Per the ancient lore, part 23

I'm not telling
This is one of those images that might hit different people in different ways, and by that I mean, some might be puzzling over what they’re looking at, and some might know right away – with a distinct possibility that this is “all” and “no one.” Only in reversed order. While choosing the photo for this week’s Ancient Lore post, I noticed that a different crop made it more, ummmm, let’s settle for ‘enigmatic’ and leave it at that.

So if you’re paying far more attention than is warranted from anyone with a life, you know that we’ve reached the Mountains folder again, and since there are no mountains in Florida (and in fact, the highest elevation barely counts as a “hill” in most states,) we must be someplace else. This was, in fact, the first trip that prompted me to create a Mountains folder in the first place, and it’s still rather sparsely populated with images. We’re also not using the Sony F717, which had long since gone to its new owner, but the Canon Pro 90 instead, the first digital that I owned all by myself. I took a weekend to finally visit the mountains of North Carolina, in May of 2005 which puts it, oh, not quite fifteen years since I’d first moved into the state. And while this was the time I had to make the brief trip, it wasn’t quite properly timed, since the full spring bloom was yet a couple of weeks away and the landscapes still had bare trees in places, making for a faintly threadbare appearance – I had judged the trip by what was happening in central NC, knowing the mountains would be a little behind that in development, but they were farther behind than I thought. Still, I had my handy book, North Carolina Waterfalls by Kevin Adams, and a decent list of spots to check out, so I had other subjects to pursue.

Which, if you were one of the none people who were puzzled over the image above, now explains what you were looking at. This is, to the best of my recollection, Moore Cove Falls; I seemed to remember that it was harder to get to than the book (which I just referred back to) describes, but I’m probably conflating two together. This seems to match Adams’ illustration reasonably closely, anyway. I mean, not this image, but the wider one that you’re about to see. I went for this crop because of the faint details that were showing behind the veil of falling water, and wanted to see the effect if I omitted all other establishing details. Of course, since I already knew what I’d photographed, no such effect would have any impact on me.

Moore Cove Falls in Brevard County, NC, framed between two trees
Moore Cove Falls isn’t a high-volume cataract and isn’t especially tall, so I was playing around with different perspectives and liked this one the best – there’s a kind of anachronism between the blur of the falling water and the distinction of each individual stream and trickle, lending more of an impression of strands of cotton or webbing, and these lines are mimicked to a degree by the layers of rock behind them. I might have had a lot more options had I been there a few weeks later when the rhododendrons were in bloom, but timing such can be a lot harder than it seems. The temperatures and humidity in the mountains are widely variable, and even if, for instance, I had a source that told me that the flowers were in bloom in the populated regions of Brevard County, they might still be several days away from that point up at this waterfall. This is probably where some kind of app comes in handy, but back in those ancient times we could only rely on Googling a webpage before we left home. And Google back then didn’t even autocorrcet our search terms.

Hey, man, got any change?

When and how, exactly, did coins begin to be called, “change?” I’m guessing it had something to do with the only thing you could change a paper bill into.

But that’s not what I’m here to type about. I haven’t done a philosophical/existential post in a long time, mostly because I wasn’t coming across any subject that struck my thinking processes in that way, but that’s changed now. Whether this one was actually worth the effort remains to be seen – because you haven’t read that far yet. Hah! And you thought I might be doubting my own judgment in topic values; that comes later on, trust me.

To properly set the stage, we’re going to have to go back to the beginning. No, wait – there were actually events that set other things in motion before then, so we’ll have to go even further back. But then, if you really wanted to know why this all happened, we’re probably going to have to know how those came about…

Everything has to start somewhere. I mean, right? There’s always a beginning? If you’re religious, you’ll usually maintain that everything started when a god poofed it into existence, and conveniently ignore the question of where this god arose from, or claim that it was exempt from the very rule that you just said has to exist (which was used to prove the existence of that god in the first place.) Yet there are lots of other aspects too, such as when life begins (either on the individual scale, such as a fetus, or when Life itself fired up on the planet,) or maybe at what point humans first appeared, or perhaps when the troubles all started that fomented a war or revolution, and so on. Chicken or egg and all that jazz. And it doesn’t take much time to realize that we would actually need to create some arbitrary distinction, some randomly defined ‘moment’ with a special title, because the process of cause-and-effect just keeps going back.

Which is where science has it all over religion, because we can see that change in state requires energy exchange, and not only can we see this, we use it all the time, dependably and predictably and with enormous, exacting precision. We can have reasonably stable states that are more-or-less inert, like gunpowder, but introduce change rapidly and drastically with the kinetic energy of the firing pin that ignites the gunpowder through a sudden increase in local energy by friction/compression. We heat food through the application of high electrical potential meeting resistance from the medium of the coil, which produces heat (high molecular activity,) which quickly distributes among neighboring molecules (metal, air) to warm up our Spaghetti-Os. Did it start when we turned on the stove? No, because we input our own muscle energy to do that. So it started with our own decision to have neon pasta for lunch, then?

