During the end of the year maintenance (before the database failure,) I ran an SQL query to produce the tags used in all posts so far – I used the one found here, since I’ve never learned much SQL. In case that doesn’t make any sense I’ll explain: WordPress stores all of your post content and info in an SQL database, and the post tags do not, for some reason, have their own category. In order to find them, you have to run a query, which is a programming command that searches through the database. With this, I produced a list of the tags, and it’s impressive – I had a whopping 2,676 tags, for 776 posts to that date, which means I’m making up new tags for an awful lot of posts.

Tags are intended to help people find your posts when searching on related terms, so they should be words or terms that bear directly on the content, and that’s how I use them – except, I also use them as commentary and bizarre endnotes. There are WordPress plugins that can produce a tag cloud on the sidebar, a cluster of the most popular tags where they display in larger fonts the more they’re used. That’s fine, but boring – my top tag is ‘macro photography,’ followed by ‘Chinese mantis’ and ‘Tenodera aridifolia sinensis,’ which the scientific name for Chinese mantis – big surprises there. Much more interesting were the tags used only once, because some of them got to be a bit, shall we say, esoteric. I think it’s unlikely anyone will find my posts while searching for some of these terms, and so, I’m going to include a small selection linked to the posts they had tagged, because.

‘Mighty Mouthparts’ would make a good band name – This is admittedly a practice stolen from Dave Barry, who used it whenever he came across a particularly compelling phrase, but it’s also necessary to lead in to the next two…

‘Shit Experience’ would not be a good band name

‘Brilliant Blue Slug Penises’ would not make a good band name because I’ve already claimed it – Also features the tag, ‘you can’t call it a speedbag.’ Delightfully shameless, that post

no word on what she does with the poop

good christians often refer to people as “cunts” – A quick story regarding this one. For some reason, that search function on the sidebar will not find tags on posts, so while I have the list of tags right in front of me, I have to find the posts they go to by searching with da Google (or run another query, but Google is much faster.) This one, however, wasn’t showing up, even when I used the “site:” function to limit the search to just within the website specified. Then I realized I’d input it exactly as shown here, with the quotes, only Google considers quotation marks another advanced search function, in that the result must contain the word in quotes. But “cunts’ doesn’t actually appear in the text at all – it only appears as “cunt,” and then within a screenshot, which is an image and couldn’t be found. I had to locate this one by searching on a different term (since I remembered the post that it went to, but not when I posted it.) That’s one to tell the family over dinner when you get home…

To all blog-reading aphids

both Crockett and Tubbs – To actually make sense of this one, you probably have to read the preceding post as well

Tom Hanks eaten by a baby titmouse – I’d pay to see that

you mean your god can’t handle it? – Also, ‘fear of a smart planet’ – sometimes, they’re just a further opportunity for snark

And my readership drops to two – It can serve as a warning here, but not really on the post when it appears at the bottom in small print…

jesus gave people leprosy and killed lazarus – Also, ‘poked a badger with a spoon,’ and I’m going to be very disappointed if you don’t know that reference

one of us gooble gobble – But sometimes the reference is a tad more obscure…

not to mention the neck folds

nobody chundered – Also, ‘nobody gets eaten either’

or maybe it’s just stoned

teh gay is not catching you ignorant fuckhead – Also, ‘verbal bitchslapping’

And finally, no it’s not looking at your crotch, though I can’t prove that.

Checking off the list

[Repost of original posted January 5, 2015, destroyed by hosting failure.]

time exposure Eno River spillway in moonlight
I have a lot of little things on a mental checklist to get images of, experiments to try, and items of that nature. It’s 2:30 am as I type this, having just come back from attempting one, the results you see here.

These are all moonlight shots. A low pressure system pushed through recently and brought a lot of rain and some pleasantly higher temperatures for this time of year, but as it passed so did all the clouds, letting tonight’s full moon shine down brightly. It was probably still about 14°c (58°f) with only a mild breeze, so not bad conditions for night photography at any time. I had returned to the river near the old house that we left last May, since it had the best elements for long exposures that can be accessed at that time of night; a few nearby parks on the same river (which is the Eno) might have been pretty good too, but there’s no entry past sundown.

time exposure on Eno River under moonlightIt’s funny how long it took me to get these, since you’d think I’d have the opportunity every full moon. But this also requires clear weather on those nights, a temperature comfortable enough for me to want to be out standing around waiting on the long exposure times, and both a sleep schedule and the desire to go out at midnight or so – these just hadn’t come together previously. If I remember right, a couple of previous occasions had been postponed because I had no readily-available headlamp, which has been rectified now – in fact, I got to try out two new lights, one of which a christmas present, and both worked quite well.

Over a year ago, I had ventured down to this location on a moonless night, and the number of wolf spiders that could be seen by their eye reflections was stunning – they were everywhere, all over the ground and weeds, up the treetrunks, and I’m pretty sure I even spotted one on a rock out in the river. Surprisingly, I saw quite a few tonight, taking immediate advantage of the warmer weather to go out and forage.

Now, I made a mistake tonight. I got spoiled with the Canon Elan IIe and the D-Reb, both of which can use the RC-1 infra-red remote to trigger time exposures on Bulb setting – one click to open the shutter, another to close. The RC-1 was always with me, dangling from the zipper-pull of the camera bag, so I never had to think about it. But the RC-1 does not work on the 30D that I used for these shots, and the TC-80N3 wired remote release was in another bag, which meant I had to hold my finger on the shutter button for the entire time during these exposures. This is not recommended – it’s very easy to shake the camera – and it prevented me from going for exposures longer than four minutes. Actually, I was just counting off the seconds in my head, and the camera and I disagree seriously on how long the exposures were; I had it down as (top to bottom) 240, 190, and 240 seconds, while the EXIF info tells me 183, 154, and 188 seconds. If I believed officer Frank Murphy (or perhaps it was Roy Scheider*,) this could be serious news for my mental stability, but I also think the camera tends to do a slow count.

time exposure on Eno River by moonlight
With long enough exposures, moonlight can actually appear almost exactly like sunlight, except that anything that moves will be blurred, and you may even get star streaks in the sky. I wanted things a little darker, so I kept the exposure times shorter, but they were still plenty long enough for the rippling, splashing water to blur significantly – this is the same thing you would do for those gauzy waterfall photos, and some day, I’ll get some of those by moonlight as well (the nearest waterfall is probably 200 kilometers away, so not a trip that was going to happen tonight.) It’s important to have something unmoving in the photo for the juxtaposition, to appear nice and sharp, but it also helps to have better foreground interest and setting than what I have here.

But if you haven’t tried this, definitely add it to your own list, and be creative. You’ll almost certainly end up with something you like.

