I am a little slow in putting this up, because I forgot to check back after I heard this might be appearing, but you should definitely review this post about the card game Emergent. Why? Well, first and most importantly, it was created by my friend Dan Palmer, who has been creating and tweaking games his whole life, and this is to be his first commercial offering. Dan has a gift for finding interesting forms of gameplay, both effective and entertaining, and I’ve had firsthand experience with this for a long time now (like, two freaking decades.) But there’s also the little detail that the graphics of the deck are actually mine.
Not the designs themselves – those are Dan’s. But he wanted real photographs to represent the color suits of the cards, and enlisted my help in finding images that would fit the bill. Once these were chosen, I worked from his instructions and criteria to put out the other cards as well (it’s not like text is a huge skill.) He designed the logo and graphic backgrounds; I just made them to order. Dan also located a printer that could do a really slick job of producing the cards, and managed to get his complete deck in hand for a gaming convention early this year (though not without a rather intricate backstory in itself involving delivery times, car breakdowns, and the suspicions that Fate might be a real force after all.)
The trip I mentioned a while back was actually into his neck of the woods – we live far apart now and all of the prep work was done through the magic of the intertubes – so I not only got a chance to play it out for myself a few times, we attended another game convention together and got to try it against a few blocks of players, receiving a lot of input. On the drive back, we hashed out more rule tweaks on this and a few other games Dan has in the works.
A few weeks ago, he contacted me about a new card that might be added, and had decided on purple; did I have something that would fit as the background image? His own suggestion was a nighttime lightning shot, since the sky tends to go purple in those conditions anyway, but he was up for any suggestions. I sent along eight possibilities I think, and he had largely decided to stay with one of the lightning examples I provided. Then, perhaps a week or so later, I got the hazardous near-miss image and of course sent this along; I think he’s pretty much set on using that one now (if the additional card passes muster, at least – this remains to be seen.)
This whole thing has been an ongoing story. Not just from the progress of the card deck from concept into real time, but on many other fronts as well. The convention mentioned in that other post was directly related to Dan’s day job, or at least part of it: a bit of swarm-oriented software for assisting in medical diagnoses. He and his colleagues have been developing this for the past couple of years, and submitted a paper on it not too long ago. I was enlisted to help tweak their images for publication clarity – ensuring that a color image would retain the same contrast and illustrative properties when converted to monochrome for one-color printing, overlaying results from different stages in the process, that kind of thing. Dan’s presence at this convention was due to the paper’s acceptance, and so I then helped a bit with the presentation he would be giving – I don’t want to make any kind of big deal out of my contribution, because it was minimal; Dan and his colleagues had produced a fascinating body of work and a process that will, hopefully, become integrated into medical diagnoses in the near future. I was only there to ensure that the illustrations worked, and in a lot of ways, that’s what a photographer does: present a visual representation of some concept. Art is all well and good, but function is in demand ten times as often.
Dan, within his ridiculously busy schedule, also ran a summer camp this past season, and he demonstrated the very same software within it; the algorithm is designed to produce probabilities from a large number of diagnoses. Obtaining medical images for public use is indescribably involved, due to patient confidentiality laws, so instead of using medical images, Dan asked me for anything I might have, or be able to produce, with hidden elements – the idea is that the kids would independently point out where in the image lay some unexpected element, if it even existed, and their confidence level in it as well, and the software would collectively evaluate their ‘diagnoses’ and provide a potential ‘group’ diagnosis. The most fun was the criteria where there should be nothing of note in some of the images, but they should give the impression that there might be. So, once again I was providing my services towards Dan’s work (and in fact, this funded the trip up there.)
Is there a point underlying all of this bragging? Sure. It’s great to be able to get paid for doing exactly what you want to be doing, recognized for your art and all that, but it’s also extremely rare. Most times in fields like this, you have to produce what someone else wants, sometimes just as much as if you held one of those office jobs you thought you were avoiding. Pride in your own work, your own taste, your own style and approach, is all well and good, but pride in making the client happy is important too, and more in demand.
And, it is really cool to be watching these various things come to fruition, to be a part, however small, in these projects. Hell, I’d be interested in noting their progress just from watching them develop, even without any involvement of my own. But when they work, I know that my contribution is at least doing what is needed.
* * * *
If you spotted the thin red line down the middle of one of the cards on that linked blog post, good catch! Too bad I missed it before I packed the images off to Dan. It’s simply a reference line for keeping things centered on the cards, existing on its own separate layer, and was supposed to be rendered invisible before I finalized the card image. It was already fixed long ago, but this was the first deck of cards made – just one card has that artifact, and of course it’s one of those chosen for the illustrating image…
Several days ago on my birthday The Girlfriend’s Younger Sprog, with notable forethought, presented me with a Triops hatching kit. Triops are a peculiar critter; sometimes called ‘tadpole shrimp,’ they are freshwater crustaceans of the order Notostraca, and their eggs are one of those types that can sit dormant in dry sand or soil for years, only to hatch when the rains finally come. Much as we might expect them to be sea-dwellers or at least river denizens, instead they are often found in temporary ponds in desert conditions. More importantly to a nature photographer that likes weird things, they look a bit like stretch versions of horseshoe crabs, with a broad head plate and a long tail. I didn’t waste a lot of time in starting the kit off, but I prepared my medium and tiny macro tanks in the interim.
Unfortunately, what hatched wasn’t exactly what was expected.
This is not what any of the photographs I’ve found of Triops looks like; this is more likely a brine shrimp, which is interesting in that the water is not briney at all, being only filtered tap water. Moreover, this is either the only one that hatched, or it quickly consumed any others that came along.
Nonetheless, it appears to be finding plenty to eat, as can be seen from that dark band down the middle, which is the alimentary canal. Between the top photo and the following two I was using two different lighting angles – both are dark field techniques, but the top is bouncing the flash off of a white card, which diffuses it and allows some ‘ambient’ lighting, while the two flanking this paragraph are directly backlit; you can see the difference in contrast, as well as how the digestive canal shows up.
