Sunday slide 25

This week has been pretty demanding, in multiple ways, so while I had several things that I was planning to tackle for the blog, I couldn’t even bring one to completion, and only shot a handful of photos as it was. I am hoping things will get better soon, but I know it’s likely to be another couple of days. More content is coming, I promise.

This one comes, again, from the very early days of slide shooting, and so it bears no date and no film stamp on the slide border (something that I started adding a little later on.) However, since it’s a variation of this one, I can confidently say that it’s Fuji Provia 100 at least, and probably shot in 1999.

tall trees in Duke Forest showing variety of fall colors
This is a section of Duke Forest, and I got lucky in finding a small clearing bordered by a variety of autumn colors framed by a brilliant blue sky, so I shot both horizontal and vertical compositions. There’s a faintly different feel to the two choices, which is why I often try a couple of different approaches to subjects – if there comes a demand for something that emphasizes the height of the trees or even a feeling of insignificance, I would choose this version over the other.

But I still want to do these better, mostly because of the damn longneedle pines that litter the state. They’re the ones with the long straight trunks and the kind of threadbare look to the canopy, and this is typical; they’re ugly trees and all over the damn place here, next to impossible to avoid. While I have yet to find the ideal mix of tree species for a nice balance of colors come autumn, I’m always watching. Of course, unless you really know your tree species (and I don’t,) you have to wait for fall to see how the displays are going to turn out anyway. And you have to have a good season for display, and catch the right weather and skies and times, and of course have the opportunity to be out shooting, and so on…

Sunday slides 24

The sequence about to be seen here comes from our trip to Florida, back in the early days of the blog, and I mentioned then that I was going to scan in a few more images from that trip, so you can see how well I schedule things.

The season had been lean for rain, and this was most visible while we were at Big Cypress Bend down in the Everglades. While previous trips had netted some great shots, this time around many of the channels were dry and other pools were little more than mud and algae – not exactly an impressive setting for photos. An interesting trait about the Everglades is, despite the constant presence of water throughout hundreds of square kilometers, it usually maintains a good flow and is fresh and clear, not brackish or stagnant as you might expect. Usually.

American alligator Alligator mississippiensis lurking in murky soup
While some of the resident American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) might have been deterred by this, there were still a few to be found, though I imagine their subsurface hunting was limited a bit. One in particular was displaying a peculiar behavior that I have still not determined the purpose of, and it did so often enough that I captured two sequences of it.

American alligator Alligator mississippiensis raising its head and forebody from the water
Starting from the typical gator pose, it would raise its head and upper body out of the water, almost as if stretching, then lean over…

American alligator Alligator mississippiensis thrashing sideways into water
… and splash!, it would slap its head sideways back into the water quite forcefully. As you can see, the water wasn’t quite as muddy as it looked, but also was remarkably shallow, proven by both the brown mud trail that the gator stirred up in its passage and its ability to even raise out of the water in this manner. Chances are, it was driving at least a little bit into the mud bottom as it thrashed its head down.

I can only guess at the purpose of this. It had much the same appearance as whales breaching, and often they do so in an attempt to dislodge parasites. I might have favored this, especially something irritating within an ear, except that the gator seemed to be doing it in both directions. Stirring up potential prey, like turtles, from the mud? Bored silly? Pretending it was a whale? I really couldn’t begin to tell you what this was accomplishing. But it was at least more activity than I have often witnessed from alligators.

Now wait a second

Several days back I was trying to do some aquatic photos using the macro tank, and while I was working with the main subject (to be seen later on) I took the opportunity to photograph an aquatic beetle that had come along for the ride. This one was about 3mm in body length, just to give you an idea – nailing sharp focus at that magnification is challenging. Adding further to the difficulties was the sand I was using as a substrate, since it hadn’t been submerged for more than a couple of minutes and too many grains were still floating through the air adhering to them, just to be in the way. Naturally, it’s hard to tell a hyperactive beetle to move a little to the left…

unidentified tiny aquatic beetle
When editing the shots, I tend to go in to full resolution on the images to check for clarity, but this one made me pause. While I actually captured the facets of the compound eyes (no easy feat, this,) they don’t look right, actually seeming to extend beyond the edges of the eyes themselves.