* Go watch the film Blue Thunder


[Repost of original posted January 4, 2015, destroyed by hosting failure.]

This one’s just for fun, mostly, but hopefully will provide a bit of perspective as well.

Arthur C. Clarke once offered his three predictions for the future, which came to be known as Clarke’s Three Laws, and the third is fairly frequently quoted in a variety of topics: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” The basic idea is, were we to meet an alien race far advanced over us, or time-travelers from the distant future, or if we ourselves went back far enough into the past to meet our ancestors, the technology involved wouldn’t be considered technology, but something mystical instead. Very often, this quote (or variations of it) is presented as an incisive argument by UFO proponents, in order to explain why the observed phenomena does not display any of the traits we might expect from a craft maneuvering in our atmosphere. But I feel it’s wildly misleading, and hardly an astute observation about intelligence.

Let’s first consider what we might mean by “magic.” Going with both the encyclopedic definitions and with common usage, we take it to denote something outside of the standard laws of physics; ‘supernatural’ is sometimes used as a description. So if we apply this idea to, for instance, our present state of knowledge, we would have to see something that a) appeared to violate known laws of physics without actually doing so, or b) did violate the laws of physics, meaning that they weren’t actually laws to begin with. We’ll do these in order.

First off we should note that, as a whole, our species cannot be assigned any particular traits regarding gullibility or awe; someone who believes in ghosts might, possibly, be convinced of magic, and the deeply religious may be inclined to accept godly intervention as an explanation, but even this is up for grabs. In my experience, most people who embrace paranormal explanations do not consider them manifestations of magic, but merely physical properties that we haven’t discovered yet. Most religious folk accept physics as true, but some feel that supernatural manifestations do occur at times, mostly in aspects of otherwise improbable (but still possible) events, such as being healed from serious disease or surviving a horrendous accident. On the other hand, those members of our population known by the catch-all term “scientists” are going to be extremely hard to convince of something outside of the laws of physics, largely because they are aware how pervasive these laws are (thus “laws” in the first place,) and are more inclined to find out how something happens before pronouncing it mystical in any way; it is unlikely that “magic” will ever be an answer. If we assume Clarke was referring to humanity as a whole, then we have a very tall order to fill, bordering on impossible.

Our knowledge of physics is actually pretty tight right now – we’ve not only discovered the subatomic particles that make up atoms, but have predicted where we will find more, mostly based on our understanding of energy and conservation. We have done enough math on gravity to know that galaxies aren’t behaving properly for the amount of ‘visible’ mass they possess, and have extrapolated the existence of non-visible mass (“dark matter,”) which we have then mapped by its affect on light passing nearby. Einstein’s famous equation, E=Mc2, tells us how much binding energy can be found in atoms, and thus how much energy can possibly be extracted from any given source, and we’ve demonstrated this with matter-antimatter collisions. While there yet remain mysteries within physics, no new discovery will overturn any of this knowledge; physics might be refined, like Newton’s Laws of Motion, or even attributed to different base causes, but the bare fact that we use these every day means they are not figments of our imagination, nor unsupported hypotheses.

So we are left to imagine what could appear to violate any of the known laws, and not by a small margin but enough to be really impressive, without actually violating the laws – that’s kind of problematic. Any given atom can release a hell of a lot of energy, so appearing to exceed this is not going to be a casual observation, but require some very careful measurements. In the proposed case of visiting aliens, the ships are occasionally considered to dismiss mass and inertia effects, but very selectively; they apparently do not do so in a way that would cause them to disintegrate, or lose their solid properties for the occupants – yet these are not different properties at all, so physics would have to be extremely specific in where it paid attention (and since mass is interactive with gravity and space-time, again, we’re talking minimized effect outside of the ship but normal effect inside to prevent the occupants from vanishing in a cloud of subatomic particles.) Just proving that this was actually happening – and not merely a wild claim because UFObees cannot fathom being wrong about observations – would take some pretty specific demonstrations, and even then I cannot imagine many crying, “Magick!” rather than, “That’s so cool! How does it work?” Even something as frequently imagined as invisibility isn’t going to be magical to at least half of the people with a firm knowledge of light, since all it would require is the ability to bend photons around an object, or reproduce them on the opposite side as if nothing intervened; we actually have rudimentary technology of this sort now.

And so, we come to the next aspect, which is actually violating the laws of physics. As said previously, this would make them no longer laws, but it’s more complicated than that, since we obviously have something that’s producing these effects. So what would have to be the case is something that had a certain effect in ‘normal’ circumstances, but under the application of the right amount of energy or some special conditions, would produce a different effect. In other words, the laws still exist, but different from how we understood them. Again, this is unlikely to make anyone play the Magic card since we’ve already found wave-particle duality, and quantum entanglement – we don’t know how these occur or what properties of the universe allow them, since they go counter to everything at the atomic level on up, but they’re unmistakeably present, and not causing anyone to ward off evil spirits or start believing in pixies. We must consider that the physics we know now works quite fine from atoms all the way up to super-massive stars, both explaining and predicting with amazing accuracy, which makes the likelihood that we’re missing something fairly small. We still see no evidence of where the basic laws vanish, or produce peculiar effects, so it’s a bit of a stretch to think that there is a key to changing them someplace in there that hasn’t already been displayed.

What Clarke might have been thinking of were the curious traits best illustrated by cargo cults, and in fact, his Third Law is occasionally referenced in relation to these. While there are variations from multiple locations and time frames, the best known are a few Pacific island tribes soon after WWII, ones that had been almost entirely isolated from modern cultures and suddenly saw stunning examples of technology from their contact with military forces during the war. After the forces withdrew from the islands, the tribes thereon developed elaborate replicas of military airfields and practices, a ritualistic attempt to re-stimulate the influx of technology and trade goods that had come along with the military occupation – in essence, a religious practice aimed at the new gods of canned ham and chewing gum. [I just want to point out that these aren’t exactly cults by nearly all definitions, in that there seemed to have been no efforts to control thinking nor isolate believers from nonbelievers – these were merely new religions, just as dependent on superstitious thought and oblivious to negative results as any other religion. I imagine using the word “cult” helps a lot of people distance themselves from it though.] While Clarke’s law fits with this observed behavior to all appearances, it must be admitted that this is an extremely narrow set of circumstances, applying to a tiny percentage of the population, and a culture quite likely supportive of “magic” as an answer in the first place. A hypothesis may fit the observations, but to be strong, it should predict further observations as well; to assume that humans overall would react exactly the same way, given advanced enough technology, seems a ridiculous stretch, one hardly supported by any other evidence.

