Haven’t found what works yet

Collings Foundation B24J Liberator flying overhead
So the content has been pretty damn thin here lately, and this post isn’t going to alter that a whole lot. This week in particular, it seems, just kinda went by without anything happening, which wasn’t exactly true, but just the way it felt. Partially, this was because I have been fighting off something, some virus or bug or microorganism or brain tumor or demonic possession, that mostly sapped my energy and motivation, while I also suspect my winter doldrums have started earlier this year. I won’t say that I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder – I have no professional diagnosis and anyway I don’t think it’s that serious or prominent – but I can say that I’m definitely less chipper through the colder months. Since most people are, that’s hardly a case of Special Me or any of that shit…

But anyway, here’s something to put a space between the Sunday Slides, which themselves were partially to produce routine content while simultaneously motivating me not to have consecutive ones back-to-back, so we’re seeing how well that idea worked. The photo here is evidence that I did get out and do a little shooting, and might even add to it tomorrow. Some years ago I mentioned my interest in aviation and especially warbirds, and featured a video of the B-24J Liberator bomber owned and operated by the Collings Foundation. That very same B-24, as well as a B-25 Mitchell, a B-17 Flying Fortress, and a TF-51D Mustang, are all presently visiting Raleigh-Durham International Airport nearby, and for a mere $15 anyone can check them out up close and even tour through the interiors – that’s an unbeatable price, really. For $400-450, you can take a half-hour ride in one of the bombers, and for $2000-2200, you can do a bit of piloting of the Mustang. Unfortunately, the vast wealth that accumulates from nature photography is tied up in offshore accounts, so I wasn’t doing a flight this time around, but I’ll likely be back tomorrow for another visit, and even if I don’t, I’ll post eventually on the experience from Thursday at least.

I’ve been waiting for the Immoderate Mr Bugg to post his own take, since he accompanied me on the trip Thursday and shot, oh, I suspect about 4,000 images, though 75% of those were of commercial planes since that’s more his bag, the weirdo. But since he’s gonna drag his heels over this one, I guess I’ll pick up the slack shortly. The image above was taken as the Liberator headed out on one of the air tours, passing directly overhead while we waited at almost the exact same spot that we shot the night trails pics. I had hoped to get some better shots when they landed again, when they would pass much closer overhead on the opposite end of the runway, but rush hour traffic and their diversion to the other runway prevented this from occurring.

I have a couple of other topics waiting on the block for a time when I feel I can do them justice, so I haven’t abandoned the blog – just trying to maintain a certain standard in content, that’s all. What exactly that standard might be is left to your own judgment, and I’m quite sure I wouldn’t want to hear the feedback anyway. Suffice to say, more will be coming soon.

Sunday slide 42

brown anole Anolis sagrei on tree silhouetted against sky
March 2000. On one of several trips to Florida specifically for photography, back before I lived there for a couple of years, I’d had a slow day shooting almost nothing at JN “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge and decided to check out a little attached hiking loop called Shell Mound Trail, not really expecting much. As it was, I shot many more slides there than in the entire rest of the refuge.

Now, there’s this little rule of mine: if you’ve been in Florida for more than an hour and you haven’t seen a lizard, you’re not paying attention. Maybe it’s a little overblown, but really, not by a lot – the state’s littered with reptiles. In this case, a brown anole (Anolis sagrei) was scampering around a tree trunk, reluctant to give up its relative position for my shenanigans even though it could have eluded me easily by going up into the canopy or down into the ground foliage. This is the fartsy shot, but if you want to see what a brown anole looks like in detail, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

