Archive for May 2011

Rafting the Jinja Nile   3 comments

In the summer of 2009, while living in Kenya, a group of my friends and I decided to take a trip to Uganda to go white water rafting on the Nile River.  We hired a driver (something you have to do for long trips in Africa) and piled in for a fun weekend.  The first adventure was crossing the border from Kenya into Uganda.  In place of a formal currency exchange, your car gets mobbed by locals holding fists of bills and telling you they have the best deal.  It’s a bit unnerving, but we were warned in advance to expect it and the driver made sure we didn’t get ripped off.  Uganda struck me as being a bit better off economically than Kenya.  The roads were better, the buildings seems to be in better repair and people looked like life was a bit easier.

We reached the camp in Jinja later in the evening and after a few Tuskers in the bar, we settled into the bunks in our concrete rooms.  There were LOTS of mice scurrying around, but it was still fairly comfortable.

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In the morning, the adventure began with some safety instructions and a bus ride upstream to put in the river.  We first practiced flipping the rafts so we made sure we could all get back in safely.  All of us were fully aware that the river is home to thousands of crocodiles and other Nile creatures and appreciated being able to get back in the boat quickly.  We were lead by very seasoned guides who knew how to traverse the impressive rapids safely.  The section of the Nile we rafted has legitimate Class III through V rapids which can be extremely dangerous in most rivers.  The Nile is somewhat different.  It is so tremendously deep that even crashing down hundreds of feet over rocks, there is still a large buffer of water between you and the rock below.  I will admit that every rapid made me question my sanity for going on this trip, but looking back, I felt safe the entire time. 

Jinja Map

One notable part of the adventure was a large widening of the Nile about half way through the trip.  While our paddles had been used solely to steer where possible, the became our only means of propulsion across nearly a mile of water.  It didn’t help that one of our paddlers (who will go unnamed, you know who you are) was extremely lazy and did more harm than good paddling.  We did get a nice snack break where the guides pulled out their machetes and cut us pieces of the best pineapple any of us had ever tasted.  Most of us took an opportunity to jump out of the sun and float in the Nile for awhile while the guides watched out for crocs.  At one point, we passed a tree covered island that appeared to be the home of a huge flock of birds.  Our guide asked if we wanted to see something interesting and began slapping his paddle on the water making a loud smacking sound echo across the river.  The island erupted in a fury of wings as giant fruit bats began to circle in wide rings around the island.  The smacking sound apparently is very agitating to bat ‘sonar’ and makes them all take flight when they hear it.  If you’ve seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, those are the types of bats I’m describing. 

Check out the videos here if you haven’t seen them on my facebook page…

We returned to the camp exhausted but satisfied with a wonderful day exploring the Nile.  Our next surprise treat was actually the post rafting shower.  The camp sits on a cliff overlooking the river and carved out of the side of the cliff are two open air shower stalls that hang precariously over the river below.  While cold, a fresh water shower felt wonderful and I lingered for awhile absorbing the view.  It’s actually really enjoyable to stand naked under the flowing water and look out over such a beautiful skyline.  I did eventually notice while toweling off that there was a group of people far in the distance washing clothes on the banks and I briefly wondered if the locals had just gotten a show as my wet body acted like a mirror reflecting the sun.  I didn’t mind and I doubt they did either.  As night fell, we rallied outside the campground where a group of huts had been set up to sell trinkets.  I found a man selling wooden masks and had a look around.  One mask that caught my eye was a large gorilla with a long leather tongue.   As I went to inspect the mask, the tongue suddenly slurped up inside the mouth leaving me a bit puzzled.  The owner laughed, turned the mask around and revealed the large rat living inside.  His tail had been hanging down out of the mouth.  Of course, I bought the mask and left the rat there.

Our final treat of the night was two brothers who fired up the grill in their chepati stand and started selling us the fried dough as fast as they could grill them.  Stuffed with avocado, eggs, grilled meat and other vegetables, they were the perfect meal after a long day of exercise.  We all slept soundly and left Uganda the next day uninjured by the Nile and with fantastic memories.

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I MUST give credit for the bottom three pictures to my fellow explorer and amazing photographer Angeli Kirk (


Posted May 8, 2011 by chrislux in Travel

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HDR Panoramic Stitch of the Canal   Leave a comment

Canal HDR Panorama

The Canal in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana is a beautiful feature of my hometown.  I spent an afternoon with my Canon DSLR trying to capture the spirit of the canal.  This shot was constructed from nine original images.  It combines the photography techniques of panoramic digital stitching and HDR (High Dynamic Range) processing.  Below is the grid of the original images.  Hope you enjoy the shot!