Because of all this, I can’t help but feel that Clarke’s Third Law isn’t really very apt or useful, though it remains better than the other two; the First Law implies that little or nothing is impossible, while the Second Law demonstrates a gross misunderstanding of logic. There are, almost certainly, things that are impossible – we just cannot prove such without omniscience, and assuming such might mean missing something really useful. But the physical laws we have right now exist because it has not heretofore been possible to violate them – that’s how we define laws in this usage. It may be telling that Clarke was, after all, a writer, which may mean that seeing situations in a realistic light wasn’t his first priority, or that it sometimes takes fantastic plot points to drive a story, which has been used a few times before.

* * * * *

I have a little something to add along the physics line – once again, this comes courtesy of spending time in UFO forums, an occasional and inexplicable habit of mine. But rampant therein is the belief that, given an advanced enough civilization, most laws of physics could be overcome, and there could be inertia-free craft and anti-gravity ‘fields’ and nearly unlimited sources of energy – it’s just a matter of time. While it’s a very positive outlook on technology and ingenuity, it’s not exactly realistic.

There must be properties of the universe, basic functions and traits, or there could be nothing within – we need physical laws to bind atoms together, exchange energy, keep the planet spinning, and so on. None of these could be circumvented without something else underlying to shore them up, and/or use as leverage; if we were to exceed the speed of light, there would have to be some other property that permitted the passage of time for matter, as well as something that capped the energy needed (right now it is considered infinite.) To believe that any physical laws, much less several, are able to be circumvented or changed at will is… well, not necessarily arrogant, but certainly lacking in perspective. At no time have we ever dismissed any laws; the switch from Newton’s Laws to General Relativity was simply a refinement for large scales, and Newton’s Laws work fine for 95% of the purposes we have. But we remain just a fragile collection of atoms, unable to exist outside of a narrow range of conditions, evolved to our environment and trapped within a framework of our senses – it seems bizarre to believe that we (or anything else even remotely like us) will shape the universe to our will.

Oh, that’s not funny

I noticed earlier today that the blog was coming up with database errors, and while I could log in, a lot of data wasn’t showing up. My WordPress is hosted on a domain that outsources their database hosting, and WordPress (the ‘local’ files) was working while the data itself was missing, so it was pretty obvious that this outsource was the one having the issues.

After several hours of waiting to see if they’d fix it themselves, I went into the database admin section and found it pretty corrupted, so I restored from the backup I’d made at the beginning of the year. This meant, naturally, that everything I’ve posted since then was wiped.

No biggie – it’s happened before, and I now copy everything posted to a text file, and save all uploaded images, so restoring those takes only a few minutes.

What I do not have copies of are the post drafts, the ones I’ve been working on since the last backup – ominous music builds to a crescendo right there, since I wasn’t bothering to maintain a copy of those (I’d need constant maintenance deleting the old versions to avoid filling my local harddrive up.) Suffice to say, I had a shitload of work that got completely trashed – I mean hours.

I really, really, do not want to maintain constant copies of my work because hosts will dump it (far more often than I’ve ever had a local harddrive fail, and I’m not running redundant mirror systems,) but I suppose it will be necessary if I don’t want to rebuild lots of work from scratch.

Anyway, the posts you might already have seen since the beginning of the year will be back up shortly. New posts will be a bit longer…

Call it therapy

Sunrise at Indian Harbor Beach Florida
In years past I’ve done a gallery of my “Best of the Year” images, or various shots I’d edited for blog use but never posted; this year I’m doing something different for the year’s end. Largely because the weather has been dismal around here, and much the same for large portions of the country – indeed, probably most of the northern hemisphere – I’m just going to present a feast of bright colors. No text or explanation, only the visuals.

Hearts-a-bursting blossomAll of these, with one exception [didn’t I just say, “No text”?], are from this year – the exception is the first one above, since I didn’t have any sunrise shots for the gallery and haven’t gotten any in a while. That one is, like, eleven years old or so, from Florida. Most of the rest are plants, because that’s where I find the colors.

dewdrops on yellow crocus

snow on pampas grass against blue sky

mantis on daylily

amaranth I think...

gold autumn leaves

crocus pollen

katydid on rose

got me - little orange flowers

crepe myrtle blossoms

green treefrog on pondederia

leaves on rippling blue water

skipper under lily

yellow pond flower

orange rose closeup

juvenile green anole closeup

Happy New Year, everyone!

P.S. I just have to say, I’m really pleased with how that green anole above came out. They’re small lizards to begin with, and this was a juvenile about half adult size, small enough to sit comfortably on your thumb; the head was about the length of your thumbnail. It was a wild specimen in the botanical garden, and getting that much detail, handheld in natural light… well, I’ve missed my share of shots in those conditions. So yeah, I’m happy.

Still getting out occasionally

Pintail Anas acuta dozing
Despite the weather and the holidays, I do still get out to do some shooting now and then, even though the pics in this post were from… jeez… ten days ago. These were taken, with one exception, at Duke Gardens during a halfway-decent day. Above, a pintail duck (Anas acuta) provides a dozing pose as the cloud cover thickened up.

weahervane in Duke GardensWhile UNC’s Botanical Gardens are dedicated mostly to native NC plants and replicating natural habitats, Duke Gardens are more decorative and landscaped. It’s all a matter of taste; I prefer the natural-looking stuff more, and actually hate most of what passes for landscaping anymore, especially the lone decorative tree in a mound of pinestraw mulch – I have no idea how that became the standard in the US, but it’s unbelievably pathetic, like using a kindergarten drawing as a decorative plan. Lest I give the wrong impression, Duke Gardens is quite a bit better than that, with a pleasant layout and some real effort put into aesthetics, but it still says “artificial” too much for me. It is a favored locale for weddings and bridal shoots, if that provides a better impression, and it’ll have to do, since I wasn’t shooting an advertising brochure so I don’t have the images to illustrate that aspect.

This time of year, unsurprisingly, is not the best for foliage of any kind, nor arthropods, so much of my efforts went towards trying to find some kind of fartistic abstract compositions – I’ll leave it to you as to whether I succeeded or not, since that’s how art works anyway, but will say that I didn’t come home with much that bowled me over, though there are still a few that I liked. No small portion of my time went towards chasing the waterfowl that reside in the large pond, and we’ll see more of them anon.

unknown lily, maybe
I’m just going to hazard that this is some kind of lily, and leave it at that – I tried looking it up, but there is such a huge variety of them that I wasn’t finding this exact species. This one was sitting, all alone and forlorn, at the edge of a trail, and the light was right for delicate colors and shapes of this nature. It’s best not to try and shoot flowers in bright sunlight, since the contrast makes it difficult to get the curves of the petals and the variations of color to come out well.