I’ll talk briefly about the nature of slide film. First off, it’s higher in contrast than print/negative film, which the photographer has to make some allowances for. And a general rule is, the lower the ISO, the better the detail and color, which holds true even for digital yet for entirely different reasons. I’m very fond of Fuji Provia 100F, even though I don’t shoot it much at all anymore, but the best results were obtained by rating it at ISO 80 instead of its native 100. It was advertised as being pretty tolerant of “pushing,” which is shooting at a higher ISO and then developing it for a longer period – it’s a fairly common tactic of professionals when faster shutter speeds are needed, but of course you have to shoot the entire roll that way since you can’t selectively alter the development times for only certain frames on the roll. Pushing is done in stops, as in, doubling the ISO, though I suppose if you do your own developing you can do smaller increments, but photo labs are going to keep you to the broad measures. For this particular shot (and again, the entire roll,) I pushed two stops, but from my normal 80 rating, so setting the camera at ISO 320, and instructed the lab accordingly. This increased contrast even more, but Provia 100F was up to the task – while the anole became a silhouette on a pretty bright day, just be being in a patch of shade, the color and grain stayed within useful ranges.

And in the same general location, less than 20 minutes later, I found another model to work with.

When is a hoax not a hoax?

It’s funny – I started this post out with entirely different intentions, but as I was researching the details, it had to change, yet I could still keep the same title. Bear with me a second.

This post topic came up when I was reading an article in Skeptical Inquirer that dealt with the curious progression of the ‘Bigfoot’ legend, from the badly-mangled interpretations of Native American mythos to the outright hoaxes that had been shown to exist. And let’s face it: within topics such as Bigfoot, or UFOs, or ghost legends, or any other such fringe/paranormal concepts, the opportunity and impetus for hoaxes remains remarkably high. Any time that we have a lot of attention paid to astounding stories with little to no corroboration other than oral accounts, we have a ripe opportunity for a hoax to occur – the combination of wide effect and low critical examination is supremely inviting to those inclined to play such games.

The article touched briefly on the part that hoaxes play in the collective consciousness, but it’s something worth a little further attention. In the case of Bigfoot, one of the most prominent and compelling bits of evidence was the Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin film clip of a bipedal humanoid looking at the camera as it walked away – you’ve seen it, everyone’s seen it. Released in 1967, it is the most popular representation of the topic that exists, and cemented the idea in a significant percentage of the population that such a being could be real. And it was a hoax.

Or at least, it most likely was, for numerous reasons. The funny part, and the reason that I ended up changing direction with this post, is that the things that would make anyone most likely to accept the hoax explanation aren’t actually all that strong; there have been several claims from various people that they had some part in the hoax, which would normally be enough. But in this case, it’s not only possible, there’s a certain likelihood that the admission of the hoax is a hoax itself – in other words, they’re lying about their involvement. Chief among these is the significant amount of time that has passed before their admission, long enough for any corroborative efforts to be nigh impossible and for the principle characters to be unable to comment. Second, unsurprisingly, is that there’s money and fame/notoriety to be garnered from the claim of a hoax itself, which should be enough for anyone to cast a critical eye upon the situation. And finally, lots of little details regarding the claims have inconsistencies or problems.

Now, it’s worth noting here that, even if the claims of a hoax turned out to be a hoax on their own, this doesn’t mean that the Patterson-Gimlin film isn’t a hoax by itself. Was that confusing? Let’s try again: even if someone was lying about their involvement in faking the film, the film could still be faked. As believers are often happy to proclaim, absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence, and we simply may not have found the proof of the initial hoax yet. Even if we never find it, this has no bearing on whether or not it actually occurred. Believers often seem to accept the standpoint that lack of evidence to the contrary is proof of the phenomenon or whatever, but this is like saying that in all of the cases where we never found a murderer, the murder must not have actually taken place.

The change in approach and tone of this post was caused by a simple thing that I’m a bit frustrated to have found: that many of the skeptical accounts of the Patterson-Gimlin film and the subsequent claims of hoax involvement were given a lot more weight than they warranted, often considered a dead lock. “Look, we have an admission of a hoax – that solves that case!” [I’m paraphrasing melodramatically here but you get the idea.] What started out as simply confirming a few details for the post turned into a rabbit-hole of wildly conflicting information and more than a few loose ends, which should have been enough to give pause to anyone attempting to be unbiased. And yet, too much of the skeptical literature was more certain than seemed warranted, at least to me.