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Self Portrait HDR Metal Reflection (HDR Self Portrait) I was extra scruffy that day

Posted May 4, 2011 by chrislux in Photography

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Restoring Circle Monument Spotlights   15 comments

In the summer of 2010, I was visiting my grandparents in Indianapolis.  While walking between their house and barn, I noticed a pair of round metal objects under a pile of old roofing shingles.  Flipping one over revealed it to be some kind of large electric light.  My grandfather told me that his friend was working downtown over 40 years ago and was one of his daily visits to the circle.  The city was renovating the historic Soldiers and Sailors Monument and the workers were throwing away all of the old copper spotlights.  Knowing that my grandfather was considering installing lights in the tree line across the lake from his house, the friend asked to save two lights from the trash.  My grandfather was delighted by the find, but with no wiring to power the lights, the lights were never installed.  They sat in the dirt for over 40 years going mostly unnoticed.  My grandfather was somewhat reluctant to give up on his dream of lighting the trees across the lake, but agreed to allow me to attempt to restore the lights. 


1965 Aerial View of Monument Circle

Image Reference: Digital Image © 2008 Indiana Historical Society.
All Rights Reserved





I took the lights down to the picnic table beside the cottage and began an inspection.  Both were coated in mud and badly corroded.  I could tell that they were metal, but was not sure of the type.  The glass was so dirty that you couldn’t see inside.  Luckily, the latches and hinges for the glass doors still worked.  Both lights were full of water and dirt but amazingly, one of the giant light bulbs was still intact.  (I later had a friend help me run power to the original socket and IT WORKED!!, but would have been far too powerful for indoor use).  The lights had a metal reflector inside to focus the beam of light at a specific point.  The large metal brackets / stands took some elbow grease to get moving but still functioned well.  I knew I wanted to polish the metal, so I started gradually removing the small screws that held the reflector and glass in place.  Many of these turned out to be copper and were very soft.  They were severely corroded but a salt and vinegar soak loosened them up.   I was careful not to strip the screws or bend the heads for the most part.

The electric fixtures were soldered in and were in terrible shape so I decided to take a hack saw to the central copper pin that held them in place (and came out the back of the lights).  I’m sure restorers are cringing at that, but I figured it was worth it to get them in working order again.  The glass was scrubbed with a coarse soap, run through the dishwasher and finally washed with Windex and came out pretty clean and clear despite a few deep scratches.

Restoring the metal was a much harder project.  I first tried to do this myself with salt/vinegar which is a known copper polish alternative but didn’t touch this tarnish.  I also tried catsup which is mostly vinegar/salt, that was no good either and kind of sticky.  Finally, I used a high grade copper polish but even with a powered polish tool, it wasn’t coming clean.  The lights went in the trunk of my car and went with me to look for help.  I found a metal shop with a concentrated acid dip.  To my amazement, this failed too!  They suggested that there was likely a varnish or weather proofing over the metal that was preventing access to the bare metal.  My next stop was a shop with a silica bead blaster.  This is similar to sand blasting (again, not recommended for restoring antiques!) except the sand is melted into small spherical beads that cause much less scoring and damage to the metal.  The guy at the shop was able to remove the varnish and corrosion from not only the lights, but the tiny screws and hardware too.  They looked great!

After silica blasting, the metal (copper and brass) was gorgeous, but had a matte finish and was not shiny like polished copper.  I again tried manually polishing, but this was VERY slow going and the results were not consistent.  I found shops that would do the work for me, but it will cost nearly $500 a light, so that is definitely on hold for now. 

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Next, I went to a local lamp shop and bought fixtures and wiring to attempt to modernize the electrics.  I found that standard lamp center threaded piping fit perfectly through the back brackets of the lights and I bought small copper caps to hide the threads on the outside.  The sockets are free standing in the center of the light and there is a C bracket in the middle of two pieces of piping where the wire can exit through an original power hole in the side of the light.  Finally, I found “Edison Style” incandescent light bulbs online with long looped filaments that look great glowing inside the lights.  The metal reflectors were intentionally left out for now to allow the light to spread evenly and not be focused on a specific spot.  I have the lights linked to a dimmer switch so the light can be set low and cause a reflect off the copper interior to emit a warm orange glow.  I found a man in Illinois who was selling antique tripods which I modified to hold the lights and set them up in the corners of my apartment.  They’re certainly a conversation piece!

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Later, I found a few examples online of people who had restored very similar GE spotlights and sold them online typically in auction form.  One of them sold for several thousand dollars!  Mine are not for sale but rather will remain a family treasure.  Thanks to my grandfather for letting me restore these beautiful lights, to his friend for saving them from the trash, and to the many people who helped me figure out how to bring these beauties back to life.

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Posted May 2, 2011 by chrislux in Technology

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