Duke Gardens terraced waterfallWe’re not talking high art here, but I just wanted to point out something curious. The red in this image takes up a tiny percentage of the total area, but because it forms such a marked contrast from both its immediate surroundings and from the tones of the entire frame, it grabs attention – we notice it, but there’s no reason to look at it closely because it’s immediately apparent what it is. Since it’s there, however, it has to take a balanced place in the framing; too close to the edge, and it would seem cut off and perhaps subconsciously uncomfortable to the viewer, while putting it closer to the center implies there’s more that we should be paying attention to, without good reason. Yet without that dribble of red, the image would appear (even more) lacking in color, heavy emphasis on the grey-blue cast of overcast days – it was actually in deep shade during bright but hazy conditions, the same conditions as the weathervane pic above. It illustrates the difference between a dominant shape or subject within the frame, and a dominant contrast element, which can be quite small and still effective. It also demonstrates how small a distracting element could be – say, if this was a car in the background, or a person in a bright jacket. It is important for a photographer to see these things, not as discrete ideas like “waterfall” and “berries,” but as elements of color and contrast that will draw the eye, for good or for bad.

long pine needles getting in the way of everything
This is just an illustration of one of my frustrations, a frustillustration if you will. Longneedle pines are not only ugly trees, their needles fall constantly, all year long, and get all over everything – I very frequently pick them out of compositions. These little bastards even fall with enough force to pierce through leaves of other plants, such as The Girlfriend’s Younger Sprog’s shamrocks. Very annoying.

roosting mallards Anas platyrhynchosOn to the ducks. Yeah, I know, mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) are probably the most common duck in North America, so no remarkable skills here, but I liked the composition with the lighting, and this does show the sexual dimorphism that is common in bird species and very pronounced in many ducks – the female is in front, the male behind. The males typically have the bright, elaborate plumage to attract the attention of the females, who perform the selection of mates. The plumage is an indication of health, as well as simply standing out – even we, a completely unrelated species, can spot an unhealthy bird from a short distance. More interesting is how the colors work, since they only appear this bright in direct sunlight, having a certain refractive quality to the feathers (also note the pintail at the top of the post.) In diffuse light to shade, however, the colors almost vanish, becoming so muted they only garner a tiny percentage of the attention, allowing the birds to roost in the shade safely without sending out much of a signal to predators. As is hinted at in the image, this pair were nestled in under a tree, and only the angle of the late afternoon sun threw this bright light upon them; the same conditions (in almost the exact same location) can be seen in this wood duck photo.

unknown duck species
I don’t know what kind of duck this is, since my guide didn’t seem to have any match, and since there are a couple of known exotic, introduced species that hang out at that pond, my suspicion is this is another. It’s about half the size of the mallards, and at least one pair was visible, so I’m fairly certain this is the male – quite a contrast from the coloration of the mallards, and ridiculously far from either wood ducks or the mandarins that were also present, which did not hold still well enough in decent light for me to get an acceptable image of, so seeing them will wait for another opportunity – I’d like to get the wood ducks during nesting season anyway, so keep watching in the spring. But I liked these little guys anyway.

bamboo grove shot verticallyJust an experiment in the bamboo grove, using a 19mm focal length, f8 with focus about 2 meters, and setting the camera on the ground aiming up, so taken blind. Out of several attempts, I like this composition best. Moreover, it shows no visible evidence of the graffiti that adorns most of the stalks, because the garden is frequented by college students who, on the whole, have not grown the fuck up yet. There’s not much you can do to bamboo when trying to carve your initials into the trunks, except produce a weak discoloration, but this is apparently enough for those who are desperate to leave their mark but lacking in any talent whatsoever – not everyone can be a pop star (really got the Old Man Thing going today, haven’t I?) I think next time I’ll got with at least f16 and a shorter focus, since it would be better to have the bottoms of the stalks in focus; the tops going out of focus would likely enhance the height aspect. Should’ve experimented more.

Speaking of experiments…

maybe kale, who knows?
I originally shot the entire head of this plant, where it sat in a decorative planter behind the Doris Duke Center, but decided I liked the tight abstract better, so this is a much smaller portion of the frame. I’m calling this ‘kale’ because that’s what it looks like to me, but that’s not my Final Answer…

great blue heron Ardea herodias in greyscale, posed at Duke GardensThere is a resident great blue heron (Ardea herodias) at the gardens, quite possibly the same one I’ve photographed numerous times before, and it is remarkably mellow around the visitors. Great blues are variable species in this regard, since in most areas you’re likely to have a very hard time getting within fifty meters or so, but if they’ve become accustomed to human presence (usually through the prospect of easy food,) they might allow very close approaches. This image doesn’t present scale too well – they can stand well over a meter in height when fully erect, with a wingspan over two meters, and that beak is close to the length of your hand. Given the light conditions, I had to convert this one to greyscale, but did so with a technique I’ve posted about earlier, that of channel clipping. In this case, I removed the red and blue channels of the image, leaving only the green, then converted that to greyscale and increased contrast a little. The bridge in the background, which I had purposefully positioned myself to place there in the frame (since the heron, cooperative as it was, wasn’t taking instructions,) is actually bright red, but this went nearly black in the green channel. Had I used the red channel instead, the bridge would have become almost white and the foliage darker; I liked this one better. The blue channel is worthless more times than not for channel clipping, at least with the cameras I’ve used, but it does depend on what the image is of.

By the way, speaking of that sexual dimorphism, great blue herons are very hard to distinguish sexually, in contrast to ducks – I think this is a male, but again, Final Answer, no…

And just in case you were missing the spider images,
tiny spider against water surface tension
This eentsy fellow was found in the bathroom, and it’s difficult to give an impression of just how small it was, but I’ll try. What you’re seeing is a leaf in the water, and the curve across the bottom of the frame is the water lapping over onto the leaf, shaped that way by surface tension, the same thing that makes water bead up. Suspended in the water are grains of sand small enough to float. I cannot be sure of course, but I suspect the spider (an unknown species of cobweb spider) is getting a drink. I was able to compare this one against the carcass of a common fruit fly, and it measures about a third of the body length of the fly. Which begs the question of what, exactly, it feeds upon – my guess would be ghosts…

Anyway, it remains the slow season, though the days are at least getting longer again. There are still a couple of trips in the planning stages, so we’ll see what pops up in the coming month or so.

How not to be a conspiracist

While this post was sparked by some recent discussions (it’s that time of year, or at least, it was a little over a month ago,) what I talk about here is quite common, and I’ve seen it all over and over again. So, I figured it was time to address it again.