200 percent resolution image of same beetle's eye
This is a 200% resolution inset, twice the actual resolution of the original image. The most prominent stuff is sand in the way, but I’m referring to the facet reflections at the top of the eye, which not only extend too far, they don’t even curve as you might expect them to. It looks, even to me, like I wasn’t very good at Photoshopping in the texture layer. But here’s what I think is the case.

Compound eyes tend to be sets of tubes all clustered together, with a little lens at the outside surface (top,) and reflective sides leading down to the retina at the bottom. Often the sides are camouflage-colored, but when you get a view straight down into the tube, you see the darkness of the retina and that’s what provides the ‘false pupil‘ effect. But this species, at least at this size, actually has clear-sided tubes that are completely transparent; the darkness is the retina cells themselves, while the eye as we typically see it is larger in diameter. Check the faintly milky outer circle that’s visible, mostly to the top and right a bit. The flash angle was responsible for even showing the upper facets in the first place.

That’s my conjecture, but you are free to disagree if you like – I control this blog and your comments will be deleted anyway. I just thought I’d feature a curious thing that I stumbled across.

But how? Part 23: What would it take?

I’ve kind of covered this is portions of several different posts, but expanding on it seems warranted, as I change perspective a little just to highlight something. So let’s look at the question that religious folk often like to ask of atheists, “But what would it take for you to believe in god?”

I imagine that half of the time, it’s asked out of frustration, as the atheist displays a higher standard of evidence than the religious querist. They find it hard to believe that the factors that they found compelling could fail to impress someone else. Other times, it’s asked out of a deep suspicion that there really isn’t anything that the atheist would find convincing, that they’re emotionally or ideologically wedded to the idea of no god, and thus there’s no hope of having a rational discussion (which may actually be true, but not for the reasons that they suspect.) Both of these can be rather revealing in their nature.

First off, it should go without saying that when we’re talking about a being that supposedly created, not just a species or a planet, but the entire universe, proving such a thing is a remarkably tall order. In fact, it pretty much defines ‘impossible,’ but we’ll go ahead and grant that a simple demonstration of spontaneous vast creation would at least be a good start. It’s entirely a non-issue, however, because not one religious person can even come close to such a thing; often, they don’t perceive the huge and overriding difference between being personally convinced (or emotionally convinced, if you prefer,) and having something solid to work with.

While the second approach, the belief that atheists are being emotionally intransigent and not reasonable, is almost exactly the opposite, as if most religious folk have arrived at their standpoint through careful consideration of the evidence and all of the ramifications and possible misinterpretations – I know, I should have appended the ‘humor’ tag to this, shouldn’t I? Because, let’s be realistic, every reason ever put forth for belief has revolved around either weak personal convictions, flawed fundamental premises (such as, “Everything has to start somewhere,”) corrupt philosophical arguments, or the incredibly insipid. There really isn’t much point in engaging with someone that would use an inordinately fatuous argument such as, “The bible says it’s true!” It’s like they’ve never encountered a politician or salesperson…

But let me hasten to correct a potential wrong impression: the argument may be fatuous, but the people making it rarely are. They can, in fact, recognize questionable statements from politicians, most especially the ones they don’t like. And they can recognize weak and illogical arguments from scripture or philosophy – for all of the religions that they don’t follow. But yes, there’s virtually always a set of double-standards at work. While nearly everyone can attest to the value of extensive testing for new pharmaceuticals, or perhaps look critically at the labels of the food they buy, often their requirements for ‘proof’ of a god are remarkably thin, largely because they want such a thing to exist. And we cannot forget the simple human trait of taking one’s cue from others, not only responsible for even introducing the concept of religion in the first place, but establishing the One True Religion™ in their mind, without any need for comparing others or weighing the evidence.

There’s a certain level of humor and irony in the idea that atheists might just find that proving an omnipotent being would require some incredibly kickass evidence, and that the standards of evidence should be the same regardless of personal desire (and even that personal desire actually has nothing whatsoever to do with evidence.) Yes, this means we can be accused of being too emotional and not emotional enough while discussing the exact same topic.