The topmost image, by the way, was taken today, a few days later than the lower two, and at this point the shrimp measures about 10mm, now easily seen from a short distance as it patrols the tank.
Plenty of other things also hatched, and for a day or so I just assumed they were more Triops, but it soon became apparent that I had a fine selection of daphnia in the tank. It does not appear that brine shrimp (or whatever the big guy is) eat daphnia, so they’re all living their merry lives in the tank.
Daphnia are tiny little things that it takes a very close examination of to determine are anything more than blobs. The tan backdrop of this one is a bit of the moss that the eggs come packaged within, which is fairly annoying because some of it floats, some of it sinks, and all of it gets in the way – I sucked this up with the daphnia in the eye-dropper. This is using the tiny tanks, or more specifically, a piece of acrylic with several holes drilled through it glued to a microscope slide, forming little wells that hold a few drops of water. It’s very useful for small, hyperactive subjects like daphnia since it restricts their movement, both from out of view of high-magnification lenses, and in depth that would take them out of focus. Here’s an uncropped view:
The hole drilled through the acrylic is 6.5mm across, so you can judge how small the daphnia is. However, just for more accuracy, I captured another for a better measurement with the ruled loupe I have, and ended up photographing this one too for one (or two, really) special reasons.
The dark eye-cluster and the digestive tract are the only things not transparent on a daphnia, so that means the other dark spot in midbody is… another daphnia. I’ve seen them with internal eggs, but this is the first I’ve seen them with developed young, and it was fascinating watching them squirming around in there. Yes, there’s two – you can just make out the dark spot and ovoid mass showing through the organs of the mother on the lower side of the digestive tract. I wasn’t even sure what I was seeing until I downloaded the images, then went back to get more.
It’s also possible to make out a few anatomical features of daphnia, which are illustrated here. The ‘rabbit ears,’ pointing upwards in this image, are sensory antennae near the mouth, while the serious rack are other antennae used primarily for locomotion. You can also see the apica, little spines from the hind-end that may be used for defenses or swimming, or both. Mama here, the largest in the tank, measures a millimeter in length, so since I don’t have a microscope to work from, this is about the best you’re going to see from me.
Per instructions, I used only half of the egg and moss material provided, so I’ll be trying a second hatching soon; we’ll see what that produces. Should that fail to provide me some Triops subjects, there are always places to buy eggs, so they’ll appear here eventually.
I realized, as I looked outside later in the morning than I should’ve, that we’d had an overnight fog and it still hadn’t cleared completely, so I trotted down to the pond to see if anything interesting could be done with it.
The last time had been the busy season for the green treefrogs (Hyla cinerea) but they were considerably less abundant this time around; I think it’s late in the season for them, sometimes getting pretty chilly overnight and well past breeding time, so there’s less reason for them to be out. Also, I’ve seen a green heron (Butorides striatus) hanging out around the pond a few times, and they can be hell on the frogs, so that might have had something to do with it. Nevertheless, I found a few to work with, as well as some other items of photographic interest.
As seen at top, conditions like this are marvelous for revealing just how many spiderwebs exist in any optimal area, and with a dark background, they can stand out quite well in images without the need for bright light. Consider, just for a moment, that the addition of the dew increases their weight by at least tenfold, likely far more – don’t look at me to produce any kind of serious numbers here, since I have no scale for smaller weights to speak of, much less one that could handle the micrograms that even a big web would weigh. If the spiders hang around, they’ll often get just as dew-covered, but this happens rarely; many species will abandon the web and crouch in their safe spot, usually off one upper corner of the web’s main support strands, when the dewpoint hits this strongly. The treefrogs, however, usually like this kind of weather, and if you want to see them during daylight hours, these are the days you aim for. This one posed on the leaf in a way sure to draw the most attention to itself, which must indicate that it’s a young adult female, right? Or does that only apply to humans?
As far as images to provide impressions of the setting go, this one seems to be the most accurate; I like how the frog follows the same lines as the bent stalks (I entirely missed the grasshopper in the background until just now, though.) Yet there are quite a few different approaches that can be taken for subjects like this, and I recommend trying several when given the opportunity.
Same frog, different angle and framing – the frogs don’t often perch near the blue flower spikes that pickerelweed produces, so any time I can work an angle that includes them, I’m happy.
This pose is common, reminiscent of how cats often sit, but it likely serves a more useful purpose. Treefrogs rely on the moisture and tactile control of their footpads to cling to vertical and even slick surfaces, so tucking in their legs in this manner helps keep the pads from drying out. It also makes them appear to be a porcelain sculpture – no limbs, just creases. This was shot with an 80mm lens; any closer and I likely would have scared it off.
While wending my way through the pickerelweed growing in the shallows at the edge of the pond, and before that the tall weeds and underbrush bordering the water, I encountered a few more spiders (naturally.) Two massive Argiope aurantias had spun webs across my path at waist height, both of which being discovered when only a half-meter away (they had cleverly positioned their brilliant yellow backs in the opposite direction from my approach,) and one other specimen, a large six-spotted fishing spider (Dolomedes triton,) was found perched on the weeds at the same height.
The dew almost obscured her white abdominal spots (not the ones from the species name, though – those are on the belly instead,) and she remained placidly unconcerned with my close approach, unusually so. I used the blade of my pocketknife to nudge her gently, and she remained in position, idly fending off the nudges with her forelegs before changing position only slightly – very unlike the species. When I switched my own position to provide a better photographing angle, I suddenly realized why she was sticking to her perch so adamantly.
I had approached from the opposite side, and the arched pickerelweed leaf had shielded my view of the cluster web. Fishing spiders don’t really make webs, since they’re free-roaming (and swimming) hunting spiders, but it seems they do when the old biological alarm clock chimes. I was disturbing the proud mother of several hundred little fishers, hatched from the egg sac hidden in the protective webbing, but not yet venturing out on their own – that’s what the out-of-focus haze under the leaf consists of.
Switching focus to the younguns and using the flash provided a little better view, but not a lot – there were still countless strands of silk in the way to prevent really sharp focus. Still, it’s enough to prove that I wasn’t just seeing chaff or something.
