Modeling Sutrito Tower

Google Earth has a representation of Sutrito Tower contributed by user “kirschbaum” here.

Whoa, trees! When did GE add those? They really help sell the scene.  Without them…

Something's not quite right here.

I don’t want to be mean to someone who’s giving away his creation for free to the rest of us… but this really won’t do. The trees can help hide the misalignment at the bottom — which is really the Google elevation model’s fault, not the model maker’s.

Trees help sell the scene.

But the tower itself still kind of looks like a bunker.

It’s possible to create models in Google Earth using photo textures with an “alpha channel,” so you can see through parts of the building.  That’s exactly what we want here, so I went out to take a few pictures on this beautiful blue-sky weekend. The blue made it easy to “chroma-key” out the background. I only had a good angle on the southwest-facing side of the tower, so I cloned that onto the other sides. I think this exaggerates the number of antennas, but I’m okay with that. Voila:

Oh , that’s much better. I’ve submitted this to GE, but you can download it now. Let’s see it against the scene up top.

Aw yeah!

Hey, I can see my house from here:

Now zoom in

…and enhance:

And download if you want to.

It seems like you always have to fudge something to get alignment with the terrain model in GE. The virtual terrain here falls away much more steeply on the right than it does in reality, hence the odd stilt-like configuration. The Street View photo texture helps hide it if you don’t look too close.

This view may look familiar:

Hmm… actually, that’s too many antennas on the east side. I’ll have to fix that later. I could also probably use lower resolution photo textures. I just noticed that the Sutrito model is 4 MB! Almost all of that is texture; the geometry is dead simple.

While I’m recreating time-lapse videos in Google Earth, I noticed a missing spire here, and had to do something about it:

That’s the steeple of All Hallows Church in the Bayview. As with all of these models, I started building it in Building Maker, imported it into SketchUp, and then threw away the original model, keeping only the aligned-photo “scenes.” SketchUp can use those photos/scenes, and gives you much more control about how to apply the photos as textures, and to which surfaces.

I’m definitely still learning, and would welcome any suggestions or questions in the comments.


Sutro v Clouds, Adventures in Time-Lapse Photography

I’ve been shooting time-lapse video of bits of the San Francisco skyline and sky for a couple of months now.  Bernalwood has been kind enough to feature a few of them on that fine local blog.  The video above, “Sutro v Clouds,” is just about my favorite (maybe tied with Wednesday night’s moonrise).  In this video, you’re looking at the following “layers,” front to back:

  • 1500 block of Oakdale
  • All Hallows Church spire
  • Bernal Hill
  • Sutrito Tower
  • Twin Peaks
  • Sutro/clouds
  • Clouds/Sutro

It’s amazing how little equipment it takes to do these, if you’ve already got an iPhone.  The mini-tripod, telephoto lens, and iPhone case with threads that you screw the lens into, are just $35 total from  Yes, I mentioned this in the last post, and no, I’m not getting any personal financial reward from mentioning them.  I just think it’s a fantastic deal!  The time-lapse app I’ve been using lately is iMotion HD, which is free to try but costs a few bucks if you want to export anything (in-app purchase).

Super hi-tech rig

Did I mention $35 at

That’s an old t-shirt/windshield cleaning rag propping up the back legs of the tripod.  The slope of the dashboard made the tripod want to tip over backwards, so I improvised.  On another shoot, I could only get the shot from the driver’s side, where there wasn’t enough room to stand up the tripod.  I had to lay it down flat and use the weight of an external iPhone battery to hold it in place.

Sutro & Sutrito setup

Tripod is collapsed, held in place by the weight of an external battery

I shoot at 1 frame per second, and set the video to play back at 30 fps.  So for a one-minute video like “Sutro v Clouds,” above, I’m sitting in my car for 30 minutes.  I try not to look like a stalker, but once a neighbor stopped by and asked if I was on a stakeout.

Wider view of the time-lapse scene

Wider view of the time-lapse scene

I was really pleased with the conjunction of various towers and peaks from this location, and couldn’t believe my luck when the clouds started putting on a show.  I got home and threw it up on the big screen with the Apple TV to admire it.