That, of course, is the old free will argument, which quickly falls apart when you realize that our brains work in the same damn universe as everything else, made up of the same basic matter and thus beholden to the same rules of physics – somewhere down the line comes the exchange of energy, and in fact, it’s constant, because without it we’d be dead; that’s pretty much the definition of death, and even then, we have arbitrary distinctions which are often argued. Where I used to live, there was a lawyer serving a life sentence (no, it was not a utopia, he was sentenced for something other than being a lawyer,) and in New York the definition of death was the cessation of heart activity for a specified period of time. This attorney had undergone open-heart surgery during his sentence, which required stopping his heart for longer than this necessary period, so he was arguing, in court mind you, that he had ‘died’ and thus had fulfilled his sentence. Technicalities, you know? If I remember right, the judge pointed out that wards of the state were all cremated, so he could either drop the case or report immediately to the crematorium. And there’s also the occasionally-referenced bit about lime Jell-O being ‘alive,’ because in the right circumstances it can demonstrate the same wave response from an electro-encephalogram that we often consider ‘brain wave activity,’ for another competing definition of life. This was not a demonstration that Jell-O thinks in any way, merely that it shows enough electrical response, stimulated by both its surroundings and the nature of its own molecules, to register a wave pattern on the equipment, something that we were taking to indicate a still-functioning brain in a human being. Sooner or later, we find exceptions to every demarcation that we try to instill or introduce.

Ah, but the Big Bang! That’s where it all started – even astrophysicists have said so! But if you notice, they generally say that the universe that we inhabit started then, or more specifically traces back to something in that general region of time. In the same way that we might see a water balloon impact and trace back the apparent path to discover who threw it, we can use those super-dependable rules of physics to trace back current trends and realize that there was once a state of very dense matter/energy that has since been expanding. And there’s more than a little bit of evidence that some of these rules of physics were introduced by this state. It’s very easy to believe that we’re going outside of empirical science and into the realm of mere speculation, and this accusation is leveled constantly, yet physicists have delved into this more than superficially and have demonstrated the reasoning and evidence a lot more than merely speculatively. But don’t take my word for it, and check it out yourself – this isn’t a bad start, and there’s plenty more out there.

If we continue to follow that path backwards, however, we come to a dilemma if we’re still wrapped up in thinking about beginnings. If we assume that the Singularity is a stable state, then, what made it change from that, what input of energy provoked the sudden expansion? Again, more than a few people say, “god,” at this point, ignoring the idea of where god got the energy, or how it produces it from nothing, or in what way the idea of an intelligence or even a deliberate “will” is supposed to have existed for all time – and why, at this point, it decided to change all of that. Meanwhile, physicists and the like don’t actually say that the Singularity was the beginning of it all, simply the point that we can trace back with the evidence available to us, and certainly something was going on before that, but now we really are into the realm of mere speculation – there’s nothing more (yet, anyway) that we can work with. And even those speculations abound, such as whether a collapsing super black hole, the ones that outright rend the fabric of space/time and all that, can introduce a new explosion of matter/energy into a whole other realm of existence – and whether this is what happened here.

But when it comes right down to it, there’s no such thing as a stable state – there’s always energy, always activity, always electrons circling and all that. And if there were a stable state, then it would have to remain that way forever – unless there was an energy exchange from something else. And where did that come from? We pretty much come to the idea that change is constant, and would have to be. There is no beginning of anything, much less everything, there are only states that may be relatively slow in changing until something else happens, and we can say that only if we limit ourselves to setting specific demarcations again. Our universe, to all evidence so far, traces back to a singularity or something very close to it – but there’s very likely something much more than that ‘outside’ of it or preceding it or whatever. In fact, the very word “change” seems to imply that there is something that is stable, that is not changing – yet we have no evidence of that whatsoever, and logically this can’t even exist.

I’ve said this before, but it appears that the idea of the start of anything arises (hah!) solely from our own very narrow perspective, from the idea that not only do we identify a ‘personhood’ from ourselves, a temporary (eighty years, give or take) collection of interacting atoms, we have a point where we can no longer trace back our own experience, our memories and all that – and we think this has to apply to everything. Pretty egotistical, when you think about it. But when we die, all that matter goes someplace else – except, no, it’s been exchanging constantly the entire time, producing babies and shit and skin flakes and, geez, well, it’s just going all over the place perpetually. “We,” the self, the soul, the free will, is just a matrix of experience that helps the genes along – which in itself is just a pattern of energy exchange that arises due to the rules immediately present. It’s freaky.

No, I’m not stoned right now.