The whole point of skepticism, of critical-thinking, is to try and destroy bias and personal favoritism and to see things as openly as possible. The opposite side of the coin, the thing that we often warn against and point out mercilessly, is the weighing of certain factors more than others; when a believer considers a single eyewitness account as much stronger than another, solely because it confirms their own predispositions, that’s bias – we see it constantly, and damn near every media portrayal of this or that phenomenon practices this to astounding levels. But when skeptics do it, that’s not just hypocritical, it damages the entire practice as a whole. How can we be urging critical and unbiased consideration when we’re failing to demonstrate it dependably ourselves?

In all honesty, the evaluations of the film clip fall all throughout the spectrum, with a lot of professional opinions weighing in; there’s no real consensus on whether it’s demonstrably faked or not. It says a lot about ‘professional’ evaluations when the professionals cannot even come close to agreement – you have to ask, who’s incompetent, and how do you arrive at that conclusion? And the lack of quality of both the film stock and the camerawork prevent much more from being derived. There are, as yet, numerous reasons to doubt the existence of such a creature, and more than a few to doubt the veracity of the film and the sources: Patterson was a known schemer with lots of unhappy dealings behind him, who set out to a remote area to film a Bigfoot and did almost immediately – what luck! Curiously, he chose that area precisely because of the tracks that had been found – tracks that have lots of support for being hoaxes themselves.

For the original post idea, I was going to talk about how, all too often, when something long considered to be great evidence is revealed to be a hoax, the fervent believers may simply refuse to accept it, and claim that the reveal is a hoax itself; it was an examination of the need for belief outweighing the bare facts. Except that in this case, it’s not unwarranted or irrational – there are lots of problems with the hoax admissions. And also in this case, it’s some of the skeptics who are ignoring the possibilities and being more confident in the admissions than is prudent. It’s ironically circular: in a lot of cases, one receives a lot of impetus towards skepticism precisely because of hoaxes, of someone believing but then discovering how they’d been snookered – basically, “That shit ain’t happening again.” And yet it’s possible to be biased towards cynicism and disbelief as well, ignoring the aspects that either weaken the idea of a hoax or fail to weaken the idea of a cryptid humanoid (the phrasing is deliberate: we’re a long way from proof, or even strengthening the idea – right now what we have are evaluations that only say, “we haven’t ruled it out.”) While there are countless people who feel that skepticism is synonymous with cynicism, that’s not really how it’s supposed to work. Skepticism is, to be brief, the demand for adequate supporting evidence, and should require a confluence of factors for any position away from completely neutral.

All that said, the case for Bigfoot remains pathetically weak, with the overwhelming majority of evidence being trivially easy to fake, and the accounts resembling nothing more than folklore. We have no remains, no plausible scenario for such a species to develop, much less remaining almost entirely hidden, no biological support for a tiny population of humanoids to continue in such a narrowly isolated circumstance, and on and on. The film, in fact, created a convergence on the appearance of the supposed creature; accounts before then, including the Native American folklore that is quoted as supporting the whole idea, range all over the place in size and physiology. The entire concept falls someplace between ‘farfetched’ and ‘utterly impossible.’

But here’s the point that gets missed the vast majority of the times when any such discussions take place, for any paranormal, cryptid, extra-sensory, or extra-terrestrial topic: there’s no value to debate, and no ‘winning’ or even ‘correct’ position. What we want, scientifically at least, is a fait accompli – we want a species we can study at length, we want aliens we can communicate with, we want something solid. Just like the various archaeological finds such as Australopithecus afarensis and Homo floresiensis, actual remains and artifacts are just the start. We’re after knowledge, not self-satisfaction.

And in the fifty years (the actual anniversary of the supposed filming date comes up in a few days) since the Patterson-Gimlin clip, we’ve found nothing better or more indicative of such a being. That’s not really any use to us.