I’ve addressed the personal belief angle numerous times in the past, but it bears repeating in this case. It is often argued that religion is a personal thing, akin to liking a particular food or music style, and that would be fine if that was the only way it manifested. No one, however, makes important decisions regarding how their children are raised, how they treat other people, what politicians and laws to support, and so on and so on, based on what flavor ice cream they prefer. If someone is forming a worldview, one that serves as a foundation for a large part of one’s life and decisions, how is it possible that the standards for selecting such a view are almost universally weak and facile? I’ve seen people do more research into where they’re going for vacation than the vast majority of religious folk have done when deciding on what mystical process governs the entirety of creation.

And we arrive at an interesting dichotomy. A lot of religious folk, in my experience, seem to feel that control is in god’s hands – the concept does not originate within them, of course, but is fostered by literally thousands of sources claiming such a state of affairs. And so their obligation, their onus to even make informed decisions, doesn’t actually exist; the one decision that they’re responsible for is simply to be religious, and there isn’t even a factor of which religion, because the only one that counts is the one they have direct experience with when growing up. Until and unless, of course, they run up against something that they don’t like. Then, they will manage to find (or twist) some aspect of scripture into justifying their preconceived notions, secure in the idea that they are following god’s path. All other passages, especially the ones that explicitly deny their notions or any other aspect of their current lifestyle, somehow don’t count. And while it’s easy to believe that I’m addressing a tiny subset of religious folk, the bare fact is that I’ve never encountered anyone that fails to fit into this category; I have yet to find someone devout enough to follow every tenet that their own scripture provides. In a lot of cases it’s impossible anyway, given the contradictions inherent in the passages, but it does mean that, to them, “religion” apparently means a set of guidelines specific only to themselves. Which makes it a lot easier I guess.

Admittedly, some of the blame must be placed on whatever religious leader or organization the ‘devout’ find themselves in the thrall of, since countless concepts originate solely through those. They’re responsible for so many of the ills that religions foster, now and at all times past: witch hunts and heretic purges, anti-evolution efforts and fretting over satanic whateverthefucks (it’s always something different,) what women can be stoned for doing and putting bombs in public places. The scriptural guidance towards these ranges from incredibly weak to completely nonexistent; instead, the idea of these being “god’s will” comes from voluntary conformity to whatever circle of influence someone chooses, not from anything remotely resembling divine provenance (which, as noted above, is impossible to establish anyway.) And the choice of these influential circles is made… how? Again, are we talking solid supporting facts, or liking whatever particular hotbutton of desire happens to be pushed?

It stands noting that none of this should have any bearing whatsoever, as I’ve said before. Opinion and personal satisfaction aren’t any kind of tools towards real and useful information; it doesn’t matter how much someone likes a particular idea, since this has no affect whatsoever on any actual existence. This is the entire point of evidence: we can form a solid worldview only on what we can establish and demonstrate, not philosophically, not through debate, not through personal satisfaction, but only through dependable, repeatable, and above all predictable behaviors or responses. We know the acceleration of Earth’s gravity by careful measurements, despite the overriding belief for so long that it was entirely different, and the connection to mass has been so dependable that we can put probes in orbit around other bodies in our solar system. Who really gives a fuck whether someone believes otherwise? What’s that going to do for them?

Which brings us to another dichotomy. What I suspect is a disturbingly large percentage of religious folk arrive at their surety through rather lax manners: mostly just following family and friends, occasionally some rather lame theological arguments, and at times buttressed with something personal like a dream or a curious coincidence. And this is fine for circumstances that bear little to no consequences – I like birch beer largely because it was the soft drink of special occasions when I was growing up, and not because it’s so much better than other choices. But then, having established their choice through such banal means, many religious folk then derive the confidence that it’s remarkably supportable and robust, and use it to dictate how others should behave, or what values are useful, even (and if you get off on irony you’re going to need a lie-down,) what tenets of science established through countless experiments and measurements should instead be considered outright lies. I mean, thanks for that guidance, you certainly seem to know how to spot them…

Another just for shits and giggles: I don’t think I’ve come across a religion yet that doesn’t have humility as a virtue, or at least a commendable trait, and treating one another with respect and kindness appears very frequently too. Now, I won’t say that these are the most frequently ignored tenets of faith, but they certainly rank extremely high on the list. Even funnier is that these are two of the values that just about everyone, atheists included, actually support. Arrogance is, of course, welcomed by no one.