For many spider species, the mother hangs around and runs interference while the newborns spend time in a protected area; to the best of my knowledge, this is all she does, since food sources appropriate for the minuscule babies would be near-impossible for the mother to catch, especially in quantity. A few spider species catch prey that they tear open for the young, while a couple of others actually produce fluid from their mouths that the babies can eat, but I don’t believe either of these traits applies to Dolomedes. This leaves the question of why the young remain in a protective web and under the mother’s watchful eyes for a period of time, and as yet I cannot answer that.
By the way, mama measured roughly 25mm in body length, over 60 counting the leg spread – the babies were 5mm in leg spread at the most. On the previous frog-hunting trip, the fishing spider male that I photographed was in almost the exact same area – it’s possible that I now have images of the entire family. I should go back for closer portraits of the babies and see if there’s any resemblance…
I’ll close with another frame giving an even greater impression of the conditions, new branches on the same species of bush as that supporting the webs in the opening shot. I wish I’d gotten out when the fog was thick, but I still need to pin down a few prime locations that would look the best in such weather. I haven’t found any decrepit abandoned houses nearby yet…
You may well ask, what, exactly, is that title supposed to mean? Well, it refers to the idea that I don’t really do artsy stuff, so this must be fartsy stuff instead. Basically, just throwing down a bunch of recent photos for the sake of it – not everything has to have exposition.
This little guy might be the same green anole (Anolis carolinensis) seen in this post – it was the same size and in the same immediate area. Sold in pet stores for years as “chameleons,” the anoles have the ability to change their skin color as well, though usually not as elaborately as the true chameleons, and this is the darkest that I’ve ever seen a green one get. This might have been for camouflage purposes, considering the foliage it was perched upon, but more likely is either a sexual or warning display, and this is reinforced by the presence of another green anole not far away, not seen in the photo (and indeed, not even photographed since it scampered for cover too quickly.) I have more detailed shots of this fella, but liked this one for the fartistic perspective.
[Okay, a trivial bit of nonsense. In pulling up the link that appeared in the previous paragraph, I put the post title, "Just lizard things," into the search bar - startlingly, the third post considered a match was this one. Curious, I searched for "lizard" within that text and didn't find it, shocking as that may seem, but I'm really trying to figure out why that post fell so high on the list of matches.]
We’ve had two full days of rain here, and I spent a couple of minutes playing around with the rose bush temporarily in our care (no longer playing host to a treefrog – see previous post) to try out some semi-abstract compositions. One of the tricks to using water droplets in images is to find the angle and/or supplemental lighting (this is natural light) that brings them out with the sharpest contrast to draw attention. While there are a lot of raindrops in this frame, only one is producing an internal reflection of the sky that produces a white edge to the drop, and that’s the one I chose to focus upon. The shadows, however, are important for shaping the defocused petals – direct light would have looked brighter in color, but much flatter and less dynamic.
I have no idea what these are, but those sure look like grape leaves. A quick search on “blue grapes” didn’t turn up any matches, but I like the colors all the same. Actually, they look extremely tasty to me, and if they’d ever made a children’s cereal that looked like that I probably would have eaten nothing else in my youth (maybe not even now,) but I’m also not fooled by it. Found in a nature preserve brimming with birds, I was going to say these were suspiciously untouched, but there are a few empty stems there, so now I’m not too sure. If anyone wants to find out for themselves, stop by and I’ll take you over there – if you survive, I’ll try a few myself and post the results.
I’ve been to this nature preserve a couple of times with a student, and both times the light has been overcast and lousy (I don’t pick the meeting times.) I usually don’t set up the lighting bracket unless I’m going to be working in one area for a while, since it takes time to set up and tear down, and of course won’t fit into a bag when erected. Even though it is able to be held by hand and that’s how I usually shoot with it, it’s also heavy and bulky, making even changing lenses a bit awkward, and it’s the student’s time so I’m usually not aiming to shoot much anyway – none of my students, at this point, are doing dedicated macro work. This means I generally use natural light, which on overcast days that often means at maximum aperture, and usually only subjects of opportunity – these grapes are one example, and the anole at top another. It has a different affect on color and mood, one that many people can detect in an image even when they’re not sure how they know it. Bright sunlight might have been too contrasty for some of these subjects, but a hazy bright sky could have improved things, I suspect.
This was from way back, lost in the mists of time (well, okay, March of this year.) Just some unknown leaves decaying in a pond. Well, I thought it was cool, anyway…
At the botanical garden one day, a ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) that wasn’t doing very well took a sip from a lily while I was nearby. Ideally, of course, you want a clearer view without another bloom in the way, but I kind of liked the idea that this was an almost-obscured perspective, a sneak peek at the bird. The yellow feathers near the tail, however, aren’t normal, but a sign of discharge, part of the reason why I said she wasn’t doing very well – the other was the tendency to perch and fluff out her feathers on a perfectly warm, dry day. Birds that are ill often do this to conserve their body heat and divert their resources towards areas where they’re needed more. Something was amiss, and I have a lot of very detailed frames of her while she simply sat on branches, not quite oblivious to close approaches, but certainly a lot more tolerant of such than is typical.
I’m going to take the opportunity, and the column space, to reflect on something that I noticed recently. While considering photos for this post, I had nearly all vertical compositions to work with, and they’re actually not the easiest to use in a post unless I make them “full” column width – otherwise I have to include a lot of verbiage alongside to try and prevent ugly blank spaces. I often remind new photographers about turning the camera to shoot sideways if the subject works better as a vertical, but it almost seems I’ll have to start reminding myself to shoot horizontally. I have no idea why this is – maybe I’m just in favor of vertical compositions anymore, or perhaps it’s a brain tumor.
