Blowgun Tutorial

Freddy Boyotai is demonstrating how to load and shoot a blowgun.

The Waoraini and the Quechua people use similar blowguns, with Quechua blowguns being a bit more rounded.  In both cases, a blowgun is a really long pipe (about 8 feet long).  The dart itself is a wooden stick that looks like a 15-20-inch-long thin skewer. Hunters take a bit of palm fluff that looks a bit like cotton and wrap a little bit of it around the rear end (the dull end) of the dart to create a seal when the dart is inserted into the pipe.  The container that holds the “fluff” is made from a seed pod of a tree in the Rubiaceae family. The “cotton” material is kapok, fluff from a kapok tree seed pod.  Darts are made from the stem of a palm leaf.

The next step involves a small necklace made of piranha teeth that many men wear around their necks. The neckless is basically a set of two piranha jaws – hunters use the space between the sharp teeth to cut a small grove in the dart so that when the dart hits its target, the tip would break off.  Once the dart is notched, the tip is dipped in poison, usually made from curare vine.  Curare vine poison is a paralytic agent – when it enters the bloodstream, it paralyzes an animal, so that even a small wound would render the animal incapable of escaping.

Polaroid Land Camera

Over the last few months, I have been working on a virtual exhibit project with the University of Colorado Boulder Media Archaeology Lab. My colleague Dr. Jessica FitzPatrick and I have been putting together an augmented reality popup book to tell stories of some fascinating technology artifacts.

One of these artifacts, a Polaroid Land camera, has quite a bit of personal interest to me. The story goes that Dr. Edwin Land, the founder of Polaroid, came up with the idea for instant photography during a conversation with his 8-year-old daughter. Supposedly, she wondered why she could not immediately see the results of a photograph and that prompted Land to begin work on an instant camera.

Polaroid has a fascinating history, full of invention, innovation, stubbornness, and failure to foresee the future. There are stories associated with the Apartheid regime in South Africa, pornography in post-Soviet Russia, Andy Warhol, and many others. I would highly recommend checking out “Polaroid Now: The History and Future of Polaroid Photography” by Steve Crist and Oskar Smolokowski.

I am hoping to post some AR content shortly, but in the meantime, here are a few detailed shots of the Polaroid Land camera that we are using in the virtual exhibit and the virtual pop-up book.

A walk around Swissvale

As part of my recovery from spinal surgery I have to walk as much as I possibly can. I’ve been walking between teaching online classes, between meetings, between working on grant proposals. A camera is a great companion for walks – it helps you notice and capture things that you normally walk by without giving them a second glance.

All the photos in this post have been taken with a Fujifilm XT-3 camera and a 23mm f/2 lens, using Fujifilm Arcos B&W film preset with a red filter. #swissvale #fujifilm #fujifilmxt3 #blackandwhitephotography

Mural on the side of a building, Monongahela Avenue, Swissvale, PA. #swissvale #fujifilm #fujifilmxt3 #nightphotography #blackandwhitephotography
Dari Delight Ice Cream, around 9PM in the evening, Monongahela Avenue, Swissvale, PA
Swissvale Fire Department at night, around 9PM. Irvine Street. Swissvale, PA.
Swissvale Fire Department. Irvine Street. Swissvale, PA
Unisex Hair Salon. Abandoned hair salon on Irvine Street, Swissvale, PA
View from the train tracks near the bus expressway. Swissvale, PA
Garbage trucks
Virgin Mary altar in a backyard. Swissvale, PA

Chernobyl: 20 years after the catastrophe

A few weeks ago one of my friends told me about the HBO mini-series Chernobyl. I was somewhat skeptical about watching it, and here is why.

I grew up in Gomel, Belarus. On April 26, 1986, I was playing soccer outside when a huge gust of wind blew the ball across the yard. My grandmother ran out and told me and my friends to get inside in case it starts raining. No one knew what actually happened; even when the government finally admitted that there was an accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the news downplayed the extent of the damage and of the danger, calling it a “minor accident with only four casualties”.

I am not going to go into the details of the aftermath – plenty of books, articles, and documentaries have been created to tell the story of Chernobyl.

In 2006, twenty years after the accident, I decided to travel to Chernobyl and see for myself the remnants of Chernobyl and Pripyat, the exclusion zone, and the people who live and work there.

It was surprisingly easy to travel into the exclusion zone – a quick Google search got me to SoloEast Travel, a Kiev-based company that organizes Chernobyl tours.

The whole experience of visiting Chernobyl and Pripyat was surreal; after coming back to the United States I pretty much archived the photos and the notebooks.

After the first episode of the HBO miniseries, I went back through my backups and looked through close to 2,000 photos and dozens of scanned notes.

Here are a few of the photos…




A stork nest on a telephone pole on the way from Kiev to Chernobyl. It is an old Russian/Ukrainian/Byelorussian belief that when storks return to their nests, everything is going to be OK.


КПП – Контрольно-пропускной пункт. Exclusion Zone entrance checkpoint / passport control




A monument to the liquidators.

“The Chernobyl liquidators were the civil and military personnel who were called upon to deal with consequences of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the Soviet Union on the site of the event.” –




A map of the exclusion zone

At the time of my visit, Maria was the sole remaining resident of her village a few kilometers outside of Pripyat

Both of Maria’s sons were in the first wave of Chernobyl liquidators. They died several years after the cleanup was completed

An abandoned house in a village a few kilometers outside of Pripyat

Approaching the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant


Moss (and some other fungi) seem to feast on radiation (ref). Throughout the entire visit, our guides kept telling us to be careful not to step on moss. Just to make a point, one of the guides held up a dosimeter in the air to measure the background radiation; when he set it on a patch of moss the radiation reading doubled immediately.

The city of Pripyat


The city of Pripyat, central square.

Found this in the basement of one of the government buildings – looks like a storage space for propaganda posters / materials

A school hallway

Nurse’s office inside a school

A bank

Inside of an abandoned apartment


Daycare / preschool

Sarcophagus around reactor #4. This is the reactor that exploded on April 26, 1986. Now the reactor is surrounded with the New Safe Confinement (NSC or New Shelter), a structure that will supposedly contain the remains of the reactor for the next 100 years. 

Dosimeter reading next to the reactor #4 sarcophagus


A tremendous amount of military equipment was used during the cleanup. Since all the equipment was heavily contaminated, most of it was destroyed and buried. These few pieces were turned into a monument / memorial.


Everyone leaving the exclusion zone must go through a radiation scan to ensure that one’s clothing, shoes, and personal items have not been contaminated during the visit