*     *     *     *     *

Something else, vaguely related. It almost stands to reason that, in the same manner that we say, “There is no beginning,” we could also say there is no end as well – things have to keep happening. Except, given the current evidence, this does not appear to be the case. The expansion of the universe is not only ongoing, it’s accelerating, and there appears to be some energy that is promoting this (“dark energy,” if you want to look it up.) Given this, at some point in the future matter will be so scattered that there can be no energy exchange – entropy, or the laws of thermodynamics if you prefer, pretty much point to a “heat death” of the universe, a point where the matter/energy have dissipated so much that all activity ceases. So, there can be no beginning, but there can be an end, or at least a point where all change and exchange halts, except perhaps for continued expansion? This seems to defy both logic and comprehension – but at present, that’s what we have evidence of. Which makes me a little conflicted, because I’m in favor of the idea of a cyclic universe/multiverse scenario, where something happens to reverse this trend and prevent perpetual expansion – but there’s no evidence for this, and I have to face the idea that this is dictated by what I consider logical and nothing else. It remains possible that something really does reverse the expansion – but that’s only speculation. It’s also possible that physics is a one-way trip, once the process gets ‘started’ – and now you see the dilemma. How could there be no beginning but an end, how could there be constant change… until there isn’t? That’s freaky. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t resort to our own concepts of how things must work, our own ideas of logic (which, as I’ve said before, is merely the extrapolation of cause-and-effect in the first place,) but only what the evidence shows.

Missed a meaningless milestone

juvenile green treefrog Hyla cinerea clinging to stalk
You know how you look down at the odometer of your car and realize that you just missed seeing it turn over some major rounded number, like 100,000 kilometers or something? Well, this is nothing at all like that.

Okay, no, it kinda is, because you’re looking at the 50,000 image that I shot on the Canon 30D. Five years ago I announced much the same thing on the old DReb, and it’s the same kind of circumstances too: camera that I bought used, so who knows how many actual frames it’s been used for, but here’s my count. And yes, I know that the counter resets and skips from 9999 to 0001 instead of 0000; this is actually frame number 50005 to compensate for this oversight on Canon’s part (I append an extra digit on the front to help keep my image numbering in reasonable order.)

Though we didn’t really just miss this, because it occurred a while ago now, but here’s the creepy part: this 50,000th image was shot on the fifth day of the fifth month of – … well, that’s as far as that goes.

But what are the chances?!?!?!

Oh, just a tad under 1 in 365, to be honest. Regardless, I missed bringing this to your attention when it actually happened, and for that I’m truly barely sorry at all. Postwise, May was a little slow, at least until later in the month, so I could have used the content I suppose. I suspect I didn’t even do the renumbering until a bit later on, and that’s when I would have noticed the change from 4 to 5, and it’s even possible that I was busy with other things at the time – not everything that I do is reflected here. I mean, I could potentially be leading this intriguing and exotic life, and I’m just not at liberty to discuss it here. You’ve heard of the people whose social media profile was all an elaborate ruse, painting them as far more interesting than they really were? So it doesn’t stretch the imagination to believe that the opposite exists, where nonsense blog posts and scores of the same kind of photos disguise a remarkably fascinating persona. Right?

Just checking

Hey, are you out right now seeing how the Perseids meteor shower is doing? We finally have one that falls on a dark night, almost perfectly timed with the new moon, which is about the best point in the lunar cycle you can hope for.

It is, of course, raining like hell here. Remember this post from last year? Yeah. It’s kinda like having a white christmas, only not.

Per the ancient lore, part 22

nine-banded armadillo Dasypus novemcinctus seen in undergrowth by infrared
We have reached the Mammals folder again, and thus look in on a nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) hiding out in the undergrowth at night. And it looks this odd because it was shot with the infra-red option of the Sony F-717. More details of the story can be found here, along with the visible light version of this photo taken only seconds later, but I figured we should take a look at this version.

Most digital sensors are sensitive into the range of infra-red, just outside of the range we can see, and actually have to have filters overlaid within the structure of the camera body to prevent this light from altering the exposure of the image. Yet a few cameras had the ability to shoot solely in infra-red, utilizing some short-range IR LEDS positioned right alongside the lens. These could also be used to allow the camera to autofocus in darkness before the flash was fired for a visible light photo, but as I type this I have to wonder about something. All lenses bend different wavelengths of light to differing degrees, and a lot of engineering has gone into lens arrays for decades to help prevent the visible impact of this, often color fringing; it’s one of the reasons why, when you look into a lens, you might see multi-colored reflections bouncing back to you. And infra-red wavelengths are no different; in fact, older lenses occasionally had an IR marking on the lens to facilitate focusing with this trait. We, naturally, see in visible light, and when a lens was focused sharply for that, it would be out-of-focus in infra-red. So before tripping the shutter with IR film loaded, the photographer would have to adjust the focus by the same margin delineated by the IR mark to bring it into focus at IR wavelengths. So far so good.

And the Sony cameras (and my old Canon Pro-90) could focus and capture IR wavelengths, so no problem there. But the Sonys could also focus in IR, but then fire off the flash and capture the image in visible light. Which should have been out-of-focus. So did that setting compensate for the difference, or what? While framing before tripping the shutter, the image looked perfectly sharp in the LCD viewfinder, so I couldn’t tell you how this worked. The image above might look a bit out-of-focus, but mostly it’s the grain/noise of shooting at an extremely high ISO because infra-red light is pretty weak – look at the reflections from the eyes and the scale pattern of the carapace to realize that this is just low resolution, not bad focus.

