Half-Life Still Life (January 2017)

Half-life is a term used to describe the time required for a quantity to reduce half of its value, and the term is commonly used in nuclear physics to define radioactive decay.

Several years ago, my friend Elizabeth, knowing that I am fascinated with glass objects, introduced me to an interesting vase. The type of glass used to make this object is called uranium glass, because a small amount of uranium, typically in the form of an oxide, is added to the glass mix before melting. The uranium gives the glass a pale yellowish-green colouration. In the 1920s this colour led to the nickname Vaseline glass because it resembled the colour of petroleum jelly from that time.

Uranium glass is a subset of a type of glass called Depression Era Glass. Depression Era Glass, or simply Depression Glass, was popular and inexpensive during the depression period and was made into common houseware articles such as vases, cups, saucers, plates, and candy bowls. Using a sensitive Geiger counter, uranium glass would register slightly higher than normal background radiation. Most pieces of this type of glass are harmless and only slightly radioactive. When asked if ingesting uranium glass would cause radioactive poisoning, one scientist replied that the shards of glass would kill you before your body even noticed the radiation.

All very interesting – but what fascinated me was the way that the uranium in the glass fluoresces under ultraviolet light. With that bit of knowledge, Elizabeth and I, with portable UV lights in hand, haunted the antique shops in the Ottawa area looking for reasonably priced uranium glass objects. In addition to Elizabeth’s vase, we discovered a small plate, a cup and saucer, an ice cream dish and a candy bowl. I found several inexpensive UV fluorescent lights and after some experimentation, I started taking photos using the light from the fluorescing glass. Using some paints and dyes, which phosphoresces under UV light, I added some painted objects to the glass scenes.

These photos are the result of that experimentation.

I took these two photos as a comparison of a hand-painted dried rose under normal light and UV light.

Crashing Water Drops (June 26, 2016)

I attended a one-day course on high-speed photography at SPAO and spent an amazing day learning how to take photographs of water drops. But is wasn’t just a lone water drop – the trick was to catch a water drop crashing into the previous drop, and stopping the motion of the crash with the help of an off-camera flash.

When a drop of water falls into a tray of water, it first creates a depression in the water, which quickly fills up to create a small column of water. Then the second drop crashes into this column to create different shaped patterns of spray. We used a small computer chip connected to a laptop, the flash and a solenoid valve that released the drops. Variables in the computer program determined when to release the drops and fire the flash.

I do not consider myself to be a technical person, and at the start of the course, when presented with the technology, all I could think about was how to run away and hide – it was literally over-whelming for me, especially considering that there were two engineers on the course who were speaking in a engineer-tongue.

However, after eight hours of learning and experimenting, I did not want to leave. I was hooked!

One really neat thing I discovered was that, no matter how much you tried to take the same shot, the smallest change to the environment would create a different water drop pattern. Things like the level of water in the tube from which the water drops originated, a slight breeze from the air conditioner, the level of water in the tray, people moving around in the room … any of these could dramatically change the final pattern.

Exporail Re-Visited (May 29, 2016)

This was my second visit to Exporail, and I’m still in love with this place. My initial visit was on August 1, 2015, almost a year ago. For my previous visit please see Exporail – Awaken Your Inner Child.

Eastern Ontario Train Museum (June 18, 2016)

Located in Smith Falls, Ontario, the Eastern Ontario Train Museum is a small and informal museum with its own track system. The people who volunteer there are friendly and know their stuff about trains. In addition to some great exhibits inside the train station, you can walk through and climb on many of the train cars. It is worth a visit if you are in the area. And when you are there, say hello to Jack, their newest volunteer. He is a sweetheart!

Exporail – Awaken Your Inner Child

Exporail (www.exporail.org), the largest railway museum in Canada, is located on the south shore of Montreal in the town of Saint-Constant, Quebec. On Saturday, August 1st, my friend Elizabeth and I paid this place a visit, and we were not disappointed – after 5 hours we were still wandering around the complex poking our noses into the various exhibits and going for many rides on a fully operation Montreal streetcar. WOW! Our inner children had a ball there.

Montreal Steetcar

John Molson Steam Engine Reproduction

Other Trains & Exhibits

Ducati Weekend at Calabogie Motorsports Park

I recently had an opportunity to watch a friend putting her Ducati through its paces at the Calabogie Motorsports Park. Awesome riding skills and beautiful pieces of machinery. Definitely worth the trip.

I take my hat (helmet?) off for these riders. I don’t think I’ll be trying this anytime soon on my Burgman 650.

Eastern Ontario Train Museum

A friend and I, both lovers of trains, recently visited the Eastern Ontario Train Museum in Smith Falls, Ontario. We picked a great day for this visit – it was overcast and cold – we were the only visitors that day and so we had the run of the museum. I have such fond memories of trains, especially the old steam engines. I spent much of my youth living next to the main train line in the Laurentians near Val David, and when we heard a train coming my friends and I would drop everything and head over to the tracks to see the train chugging by. And what kid from my generation didn’t put pennies on the tracks when the train went by – the goal was to see who could end up with the flattest penny. Sometimes we had a special treat – one of the regular engineers lived near my home and the train would stop at the local crossing to let him off at the end of his shift. We could stand next to the steam engine and watch the wheels spin as it fought for traction when it pulled away. Passenger or freight, it was awesome.