Both of these images were taken on the same morning, after a deep overnight fog that I failed to take advantage of. Above, a lone Graphocephalo genus leafhopper aligns itself with the shape of the leaf yet somehow manages not to be inconspicuous – it still attracts less attention than the lone red leaf that fell across its healthier brethren. I know you were waiting to see if I could make it ten days without posting images of some insect, but it was not to be. Let it go a little longer – the winter months will be hard on me, and I’m already doing too many ‘studio’ shots because the pickings are leaner. The other day a small male mantis appeared on the porch, but only allowed a couple of half-ass frames before flying off in desperation. I really need to live in a rainforest someplace…
A little over a week ago, I went out scouting a new location and simultaneously trying to locate a bombardier beetle for a presentation I’m working on. It required hiking a long trail through the forest, and in a few dozen meters I’d already walked through six spiderwebs, despite having pushed twice that many out of my way. I switched to my typical tactic in such conditions and began swishing a long stick up and down in front of me as I walked; this has to be done fairly rapidly, because it’s easy to time it so the stick drops down beneath the web as you’re stepping forward and you still end up with a face-full even though you ostensibly cleared your way. I did this for about two kilometers and damn near developed blisters on my hand just from waving a thin stick around. Anyway, I’m sparing you photos of all of those – I didn’t take many anyway, since the conditions were too breezy to focus tightly on a spider in a web, and I already have quite a few frames of all those species to boot.
And so I leave you with a katydid portrait, because everyone should have one, don’t you think? Once again shooting wide-open in poor light, the background colors set up a pleasant but low-key contrast to the orthopteran, who adopted an insect-of-action pose for the shot – some species just can’t act natural in front of a camera. One antenna is of course rather visible, but the other droops down in an arc over the head, and believe it or not, I shifted position and timed it to be that way – I’ve been burned many times before on antennae falling in front of an insect’s eyes and ruining the shot. It’s one of those stupid things you never imagine you’d have to think about when chasing macro photos, but there you go, a little tip from your Uncle Al. Who’s wondering why you keep forgetting his birthday, not to mention Uncle’s Day…
This is just a couple of quick comments – nothing really thought-provoking. I say that as if it’s different from the rest of the content…
The Girlfriend purchased a rose bush on Saturday, as a gift for her daughter-in-law. While on the phone with my dad on Sunday, I was looking idly at the bush and noticed the occupant you see here, who almost certainly came along for the ride. That it remained on the bush and did not bail it in the car, even though it spent some time locked within during a pretty hot period, is impressive. In size, it’s just barely bigger than a thumbnail, a literal one – about one-third the size of an adult. Here’s hoping that it decides to stick around, and to try and facilitate that, I shifted the planter for my salvia next to it – this has a water reservoir in the bottom, that a few years back served as a home for another treefrog one summer.
Since I hadn’t spoken with him in a while, I related the tale of trying to get hit by lightning. Now, a little background. Despite the content often seen here, and my fiercely atheistic stance, my dad actually does guest sermons at a few churches in his area – neither one of us is, apparently, having much of an affect on the other. So, while I had my own humorous take on the proximity of the strike, he had a completely different (though still humorous) perspective. Since I’d already told him that I’d send him a print shortly, he said that it if arrived in time, he’d use it as a topic for his next guest sermon.
Um, yeah. So a photo of mine is going to be used to reinforce religion, is it? What do you think: should I charge appropriately, since churches collect money every week from their members so this counts as commercial use, or should I simply stipulate that it can only be used with a prominent link to the blog? I’m open for alternate suggestions.
While waiting on those responses (I imagine it will be a while,) I’ll leave you with an animation made from twelve consecutive frames of that storm. These were all ten-second exposures with roughly ten seconds or less in between, so overall this spans just under three minutes – you’ve seen cropped versions of two of these frames in that earlier post. Right after the last frame seen here, I switched camera position, so the big ground strike – which occurred three frames later – could not be included in the gif (pronounced “hal-a-PEEN-yo”) without drastic cropping. Still, this does a great job of illustrating the twisting and depth of the clouds, and the activity therein.
I’m going to apologize in advance: I’m too lazy to spell out a lot of the background details that would make greater sense of this post, and am counting on anyone either following the links within and/or having some familiarity with the culture, and even then, it may sound like a personal rant. That’s okay; skip it if you like.
I don’t read half as many blogs as I used to. In part, this is because my reading habits have changed, and in part, it’s because I find a topic and write my own take on it (which doesn’t always appear here.) But mostly, it’s because many bloggers just started annoying the piss out of me and I thus found better things to do.
Jerry Coyne at Why Evolution Is True has encountered one such blogger, one that I used to read and comment on in the past, then abandoned after the quality plummeted drastically: Adam Lee, sometimes known as ‘ebonmuse,’ from Daylight Atheism (another was PZ Myers over at Pharyngula.) Coyne made an atypically short post on the subject, largely leaving it up to the reader to evaluate on their own – which was handled pretty damn well, I have to admit. Lee (posting as ebonmuse) actually appeared in the comments and, at least at the last reading which was several hours ago – the comments now number well over four hundred – got badly hammered.
A few days ago, I commented on the curious trait of assuming others are incredibly, incompetently stupid – that post had actually sat in draft form for many months, sparked by seeing several examples and then lying dormant for a while as I switched focus to other ideas, before being resurrected when I saw yet another instance. I was speaking as broadly as possible in there and not listing direct examples (or accusations,) but one of the things that provoked it originally was a post of Lee’s on the sexism of comic books – that was the one that convinced me to dump him from the blogroll. I just think it’s amusing that, not long after I reminded myself of this long-past disappointment in the blogger, Coyne has his own encounter. And yes, it’s coincidence – I’m not suggesting either Coyne or Lee is even aware of my existence.
Closely related is another post, sparked by a ridiculous trend that swept through the genre of skeptical blogging: the feminism bandwagon. And yes, it’s a bandwagon; the epidemic of sexism and female exploitation isn’t really supported by scientific studies, and the few real examples held up as evidence are usually completely misunderstood – that’s when anecdotes and incredibly inept pop psychology aren’t being used as a foundation instead, which is, as near as I can see, most of the time. This should not be taken to mean that I think sexism does not exist – yes, there are people who really would derive this conclusion from the above statement, quite a few of them actually – but to say instead that no one has even come close to supporting the idea that it is as pervasive as it is usually claimed. Many cannot even differentiate between a sexist individual and something that runs throughout a culture.