So we come back to the question of, “What would it take to get you to believe?” Earlier, I’d said that my favorite response is, “What have you got?” knowing that the answer is, always and dependably, superficial. But now I think I’m favoring a more elaborate response: “An omnipotent and omniscient god that created the entire universe and is remarkably involved in what we do as a species above all others? Wow, it would take a lot – give me a week or so and I’ll provide a list. Why, what did it take to convince you?

Get your butt in gear

Saturday is National Get Outdoors Day (for realsies this time.) I really don’t have to explain this, do I? It’s not even National Stay Outdoors Day, so you’re not obligated to a time frame. Just get out and explore a little, put the toy phone away, try to get bitten by something new. It builds character.

I’m aiming to have something to show off for it afterward, but c’mon, I’m always showing you something from outdoors; we’re not talking about me here. And no fair reversing the door of your house and thinking this counts, as big a fan as I am of Douglas Adams. Out. Side. Sunlight, breeze, maybe rain and tornadoes, whatever. It’s national, so you’re beholden as a citizen.

The 'author' waiting to shoot the green flash at the beach

I like this photo – it almost looks like I’m in shape…

Plague me not, amphibian!

As the twilight waned to full night, there came a call, a hue and cry, a distinctive breeek from the aft yard. Pleased with the recent rains and the comfortable evening temperature, a grey treefrog had chosen a perch somewhere nearby and was advertising its desire for a mate. I ventured out with a flashlight, and soon located the pebbled lovestruck lothario sitting atop the fence not far from the pond, within easy sight and reach. I had not bothered to collect the camera for this brief investigation, and so merely viewed the hopeful Hylidae and left it to its own desires.

However, on my perilous journey back, I witnessed a crab spider capture a meal, and decided that if two subjects were presenting themselves, it warranted photographic imagery, and so I returned to the house to re-emerge with the camera in hand. After recording the crab spider for posterity, I again approached the eyrie of the amphibian, only to find it vacant; in the intervening time, the treefrog had sought another locale, leaving me directionless and bereft. I consoled myself with a few other subjects of opportunity, and returned to my office.

But as I busied myself with other pursuits, the cry returned. I drove it from my head, telling myself I had devoted enough time to wielding the camera tonight, and needed to accomplish other tasks. And yet the ballad persisted, clearly as close as it had been before, optimistic and bold. No matter, I avowed, I have enough images of such frogs, perhaps even of this very specimen, and must concentrate on other demands for my attention. And still the curious siren song played on, at times strident and demanding, at others soft and persuasive. I am right here, it told me distinctly. You know you want to photograph me.

I, however, am made of stronger mettle, and in a battle of wills with a diminutive quadruped, there is no question who will come out on top. Purging it from my attention, I bent to my pursuits, strong in the face of adversity. I am the Modern Man, bending emotion and desire to my bidding, at all times under the control of the rational brain. Let the compulsion of the id bay at the doors of my mind; within, all was calm and businesslike.

Still the serenade sounded; still the nearness of the treefrog was evident. It could not have been more than a waltz from my very office window, ringing clearly even through the closed panes. The message is not for me, I avowed, staring at the keyboard to remain focused and resolute. That story does not require my involvement. Undoubtedly many such dramas played out so close at hand, but here I had my own actions to take, my own importances to address. The simple frog was surely itself unaware of the items before me, the consequences and impacts of those far beyond its comprehension. Natural instincts towards procreation could not hold a candle to the tasks self-entrusted to me, ones only able to be controlled and manipulated by a single species on the planet. Let the trivia of courtship play on, while within these walls bigger tales unfolded.