“Conspiracist” is defined as someone who believes or promotes a conspiracy theory. Which means that my use of it herein is not going to be perfectly accurate, because I have yet to hear anything that actually qualifies as a theory; a theory, in scientific usage, is an explanation that best fits all of the known facts. Believe me, nobody even comes close, so using the word in application to things such as Kennedy’s assassination, 9/11, fluoride in drinking water, chemtrails, and all similar topics is abusing a language that is already on the ropes. However, since you still know who I mean by the term, it’ll be better than coining my own.

It is interesting to note that, in my experience anyway, very few people want to be considered part of this crowd, even as they actively promote the conspiracy ideas; apparently they are in tune with the greater consensus that such people are “kooks.” I can’t say that I really blame them, but there really isn’t any firm definition, no dividing line between someone who is a serious investigator and a chuzzlewit looking for spies within the bushes. Yet, there are some distinctive traits that can very often be seen in these circles, and by avoiding them, one can greatly reduce their chances of being lumped into any such derogatory bin. To that end, I have compiled a short (and admittedly incomplete) list of things to be aware of when dealing with any topic of this nature.

1. “Conspiracy” is not a crime, or even a firm definition. A conspiracy actually requires specific actions of a covert nature, usually coupled with the attempt to disguise these actions. It does not automatically arise with gaps within, or the mere weakness of, The Official Explanation, nor can you charge anyone with just “conspiracy.” To avoid being considered a kook, one should always have a specific set of actions/crimes, and of course the people who committed them.

2. Never rely on the argument that something “might be possible.” Conspiracists dearly love these, but for every, “might,” there is also a, “might not.” Emphasis should only be on what can be shown as most likely; not the exceptionally low bar of “possible,” but a careful comparison of probabilities.

3. The key is not raising questions, but finding answers. A hallmark of a conspiracist is that they can usually only find problems with The Official Explanation, and lack any ability to explain what happened in its place. Apparently, they feel that mere uncertainty is adequate to allow any other explanation.

4. There is no such thing as “negative evidence.” Even if there is good reason to question The Official Explanation, this does not suggest, promote, or strengthen any alternate explanation; that requires positive evidence in support of it. If I drop my neighbor’s phone in the cesspit but no one saw me do it and has no evidence thereof, this does not in any way suggest the idea that fairies did it, nor does it even prove that I did not – it is nothing more than a lack of confirmation.

5. Avoid double-standards. Conspiracists are inordinately fond of finding nitpicking inconsistencies or curious gaps in The Official Explanation, but seem blissfully unaware of the disproportionately huge gaps in their suggested alternate events – if there is any alternate at all. They are also amazingly accomplished at selecting testimony or evidence that supports their ideas, while openly ignoring, discounting, or outweighing any and all evidence that contradicts or weakens their ideas. If, for instance, five eyewitnesses all have conflicting accounts, how can only one be selected as accurate?

6. Do not conflate “improbable” with “impossible.” Conspiracists seem unable to grasp the concept that events with a low likelihood can still occur, and they will usually consider improbable events as impossible. Of course, once they are impossible, any other event of ridiculously high improbability can be inserted in their place (see ‘double-standards,’ above.)

7. Do not ignore multiple explanations. Very few events or items of evidence could have only one possible explanation, yet conspiracists will often take this stance – curiously, it will be in favor of the one possibility that supports their conspiracy. Anyone else aware of the other possibilities, however, will see this selectivity for what it is.

8. Do not weigh options unrealistically. When recognizing multiple potential explanations, also recognize that they will certainly not all have the same weight, or probability of occurring. Something that has happened numerous times in the past is unarguably more likely to reoccur than a rare event.

9. Do not rely on ‘common knowledge’ or experience gained from cultural depictions. What ‘everyone knows,’ like how being shot can hurl someone backwards, is very frequently inaccurate; what we expect to be the case is not necessarily true. Conspiracists are fond of proclaiming how things must be, but thoughtful people take advantage of those with extensive experience, and studies with dependable results. Moreover, there is no figure of authority so complete that they could not be wrong; what they can demonstrate with facts gives the weight of probability over any pronouncement, yet such probability can never be absolute – there is no ‘proof,’ just highest likelihood. This is true for all of science, and in fact, anyone who is 100% certain is someone to distrust, because nothing in life can be that certain.

10. Use the most accurate sources of information, and take all of it into account. Conspiracists always have a favorite, secondary source of info, be it a website or radio program or a book that promises to blow the lid off, yet the further it is from the original sources, the more inaccurate it is likely to be – to say nothing whatsoever of the ulterior motive of such sources, which are virtually always making a bundle of money by providing this info. People love conspiracies, so any source promising to reveal one is almost guaranteed to garner sales; it shouldn’t need pointing out that anyone motivated by such is not very likely to present all of the facts in a comprehensive and unbiased manner. But even without the money angle, that love of conspiracies is enough to make people ignore all factors that weaken the conspiracy.

11. Do not manufacture connection or relation. Regardless of the nature, conspiracists will often find every curious element to be related in some way, much like the superstitious and the hypochondriac can always find something to blame for their misfortunes. If the argument is that two or more items are related, then one should be prepared to demonstrate how they are related, and not simply unconnected elements.

12. Do not assign meaning without reason. Conspiracists are fond of believing that an eyewitness using one word instead of another is a clue, rather than a simple case of stumbling over one’s words, or that adding up all the numbers of the crashed flight provides a rebus that points to the real answer. Yet, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar; if claiming that it’s something more, one should be able to demonstrate how and why.

13. Think parsimoniously. Parsimony is the concept that the simplest explanation is the one most likely to be correct, and thus, the more complicated, the lower the likelihood. While it is a mistake to believe that the simplest explanation is always correct, it is a much bigger mistake to seek complication without support. A better guide is the phrase, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” – if one proposes an elaborate, covert scenario, then one should be prepared to show the evidence that leads in that direction. It also helps to keep a firm goal in mind. Conspiracists are usually just motivated by winning an argument, but most others believe that any conspiracy should be tried in court, and that requires something really solid to present.

14. Do not ignore the consequences. Conspiracists are quite fond of throwing out new scenarios, and almost never consider that any new scenario would have effects all its own. Is there a second shooter? Fine; who is it, where were they shooting from, how come no one saw them, what happened to their bullets? Nothing happens in its own pocket of space – everything has some outside impact. Very often, another scenario is proposed to explain why we don’t see any of these effects, and it doesn’t take long before the conspiracy involves dozens to hundreds of participants, all of them faceless and perfectly loyal. This becomes especially ludicrous (and helps fill out the “kook” label) when it is proposed to explain a minor discrepancy in witness accounts or physical expectations.