By the way, the light you see shining in patches onto the armadillo and its surroundings is not daylight, but the glow from the nearby streetlight over the parking lot of the park where we were, since it was 9:30 PM in May when this was taken fourteen years ago, fully dark. I knew the park at night was a good place to find armadillos, but my brother and I had had a fruitless night trying to spot one before, through the open window of the car, I heard this one digging as we passed. And while this and the other encounter related on that linked page above were memorable, my favorite remains the night I happened across one foraging on the verge at the side of the road, a juvenile scarcely larger than my palm; for some reason, they’re adorable at that size. I might have tried to capture it solely to examine it closely, but it became aware of me before I’d drawn very close and shot off into the brush in an instant. And of course, no camera on me that night. I know, I know, but I was young and foolish…

Odd memories, part 18

For one of the Ancient Lore posts back in April, I mentioned an accident of timing regarding the end of my tenure in Florida, and so I expand upon it here – which will segue into another story. I’m sure you’re brimming with anticipation.

Florida is known for a lot of things: alligators, giant anthropomorphic mice, manatees, people of questionable judgment, but perhaps the most well-known is being ground zero for countless hurricanes. While I lived there, no such storms came through, but almost immediately upon getting a new job in NC and moving from the state, Hurricane Ivan looped through the southeastern US before returning to the Florida coast area where I’d lived. The effect wasn’t too bad overall right there, at least in comparison to previous storms of renown or infamy, but it still left quite a few signatures throughout the area – and I know this firsthand because, very soon after it had passed, Jim Kramer and I made a trip down to gather up the remainder of my belongings.

The first things we noticed were the billboards. Interstate 95, southbound especially, is liberally infected with numerous billboards announcing all of the charms of the state, such as reduced cost passes to Disney World, the largest alligators in some arbitrary demarcation of area, and what god is going to do to you iffen you don’t accept his love. The vast majority of these had been blown down, in part or completely, and so the scenery on the drive was greatly improved (too bad the winds did not stretch far enough north towards the South of the Border region.)

Where I’d lived, the impact was fairly negligible, the damage sporadic and manageable – the apartment complex itself lost a couple of palm trees and about half of its decorative pennants, but nothing else. Most of my day was spent packing, since we had very little time to spend down there, but after a bit we managed a brief trip out to my old stomping grounds on the Indian River Lagoon. Here, the effect of the winds upon the waters of the lagoon and their impact on the banks was quite visible, though by no means devastating. Yet one bit of evidence was striking.

beached sailboat following hurricane Ivan by James L. KramerAlmost right against the shore, propped over by its keel in less than a half-meter of water, was a decent-sized sailboat, testament to the depth the water had achieved during storm surge. It needs to be said that the region can be waded for better than a hundred meters out, and that there’s no marina anywhere near this location; the closest was several kilometers away across the sound to the southeast, though on occasion people would moor near a fishing dock down by the causeway about 3 km south. While the boat is christened as from Orlando, that’s quite a ways north and inland, so I’m confident that it hadn’t been swept to this point from there, and had been moored someplace closer. I could not resist clambering onto the rear ladder and posing cheekily, but for some reason Jim shot this at an angle to get most of the mast in the frame, which looked odd to me so I leveled it here.

Upon running into a resident soon after, we were informed that getting it out of there was going to take some time. While I had imagined that they’d have to dredge a channel just to clear the keel and float the boat, he instead said that they’d probably lift it with flotation bags and tow it out that way – but the high-tension power lines were way too close for that tall mast to be near. The power lines ran right off of the water’s edge – you can see three of the support poles above the gazebo, and though the closest poles are hidden in the palms, one of the wires can be seen appearing from behind the fronds and extending out of the frame; my typical entry spot for wading, just two dozen meters back along the shore from where this was taken, occurred right by the base of one of the power poles. The metal mast might swing within a dangerous proximity to these wires, and contact wasn’t necessary; such high voltages could arc easily across a gap, and in fact I’d photographed extraneous current arcing visibly, and noisily, from the wires across the insulators at night. So, the power would have to be shut down first, and these were the main lines feeding the coastal area. I never heard what the end result was, or how long it took them to extricate the boat, or whether they simply removed the damn mast before messing with it.

The author hamming it up, by James L. Kramer
As we headed back out the next day (with three cats protesting for the first 45 minutes,) we stayed with the coastal road flanking the lagoon for several kilometers, and saw countless stranded or newly-sunken boats, damaged docks, and extraneous unidentifiable structures in the water – the storm surge had clearly been pretty potent. What’s curious to me as I think about this is that the lagoon is a narrow brackish sound between the mainland and the barrier island, not three kilometers wide, and the storm surge had to have come up at least a meter to carry and ground the boat where it was, not to mention all of the other detritus we saw. It seems odd that such a narrow body of water could essentially shift enough to increase the depth at one side so significantly, and I’m a little sorry I wasn’t there to see it.