And this is, of course, if the sexism of a single person has even been established; referring to a medium that entails, not a word or a time limit, but a character limit, is not exactly what I would recommend using to evaluate an entire personality, as crazy as that seems. But of course, if you’re only after something that confirms your pre-existing viewpoint – if all that’s important is running with the crowd, rather than understanding good science or, heaven forbid, actually trying to find solutions – then whatever comes to hand is obviously sufficient. Applying a label or pronouncing someone inferior to one’s own exalted status does not require any kind of rigorous testing, any knowledge whatsoever of psychology, and no ethical reasons to try to determine accuracy.
None of this bears any resemblance to skepticism or critical thinking in any way, of course. It actually has far more in common with a religion: intractable positions, inability to remain objective, demonization of opposing views, and even the opportunistic selection of ambiguous events as “evidence.” Just like religious folk can find a miracle in a tortilla that vaguely resembles someone whose likeness has never been recorded (yeah, figure that one out,) rabid feminists can find support for their viewpoint in virtually anything that has a gender reference, regardless. I had my own fun a few years ago when I tried to make the point that Lee was grasping at straws, blissfully unaware of how scientific studies worked (you will have to load a lot of comments before finding my contributions, since several sub-threads ran away, but if you possess the fortitude to read through the whole mess, you’ll see what I’m talking about.) If you’ve never heard the term, “mansplaining” before, that’s because it’s a jargon term that exists only among feminist bloggers – see that demonization point above. If you’re male and make an arrogant or condescending comment, you’re mansplaining – this from a culture that feels the use of the term, “feminazi” is evidence of sexism in itself. Did I forget to mention double-standards?
Now, let me posit a hypothetical situation for you. Let’s assume that anyone on Twitter has been firmly established as sexist, somehow. What, exactly, is going to be their impact on culture? I mean, is it even possible to find someone so weak-willed and impressionable that they would model their behavior on a Tweet, or on anything that even a major celebrity does, much less a lot of people, enough that a culture is somehow affected? Let me know, because I’m obviously wasting my time attempting to make cogent arguments when offhand comments in a fatuous social media outlet are enough to shape minds and impact society. Unless, of course, such a thing is not only utterly unsupported by any study of human behavior, it doesn’t even make sense from a casual evaluation. But no, that simply can’t be true, because that would mean that Lee and others like him are crusading over purely imaginary dangers. And that people are wasting millions of dollars on psychotherapy to correct damaging behavioral issues when they could just ‘follow’ the right celebrities…
It’s extremely easy to cater to our desires for social cohesion and believe that whatever in-group we’ve discovered is correct, effective, and able to make a difference, largely from the number of people who ‘agree.’ But large numbers of people in agreement do not, in any way, indicate any solid conclusion or value to their viewpoint – think of any political party other than your own, or religion other than your own, or country, or whatever. If we never stop to think, “Hey, is this really a solid line of reasoning?” then we’re not really thinking at all, are we? I can’t imagine that being of any value.
* * * * *
A small aside: I’m almost positive this whole affair with accusations of Richard Dawkins’ sexism came about from one particular incident a few years ago, yes on Twitter (it’s named appropriately,) when he made a disparaging comment about Elevatorgate, one of the key events in the whole online feminist brouhaha, revolving around a prominent blogger getting propositioned while alone in an elevator. For someone like Dawkins, who routinely deals with news such as women being beaten, disfigured by acid, mutilated, and on and on, all in the name of fundamental religion, I can imagine that this issue could be seen as a ‘First World Problem,’ akin to whining about cellphone reception – that is, at least, how I see it, but don’t let me assign motivations to Dawkins, because I honestly don’t know and aren’t abjectly stupid enough to judge based on an offhand comment. However, if my exposure to the online response is any indication, it was enough to create this Enemy At The Gates for the online feminists. It might not be true, and I hope not, because it’s particularly pathetic.
So, I was testing out a new flash attachment (not quite what I was after, but still functional) when I came across this little guy, quickly identified as an Enoplognatha ovata, but you probably said that the moment you saw it. You likely also know it’s a male, because that detail is kind of hard to miss, seeing as how it’s displayed in those boxing gloves right out front: the pedipalps. While the females have small and dainty ones like expensive spiked heels, the males have these swollen, grotesque blobs appearing able to smite the arachnid equivalent of a troll.
My specimen is small, as the male spiders often are, this one measuring 8mm in body length at best (I forgot to confirm when I could.) I went in for a face shot because, hey, anyone can do an overhead full-body pic, plus I was, as I said, testing out the lighting. After I unloaded the memory card, I noticed (besides the eye reflections) that the chelicerae appeared somewhat distinctive, and since I had not yet identified the species, I decided I’d like a closer look. He was still sitting where I’d taken these shots and left him, which was on a graduated container sitting on the porch (containing other arthropods, if you must know, ones not half as interesting as this one,) so it was an easy matter to capture him and go for slightly more controllable conditions.
Slightly. Once removed from his ‘safe’ position, his cooperative torpor vanished, and he spent most of his time perambulating around a leaf, primarily trying to remain both on the underside and facing away. I mentioned before about the soldering rig that I use to hold leaves and such for ‘studio’ arthropod sessions, and I’ll add a little tip: find something as articulated as possible if you’re going to pursue this, because the ability to shift your subject around to present the most useful angle is extremely helpful, and such subjects are rarely cooperative enough to get into position with a few slight nudges. This one did not appear to like either the light I was using as focusing assistance, or the looming camera, and repeatedly turned to face away.
But even as I got the angle I was after, mostly what I captured were those pedipalps, and I cannot help but believe this was intentional (on the spider’s part. Sheesh. Pervs.) Now, this is where I correct some information I posted previously. Originally, I said that the pedipalps collected sperm from the testes opening situated under the abdomen, and were used to ‘manually’ (‘palpably?’) insert this sperm into the female. Then, I read somewhere that the sperm were actually produced within the pedipalps – this was were the gonads resided. But on researching images that might illustrate this better (my search history will one day creep out the investigators,) I have gone back to the original statement: the sperm is produced within the abdomen, collected in the pedipalps, and retained there until needed. So we’re not exactly seeing the spider’s
manhood arachnohood here, but close enough for blog purposes. We don’t ever see ours either, just the cheap purse that contains them. Which really should have a couple of armor plates included…
And true to my own nature, I provide far more detail than you ever really desired – probably something about my upbringing that should demand therapy. But seriously, how could I not share these images? Those are some impressive stones, and he probably knows it – spiders don’t have any necks to hang gold chains around, so this is how it translates. Now I wish I had sworls. Perhaps I could get a tatt— no.
