the kids’ privacy, I thought it best to cut their names off the credits at the end of the production. Once again, the Internet came to the rescue with free video editing software.

Inspired, I sifted around in the closet to see what VHS-based treasures were worthy of digitalization. The first obvious choice was Jack Webb’s B&W movie “The D.I.” I had wanted to buy this on DVD, but Warner Home Video has yet to release it. Now my personal wait is over.

Combining old & new technologies, the Underwood Standard had been pulled out earlier to make folder labels for another effort. Daniel helped out with the typing while I digitized videos.

Kim thought all of this was great, but was dismayed to not find the videos of our wedding reception and Boyz’ prenatal sonograms in the ‘to-do’ stack. Imagine that.

It looks like these tapes are reaching the end of their life because the VCR started gumming up and providing jittery images. Luckily, I still had the specialty Q-tips needed for deck cleaning.

The last time I checked, “The Long Long Trailer” has yet to be released on DVD. That is, anywhere but my house.

I was a big “Star Trek – The Next Generation” fan, and recorded every episode when it was first broadcast. But I noticed most, if not all, of the seasons are now available on DVD. I could start digitizing my steam locomotive videotape collection, but the thrill is starting to wear off. I’ll probably do a couple more tapes, and give it a rest.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Digitizing Slides from the Past

The Boyz & I motored up to Tennessee this past Saturday to visit with my parents as it had been quite some time since we had been to my hometown. At one point, my dad mentioned that, in cleaning out a closet, he had come across his old Airequipt slide projector, and six carousels of slides. A certain gloom set in because I thought we were about to be treated to a review of life in the Seventies.

No, he was just interested in getting rid of it all, and wondered if it was worth anything. I had just started a spiel about “check eBay” when the glazed look in his eyes had me re-arranging my words to say, “…Why don’t I take all this back with me and investigate further”. He was only too happy to help load everything in my truck.

eBay is an amazing place. Before I threw a hubcap of my Airstream returning home from Florida a couple of weeks ago, I thought anything could be found there. But to my surprise, there was nothing even remotely similar to what my Overlander needs. Hopefully, the alert eBay allowed me to set up will send encouraging offerings before too long about someone wanting to find a good home for a 1967 Airstream Overlander International Hubcap.

eBay is the place for old Airequipt slide projection equipment, though. There was so much of it, and listed for such low prices that I am not going to bother advertising what came home with me – The potential selling price does not warrant the effort involved to box & ship.

The dust buildup on the projector made me think Dad had probably not used the device since I repaired it 20 years ago. Oddly, although Dad remembered the slides had an irritating tendency to jam, he expressed no thoughts one way or the other about what to do with the medium itself. Between figuring he probably wouldn’t mind seeing the images again, and out of general curiosity, I decided to explore what digitizing the 567 slides would entail so the images could be revisited on a computer instead of a darkened room.

Step one was to investigate a computer accessory which scans photographic negatives into computer-ready digital images I recalled Kim buying for her scrap booking hobby some time ago, but had never used. After reading it would also work with slides, the miniature scanner was hooked up to the computer. Interesting device – It was slow, but did poor work. The slides had to be removed from the carousel and snapped three at a time into a plastic holder. In spite of calibrating the device with its built-in function, every slide fed into it came out looking washed out in the resulting jpeg file. Not the ticket; it was a waste of money in spite of good reviews.

Mr. Google’s top response from wanted me to place each slide individually on my flat-bed scanner, back-light it with a flashlight, and then scan it. Judging the amount of time & effort required, I decided the answer to someone’s question at that site had been lifted from Dante’s Inferno. The scanner was never even warmed up.

Many helpful Internet entrepreneurs offered to scan the slides for me. But it was going to cost around $200 for the total effort – too much for what I thought might be, at best, no more than casual interest to anyone.

For other reasons, I had also brought Dad’s projection screen back with me. Since Santa gave me a camera tripod last Christmas, I decided to try what amounted to a Kinescope approach to the task wherein the projector and my digital camera work together to acquire the images.

That was the ticket. After the initial setup, the six carousels worth of slides were processed so fast that I hardly had time to look at the flurry of images going past. The slide below of me feeding an elephant gave me pause. Dad had labeled it “Busch Gardens 1971”.

While I remember visiting the attraction, I had not only forgotten about feeding an elephant, I had forgotten they had a zoo.

Between dirt on both the slides and the screen, the images could have turned out a little better. But for a trip down memory lane the results were great.

Plans are to send CDs of the images to the folks, and my brother & sister. Although the Kiwanis Club pictures won’t do much for anyone other than my dad, many of the other images will probably bring back fond memories for my older siblings.

Hopefully one of them will express interest in better quality images. Everything Airequipt is boxed, and waiting for a shipping label.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Mystery Nut Harvest

Many years ago, I was weeding a garden bed, and pulled up a plant still attached to the pecan from which it grew. Thinking it would be really neat {insert flashback to my carefree youth running about the pecan groves in southern Georgia} to have a pecan tree in the yard, the three-inch tall plant was carefully re-potted and placed where it could be easily watered. But within days, the squirrel who had buried the nut in the bed reclaimed it, and I was left with nothing.

My mom told me not to worry about because she was all the time running across pecan saplings in her garden, and promised to bring me one at some point. Some period of time later, she made good on her promise, and presented me with a six-inch sapling which was promptly planted in a corner of the backyard.

All was well for a couple of years until both Aunt Bron and Mother both were visiting, and Aunt Bron expressed strong reservations about the tree actually being a pecan tree as the leaves didn’t look quite right. She leaned more towards it producing hickory nuts when it was old enough. I decided to not worry about it, because ultimately the idea of a nut tree, any nut tree, was okay with me.