The saga continued soon after that too, since 2004 was a bad year for storms, and only a few days after we’d picked up my belongings, Hurricane Jeanne drove straight into the Florida coast, not far enough south of that region, and did a hell of a lot more damage. During my few years in Florida I’d witnessed nothing more impressive that a serious buttload of thunderstorms, but the two hurricanes that struck the region flanked the brief visit that completed my evacuation from the state.

juvenile eastern grey squirrel Sciurus carolinensis being hand fed

Not this squirrel, but just as aw-inspiring.

Which is not to say that I haven’t had my own hurricane experience. In 1996 when I was living in North Carolina (the first time,) Hurricane Fran drove straight inland and hit my region pretty hard. I was caretaker of an animal facility out in the boonies a bit, and also on-call for animal emergencies (because I hadn’t been paying attention to the weather reports – we were hardly in a normal hurricane zone – and switched shifts with someone.) As the rain began beating down, I managed to get the emergency van stuck in the mud of the property, because our landscaper was completely incompetent at, like, getting grass to grow. This had little effect on my duties – up until about 5 AM, when the 911 radio/pager began going berserk. With the van mired up to its axles, I couldn’t do a hell of a lot, but it didn’t matter much anyway. We were not on the radio network, meaning I couldn’t contact 911 dispatch by radio and had to telephone them instead; this proved entirely pointless for the next two hours at least, because the lines were jammed. Later on in the day, someone stopped by the complex and introduced himself as a 911 dispatcher – I recognized his voice. He presented me with a baby squirrel that had been displaced from one of the thousands of trees that had fallen across the county, including a massive one across the driveway of 911 dispatch itself. That was what they had been contacting me about, so everything was cool in that aspect at least, and I had the necessary stuff to care for a baby squirrel so it received immediate attention.

The power had been knocked out by all this, of course (but somehow not the phone lines – ask your grandfather what those are,) and it remained out for just shy of an entire week. Since I was security for the complex, which stupidly had only electromagnetic locks on the one building stuffed full of valuable equipment, I couldn’t even leave, and had to live there without power. Fully half of my job duties entailed computer bookkeeping and reports, so they weren’t happening. But much, much worse, I contracted some nasty little illness just a few days after the hurricane passed through.

The initial thought was a black widow bite, since the swelling on my thigh and the symptoms seemed to fit, but I’ve since heard that it’s impossible to tell, and the wound was high enough on my thigh, well within the leg of my shorts, that it’d be unlikely I’d get bitten by a spider up there, so the more likely culprit was tick-borne bacteria. The general effect was extreme lethargy and a tendency for my muscles to seize up if they weren’t used, and the day I almost couldn’t get out of bed told me I’d better see a doctor (that, and what I took to be a swollen lymph node in my crotch.) I was prescribed the antibiotic doxycycline, and I could have sworn the doctor told me to take it on an empty stomach. The first night, I downed a dose and went to sleep, fitfully in the sweltering heat of the bedroom, even with all of the windows opened in the cabin.

As I was to discover a few days later when I actually read the directions from the pharmacist, you always take doxycycline with food, because it has a wicked impact on an empty stomach. That’s foreboding, that is. That first night, I was awakened at roughly one AM by my wristwatch (ask Christopher Walken what that is) by what sounded like someone knocking on the door. Thinking this might have been the police or the power company checking on the house, or possibly someone looking to loot the place if they determined it was empty, I forced my seized muscles out of bed and over to the front door, where no one was to be seen at all. Then, the nausea hit, and by ‘hit’ I mean, ‘like a truck,’ and I violently dry heaved into the bushes alongside the door no less than five times. If it was someone looking to rob the place, they were undoubtedly scared off by this vocal performance, especially given how religious the area was and that I certainly sounded like the popular concept of demonic possession. “HuuurrAARRRHHHGGAAAHHHHAAAAAuuuurrr… [*pant* *pant*] aw fuHHHUUUAAAARRRRGGGGEEEAAAAUUUUhhhhrrrrjesustapdancingchristonamotorboat…”

I spent several minutes just sitting hunched over on the step, sweat pouring down my spine despite the chill night air – which, mind you, wasn’t circulating into the house in the slightest. Hurricanes scare all other weather away for days, so the skies remain clear, the wind never blows, and it basically becomes as still as a desert. Even as the temperature dropped at night, the air simply couldn’t circulate into the house and I spent each night sticking to the bed with sweat, on top of the illness which had me feeling pretty ratty without the nausea. And that performance recurred twice more in the next day before I noticed the instructions on the bottle…

When the power first went out, I avoided opening the fridge, attempting to keep its insulating properties as intact as possible. After two days, I began cleaning out as much as I could eat before it went bad, still leaving the freezer alone. After four days, I knew the freezer was a disaster area and refused to open it, getting the faint hint of what awaited me even as I got near its closed door. I ate a lot of bread crackers and such, and cooked some hotdogs outside over a campfire to wrap them in tortillas. The power came back on just seven hours shy of a full week without, and I gratefully switched on the fan and enjoyed the breeze. I will note that I been gathering water from the nearby pond in buckets so I could flush the toilet, so they needed a good scrub, as did I. But the freezer I let go another week, to completely freeze solid the horror within – which didn’t exactly work, because it affixed it to the bottom and sides and I still had to thaw at least portions to get them out. It was bad. I’m sparing you the details, but will tell you this: if the power’s out for 48 hours, clean out the freezer immediately.