As the skies darken and the car starts making weird noises

Yes, it’s coming – on Sunday, to be precise. National Grouch Day rears its ugly head on October 15th, the one day of the year some sonofabitch isn’t allowed to rain on our raining on parades. But they will anyway, because if there’s one thing bright, optimistic people cannot do is put a cork in it.

I doubt you’ve noticed, but nobody seems to even try to recognize our own special holiday. Did you get a cake that someone ‘accidentally’ dropped on the floor last year? I know I didn’t. I tried stealing someone’s office chair for the day and I got reprimanded for it. The one time that I came closest to seeing someone try to get into the spirit was when I complained about being marginalized as the most unrecognized and discriminated-against class of people in the country, and I was told ‘grouch’ wasn’t either a racial or ethnic distinction. I was nicely annoyed with them for a while, until I realized they probably hadn’t done it intentionally.

In years past, I provided numerous helpful tips to foster the proper mindset for the day, but as far as I can tell, nobody bothered with them in the slightest – figures. This year I’m going to pass, mostly because I’m too irritated at the various things that have happened recently* to put the effort into it. Oh, maybe I’ll be back in a day or so to contribute, if I’m nice.**

But until that happens, you’re on your own. You’ll probably screw it up anyway, give up being grouchy about halfway through the day when someone smiles at you or something meaningless and superficial like that. We dedicated grouches have no use for such fair-weather fiends, and if you really had it going on, you wouldn’t need my assistance – you could crank out the crankiness without batting an eye, and could spread it to everyone you contact too. So you’re on your own.

* This is perfectly true
** Fat chance
*** This is also perfectly true: When I mentioned the upcoming holiday to Jim of the infamous Daily-And-Not Jim Pics, he said, “When is that, Sunday? I could go to church!” At least he gets the idea…

Sunday slide 41

Lower Cascade Falls, Hanging Rock State Park NC with but not by James L. Kramer
I figured, as I ended the run of Jim’s pics, that I would feature this particular image of Lower Cascade Falls in Hanging Rock State Park in North Carolina, because this was a trip that Jim and I took together back before he abandoned the state. If you wanted to know what Jim looks like, well, here you go.

Whaddya mean, “Where is he?” He’s right there! On the bank, over to the right, crouched by his tripod. Well, of course he’s wearing camo, because you can’t spook the falls if you want the really primo shots. No, there wasn’t any particular reason for camo on this trip, other than he found it the most comfortable – hey, ask him, not me. I purposefully shot the frame a little wider on this one to include him, and since it was a waterfall image, the shutter speed was intentionally slow, and Mr Fidget wasn’t holding still enough.

Curiously, Upper and Lower Cascade Falls are the closest waterfalls to my location here, and I haven’t visited since – it’s been over 10 years. I really need to plan another trip out there. While I would also like to see a waterfall in freezing weather, I am quite certain that the trails to the falls would be extremely hazardous in such conditions, and the park is almost certainly closed when that happens. Looks like I’d have to get out the ice cleats, grappling hook, and black turtleneck…

Jim pic 48

storm clouds through haze during solar eclipse
And so we come to the last of the Jim pics, at least for a little while. This one wasn’t among the stack that he sent me following his trip further out west, but one of the stack that he sent me following the total solar eclipse. He’d been clouded out during totality, but still got a few worthwhile shots, and I considered this one rather enigmatic. Since he didn’t provide any details, I’m winging it here, and he may be in to correct me.

