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Friday, 18 November 2011

I'm just a bit knackered

Yesterday, I spent 12-plus hours working my way through the final designs of this book.  It won't be out until next May, but I think it's going to go rather well.  Maybe not as well as its prequel which was CBCA Eve Pownall book-of-the-year for 2010, but I hope it will shape a few minds and get them excited.

The idiots who say we don't need books (or libraries {or librarians}) any more, because everything is on the web need to get their hands dirty, doing an actual book or five, so that they know what they are talking about.

This one has been two years in the making, and most of that time, the production team and I have been hard at it. The publisher is the National Library of Australia, and we wanted to reflect and showcase the Library's collections, but we also wanted reliable pictures, and I took most of the extras that were needed.

That was the most fun I have had in years, but I also has a lot of fun going out and spending my publisher's advance on extra equipment. I replaced my camera (twice), I bought new microscopes, new USB cameras, containers, tubes and more stuff.

But what I want to talk about today is the cheapest of the items I bought. I got it from Aldi on special, it was $50. In essence, it is a USB camera that sits on a stand, and has lenses that deliver x10, x60 and x200 images, 1280 x 1024.  I think it also does movies, but I didn't need those, so I haven't tried them yet.

In the lower shot, you can see one of the two light sources: there's another one under the stage for times when you want to look at slides and stuff.

The third shot shows you the sort of thing I prefer to do.  I have a preserved mygalomorph spider sitting in a Petri dish on the stage, lit from above, abd you can see that the image, even on 10x, is quite impressive.

This isn't a funnelweb but a brown trapdoor spider, and it has bleached after many, many years of marinating in preserving fluids, but the fangs remain spectacular.

Of course, I wasn't thinking, so I didn't capture the image you can see there on the screen, so I did the next best thing. I went to the original shot and cropped out the small portion of the picture I had of the screen (so this next shot is necessarily degraded.  Here it is: Not bad, huh?

Now I had also bought a $500 USB attachment that delivered a 640x480 image of what I could see down my professional-standard microscopes, but it was seriously hard to use, and in the end, I used the $50 toy for preference.

Mind you, I did a fair amount of tweaking.  In particular, I got around the focal plane issue by using some neat open-source software from the National Institutes of Health or NIH.  You can download this software, ImageJ, from but be aware that you need to have your wits about you: this is one of those times when the geeks have come out to play, and they have developed stuff that is good for them.  Anyhow, I was able to get a lovely image of a housefly by combining the toy and ImageJ. It looks like this:

All of that effort was to get the haltere, a vestigial wing that characterises flies.  Look one third down, one third of the way in from the right and find a small light bit sticking up, slightly inclined to the right, looking a bit like a fly-swatter or a brandished frying-pan.  That's the haltere.

By the way, the Traveler people have a site at which actually redirects, and the site shows two microscopes like mine, but they only offer 640 x 480 images.  My model is SU1071, and they say they have an Australian helpline at 1800 623 432.  The microscope comes with software on a CD and you need to make a note of the serial number on the envelope that the CD comes in.

In the end, we decided not to put microscopy in the book, so the next few blogs that I put in here are likely to be about simple home microscopy.

1 comment:

  1. stunning! what images...well done Peter, thanks for the help today as well.
    Vic Gecas