Bird Flu Yet to Fly

This is a topic I’ve not blogged lately, but I’ve continued to follow the H5N1 news all along. I became aware of, interested in, and concerned about the potential of this global public health issue while teaching biology at Radford in 2004 and 2005.

While the tens of millions of birds who have died from it or been slaughtered because of it might not think so, the virus has been kind to the planet by an evolution toward human transmission that has been slow. But change in this direction has not been non-existent. The incidence of Tamiflu resistance and possibly of family cluster And since it first appeared in a relatively small geographic area, bird hosts now harbor the virus over the majority of the planet. Take a look at the clickable map, and especially of the changes over the second half of 2006. Meanwhile, vaccine development goes on, with small victories and discouraging defeats.

And the press, understandably, is suffering from bird flu burnout, as is the general public. How does a nation, state, or community far removed from the Asian center of this pathogen remain appropriately vigilant for months, for years and not become complacent?

From Yahoo News: Bird flu surges in 2006: WHO chief – Yahoo! News: … 2006 was a record year for human bird flu deaths. There were 161 deaths from bird flu worldwide in 2006 out of 267 confirmed cases, according to World Health Organization (WHO) data.

“More deaths occurred in 2006 than in the previous years combined,” the WHO director general said Monday.

The fatality rate reached 70 percent last year, 10 percent above the average since the first recorded deaths in China and Vietnam in 2003.

“The message is straightforward: we must not let down our guard,” Chan said at the opening of the WHO’s executive board meeting.

“As long as the virus continues to circulate in birds, the threat of a pandemic will persist. The world is years away from control in the agricultural sector,” she warned.

Ice Flow

Winter Photography / Digital Photo / Fred First / Southwest Virginia
I’m thinking maybe this will be a good day for some creek ice pictures. At least that possibility sweetens the knowledge that I have to taxi some packages down our luge-run road and up and over to the Check Post Office later this morning. I’ll carry the tripod and camera bag with me, just in case.

Here’s one I grabbed the other day, and was especially happy about, seeing it “developed” later, inside on the computer monitor. What excited me was the fact that it was taken hand held at 1/15th of a second and is a sharp as I could want. I set shutter priority at that speed hoping to get some motion blur in the water (1/4th a second would have been better in that regard) while possibly not losing too much quality to camera shake. The 18-200mm Nikon VR lens seems to have done its work!

This shot, full res, makes a dandy desktop picture! Tell you what, if you’d like to use it, click this link to open the file (800k) and right click to “save as desktop image”. At least that should work in Windows. Let me know if it looks okay on your monitor, and if not, in future I can tweak resolution and aspect ratio, maybe, to improve things. (This is a limited time file; I’ll probably remove it from the server in a few days.)

Ice Embryos: Where Snowmen are Born

Beautiful Winter Photography / Digital Photo / Fred First / Floyd County, Virginia
It was no secret that she was as much interested in getting the husband out for a walk as in getting the photographer to the scene of a potential winter image. The physical investment would no doubt be greater than the photographic reward: her sighting of “weird” ice formations happened to be at the base of Ann’s Falls–a “trail” supplemented in two places with ropes to make it under the best of conditions both possible and somewhat safe.

Covered by an inch of sleet, my Muck Boots might as well have been snowboards–a fact that became more evident on our way DOWN this same trail after snagging a few shots.

But she was right: these were odd little hummocks of clarified ice, more or less regularly spaced in the splash zone of our little hidden waterfall.

Two years ago (or was it three?) she discovered the falls and “improved” the trail to them. It is still a special place. But I’ll be darned, it’s a sure thing that if she hadn’t drug me up there under the pretense of a potential photograph, I’d have been content to let this snowman nursery come and go unseen.

Book Notes January 2007

First, thanks to those who have been concerned about our winter travels. Ann spent the night at her workplace and will be driving the now slushy but visible roads home, having worked in the pharmacy 18 of the past 24 hours. She’ll be a lot of good company when she gets home, fer shure.