Hurricanes, man.

P.S. I found out it wasn’t a swollen lymph node when it burst and began discharging a day later, and eventually left behind a subcutaneous hollow that I can still feel. I have no idea what that was all about. No, it was not ‘puberty,’ you asshole…

Truly inexplicable

First off, this is even more of a self-indulgent post than normal, because it largely stems from being a helicopter/rotorcraft enthusiast, so if you’re here looking for bugs or rabid atheism, this one isn’t going to deliver. On the other hand, there are absolutely no pictures of food, cats, or myself attached. And while I am going to talk about the vacation out to North Topsail Beach, it will be very hard to classify this as gloating in any way. Credit that as you will.

Like last year’s trip, the military aircraft could be seen from time to time while we were out there, just not as many this year. North Topsail is bordered to the northeast by New River Inlet, and directly across from that sits a military exercise airstrip; at night, flares can often be seen in that vicinity, and by day one can view the helicopters occasionally doing low passes and ‘insertion’ exercises (for want of a better word – don’t go thinking that I have the terminology correct.) One of the days we were out there, we watched a pair of USMC V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft doing passes on the field.

a pair of V-22 Ospreys banking towards closer approach
Now, I sidetrack a little here, because this photo shows a marker buoy out in the water off New River Inlet, more or less centered in the opening of the inlet but well off in the distance – this was shot at 300mm focal length and cropped tighter from there. Remember when I pointed out the speck of light on the horizon under that crescent moon? I decided to do a little research, and pulled up a boating chart of the inlet. The marker buoy is clearly defined, and I was able to do a few measurements, very rough ones. Essentially, the buoy would have been somewhere around 3.5 kilometers from my position on the beach when I took that moon shot before sunrise. But was it the correct direction?

plot of buoy in New River Inlet, North Topsail Beach NCFor that, I pulled up Stellarium, set my viewing position for the lat/lon coordinates of the spot on the beach, rolled the date back to the timestamp from the photo, and checked the moon position. Everything looked kosher, and put that little light in the photo at almost precisely due east (true, not magnetic.) Comparing that to the chart lines up pretty damn closely – close enough that I would have seen any other lights had this not been the source. Using the section of chart I’ve included here, the buoy is the purple circle, while my viewing position for the crescent moon photo is about where the orange arrow is on the shoreline, lower left; my position for the Osprey photo above was on the southwest side of the inlet right where that line designating the road ends, while the airstrip that I mentioned is outlined in bright green, upper right. For now, I’m going to consider the identification of the light in the crescent moon photo to be confirmed. Don’t ask me why I bothered; this is the kind of thing that I do out of curiosity.

You may have noticed the difference between the teeny little speck in the crescent photo and the distinctive buoy in the Osprey photo – this was because I was shooting at entirely different focal lengths for different purposes between the two. But wait! As I was about to type this explanation out, I started recalling that perhaps I did go in as tight on that light while out on the beach – not that day, but a later one. Started poking through the folders at some of the remarkably plain frames, and sure enough: I have a distinct photo of the buoy taken from the same vantage as the crescent. Could have saved myself a lot of trouble if I’d thought of that earlier.

All right, enough of that, back to the choppers. It’s not immediately apparent from that first photo up there, but the nacelles are rolled forward. Tiltrotors get their moniker from, imagine this, tilting their entire turbines on the end of the wings forward for high-speed, fixed-wing style flight, but they have to tilt back to upright again for hovering and landing (they can also perform a short rolling takeoff with the nacelles tilted slightly forward, producing mostly vertical lift but also some forward thrust.) As the pair of aircraft circled around our vantage and approached the airstrip, the nacelles could be seen to roll back, visible here; the two aircraft have transitioned to different degrees.

pair of V-22 Ospreys approaching landing zone
It goes without saying that the day was hardly clear, and in fact it was occasionally spitting a bit in that halfhearted non-rain that occurs sometimes.

Curious, to me, was that these aircraft were still on the ‘crosswind’ leg of their approach, having to turn another 90° to line up with the airstrip, yet the nacelles were already rolling back. Thinking about it, however, I realize that their stall speed with rotors forward would be about that of a mid-size aircraft, probably better than 80 knots, so as they reduce towards that speed the rotors better be more upright as the lift goes away. Since the Osprey can maneuver in all directions like a standard helicopter with full vertical rotors, they could still maintain a halfway decent approach speed – just not as fast as they could with the turbines rolled forward.

pair of V-22 Osprey on final approach over hidden airstrip
The airstrip was hidden from our view behind the trees, but as you might surmise from this image with the turbines and rotors full vertical, they certainly weren’t pulling a fast approach; as we watched, there was some question that they were even performing a full landing at all, instead just passing over the field. It was pretty sedate.

