Sunday, July 18, 2010

Saturday at the Hut - 7/17/10

We had a nice crowd at The Tobacco Hut yesterday: Joe K, Peter G, and Progress Energy Steve. We also had Barry pay us a visit. He doesn't work Saturdays at his regular job but he's been working at his other job at the funeral home those days instead of enjoying a cigar with the gang. He was driving the Cadillac station wagon earlier in the day and had time to come over for the afternoon - good on you Barry. Peter had to leave early as he was returning to his roots to do a radio gig at a Greek radio station. Sorry, I didn't tune in Peter.

There was a customer late in the day who was looking for some MacBaren Virginia No. 1, a tinned tobacco that Lou used to carry. I've tried it and it just smokes too hot for me. To be fair, I've always had trouble with straight Virginias and their high sugar content. The key is to slow the puffing way down and I guess I'm just too used to smoking the pipe in my regular ole' way. In any case, after the customer left, Lou was musing that maybe he should get some Virginia tobacco in as he used to carry it in bulk. We discussed how Virginia is an excellent tobacco as a base for blending, and he's got all the right complements to it already: Latakia, Perique, Cavendish, etc.

Maybe, just maybe, he'll order some Virginia and even let me try my hand at blending a new mix for the store. Lou currently carries two English blends: Alaskan Gold and Country Squire, both with a Burley base. I would love to create another English or two. Hint, hint!

New York Vic called while we were there and announced some good news. They've sold their house and he should be moving down to Florida permanently in September. It'll be good to have Vic as part of the Saturday crew, at least occasionally.

Peter posed a question to Joe, Lou, and me about so-called "ghost orbs" in photography. He has a friend who has spotted such ghost orbs, AKA spirit orbs, in his pictures. Peter asked what we thought they were evidence of. Joe saw them as evidence of, well, ghosts and spirits. I see them as evidence of something far more mundane: Dust.

Contrary to popular belief, the dust that creates such orbs is not dust affixed to the camera lens, but rather dust, water droplets, etc. that are suspended in the air directly in front of the camera. In almost all cases, the orbs appear when flash is used on a compact digital camera. One rarely sees them in a dSLR because on a compact digital camera the distance between the flash and lens is quite minimal, allowing the flash to illuminate a dust particle directly in front of the lens.

But surely this is just the boring old explanation of a skeptic, and not incontrovertible evidence of the spirit world floating in front of our eyes, er, camera sensors...? Indeed, the scientific and mundane explanation isn't nearly as exciting as ghosts and goblins, but embracing the words of a 14th century logician, theologian, and Franciscan friar William of Ockham will guide the gentle reader to the proper conclusion. The so-called Ockham's Razor is the principle that "entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity" (entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem). The popular interpretation of this principle is that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.

So which is simpler, that a few dust particles suspended in the air are reflecting the light from the flash back to the camera lens, or that some people who die are caught in some sort of limbo because for some reason they haven't made it to their "final destination" and make their appearances as whitish, round circles in pictures of darkened rooms photographed by compact digital cameras with flash?

In between puffs of his La Gloria Cubana Artesanos de Tabaqueros, Joe shouts out a challenge: Why are the orbs always circular? Dust comes in many forms, e.g. bits of skin, fibers, bug poop, animal dander, etc. But the spirit orbs are always circular - nay, spherical - in nature. Surely that means that the orbs are photographic proof of the existence of ghosts.

I admit, that had me stumped at the time. Joe was right, dust does come in many shapes and sizes, so why weren't there, say, long skinny irregular whitish blobs appearing in such pictures? Naturally, when I got home I did some research. It turns out there is a perfectly reasonable, albeit somewhat complicated, explanation.

Basically, the orbs are not a round piece of dust being photographed. The orbs are actually "circles of confusion" (CoCs). CoCs are out-of-focus points of light caused by a reflection of "highlights" on dust particles. Highlights are all around us. In the picture of the apples, note the highlights caused by the sun shining on the fruit. Because dust particles are so small they usually only have one highlight that is reflected.
It is this highlight, a pinprick of light, that becomes out-of-focus and appears as an orb. This helps to explain why the color and shape of an orbs is not the color and shape of dust.

In photography, a CoC is the smallest dot that a human eye can perceive in a photo. When an object highlight is out of focus, this dot expands to become a recognizable circle. In the case of an out-of-focus dust particle caught in a flash, this circle is seen as an orb. The CoC size is usually around 0.05mm and can vary from camera to camera.

I am quite sure that I have exhausted the patience of any readers who have gotten this far, but I wanted to answer Joe's quite reasonable question. Lou was tiring of ghost orb talk, so he switched gears to another misguided notion: The continuous pumping of oil around the world is cooling the earth. I won't test the patience of my readers by dissecting this assumption piece by piece, but the long and short of it is that there is far too much distance between the molten core of the earth and where the oil deposits are.

The average distance from the surface of the earth to the molten outer core is 1,800 miles. The vast majority of oil reserves lie no more than 4-5 miles from the surface. Because of the pressure and temperature, any petroleum found below roughly 5 miles is in the form of a gas, i.e. natural gas. It would have no cooling effect anyway, even if it was closer to the core.

Science lesson is over for the day, folks. Get your questions ready for next week!

 - Bob


  1. Dear Bob; I fell asleep while reading your explanation and hit my head on the keyboard. I am now seeing small points of light. Any theories? MIKE G

  2. Never thought of that, though i wasnt satisfy, still im learning something from you.

  3. I will certainly be back again. Hope that I can go through more informative posts then.