Yet even above the clicking of the keyboard and the creaking of the chair came the reedy solo. Now taunting, it defied me, claiming with its subtle overtones that the amphibian had thwarted my attempts at producing an image, successfully avoiding me despite my vast knowledge of nature and exponentially larger brain. I just moved a short distance away, and this confused you more than it would a snake, it told me. A few moments of silence to allow your attention to wander, and I escape your intentions with a minimum of fuss. And so we see the value of rational thought pitted against base instinct and evolved coloration, the competition of…

Aw, the hell with it.

Copes grey treefrog Hyla chrysoscelis cheekily perched on tree

Sunday slide 23

time exposure of section of Minnehaha Falls, Georgia
At some point long ago, a friend handed me over a couple of photocopied pages (this was before I had e-mail, or even internet access) with directions to a few waterfalls around Lake Rabun in north Georgia. It was a bit of a drive from where I lived in Raleigh, but I made a couple of trips out there, I believe. At least, I seem to recall two, but I only remember visiting these falls once. This is only a dramatic portion of Minnehaha Falls, one of several that feeds into a lake that resides in a deep narrow valley, very photogenic and pretty easy to get to as waterfalls go; two of the others were a significant hike up the side of the valley, and ridiculously dry when I visited them.

This was 1999, not too long after I switched over to slides at the advice of a professional nature photographer – editors simply didn’t consider negative (print) film at that time. And the increase in quality was undeniable, to say nothing of the longevity, since a lot of my negatives are degrading significantly while most of the slides are pristine.

The trick behind the milky water is easy: all it takes is a longer exposure, perhaps a little less than a second if the water is really flowing, but several seconds will produce the effect no matter what, as long as there’s white water. This of course means a tripod, but also dark enough conditions to let the shutter drag out. The ISO 100 film helped, as did stopping down to f16, but the main contributor was the deeply shadowed conditions where the falls lay. If such things aren’t available, the other trick is to use a circular polarizing filter, which will darken the image some, but the best tool is a set of neutral density filters. If you’re like me, you consider “neutral density” to mean “clear,” but instead it means a darkening filter without a color cast, thus neutral (a lot of things in photography could be named better.) In other words, tinted glass. I didn’t have any at the time, but didn’t need them for these conditions.

Another view can be seen here, a small cascade high up the falls – it’s possible, but tricky footing, and any attempt to scale them should be done with extreme care, as far from the wet portions as possible.

I’m pretty sure I just let the exposure meter of the camera set the shutter speed, after stopping down to f16, but the original slide had a bluish color cast, courtesy of the shade and my lack of foresight in bringing a slight warming filter. Digital has two significant advantages for these kind of photos now, both in giving an immediate preview of how the exposure looks at different shutter speeds, and in changing color cast on the fly. Some day I’ll return, and we’ll see some comparison images…

Whatever happened to…?

… the mantises that we watched hatch?

Well, they’re still around, I just hadn’t seen much of them from shortly after the hatching, coupled with being pretty busy myself. There’s a vague suspicion that a skink that we have living under the front steps might have feasted on a lot of them, but at least a few can still be found, now grown to about 30mm.

juvenile Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis posing on day lily leaf at night
They remain pretty easy to spook, so decent detail shots of their minuscule stature is still challenging. More challenging, however, is getting something other than basic poses – behavior, for instance. Now let’s face it: arthropods don’t exactly have a wild social calendar, their lives consisting mostly of eating and avoiding being eaten at this age, with the occasional molt. Later on, I might capture two specific actions that I haven’t done justice to yet, which is mating and producing an egg sac – the latter I’ve got some half-ass slides of, but the mantis was in contrasty light and yet buried within the needles of a pine, so, no, not useful by my current standards anymore.

juvenile Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis looking back over shoulder

“Who’s that singing back there?”