It is probably quite hard to argue that any of these points are unwarranted, or a show of bias or dismissal. Yet, what may be found when applying all of these is that the conspiracy vanishes. Most telling at this point is that conspiracists will lose their nut over this prospect, and try to find any way to salvage the conspiracy – but why would anyone want to salvage the conspiracy against the application of rational criteria? If, as is so often claimed, the point is to find The Truth™, then is there a better way to determine it? And what if the truth is that there simply is no conspiracy? That’s acceptable too, right?

To the conspiracist, no; it is the conspiracy that’s important, not the truth. And you’ll notice I’m using that separately from The Truth™, for a good reason – the latter is something that they possess the knowledge of, and is always different from what the general public understands, not necessarily anything to do with the facts. It is an emotional gratification, and as such, often pursued with the same type of zeal and rationalization that the addict wields.

But for those interested in knowing, as closely as possible, what really happened, the answer is simply wherever the evidence leads, regardless. And for those, it’s important to recognize that no explanation is ever airtight, no single answer ever to be found – life just isn’t like that. We can only go with what presents the greatest probability, that fits all of the factors the best (and indeed, this may change with new evidence.) If it helps, think of it as a court case, where you do not aim to convict someone on suspicion, or a single point of evidence, but strive for the idea of “beyond a reasonable doubt” – and not every situation will be able to present this to us. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know for sure – but this seems most likely, given the evidence.”

Moreover, we should see ourselves as the jury, and not either the prosecution or the defense – if we have the goal of only trying to prove guilt or innocence, we’re only on one side of the equation. Now, while everyone believes they’re open and unbiased, the favoritism is easy to find within such topics, so it appears a lot of people aren’t as unbiased as they believe. If we take more pleasure in evidence that supports one conclusion over any other, if we are quick to be skeptical over another factor and immediately start looking for ways it can be wrong, well, that’s a pretty good indication that we’re not being neutral. And while anyone can hold whatever opinion pleases them most, if we’re intending to be convincing to others, we should be able to demonstrate that we’re as objective as possible.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Evolution's Witness  - How Eyes Evolved bookI’m hoping everyone is enjoying themselves, not getting unduly stressed, and eating in a most unhealthy yet satisfying way – if not, let me know, because we have more cookies here this year than we can manage…

I’m not much for blogging about personal details, but I do have to enthuse a little about one of my gifts, Evolution’s Witness – How Eyes Evolved, by Ivan Schwab. I’ve had my eye on this book (a ha ha) for, well, ever since this post on Panda’s Thumb, so that’s actually longer than I thought. The same image was the subject of a post here as well. I’ve only had a bare moment to flip through the book, but I’m already captivated, so I might actually be featuring snippets and items of interest in ongoing posts, sort of a long-form book review.

Now, in looking up an appropriate link for the book, I find that Dr. Schwab also has a blog, and a TEDx Talk video to check out – why didn’t I think to look up his name earlier? In fact, I’m just going to go ahead and embed the video, because in it, he talks about two subjects that I’ve had a particular interest in.

Which subjects were they? I can’t believe you’re asking – it only means you haven’t done the required reading (which is every single one of my past posts, and of course the entire photo gallery.) But they were the jumping spider’s eyes, which I’ve done twice, and the curious facets of the grass shrimp’s eyes (a species discussed in the immediately previous post as well.) The satellite he mentions in there, by the way, is the Chandra X-ray Observatory.

cat's eye within the christmas treeThat’s enough links to make you think I’m alternating font colors for the post, so let’s see if I can manage to avoid any more. The easiest way is by not writing much beyond this, so I’ll leave you with an appropriate image from a few days back, as one of the cats peered out from beneath the tree through a gap in the branches. This was their first christmas tree, and they were very well behaved with it though, granted, we did not put any ornaments within easy reach. They appeared to enjoy the day as well, since they had plenty of wrapping-paper balls to slap across the floor, and a Nerf-like gun shooting fascinating darts for them to chase (yes, it was my gift, and yes, I’m 49 years old – what’s your point? You got something to say?)

All the best, everyone!

Tanks for the memories

I really have to stop doing stuff like that with the titles…

As a section of the photo gallery shows, while I lived in Florida I ‘maintained’ a small saltwater aquarium – not exactly intentionally, and certainly not in the way that aquarium enthusiasts do. Instead, it was born simply from finding critters of interest in the nearby sound, or a little further off on the Atlantic shore, and wanting to photograph them. Actual in situ photography, capturing images of aquatic animals within their habitats, is very involved and quite expensive, something that wasn’t going to happen then (or now, for that matter) – not just some highly specialized equipment, but also the ability for the operator to remain for adequate times within an environment that they are not at all suited for, and must be, uh, suited for. You know, scuba gear and all that. But the smaller critters, at least, could be temporarily housed in a small aquarium, which also provided lots of options for setting and lighting.

For reasons I honestly cannot explain, ‘fish’ do not really count among the subjects in which I have an interest; most piscine species are remarkably boring to me, no matter how colorful they may get. Only the bizarre, or at least subtly malevolent, species get some attention. But also inexplicably, I find the crustaceans to be fascinating.

Collecting small examples of crustaceans in the Indian River Lagoon (the ‘Lagoon’ part invariably dropped in all references by the locals) was easy, almost effortless. Just about anything underwater would host some small species of crab, and careful observation when snorkeling would reveal plenty of examples. I would go out once or twice a week for fresh water and seaweed, which would contain food sources for the tank residents, and would scout around the area for anything new or interesting. At times, this would be done at night, since there were more species active then, and more visible since I would hold the flashlight underwater, eliminating any obscuring reflections from the surface; I could also adjust the angle of lighting to help spot something better. One night, I espied two tiny ruby reflections on a piling, coming and going with the light angle, and eventually determined that I was seeing some minuscule nearly-transparent species, though at that time I hadn’t determined what it was. I eased a shallow bowl into the water and came up behind it, successfully scooping it up and bringing it to the surface. Just as I was transferring it into a jar, it gave a defensive kick and flipped itself out of the bowl, wriggled momentarily on the dock I lay upon, and dropped back into the water. I was quite chagrined, since I still hadn’t determined what it was, except for perhaps 2 cm in length. Looking defeatedly back into the water, I found that it had either returned to almost exactly the same position, or another was now occupying the space. With a little more care this time, I effectively captured it and got it into the jar, to be closely examined back home.

grass shrimp Palaemonetes pugio

grass shrimp Palaemonetes pugio swimmingWhat I had was eventually determined to be a grass shrimp (Palaemonetes pugio,) sometimes sold in aquarium shops as ‘ghost shrimp,’ which seems a more appropriate name. They are remarkably transparent, which makes them challenging to photograph, but also quite interesting to observe. While they can walk about on the bottom and forage, more often they simply drift through the water, suspended by the frantic actions of the little limbs underneath their tails, called pleopods, which thrash in a mad blur that causes the shrimp to waft along as if propelled by a gentle subsurface current. The detection of any threat by those long antennae, however, provokes a flip of the entire tail, flicking the shrimp backwards so quickly they almost seem to vanish and reappear a few centimeters away. I usually had several in the tank at once, and they found more than enough to eat attached to the seaweed I would collect. Nothing else in the tank was inclined to eat them, so they seemed to lead a cushy, carefree existence during their time as my guests.