V-22 Osprey disappearing behind the trees
Eventually, they did drop down and vanish behind the trees – you can just make out the second one peeking out here right before dipping from view. And yes, we would have had a much better view from that little marina, but had no way of getting there. No, it was way too far to take the kayaks, especially given the wicked current of the inlet. Not to mention that, of the six of us on the trip, only two had the faintest interest in observing this closer, and one of those (e.g., not me) had actually traveled by tiltrotor before and so wasn’t that enthusiastic about a closer look.

pair of V-22 Osprey departing airstrip
I had predicted a fairly fast reappearance of the aircraft, thinking they were doing a troop dropping exercise, but I was proved wrong, since it took several minutes for the Ospreys to take off again, and still without any apparent haste. They can transition to forward flight profile pretty quickly, which is a hell of a ride according to several sources, but not this time around. It took better than 90 seconds from their reappearance to even start to roll the nacelles forward, and the pilots were also pretty slow in retracting the landing gear. Certainly not what I expected.

Bored yet? Okay, good! One more.

AH-1W Super Cobra passing overhead
While walking on the beach the previous day, we were treated (or whatever) to a close pass overhead from an AH-1W Super Cobra assault helicopter, more-or-less a predecessor of the well-known AH-64 Apache. The Cobra started operations in Vietnam, a dedicated attack aircraft with a lot of components from the UH-1 Huey; that they’re still in operation, albeit much updated now, says something about their versatility and performance.

There’s a trait here that’s visible if you look very closely, courtesy of the humid conditions of the day. The effects of turbulence and air pressure caused by the rotor path created a very short-lived condensation trail extending from the tips and lasting only for fractions of a second, not even a full revolution of the blades but captured by the shutter speed. Let’s have an enhanced look at it:

Ah-1W Super Cobra with contrast altered to show tip trails sharper
Around the back and underneath the helo, but also around the front, stretch two faint curved lines of condensation, and here we delve into the engineering of helicopters a little. As the rotor spins, the tips are naturally passing through the air faster than the base of the blades, while the entire aircraft is traveling forward (usually) through the air mass. The impact of air resistance and turbulence is strongest at the tips and this is where the greatest amount of noise comes from. But as the aircraft moves forward at greater velocities, the rotor tip that is advancing around in front may start coming close to breaking the sound barrier, which has profound effects on aerodynamics, while the retreating tip comes close to matching the speed of the aircraft in reverse, essentially stopping dead in midair and thus providing no lift at all; this produces a very real limit on the airspeed that any standard helicopter can achieve (and why tiltrotors can greatly exceed this since they are not supported by the rotors in high-speed flight.) Make the rotors longer and the effect becomes worse, but make them shorter and lift is compromised, which requires broader rotors to compensate for, which increases drag and noise, and so on and so on. Helicopters with two main rotors blades like this one produce a significant amount of noise and a distinctive beating sound, but, the type of rotor head that’s necessary for them is lower maintenance and produces far less vibration – there’s a lot of stuff that I’m skipping right now for brevity (not enough, I know, but I’m saying it could be worse.) The design of the rotors, and the articulation thereof, and the turbine power needed to drive them, is a very elaborate and interactive discipline, and it amazes me that it was first successfully hashed out in the 1930s.

But let’s go back to that photo, because it shows something interesting. The condensation path ahead of the aircraft seems very close, because the helicopter is moving forward through the (more-or-less) stationary air, advancing through the trail. And if you look close, the trail behind the helo can be seen against the tail rotor and boom – which is well below the main rotor blade; in fact, because of our view angle here, that trail has to be quite well below the rotor ‘disk.’ Of course, this is a function of the lift that the rotors provide, the downward force against the air that keeps it airborne, so the trails are actually spiraling down from the rotor disk, which we might see better if we viewed the aircraft directly from the side. Bear in mind that typical rotor speeds are in the realm of 300 rpm; you can even see the faint blurring towards the tips of the rotors despite the 1/4000 second shutter speed of this image. So you can take a stab at how little time has passed between the rotor arcing over the tail and when the photo was taken, and know the condensation trail was forced down that far in that period of time. Pretty cool really.

Per the ancient lore, part 21

cotton field in early morning fog
Happy Friday, from here in the south! Actually, it’s mid-Atlantic, about as mid as you can get, but trust me, the people around here consider it The South. And to illustrate this, I show you this selection from the Leaves/Plants/Trees folder, from a shooting gig way out in the rural provinces of North Carolina, a little town called Scotland Neck. I was filling in for the Conceptual Jim Kramer, who was feeling ill and unable to handle the retriever trial that he’d booked that weekend, this being early November 2003. I was living in Florida at the time but up visiting for a few days, and it meant I was using the Sony F717 before he had even loaned it to me, in that interim before it went to its new owner. The trial required staying in a hunting cabin that was way the hell out in the middle of a huge cotton field – we’re talking an access road better than a kilometer through the field – and getting up at an ungodly hour (well, aren’t they all?) to be out before sunrise. The fog was nearly the thickest that I’ve ever seen; the only time that I saw worse was one night when living in Raleigh, where I started out for a drive and realized, while sitting directly under one streetlight, I could not even see the glimmer from the next streetlight in the row.