Which means that right, now, we just have fartsy poses.

juvenile Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis not looking back over shoulder

“Oh. Michael McDonald. Right”

While the hatching took place underneath the Japanese maple, some of them, as usual, have moved on to other locations in the yard. The day lily plants on the other side of the porch are always a crowd favorite, and several have taken up residence there, at least temporarily, so when the blooms finally come out (there are some buds visible now,) I’ll have a little more variety in setting to play with. At least one other has moved over to one of the rosemary bushes, now coming along nicely, which is gratifying.

juvenile Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis on rosemary plant
At the old place that we left three years ago this week, we’d had a rosemary bush that became too big to bring along in the move, and attempts to get new ones established here failed a couple of times over, but now we have three going strong, which is important because we use a good bit of rosemary in our cooking. A couple of times a year we have a roasted duck, and when everything’s removed from the carcass, it gets tossed into a pot with some onions and rosemary to make soup, which produces the best aroma in the world. Seriously, I’ll leave the house for a minute and come back in with cleansed nostrils just to inhale it all fresh again. You think I’m lying.

[A lot more ingredients and spices gets added in the later stages, by the way.]

The one on the rosemary displayed a curious pose that I’ve never seen before. Already well aware of my presence and having dodged around a little to try and escape my attention, it paused and stretched out, and might have been attempting to emulate the rosemary leaves and camouflage itself.

juvenile Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis possibly attempting to emulate the shape of rosemary leaves
It wasn’t reaching for another stalk, it hadn’t apparently sighted any prey, and it held the position for well over a minute – it certainly looked like mimicking behavior. I’ve just never seen a mantis do any such thing, with the possible exception of swaying to mimic breeze-blown leaves, and I’m not sure that wasn’t just a visual thing to help distinguish potential prey; I’ve seen raptors do that quite a bit.

So for now, we just have the fartsy shots – perhaps there will be something different later on. If I get the chance to do video of one capturing a meal, that would be a cool feature post, but I’ve only ever seen it a couple of times myself. Maybe I just have to stake them out for a while…

juvenile Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis emoting

You knew this was coming

… because it’s the month’s end, of course.

surreal high contrast sunrise colors on North Topsail Beach
And naturally I had to use another shot from the trip – I’ll probably be finding excuses for that for a while yet.

It’s easy to believe this one has been altered, but not really – this is how it came from the camera. Like I said earlier, I had contrast and saturation boosted a little to enhance the colors, but no more than these, for instance. And I had adjusted exposure compensation down 2/3 of a stop, except not really – this camera tends to over-expose a little in my opinion, so ‘default’ setting for me is underexposed by 1/3 stop, so this is, again, a minor change. Most of what this comes from is simply getting the exposure reading from the bright sky, which the camera tried to render down more into a middle tone, and that had the greatest influence on what you see here. The orange only went a little way up into the sky, which the wet sand caught at its flattest angle, but the rest of the sky was pre-dawn indigo, reflected by the sand at the bottom of the pic and by the majority of the ocean; thus the notable contrast. Either by themselves you could accept easily as natural conditions, but both together seem to stretch plausibility, don’t they? It’s rare that you can use a straightforward landscape shot as an abstract, so I’m happy with it.

Just close your eyes and swallow. For Nixon

Here at Walkabout, I’m always happy to use my enormous reader base to help spread awareness, and I suspect there are a few people out there that don’t know that today is also a holiday – they usually don’t line up this close together, but the proximity might still have had a lot to do with how little it’s observed. So let’s join together to celebrate National “What The Fuck Did I Just Eat?” Day.

It’s always been intended to help spread diversity and cultural awareness, since cultures are so often defined by (and occasionally denigrated for) the foods considered common within. While it had been proposed back in 1946, as a method of becoming more open and accepting following World War II, it didn’t actually get adopted as an official national holiday until 1972 under Richard Nixon, since he was the only president who would approve its language. Yet its first official observance the following year was overshadowed by both Watergate and excitement over the new version of Match Game, and it largely dropped into obscurity, with occasional attempted resurrections by Allen Funt and the debut of Outback Steakhouse. It’s a shame, because everyone should try something new once in a while, if only to confirm their suspicions.

So, as you read this over your morning coffee, stir a spoonful of Vegemite into it. Make plans to eat lunch at Chick-Fil-A. Or stop by your supermarket on the way home and ask, “What have you got that nobody buys?” It’s just one way to broaden your horizons and enrich your life. And maybe even cleanse your colon.