porcelain crab
Another species that I usually had within the tank were the porcelain crabs, one of two species (or perhaps examples of both): Petrolisthes armatus or Porcellana sayana. Small and very flat, they could press themselves so tight to any surface they could be challenging to collect, but I’m glad I made the efforts, because they were always entertaining to observe. Many crab species are scavengers, finding deceased critters or loose organic matter to tear up and feed upon, and on first glance these seemed well-equipped for such a diet, possessing quite large pincers (chelipeds) for their size. However, I never observed any such behavior; instead, the porcelain crabs were filter feeders, sweeping through the water with two delicate forelimbs topped with broad fans, collecting plankton and microorganisms that they would wipe off into their mouthparts. These fans are actually visible in the pic above; one tucked into cleaning position between the right pincer and the blue mouthparts (don’t ask me why blue,) the other extended over the left elbow. Or there’s this view:

porcelain crab in feeding display
They were always very mellow, insofar as any such personality might be assigned to a crustacean; not territorial or competitive, not dangerous to other residents in the tank, and not aggressive. Later on I found out that they are an approved addition to any saltwater aquarium for exactly these traits, since many species that can be obtained are incompatible with others, and that whole food-chain thing means you have to pick one or the other lest they make that choice themselves. Most amusing was watching them actually sitting atop a hermit crab many times larger, riding along with aplomb.

While I had them, I obtained a brief segment of video that shows the feeding behavior; this was taken with a Sony DSC F717 camera, not exactly known for its video quality, so this isn’t going to impress you, but it does show how those little feeding arms work, as well as a crab’s glare-equivalent towards a blundering amphipod:

Perhaps the most charming members of the crustacean family are the hermit crabs, and it’s not just me saying that – people that find crabs to be creepy often seem just fine with hermit crabs, which somehow manage to unlock the ‘cute’ achievement. Many crabs are actually shy, but few people get to witness this; it’s the hermits that demonstrate it routinely, as well as having the pleasant exterior of a discarded snail shell. I suspect it also has something to do with their legs being gathered in front, breaking that visual pattern of a lot of legs on either side like spiders. Loads of tiny hermit crabs could be found in the lagoon, and they fed happily on the algae that would come along with the seaweed I collected, so I always had at least a half-dozen in the tank, usually more. Most of these were roughly pea-sized, and trundled around the tank busily during just about any observation; occasionally, I would find a much-larger thinstripe hermit crab (Clibanarius vittatus) that I would collect for a few photos, but never keep more than a day or so, because there simply wasn’t enough food for them in the tank, and they likely would have reduced the populations of other species that I had. The little guys, however, could stay indefinitely.

small hermit crab portrait
Looking at this image just now, I realize it seems to have the same marking as the larger ones that I’ve positively identified as thinstripe hermit crabs, so it’s possible this is a much smaller, younger example; I have no idea how big they are when born. To give an idea of the size disparity, compare this pic with the one here, especially noting the crushed shell underfoot – if it helps, this one is probably half as wide, measured across its shell home, as the porcelain crab atop the larger species.

Now, I don’t want to give a completely misleading impression; I did have a couple of fish in the aquarium. The most distinctive was the flounder, a very small specimen, actually the second that I’d caught in the lagoon of almost exactly the same size. The first I’d seen undulating on the surface while I was wading, but I wasn’t maintaining the tank then and didn’t keep it beyond the time it took to obtain a couple of slides (yes, film – ask your parents.) The second was a lucky capture, and borderline stupid: I was snorkeling and gently pushing on the sand with my hands, when I felt something wriggle under my palm. I immediately closed my hand over it to enclose it, which might have been bad had it been something with proper defenses – I was in a saltwater sound that housed things like stingrays, after all. But my suspicions were correct, and I brought home another flounder, which remained in the tank for quite a while.

tiny flounder camouflaged in substrate
This pic is far from the most illustrative of anatomy, but does a great job of showing how well they blend in. You can see the faint difference in color and texture in comparison to the crushed shell substrate, and at far left, directly under the snail shell, a dark spot (with an apparent white slit pupil, actually only a bit of shell) that marks one of the googly eyes that flounder have; the other sits right alongside it, facing entirely away from us and thus invisible in this shot – the flounder is ‘facing,’ as poorly as that word can be used here, directly left. At least, that’s where the mouth sits, with the tail to the right. Here’s a bottom view from one of the times it was resting vertically against the glass, facing the same way.

flounder bottom view
This one was just big enough to hide a quarter coin underneath, but a silver dollar would have shown around the edges, so about 2 cm wide and 3 long. I am assuming this is a young one, but I’m not sure. Flounders are born looking much like other fish, their anatomy arranged to swim in a typical vertical orientation, but they instead stay on their side along the bottom, and soon their ‘bottom’ eye starts to migrate sideways around the head to join the other eye on ‘top;‘ since this had already happened, I have to assume mine was not terribly young, but I honestly don’t know how long it takes, or even what species this is. Notice that you can still see the gill on this side.

While the flounder could be disturbed from lurking on the bottom, I’d watched the small hermit crabs amble over top any number of times without provoking a response; whether the crabs themselves noticed any change underfoot I cannot say.

Gulf pipefish Syngnathus scovelli
Another fish species I had, briefly, were Gulf pipefish (Syngnathus scovelli.) Basically resembling stretched out seahorses, I was delighted to snag one when collecting seaweed, and began watching for them when snorkeling. I couldn’t keep them in the tank long, however, since they consumed a lot of food, primarily things like brine shrimp, and I rarely had many of those in the tank. The pipefish seemed fond of one particular spot that I visited in the lagoon, only a handful of meters wide, and I never determined why that section got all the attention, since it seemed indistinguishable from the rest; perhaps I just happened upon a breeding patch. One type of longneedle pine overhanging that area of the lagoon routinely dropped short twigs, the base stem of the needle sprays, and the shape and size of these was nearly identical to the pipefish, meaning I got a lot of false alarms, and on at least two occasions misidentified pipefish as a twig, clued in to my mistake because the authentic twigs never, during my observations, swam away. The pipefish (and the twigs, really) measured about 8cm in length, perhaps 4-6mm in width. The one shown here is curled in front of a string of snail egg cases (almost certainly of the king’s crown conch, which I had briefly in the tank) and a small crab, hiding behind the dorsal fin – you can see the legs peeking out. Later this same day, one of the grass shrimp hatched out a brood, filling the water with tiny newborns – briefly. The couple of pipefish I had ate them like popcorn and had the water clear within an hour. Noticing their efforts, I snagged one of the newborn shrimp for some macro work; what you see below measures 4-5mm in length. It was photographed in the translucent lid of a film can, allowing for backlighting and also a shallow depth of water so the shrimp couldn’t wander out of focus, this being before I’d made my “tiny tanks.”