First off, I just liked the overall effect, as if the trees where throwing shadows against the back wall (instead of, you know, there being a collection of storm clouds in the distance behind them.) And I think this was during totality, or close to it – the exposure time seems pretty close to the mark, though I have no idea when totality occurred for where he was since he never told me where he’d traveled to for the shoot. You see, there’s this little effect that occurs at totality that I only heard about in passing, and where I was (deep in a mountain valley,) I didn’t have the opportunity to see it. But at that time, you get a hint of sunset colors all around you, the dividing line between the shadow that you’re in and the sunlit areas outside that nonetheless reflect from the atmosphere – remember, the actual shadow thrown by the moon was some 110 kilometers (70 miles) in width, so the sunlit portions may be as much as half that away if you were centered right in the path (I wasn’t, though close enough for a decent length of totality.) So I think he captured evidence of this unique effect, though to be really compelling it would need to be a 360° panoramic.

I could be wrong of course, and it would still be a neat shot, almost ominous.

A million untold stories in the big wilderness

This is just a silly anecdote. I mean, even sillier than normal.

little toy orangutan with bindi
I found this little toy in the backyard – specifically, in the space under the raised and screened porch, alongside the lower deck. It’s not very big, essentially a keychain charm. I just don’t know exactly how it got there. Nobody here owned it, and it wasn’t there when we moved in, and doesn’t even show signs of having been in the yard for an extended period – just the corrosion on the chain itself, but the fur is pretty clean.

So, something carried it in here – through or over the backyard fence, and from where I couldn’t even guess. Nor exactly why. It was found near the compost bin, which does receive visits from wildlife – I’ve seen both raccoons and opossums checking it out for tasty tidbits, so I’m supposing one of them carried it over and then left it behind. But I’m not even sure why they would be carrying it around with them in the first place. Neither is so stupid as to believe it’s really edible, or was even once alive – the scent and structure is all wrong. Just having a toy, like cats do, is possible I suppose – it just seems odd that it would be brought along on their foraging expedition. Nothing else of the sort has ever appeared either.

I have to admit that while I’d noticed the gnawed-off toes almost immediately upon discovery, it wasn’t until I shot the pic that I realized it was sporting a little red bindi on the forehead. It looks deliberate, but I’m not sure if this is really intended to relate to hinduism or not…

Still creeping on the frogs

juvenile Copes grey treefrog Hyla chrysoscelis and juvenile pale green assassin bug Zelus luridus ignoring one another
The initial pics in this post I took just to illustrate something, but we’re going to flesh it out a little more than that. Some time back, I found a pale green assassin bug (Zelus luridus) on my butterfly bush and moved it over onto the nearby ornamental sweet potato, potentially trying to interest one of the tiny frogs there in the meal; I had tried to place it within easy sight of a frog that was basking out in the open, but my close approach spooked the amphibian deeper into hiding, so no luck there. A few days later, however, I came out onto the porch to see the view in the image above, with the frog sharing the same leaf as an assassin and showing no interest in it. While I could potentially credit this to the frog remaining unaware of the stealthy assassin behind it (look out!) I have since seen a few more assassins on the same plant, so the three frogs living there aren’t exactly keeping them off. I’m guessing the assassins are unpalatable to the frogs.

I took the pic in this manner to show the differences in approach. Given that both subjects were little better than ankle-height to a human, too many people seeking photos would take the above perspective. It illustrates well enough, but it’s pretty boring – the straight-down view doesn’t provide a lot of personality, and we get just a voyeuristic impression. Contrast that against my next frame, shot immediately afterward:

juvenile Copes grey treefrog Hyla chrysoscelis and juvenile pale green assassin bug Zelus luridus from portrait angle
I think it’s hard to argue which view is better; not only does this one eradicate the flat perspective of the original and provide some depth, it gives a more portrait-angle to both subjects, and makes the frog much cuter. And another aspect: it shows the expanding grey coloration of the frog, especially when compared with previously. And so, I went in a little closer, though it served to blur out the assassin more and lost the effect of showing them off together.

juvenile Copes grey treefrog Hyla chrysoscelis and juvenile pale green assassin bug Zelus luridus from closer portrait angle
There is little doubt in my mind now that these are juvenile Copes grey treefrogs (Hyla chrysoscelis,) with a high likelihood of being among the tadpole brood featured here, and very likely to offspring of the pair atop the fence post seen here. I like being able to illustrate a life cycle in this manner.