Out of a large number of frames, most of which will be discarded (another tip: never trust focus or lighting, and take lots of variations, the biggest benefit of digital,) I did eventually get what I was after, which wasn’t half as interesting – those are the fangs sitting just behind the pedipalps. You can also see the stump of the missing leg, and one more detail, visible in some of the other images too. That dark spot at the base of the abdomen is where the lungs reside, and just aft of that is the external opening for the genitals – this is the closest we’re going to get to actually seeing the real things, short of dissection. I’m sorry to disappoint you.
Just to show I’m not totally lacking in normal taste…
… I’ll throw in an image of lion cubs preparing to wrestle – probably insufficient to offset the rest, but at least I’m trying. This was from several years ago (pre-blog, ancient history) at the zoo, the cubs’ first day out – they were having a blast. Maybe I need to do a post on them…
I admit it: all too often, I look at the generally low level of intelligence displayed in the entertainment, the political parties, the religious tendencies, and the blind consumerism in the US and harbor serious doubts about how many people in this country are capable of critical thought. It’s not exactly something to make anyone feel warm and fuzzy.
Yet, there’s a caveat in this. I also give more credit for intelligent thought than is shown by many within our society – there is a noticeable tendency to think or imply that everyone else (you know, them) is too stupid to make simple decisions. This appears in a wide variety of places, but I think it’s better illustrated with some examples.
Every time that youth in this country find something compelling and interesting, a plethora of moral crusaders manage to derive some impending doom from such interests, almost always with the idea that children are vapid and impressionable, to the point of being brainwashed. Most people are familiar with such claims about “rock n’ roll” back when it was first becoming popular, while in my youth it was the “satanic influences” of Dungeons & Dragons or backwards song lyrics. Recently, Harry Potter and the sexism of comic books have been targets of such crusades.
I hasten to add that this is hardly limited to youth, either; churches are notorious for promoting the idea that no one can make simple decisions without referring to their own particular rulebook, and we routinely see attempts to pass legislature aimed at controlling free expression and even established science. When the nice young men come to your door to ask if you’re saved, there isn’t the faintest recognition that you’ve not only heard all of their horseshit before, you’re far more aware of the rampant flaws therein (and perhaps even the bits about humility.) But that’s a milder example, compared to the crusading evangelicals that push for marriage restriction laws and block access to abortion clinics, who somehow believe that safe sex education is inadequate but their message of abstinence, elucidated within comic pamphlets, is far superior.
It also takes no effort to find politicians who act to save people from themselves, most often in close connection with some religious hotbutton, but not always – witness the ban on the sale of very large soft drinks in New York City. To be sure, there might be ulterior motives in many such efforts, yet this doesn’t change the fact that the professed motivation infers the inability of the general public to make smart decisions – that’s what they consider the selling point. And then there are the bizarre aspects of tribalism, where any one sports team, any state, or even the actions of this country are undeniably superior to all others, able to be found in the comments section of nearly any forum.
The attitude that underlies all of this is that other people do not possess the sense of those championing such causes. In essence, the general public needs the guidance of these brilliant minds. Egotism plays a large role in many of these, naturally enough, and might underlie all manifestations, but curiously, it does not often act to motivate people towards making themselves well-informed and objective, only to believe that this is self-evident and requires no special efforts.
Yes, the irony of this is appreciable, especially when we look back at the past examples. The country did not dissolve into chaos when the Beatles became popular, and role-playing gamers did not unleash satan upon the world by saying, “I cast a summoning spell” – even with the assistance of arcane dice rolls, as hard as that may be to believe. Much of such attitudes relies on absurdly feeble armchair psychology, and the belief that children, for instance, cannot recognize the unreality of cartoons. The very ignorance that underlies such assumptions is intriguing: someone that cannot recognize absurd premises is assuming the responsibility of protecting others from ignorance.
Pearls Before Swine: Setting unrealistic intelligence expectations for crocodiles since 2000
I’ve seen a couple of blog posts now that tackled the idea of sexism in comic books and video games – but the underlying problem with addressing this is, there’s no evidence to establish that anyone is influenced in the slightest by such depictions. Such media are fantasy; they’re well known to be unrealistic, because that’s the whole point of fantasy. One could just as easily claim that video games promote epic quests, and that comic books cause children to believe that criminals wear funny suits. Yet we are continually bombarded with the idea that violence in media is a bad influence, despite the facts that crime stats have been dropping as media gets more violent. And even that isn’t a pertinent correlation; crime has much more involved influences than what someone sees on TV.
There’s also a huge problem with people that do not understand what sexism is, and believe that every manifestation of sexuality, most especially of females, counts as sexism – you will hear the word “exploitation” in such circumstances at least three times as often as in all others combined. It’s unfortunate that so many choose to champion a cause that they fail to understand, much like those that felt the Large Hadron Collider would create a black hole (or a strangelet) that would devour the world. But behavior studies have aptly demonstrated that a) men and women view sex differently, and b) this does not mean men are wrong. Yes, men respond to, and in fact seek, certain body shapes in women, much more so than women seek in men. Homo sapiens is actually on the subtler side of sexual dimorphism, compared to the differences in size and behavior often found in arthropods and fish. We do not consider the peacock to be exploited by the peahen who selects her mate based on the flamboyancy of his tail, but accept this as a curious manifestation of selection pressures. And the comic book editors and artists, as well as the movie producers and so on, are not exploiting anybody by featuring voluptuous women – well, this might not be true; they could be exploiting men by using such simplistic methods to gain their attention.
