Tuesday, August 30, 2016

New Molted Cicada Exoskeleton with Wasps

Last month, I published "Closeup of Molted Cicada Exoskeleton (and More Info)". I had taken the accompanying pic of that lifeless shell on July 25. A few days ago, another cicada exuviae showed up on the same porch column, about a foot higher. Oh, boy! Another opportunity for another pic or more! Spotted more subjects than I expected, and got a bit more practice with my Fuji JX665.

I took the pix August 21, 22, and 23. With some of the images, I stood on a stepladder to get a better view of shell interior. Some pix are better focused than others. The pixstrip shows seven images. Click the following links to view very large images, which I saved as jpgs to reduce file sizes.
  1. Wasp perched on the shell (taken 8/21, 8:09 AM)
  2. Two wasps near the shell (taken 8/21, 8:11 AM)
  3. One wasp near the shell (taken 8/21, 8:14 AM)
  4. Wasp perched on the shell (taken 8/21, 8:19 AM)
  5. Shell (taken 8/21, 12:23 PM)
  6. Shell (taken 8/22, 1:40 PM)
  7. Shell (taken 8/23, 12:10 PM)
Part of my autofocus problem might have been cloudiness on those days, as we'd been getting rain several days that week. (The Fuji doesn't have manual focus, and the autofocus feature is ok but not great.) The porch overhang that obscured some ambient light might have also helped make it too dark. Otherwise, the camera would deliver a cheery-sounding autofocus double beep, signaling me to fire away.

Another issue I had was the camera focusing on greenery several feet away instead of my favored subject(s). A couple of times, I tried taping some cereal box cardboard as background, but breeziness kept flapping it, maybe affecting the camera's optimum capability. (Yes! Blame the camera! LOL!)

I think the main reason I didn't get optimal images is from inexperience. Learning for future shots:
  • Keeping subjects inside the rectangular marks, especially with trying to capture shell with nearby wasp(s) or getting too near the shell as I did with the last two shells
  • Avoid zooming in if I use the closeup mode (flower)
  • Increasing lighting so autofocus works better
I mulled over including the last two images because of less than optimal focus. However, details looking inside the shells are unusual to see. Better luck next time for me! And may the next cicada not shimmy so high up the porch column before planting itself for its skeletal strip!

Cicada articles:

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Duncan Hines Perfect Size Cake--Off Golden Path

*** 7/4/2016
Accompanying video now available at YouTube—"Duncan Hines Perfect Size Cake--Off Golden Path"


Duncan Hines debuted its Perfect Size cake line about a year ago. The ingredients make a smallish single-layer cake. The kit includes cake mix powder, a 6" paper pan with detachable liner, and frosting powder. The five flavors:
The Duncan Hines Perfect Size product I tried was “Golden Fudge”—the “Golden” referring to the cake itself, and “Fudge” referring to the accompanying frosting. "Chocolate Lovers" name, and to some degree, "Strawberries and Creme" seem pretty implicit of cake and frosting flavors also. The other two flavor names seem marketingish, but their accompanying images and very short descriptors provide info for expected results.

I decided to try out the recipe, even though the cake result is less than half an actual fully frosted cake but nearly the same cost ($2.78, fortunately, offset by 55¢ off coupon). The instructions seemed more bothersome than what I’d normally tolerate. I figured by the time I finished the project, I might deviate anyway, and I could get an article, video, or both out of the effort.

The main off-golden-path part of cake is the frosting—having used ready-to-spread white frosting instead of following instructions of the included frosting packet. (The frosting pack requires mixing the powder with water and butter.) An example video of the frosting hassle is at "Duncan Hines Perfect Size Cake Review", starting at 5:55 and stopping at 10:27.

My other deviation was using oil with the cake mix instead of butter. "Fat chance: Is Butter Really Better?" indicates that subbing oil for butter is fine, if not better, than using butter for the fat. I tend to favor mixing oil with water and egg together as a wet-ingredient mixture, then mixing the powder in.

The baking temperature was 300°, and for 34-39 minutes. My cake required 34 minutes—good thing I went for the minimum time. Looking at full-size cake mix boxes, most times are shorter and baking at 350°.

View my video of my Duncan Hines Personal Cake experience. If you want to try making one of these cakes, beware of some caveats. To Duncan Hines' credit, the websites I cited at the top of the article for their Personal Size cakes include comments from customers and their 1-to-5 star ratings. The most common complaints:
  • Costly for such a small cake result.
  • Too much time required for baking.
  • Labor-intensive for making frosting with included powder. Would be much more appealing for an envelope of ready-to-spread frosting.
  • Terrible-tasting frosting results from using powder and required additional ingredients.
  • Leaky paper baking pan and liner during baking, spilling batter onto the oven. (Oy!)
My recommendations: Buy a full-size box of cake mix and full container of ready-to-spread frosting. It'll be less preparation hassle, more flexibility for cake and frosting flavors, and better economy. The only real convenience to the Perfect Size is a throwaway paper baking pan.

If you want to make a smaller size cake, divvy up half a box of cake mix, follow the instructions on the box, adding only half the added ingredients. Pour the batter into one prepared (wax paper or whatever) round cake pan and bake as instructed. After cooling, frost with 1/2 container of ready-to-spread frosting of your choice.
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