newborn grass shrimp Palaemonetes pugio
I had one other fish species that stayed for a while, a type of goby I think – these seemed to have a symbiotic relationship with some of the crab species out in the lagoon, since they were often found in close proximity. The gobies tended to like little hiding places, and I learned that if I spotted both halves of an empty mussel shell still hooked together, I should close the shells before picking them up; more than 25% of the times I would capture a goby within. At one point, I watched, and video’ed, a hermit crab that appeared to be very deliberately herding the goby across the tank, though whether this was correct, and what purpose it would serve, remains unanswered.

little anemoneThe red rock with the snail’s eggs, seen behind the pipefish above, was a notably bare exception (though it appears in a ridiculous number of my images,) since most of the rocks I had in the aquarium were ‘living’ rock – in other words, bearing living matter thereon. I was startled to see one of the stones I collected, early on in the tank’s history, sprout a garden of little anemones soon after putting it in the water; it had spent the short trip back from the lagoon on the floor of the car out of water, because I hadn’t realized it was occupied. The anemones retract protectively when threatened and become very low key, but will otherwise wave their blossom-like heads in the current collecting food. Unlike flowers however, these critters could move about, not just ingesting food but actually changing locations within the tank, albeit at much less than a snail’s pace. They would also reproduce by dropping new, tiny versions around their base, and when they did this on the aquarium sides I would have to scrape them off. I rarely saw them feeding, but they seemed to be finding enough, and this one captured quite a mouthful. Or somethingful.

The rocks also supported one or two oysters (one seen alongside the porcelain crab feeding further up the page) and a serious collection of acorn barnacles, which could be found everywhere in the lagoon. They’re fond of attaching to and riding along with horseshoe crabs, and I’ve even found one on the leg of a hermit crab. You can be excused if you thought of them as molluscs like clams and oysters, but they’re crustaceans instead, more closely related to the crabs seen here, and their juvenile stages are quite mobile. Seriously, check out this page, because they’re fascinating creatures and deserve the attention.

sample of Indian River Lagoon residents
This image was actually taken just a short while before the one above showing the porcelain crab feeding; you can see it creeping into position, marked by the blue arrow. The yellow arrows show barnacles feeding (actually, just about everything to the lower left are barnacles,) and the red arrow is a retracted anemone. The seaweed in the background isn’t growing, just recently collected, which distributed a new batch of food sources into the water and often sparked a lot of activity. Aside from the aerator and fresh water (about 20-40% of aquarium capacity cycled per week from the lagoon,) that was pretty much all I did to maintain the tank, and the residents were often released after I had observed and photographed them sufficiently.

While I have done some half-hearted attempts at aquarium photography since moving back to North Carolina from Florida, the water sources here simply cannot compete with the variety and fertility of that saltwater sound, which also housed stingrays, dolphins, manatees, ctenophores, and plenty of others. I’ve posted before about spider crab camouflage, pistol shrimp, and the supremely cool bioluminescence that could occur in high summer. It’s a fascinating locale.

I will close with what is almost a self-portrait, obtained by accident while getting pics of the redfin needlefish featured earlier. When it’s warm, I rarely have a shirt on, much to everyone’s horror…

beware the reflections from the tank glass

Don’t mind the gaps

Yeah, it’s been too long since the last post, I’ll admit it. There are various reasons, but you know what? It’s a blog – it’s not a job, or any kind of obligation except for how I view it myself (and obviously, I haven’t felt too obligated.) If there are no photos that I think pass muster, and no topics I feel I can tackle decently, then why put something up just for the sake of some self-imposed schedule? There are a lot of writers who find themselves obligated to produce something, and very often, the results don’t compare to their previous work. I’ve never liked that kind of thing.

That said, there is another post in the works, which may appear quite quickly, or may not – there is a potential long interruption looming. There are also several drafts that I’ve been kicking around for ages that I may finish up as well. More will appear, sooner or later. I’m still here, just not posting as much right now.

Some days ago, Why Evolution Is True featured a video and other content by Matthew Inman, otherwise known as The Oatmeal. While I’ve had no problem linking to The Oatmeal in the past, I’m linking to WEIT this time because there’s a bunch of additional content therein. The main bit is a video, poignant in the manner only elaborate sarcasm can accomplish, and if you’ve read much of this blog, you know I’m behind this 100%. But then there’s a following exchange that is featured, which is also quite entertaining. So check it out.

It also, I might add, ties in nicely with the other post in the works, which means I have a bit of a theme going. That’s clarss, that is. Lit’riture.

During my absence from posting, I’ve been working on various projects, a few of them photographic, many of them not turning out the way they were intended. This is no big deal; that’s how you learn, right? But some of them might eventually make it here, and there remains a few arthropod pics I could toss up, but really, I’ve been trying not to get into a rut with those, which is another reason for the scarcity of posts. Mostly, it’s been the scarcity of subjects, which is typical winter conditions, and partially due to the sinuses not being kind to me this fall.

[As I type this, there is bread in the oven and a timer ticking on my desk, which I find to be a serious hindrance to concentration – most background noise is, and I rarely even have music on, much less a TV, but ticking seems especially obnoxious.]

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with one of my casual photo projects, a holiday tree ornament with the fireplace crackling in the background. It’s easy to consider something like this a simple shot to capture – until you try it. It’s mostly ambient light, which means a long exposure – that translates to tripod and a completely motionless ornament, which is hard to do with something dangling from a string, light enough to be stirred by air currents, suspended from a bouncy branch of a tree standing on a wood floor. I eventually stabilized it by rehanging the ornament to sit atop another branch. It took a little playing around to get the angle that worked best for such a narrow field of view; the tripod was crammed into a corner, barely allowing me room to see through the viewfinder. I had to cut down the fire in the background (it’s gas, so that was easier, at least) because the flames were high enough to get cut off by the top of the fireplace, giving them a curious flat-topped appearance. To give a little more sparkle and definition, the ornament and the branches have some additional illumination from an LED flashlight held off to the left – it took a few exposures to determine how long to do this for; the entire exposure was too much. And with all that, I missed having the little red bow facing front and center.

holiday ornaments on tree, fireplace in background
So, yeah. Happy holidays.