Second, thanks to Chris O’Donnell, long-time Fragments friend, who has been the first to pen a little review of the book on the Amazon.com page. Much appreciated.

And in the Amazonian domain, not without some forboding, I’ve given them permission to scan the book and make some of it available to readers: up to 2% to print and 20% to read. And this latter number bothers me some as it is the lowest possible setting for how much to make available to read for free. That seems like a lot, but it is that amount or more given as choices.

And along the same slippery slope, I’ve made the book accessible (eventually when the process completes) to Google Print, as well as offered it as an ebook. This will let it reach other continents where the printed version would be entirely too expensive.

Google is going to scan it sooner or later, it seems, and there is a 30 day quit clause in the contract if it seems the priviledge of reading on line for free is being abused. Still, it felt a little risky doing this, and I hope my uneasiness is allayed by future success stories. Stay tuned.

And regarding the “next book” that I’ve been mumbling about here the past month or so: I’ll show you tomorrow something I wrote in a rare focused hour last week–a kind of possible preface with a photo. But since then, I’m wandering a bit from that “coffee table–full page pix” model, thinking perhaps to have more and smaller photos, some with word wrap not unlike the blog page.

This would allow me to use more of the smaller jpegs (since I didn’t start shooting RAW until about a year ago). I could also aggregate several shots on a page–in a kind of montage–about fall foliage; about closeups of nature; about the dog–all with some explanatory, descriptive or more lyrical prose as the compositions demand.

The thought would be, as I posted this morning, to give the reader-viewer of the book a deep sense of this place through time through my eyes and voice. And with this approach, it could include the quirky, the humorous and the more abstract and abstruse elements of creative life than an “arts book” approach. Just an idea.

Sorry. Ruminating out loud again. But after all, that is no small part for me to the purpose of this permanent record of my thoughts, plans and fantasies. I just let folks peek over my shoulder in all this. You don’t have to look. But I’d enjoy the company.

Digging the Same Hole Deeper

Country Farmhouse /Digital Photo / Fred First / Appalachian Mountains of Virginia
I quoted an oriental-seeming proverb in Slow Road Home (or made it up, I can’t remember which) that “wise man finding no treasure, does not keep digging in the same hole.” Well, yes. And No.

In this place and time–Goose Creek, here, today, is treasure–of the senses, of personal meaning and belonging; treasure of comfort and beauty, and treasure in the riches of being able to share it with others through words and pictures. I haven’t tired yet of writing about it, or in sharing the minutiae of day by day changes and discoveries in pictures of the same old barn, creeks, valley and woods. I seem inclined to keep on digging.

So any skills or tools I can acquire that help me go deeper in this same small place are welcomed and I hope will be put to good use with the light and time I’m given here.

One such tool, I read about a couple of years ago–an experimental technology that would take many photographs–not just three to five horizons side by side–and stitch them together seamlessly. That program, developed by a couple of young guys from UBC is called Autostitch, and it has recently been released in demo mode for free! Well hot dang Skippy! Often, a single shot of a scene through the lens of a camera is like viewing the Grand Canyon through a soda straw while the eye takes in so much more of the vista. Patching a dozen shots into one: there’s got to be a time and place when this is just what’s needed to best share the experience of being and seeing.

I only had about 30 minutes of light from the time I downloaded the Autostitch panorama software until full shadow, and ran outside with the camera to take six shots; three at the level of the road and house, and three up above of the treetops and forest above the house. This is the product–low res, not wonderful composition, but amazingly seamless and hands-free stitching. Tweaks are possible, and somewhat higher-resolutions as well. But for me, with most of my “finished products” going to the web and not to photopaper, this will be a great tool to help find more treasure in this deep valley.

You can read more about it here.

Addendum: I’m slipping. Missed a perfect opportunity for double entendre/word play by not calling this post “Digging the Same Whole Deeper”. Shucks.