I have no doubts that last bit could send a lot of people over the edge – men are never exploited! How could they be? They run everything, they’re bigger and stronger and more capable… and so on. If you’re quick, you picked up on the real sexism that underlies so many responses in our culture, in the assumption that women become victims so easily. And that men cannot differentiate between a comic book and real-world interactions.
Sexism is the belief that gender is responsible for an irrational, unsupportable deficit, or requires a special response not justified by physical differences. Women and men receiving different pay for the exact same job duties? Yes, that’s sexism (and kindly note that I did not specify which gender received lower pay – this distinction is again lost on too many people.) Women depicted in any form of media with emphasis on their figure? Sorry, that doesn’t count – it’s simply recognizing the difference men and women have in their standards of desirability, and is not different from men being depicted as square-jawed and children as cute or precocious; stereotypes abound in media, because the point is to garner a reaction without the amount of time it takes to establish a personality, attitude, whatever. It could just as easily be pointed out that men are always depicted as the stupid ones in the relationship, driving the plot of nearly every sitcom since The Honeymooners. And if you want to see stereotypes, watch how overweight people are depicted…
The ‘chicken or egg’ issue also arises here, in that many people think that stereotypes and media depictions have fostered particular attitudes within cultures, never realizing that it most likely is the other way around – media that isn’t popular doesn’t receive attention, so the goal is to appeal to as many people as possible, which means media more often follows culture, rather than influencing it. But this doesn’t explain why so many people seem to find themselves on a higher plain than everyone else, able to enlighten and direct those not gifted with their own special breed of intelligence.
As mentioned above, it’s probably ego, the aspect of our behavior that makes us compete against others virtually all of the time. Being seen as smarter than other people is a point in our favor, and this may mean we’re likely to seize onto any factor, however weak, that could be used to indicate this. I originally thought that this idea didn’t contrast well against the typical insecurity we have over appearance – that’s almost the opposite of ego – but appearance is immediately evident, while intelligence needs to be demonstrated, so it’s open for any examples that can be found. Then there may be two parental traits that pop in for an appearance as well: teaching/mentoring and protecting children, with ‘children’ occasionally just meaning those younger than us. It’s not hard to find examples of adults that feel everyone younger is more naïve than they, even when they fully believed they had everything under control when that age themselves.
But, lest I fall victim to gross hypocrisy in regards to Armchair Psych 101, this is only speculation. To determine the accuracy of this, and any other idea about the influence of media or pastimes on our behavior, it’s going to take a lot more than someone believing it’s a logical progression – it requires detailed studies with large efforts made to eliminate the thousands of other influences we have in our daily lives. But almost certainly, the belief that any crusading individual is more capable of perceiving the influences or problems that will victimize the ‘general public’ is a significant bias all its own, and largely unwarranted. While we might decry the abysmal lack of intellectuality in much of our media, and the subterranean level of discourse in politics and such, this isn’t any indication that Homo sapiens, with a few exceptions, is functionally incompetent and needs protection from itself. And unsurprisingly, such an attitude is likely to be perceived not as benevolent guidance, but as pompous arrogance.
I’ve had these images in my folder for a while now, considering doing a post on them, and just realized that we were coming up on a year since they’d been taken, so I’m timing the post to appear on that anniversary, since humans do stupid pointless things like that…
These were from the trip we took to Savannah, Georgia, and for that trip I had a particular goal that never came to pass: I wanted photos of a scorpion, most especially one fluorescing in UV light. Scorpions are nocturnal and more than a little secretive, so spotting them takes luck or an edge, and mine was a recently-purchased UV flashlight. Several nights, I went out wandering around with the light, shining it in every location I thought likely to host a scorpion, but saw none at all. However, every once in a great while I saw something like this:
Note the difference with the top image, and how a few leaves seem a whole lot brighter in the bottom image. To the best of my knowledge, these are playing host to some form of fungus, one which fluoresces under UV. This, by the way, was a 13-second exposure solely by the light of the UV flashlight.
Ultra-violet light, like infra-red, is a band of wavelengths that sits just outside of those we can see, what we typically call the “visible spectrum” – there are no exact demarcations, but generally, UV runs between 100 and 400 nanometers (nm) in wavelength, while what we can see (visible light) is roughly between 400 and 700 nm. This is a very narrow band in the electromagnetic spectrum, outside of which falls everything from X-rays to AM radio, cellphone signals to gamma-ray bursts from supernovae – they’re all just different wavelengths of the same form of energy, transmitted in photons. While our eyes detect this narrow band, coincidentally (or not) the region of the most energetic emissions from our sun that make it through the atmosphere, we can also detect a few other wavelengths with our organs: our skin reacts to both UV (tanning, skin cancer) and infra-red (heat.) But for the most part, we miss most of the remaining bandwidth.
The deep purple light seen above isn’t UV, but the portion of the flashlight’s output that impinged into the bandwidths we can see – regular strength violet, if you like. It’s very dim to our eyes, even though my light source is putting out as many photons as a normal flashlight, they’re just mostly ones we can’t see. Digital camera sensors, however, can usually pick up a range of wavelengths a little beyond what humans see, if they’re not filtered out (they usually are, because capturing them can alter the photo and make some images look different.) But there’s often a little overlap, so the image here is not exactly what I was seeing, though close.
Now we get to fluorescence. Fluorescence (and phosphorescence, a close relative) is a curious trait where a substance absorbs energy that it then re-emits as visible photons. In cases of UV fluorescence, possessed by some substances, some arthropods, and even some minerals, the UV photons are absorbed into the substance as greater activity in the atom, electrons jumping to a higher energy state. Almost immediately, they drop back down to their ‘normal’ state and re-emit this energy, but at a different level, thus producing a different wavelength, one that we can see. So it’s not like the normal situation we find ourselves in every day, where photons simply bounce off of an object and reach our eye, but a trade, where objects keep the photon energy and exchange it for photons that we can see – a chemical ‘currency exchange’ system.
(The same, by the way, often happens with IR, getting re-emitted as a lower wavelength still detectable to us as heat – think of a black object left sitting in the sun for a while – and often this energy is used in other manners by living organisms.)