Cat has a suggestion

Cat has a suggestion

My cat was also interested, but she had a suggestion on composition.

Moar peaks


The October 2011 Thomas Brothers IPA is ready

Thomas Brothers IPA

Thomas Brothers IPA, October 2011 edition, is ready to drink

It’s still pretty young, but it’s now fizzy enough to be drinkable.  This edition of the Thomas Brothers IPA was brewed on 9/10/11, racked and dry-hopped On 9/18, bottled 10/1, opened 10/14.  Yum.  The glass is from Speakeasy brewery, which you’d be able to see in the background if Bayview wasn’t in the way.  (BTW, Speakeasy, please replace your Flash-only website with something usable on iOS devices.  Thanks.)

Ttime-lapse rig with IPA

Time-lapse rig with IPA

Homebrew posing with time-lapse rig.  Lens, iPhone case, and tripod available for only $35 from!

Moonrise from Bernal Heights

I’m really pleased with this time-lapse video of tonight’s moonrise, but despite my tweet, I didn’t quite nail it.

I had an approximate time of moonrise (6:44 pm) from the World Time iPhone app. I pointed the camera east (that’s where things rise, right?), and started the time-lapse capture, one frame per second, for playback at 30 fps. The result lasts 42 seconds, so it captures 21 minutes of real time. The camera was misaligned by about 20 degrees to the south for the first five minutes (10 seconds of time-lapse). When I saw the first light of the moon rising out of frame, I was able to realign the camera to get it in frame  within a few seconds. Still, it’s a glitch I’d like to avoid in the future. So I searched for “moonrise azimuth calculator” and found the USNO Sun/Moon Azimuth calculator. I filled it out for San Francisco, California, October 12, 2011 and got, in part, this:

Astronomical Applications Dept.
U.S. Naval Observatory
Washington, DC 20392-5420

   o  ,    o  ,
W122 26, N37 46

Altitude and Azimuth of the Moon
Oct 12, 2011
Pacific Standard Time

          Altitude    Azimuth    Fraction
                      (E of N)  Illuminated

 h  m         o           o
. . .
17:40       -1.6        70.5       0.99
17:50        0.7        71.9       0.99  <-- I saw it rise here
18:00        2.4        73.4       0.99
18:10        4.2        74.8       0.99
18:20        6.0        76.2       0.99

Note that this calculator does not use Daylight Saving Time, despite the fact that it’s now in effect more than six months out of the year. I saw the first light of the moon peeking over the East Bay hills, just south of Mount Diablo, at right around 6:49 PDT. This table says the moon should have been about 71 degrees east of north, so now I have a skyline landmark to associate with 71 degrees: just south of Mount Diablo. This will help next time.

Altitude and Azimuth of the Moon
Oct 13, 2011
Pacific Standard Time

          Altitude    Azimuth    Fraction
                      (E of N)  Illuminated

 h  m         o           o
. . .
18:10       -2.2        65.7       0.96
18:20        0.2        67.2       0.96 <-- Tomorrow's moonrise!
18:30        1.7        68.7       0.96
18:40        3.4        70.1       0.96
18:50        5.2        71.5       0.96
19:00        7.0        72.9       0.96

Tomorrow’s moon will rise another few degrees further north, 67 degrees, at 7:20 pm PDT. Maybe right behind Diablo? That’s where I’ll be pointing the camera, hoping for more weather like this.

Thanks, Steve

I’ve been meaning to post about some time-lapse videos of the San Francisco sky that I’ve been shooting on my iPhone. Now this terrible news about Steve Jobs. RIP. Of course, I got the news on my iPhone. Such amazing creations he made.

My latest sunrise video was shot this morning on my iPhone 4. gromitgirl’s iPhone caught this rainbow over Pixar just after the news broke. And Robert Scoble caught another rainbow over silicon valley.

Millions of people’s creativity is channeled through Apple products every day. I’m a pretty hard sell on supernatural/spiritual explanations… but c’mon. The universe or karma or something was working today, right?