In time, the tree started producing nuts, but never that many, and the squirrels hauled them away before I thought about looking at one closer. This year, though, the now 20 foot tall tree was all but overrun with nuts, and last week the nuts were starting to drop on the ground. So it seemed like a good weekend project to finally harvest the mystery nuts.

O’dark thirty Saturday morning, though, found me firing up the Brinkmann to smoke a 12-1/4 pound brisket to feed the company coming over for supper.

But after the sun came up, Jared and I got busy picking up nuts.

Between Google Images & Wikipedia, the tree was finally determined to be a Black Walnut. UC’s publication 8005 agreed now was the time to harvest, and advised me to remove the husks, and let the nut inside dry for a while. The publication also reminded me of what I already knew in the back of my head that walnut juice will stain hands. So after a trip to the store for rubber gloves, I got busy cutting the hulls off.

Between fiddling with the smoker, reading up on nuts, and finally moving the brisket to a 250 degree oven to finish, time was running short on getting the cornbread salad and bread made for the rest of the evening’s meal. So I took a break from hulling and returned to the kitchen.

Cornbread had been made before the brisket claimed the oven, and was cooling before the next step. Bread was next, and I chose to use milk instead of water to get a softer crust.

One nice thing about having an Airstream in the back yard is the extra oven available when different dishes need different cooking temperatures. So the bread was allowed to double in size out in the Airstream while the vintage gas oven preheated.

The Magic Chef oven does a good job with bread.

The brisket turned out looking good in spite of having to be cut in half to fit in the smoker. I’m sure some of my Texas friends could do better, but the crowd liked this one.

Before the afternoon was out, the rest of the walnuts were hulled, and left to dry in the sun.

My friend Dan advised me to pressure wash the nuts after a day or two to get rid of more hand staining chemicals. Up to this point, the nuts had been drying on an old fiberglass window screen which I knew would not stand up to a pressure washer. So a sturdier screened box was made out of 2X4s and rabbit wire.

Here’s the harvest after a go-round at the quarter car wash.

Dan also advised me to let the cleaned nuts dry for a while to allow the meat inside to pull away from the shell. So the brownies will have to wait a little longer.

By the way, I didn’t give up on having a pecan tree in the yard. About seven years ago I found another pecan attached to what I initially thought was a weed and Daniel & I transplanted it to another home. This one I kept inside the house.

The tree was subsequently moved to the front yard around the time we were building Project Big Tub, and is now around 11 feet tall.

Pecan pie & walnut brownies! If only I ate desserts.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Crabapple – The Next Generation?

The first house I lived in as a married man had a rather sickly looking crabapple tree in the front yard. As I had fond memories of growing up with a crabapple tree in the front yard, the hope was that the tree’s health would improve so I would once again have fresh crabapples to... I don’t know. The neighborhood kids & I used to eat and throw them at one another. While there’s nothing like eating an occasional crabapple, I don’t think Kim would much like getting hit by one.

My dog at the time was Buddy, a male pit bull mix, and soon after moving in, part of his routine after being let out of the backyard was to run up and pee on the crabapple tree. At first it bothered me because the tree was probably thinking, “Here I am at death’s door, and look how I’m being treated”. But as time went on, that silly tree actually started looking better. By the time we sold the place, it actually added curb appeal.

I was thrilled when our next/present house was found to have an established crabapple tree in the side yard. Although many people at the time advised me to thin the water sprouts & crossed branches, I did nothing other than trim low-hanging branches. My “do nothing” approach appeared to work well until a few years ago when the tree just did not seem as happy & healthy as it used to. Buddy was no longer with us, and our present female dog Cookie appeared disinclined to follow in his footsteps.

But this year was different. I don’t know if it was due to the unusual weather or what, but the tree both looked good, and produced the most crabapples I have ever seen it produce.

Big, plump tasty ones too. I thought about collecting a few pounds of them, and making a jam or something. But before I could get serious about it, Kim told me she heard a strange noise one night, and looked out to see deer eating crabapples off the lower branches. Deciding that feeding wildlife was a better use of the harvest, my culinary intentions were dropped.

But what if this was the ‘calm before the storm’? The tree is obviously fairly old, and I started worrying that it might have put its energy into one last effort to produce seeds since the end might be near. I’ve read that pine trees do that. So I picked a couple of good candidate crabapples up off the ground, and planted a whole one in one cup, and a halved one in another. The cups were then planted in the front flower bed.

Not more than two days later, the fruit was gone – some varmint had looted the bed.

While annoyed, I was not necessarily surprised. For the next effort, though, I researched how Johnny Appleseed accomplished his goal, and discussed options for my next effort with a noted middle TN Master Gardener (my mom) to ensure the next planting had a reasonable chance of survival.

Five crabapples of different states of ripeness were collected for round II. One was quartered, another was halved, and the remainder left intact. The differing pieces were then buried at various depths in a terracotta pot of special mix.

A few years ago, birds ate up all the watermelon seeds I planted in the ground before the seeds had time to germinate. Deciding the best approach was to start the seeds in individual containers & transplant later, special precautions were taken to protect the seeds.

It worked, but seemed like a little overkill. So the level of physical security was lightened for this effort.

With cold weather approaching, there’s no guarantee the seeds will germinate this season. While I could move the pot inside and hope it gets regular watering, the plan is to leave it in its hole in the backyard, and keep an eye on it. The cool thing about the setup is the elevation – Cookie should be able to help the seedlings out should they appear distressed…