But if they are all related, there still seems to be a fair amount of variation that can occur, because this next pic is one of the three (or at least, as certain as I can be,) but it has gone completely grey.

juvenile Copes grey treefrog Hyla chrysoscelis looking depressed on leaf
Naturally, I’m going to talk about false impressions, because while this image illustrates the color nicely, the frog isn’t exactly enthused-looking – it actually appears depressed. I doubt any such state can really be achieved by amphibians, and in this case it’s likely nonsense even if it were possible. The frog is just basking once the sun was now high enough to illuminate the leaves, gaining some heat from the chill of the nights, but it’s not alarmed by my approach and possibly trying to snooze. While it looks like the head is dropping, that’s if we assume the leaf and/or my shooting angle was roughly level, which they were not; the frog is actually facing upslope on the dangling leaf, and I’m shooting downward a bit to get the face shot again. Yet the impression we get alters the entire mood of the image, doesn’t it?

By the way, there’s also a green treefrog (Hyla cinerea,) much older than these, that visits the porch immediately adjacent to these plants from time to time at night, attracted by the bugs that are attracted by the lights. It means we tend to watch our step carefully when going in and out. I certainly appreciate having photo subjects so convenient, but like the mantises, it makes me paranoid just walking around the yard.

Jim pic 47

This is the last of the trip photos of Jim’s that I’m going to feature, though there’s actually one other image that will appear shortly. For now, we’ll take a look at this rather critically.

First off, I doubt that Jim is considering this his strongest composition so I don’t feel bad featuring it in this manner, but let me ask you: What do you think of it? Take your time.

view across pastures and rolling hills, Badlands South Dakota by James L. Kramer
Here’s my take: I kind of like it, especially with the placement of the tree and the distinct feeling of depth, gently rolling hills giving way to distant mesas. Can you hear the wind? While it almost looks like pasturage – I can see some animal trails through the grasses – there are no fences to be seen, perhaps the reason why Jim shot it vertically. The image is almost perfectly bisected, with the entire upper half taken up with only a gradient blue; the few clouds even enhance the feel of great distance. But I think the emphasis on the sky might be overdone, and I know I would have sought after something very close to put into the lower foreground; that’s personal style, however. On top of that, the color is a bit muted, no fault of Jim’s, but it still makes for a somber composition.

The big question is, how much did you agree initially, and how much did my saying all that alter how you were viewing it yourself? We’re pretty bad about being influenced by what we hear from others. What if I’d spoken instead about a “wonderful feeling of isolation and solitude”? What if I’d used the words “desolation and loneliness” instead? Or perhaps said something about hosting the spirits of Native Americans from times past? Did you take that literally, or metaphorically?

I might bring this up again in a later post, when it’s not directly associated with Jim’s images (who, I might add, did not provide any influences at all when sending these over – I know for a fact that he prefers people to define their own impressions.)

Meanwhile, I’m also struck by how much fun it would be to horse around on a dirt bike across that landscape for a few hours…

Podcast: Radio interview

The slow season has now gotten a firm grip, and it’s only going to go downhill from here for a couple of months – I’ll still be finding things to photograph and post about, but it’ll be a bit harder.

In the meantime, however, I’m succumbing to narcissism (ever so briefly) by featuring my fifteen seconds of fame, at least locally: I was asked in by the nearby radio station to be interviewed on their morning show. WANK 82.4 FM has a short program titled, “All About Our Town,” where they feature local, um, celebrities? Characters? Miscreants? Whatever might apply, since they asked me to come down for a chat. I was exceptionally flattered, and I personally think it went very well, but I’ll let the program speak for itself:

Walkabout podcast – Radio interview

It’s funny – when I was first called, I’m pretty sure they mentioned an honorarium, but after the interview there wasn’t a word about it and they looked at me sidelong when I asked. That’s okay – the exposure is worth more than cash can provide.