Fluorescent lights rely on this principle (yeah, big surprise there,) though technically they’re phosphorescent, since there’s a minimal delay before the energy is re-emitted as visible photons. The tubes have high-energy electrodes at either end with a low-pressure inert gas down the length between them, while the insides are coated with a phosphorescent material. When the bulb is charged up, the gas permits electrons to scatter down the tube in all directions, which strike the material coating the tube – that material absorbs and re-emits the energy of the electrons as photons, causing the coating to glow. You might see on older bulbs a bare patch where the powder has come off the glass, and this appears darker even when the bulb is on – uncoated, the glass is only a window into the inside of the bulb, and the gas within doesn’t glow itself. If you could look down the length of an active fluorescent bulb, it would appear to be a tube lit from the outside.
The old-style cathode ray tubes used in TVs and computer monitors – you know, the ones as deep as they were wide – use this as well. The front viewing screens are coated in phosphorescent materials, and an electron gun within hurls electrons at select areas of the screen (what we usually call ‘pixels’ now, though that’s not exactly accurate,) which will glow momentarily. One gun, with electrons aimed by magnetic plates, will redraw the image one dot at a time, side-to-side, top-to-bottom, sixty times a second or so (that’s actually what the ‘refresh rate’ expressed in hertz, such as 60Hz, means.)
[Trivia from an old fart: the even older TVs which used vacuum tubes instead of transistors would not immediately lose their charges when you switched them off - instead they would discharge gradually. The TV image would shrink rapidly to a dot as the magnetic aiming plates zeroed out, but the dot might remain for quite a while as the electron gun kept firing off, exhausting the charges from the tubes - this might take several seconds to over a minute. Also, devices that used tubes always had a certain, 'hot' smell to them.]
A more noticeable delay is the re-emission of phosphorescence is most easily seen in glow-in-the-dark toys and such, which work just as well with UV light as with visible. I will swear that while watching the ornament seen above in the dark one (slow) night, I saw the light output suddenly ‘step’ downwards a fraction as if switched to a dimmer setting – how this could take place, and whether it was more an artifact of my eyes, is something I have yet to determine.
Anyway, as I was typing all this I realized that I hadn’t tried out the UV light around the new yard yet. I had done a little exploring in different areas around the old place, finding very little of interest, but so far hadn’t checked out this area. I knew there were no scorpions to find, but what about other arthropods? Some macro photographers, like Nicky Bay, have discovered a lot of arthropods that fluoresce under UV, but these are mostly exotic (meaning, not found in North Carolina.) But I went out looking anyway.
I found a few bits of odd fabric, like an old tennis ball and a patch of threads in the garden – who knows where it came from? I was convinced that I had found a small patch of fluorescent fungus until I saw the details after downloading the images. But at left, a minuscule sphere of something that fluoresced as strongly as many synthetic materials, perched on a fencepost, a fraction of a millimeter across. I haven’t the faintest idea what this is, but the color in visible light put me in mind of tree resin, though I suppose it could also be an egg, or perhaps an alien artifact.
[Another short, nonsense diversion: I got into a discussion on a UFO blog once with someone who was using UV light to find evidence of alien visitation on people's skin - four-fingered handprints, "ancient symbols," and so on. It got especially entertaining when I challenged him to explain how, exactly, he considered these "alien" when we have countless substances that fluoresce under UV light, including things as benign and easy to obtain as highlighting fluid. He tried blathering about spectra to disguise the fact that he had no controls at all, and I was circumspect enough not to accuse him of planting the 'evidence' himself. But yeah, that's how it goes in UFO and paranormal circles - we haven't any evidence whatsoever of alien species, much less any traits we could be confident in, but glowing stuff magically appearing on someone's skin under a black light must be aliens. Is it any wonder that I promote critical thinking?]
At one point, I found the juvenile form of an Apheloria virginiensis montana, a large black & yellow centipede that’s not hard to find around here – see the adult here. About 3cm long and the color of dirt, I would easily have missed it without the UV light, and even then it didn’t fluoresce too strongly, but enough to notice, anyway. It was next to impossible to convince to hold still, so I had a bit of fun finding the exposure time that would halt its motion enough to be reasonably sharp, and then setting the ISO to maintain it and still get enough light from the UV flashlight to render a decent image. The image below is 1/50 second at f4, ISO 800, and took numerous attempts, also including bad focus and the little bugger sticking to the edges of the storage container I used as a restraint, not providing the best of backgrounds.
More interesting was the spined micrathena (Micrathena gracilis,) a common spider in the woods around here, notorious for spinning webs at face height between trees. It displayed some nice, distinctive fluorescing portions, notable in that they appear glossy black under visible light (yes, the spider was shifting position between the two images, and I just tried to match them as best I could for comparison – note the inverted branch.) The purpose of this fluorescence is unclear – I have yet to find any source that even admits it’s a property of the species – so to go the wild speculation route, it is possible that the peculiar shape and selective fluorescence mimics some plant species, luring insects to their doom. Several flowers have been found to have distinctive patterns in UV, and many species of pollinators can see this and use it to home in on good food sources. That’s about the best I can come up with, also helping to explain the elaborate shape of the abdomen, but it would be a lot more plausible if I had the faintest knowledge of any plant that appeared like this.
The sun, as we know, puts out plenty of UV itself, and everything that fluoresces under my little flashlight is also fluorescing in full daylight. But as may be guessed from looking at these images, the amount of light emitted by fluorescence isn’t very much at all, requiring much longer exposure times than daylight or even deep shade (and of course, trying to convince a spider to hold absolutely still for that time.) In most cases the reflected portion of the visible spectrum simply overwhelms the fluoresced photons, with rare exceptions like ‘day-glow’ materials, which give the faintest hint of their properties in a peculiarly bright appearance – also highlighting fluid, as mentioned.
Perhaps the coolest effect was discovered by accident, when I forgot to shut the flash off after I set the long shutter speed necessary for the UV versions. The mixed lighting produced a nice contrast, so I experimented until I had the best ratio down, then combined them in an alternating gif (pronounced “gnaw”.) It makes it easier to compare the fluorescent regions.