inset of spiderwebs on cotton headsSo before heading out, I set the camera up on the tripod just within the edge of the field and did several exposures, most by ambient light, but this one was with flash. The direct light greatly reduced the soft and hazy look that the fog provided, but bounced off of innumerable water droplets in the air and filled the sky with ghosts – either that or a hell of a lot of people had died in that field. Or perhaps, you know, they’re the ghosts of bugs (and why shouldn’t bugs have ghosts too?) since the flash also illuminated the tiny droplets that revealed just how many spiderwebs were draped across the cotton heads. Just looking at this photo makes me acutely aware of the wholesale spider slaughter that took place when the cotton was harvested. But I bet all those vegan, organic food, natural-cotton-fiber people haven’t given the faintest thought to this, have they? How many spiders does polyester harm? Right: none! Blithe savages…

Tally ho!

thin crescent moon at sunrise on North Topsail Beach, NC
One of my monthly routines regarding the blog is to keep track of the number of posts and the photos used, partially in case of server failure (which has happened before,) and partially out of curiosity. There is this faint background goal of posting more than I did for the previous year, but I don’t pursue that very tightly; as I’ve said before, I’d rather post what I like, when I feel I can do it justice, than to obligate myself to meeting a certain number – I don’t think quality comes from that, plus it starts to make posting more of a chore.

Yet I will note here that last month, I uploaded more photos than any other month in the history of the blog: 103 for July alone. That beats out June 2015’s tally of 96 images, though quite a few of those were from Jim Kramer’s Alaska trip. Not far behind was August 2015 with 92, which featured a lot of images of molting insects. The same subject was most responsible for pushing up last month’s count.

The overall count for the year is still a bit lower than some previous years, and so it goes; it will motivate me to get out to do more shooting, but not so much that I’ll try to force a topic. I’m just happy when I have something to illustrate, no matter how creepy it is.

The image above could have been posted anytime since I took it in May, but I just decided to use it here because it’s been sitting in my blog folder and there’s no particular topic looming that it will fit with. The first morning out at Topsail produced this waning crescent moon preceding the sun across the sky, a nice accent point to the color shift off the horizon. And yes, the deep blue section is actually the shadow of the Earth itself being cast onto the humidity in the air; the sun is only minutes from rising. There’s one other detail too, but you have to look very closely for it. Down on the waterline, beneath the moon and slightly to the right, sits a lone point of light (that reduction down to blog scale nearly eradicated.) It was definitely blinking in a pattern, and right at the moment, I’m not sure what this is. I had initially suspected that it was the Cape Lookout Lighthouse, but that sits 77 kilometers (48 miles) from where I took this photo, and according to a little Earth curvature calculator that I just found, it would have to be in excess of 400 meters (1,300 ft) to be seen at that distance – the lighthouse is a mere 50 meters tall. But another set of photos from another location revealed a light buoy someplace off from the New River Inlet, possibly a shoal marker, certainly a hell of a lot closer (and you’ll see one of these pics shortly.) I was not shooting up the beach or anywhere close to the shoreline, so no matter what, it was a decent distance out. Next trip out there I’ll plot a few specific bearings, triangulating if I can, and we’ll determine just where it is, at least.

You’re not getting away that easy, July!

blue dasher dragonfly Pachydiplax longipennis on tree against sky reflection in water
Oh, no no no no no, that ain’t happening. I noticed July trying to slip out the door while I was coping with a missing day, and made it come back in, sit down, and-… um… accept a month-end abstract post. I think the metaphor is falling apart here.

But fear not! It makes no difference to the net effect, which is a photo post based on a random coincidence a few years back that I am now continuing out of sheer noreasonness. So for the end of July, we have a blue dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis, heh heh, you said pennis) placed charmingly, or something anyway, against the evening sky reflected in the pond water. You’re going to ask me what kind of tree it is, aren’t you? Well, I’m not telling.

I said “missing day,” above, because I had plenty of time to get things done and accomplished damn near nothing, mostly due to exhaustion that I suspect is some kind of bug but might simply be the weather and sinuses conspiring against me. I spend way too much time with my head stuffed full and really need to move someplace with fewer allergens, or get a sinus transplant or some shit, but for now, you get to hear me bitch about it. You don’t have to, though, because if you make a small contribution to my decongestant fund through that thing over on the sidebar, I’ll stick to other topics. I’m not totally cruel.

And just to show you what kind of sport I am, and to make up for the lateness of this post (though still on July 31st, which is better than a couple of months back there in history,) I proffer another; if you’re clever, you might discover the common element that links the two.

blue dasher dragonfly Pachydiplax longipennis on water reed against sky reflection
I’m pretty certain this is the same dragonfly, since they frequently take brief flights away from their resting spot before returning to the same location or one very close by. I know, I know, I should be able to distinguish individuals by now – I am ashamed, and if you’re read much of this blog (especially, you know, this post,) you’ll know that’s a rare state indeed. Relish it while you can.

By the way, I had originally intended to use the extreme compound eye closeup from this post as the month-end abstract, then totally forgot and posted it along with the others. I’m hopeless, I know.