Storytime 36

new kitten looking vaguely suspicious
This week’s entry is perhaps only part one of an ongoing story – nobody’s really sure yet. We’ve been playing it by ear.

It started almost two weeks ago when I went into work in the evening to block off some days for students and such. There was a handwritten note on one of our delivery vehicles informing us that there was a kitten up on the spare tire underneath the car, so I got my flashlight and checked it out carefully, seeing nothing. I thought the note might have been hours old or better, since the car wasn’t used at all that day, and didn’t think a lot of it other than vowing to keep my eyes open. But as I was leaving myself, I spotted the kitten underneath the same car and the saga began.

I’ve had a lot of experience with feral and semi-feral cats, meaning those that have acclimated, fully or in part, to living in the wild despite being a domestic species; two of my cats, for years, had in fact started out as feral kittens that never fully tamed down to truly domesticated – one of which would still hiss at me at times when I entered the room without warning. I spent years reassuring her, kindly and gently, that everything was okay, each time it happened, and receiving less-than-acceptance in return – usually she just cried forlornly at me as if I had threatened her. Then one day, intent on doing something and entering the room to this antisocial greeting, I merely said exasperatedly, “Oh, give it up, I haven’t killed you yet” – and she immediately calmed down. I’d discovered, by accident, that my placating behavior was stressing her out more than my normal bluntness.

Anyway, back to the kitten. I immediately called The Girlfriend and asked her to bring cat food and a carrier (we live far too close to where I work,) and while waiting for her to appear, I watched the kitten with some coworkers, talking softly to her from a distance and getting the very-reassuring sign of a raised tail; she wasn’t fully feral and recognized people, even as she distrusted us. When The Girlfriend arrived, we set up some food near the car, with the open carrier nearby, and sat back to watch what happened. In short order really, we’d coaxed her pretty close with food, got her used to our presence, and then trapped her in the carrier with far less effort than I’d ever expected (I was actually trying to dig up some kind of string or wire from my car to pull the carrier door shut once the kitten had ventured within, when The Girlfriend simply crept up from the blind side of it and gently pushed the door closed.)

Back home, we let her out onto the screened porch, separate from the other cats, provided food, water, and a litter pan, and let her settle in for the night. Since I wasn’t working the next day, I could venture out to try and socialize her, and within a couple of days she had become completely trusting and more than a little enamored of people – again, perhaps.

new kitten being mellow
She’s only about eight weeks old, without a full set of teeth yet though fully weaned, and while not exactly hyperactive, it’s safe to say she has the short-attention-span thing going on; she’s started to fall asleep in my lap at least six times, only to suddenly startle herself awake, at no provocation whatsoever, and find something else to do (she’s managed to drift off once, though.) She adores her various toys, and does like having restrained wrestling matches with me.

new kitten wrestling with author

I call this one, “I’m crushing your skull,” but I don’t know how few people will get that reference…

The big question remains now: Are we keeping her? And this mostly revolves around whether the other cats will accept her or not. Coincidentally, it was Labor Day weekend eight years ago that started that whole story and eventually brought them into the house, but their age and the fact that this is another female throws the whole thing into question. We’re not sure how well, if at all, they’ll accept a newcomer.

I predicted that Little Girl would be easier to convince than Kaylee, but so far, Little Girl has been a lot more reserved and reluctant…

new kitten attempting to win friends with Little Girl
… while Kaylee has been showing far more interest than I had given her credit for:

new kitten and Kaylee making first overtures
It probably helps that they have complementary coloration. But it also helps that the kitten is remarkably imperturbable, treating warning hisses as momentary setbacks and not at all shy about greeting the others.

A small note here: If you’re faced with introducing a new cat to established ones, it works a whole lot better to let the new one have a room of its own for a few days, and introduce the established cats into that. To them, this puts them into the new cat’s territory, which dulls their protectiveness and makes then feel slightly out-of-place so they’re less aggressive/defensive. There might still be confrontation, but much less than if you simply drop a new cat into their home.

I am reminded of a circumstance, many years back in my late teens, when we had a young cat that had been retrieved from the middle of traffic and had become established in our house for several weeks; the other cats simply avoided him, so he learned to play on his own. Then we found another, a female, slightly younger and thus a good playmate age, but he wanted absolutely nothing to do with her, even as she was desperate to make friends. The slightly older cat adored wrestling through a quilt that was draped over the upstairs banister rail, fighting mock-fiercely with the amorphous thing (usually my hand) behind the thick fabric, and she discovered this on her own, by accident. They would have fantastic wrestling sessions until one of them would inadvertently peek around the edge and provoke the older male to hissing in defense. This lasted all of three days until he got over it, whereupon they trashed the house each night in their enthusiastic free-for-alls.

Anyway, we’ll see how it goes from here.

Yet you control it!

I admit it: I not only had a lava lamp, relatively recently, I plan on getting another pretty soon. I’m not at all into recreational substances or even strong painkillers, but I happen to like watching the fluid flow defined by bright glowing colors, and it’s a nice way to relax. I stumbled across another by accident, many years back when on a whim I outlined my office ceiling with a multicolored christmas light string; leaning back in the office with just those illuminating the room, I’d become mellow surprisingly fast. This later carried over to the house here when we did the same for the screened porch, and The Girlfriend agrees – it’s a soothing atmosphere, for whatever reason.

Anyway, if you’re the same way, or even want to find out if you are, then go to this WebGL Fluid Simulation and drag your mouse pointer around. It’s even better than lava lamps, because it doesn’t heat up the room and you don’t have to wait and see what random thermodynamics produces. You can also open the controls at top right and mess with the parameters to your liking.

WebGL Fluid Simulation screen capture
I suppose it’s possible that the site, I dunno, psychoanalyzes you based on your subconscious mouse movements and sells this information to the Republicans, but that’s okay, because they wouldn’t know what to do with real information anyway. Have at it.

Podcast: Too much driving

… but, hey, with good reason at least.

As you might have been able to tell from several hints in the past few posts, I recently took a long road trip up north, specifically to Ohio and New York, and engaged in various activities while thereins. Some of it really was photo-related, but some of it was family-related, and some of it was simply blowing off steam – I can’t necessarily call it ‘relaxing’ (see previous podcast,) but it was worthwhile nonetheless. It was easier to relate it through my manic and untrained harpy-screeching, and so here it is:

Walkabout podcast – Too much driving

A few related links:

Go Ape! Treetop Adventure – this is the one we did, but there’s another much closer to Walkabout Studios in central NC, and that may be featured here later on.

Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio – But if you have the faintest interest, the link is probably superfluous to you.

Montezuma Wildlife Refuge – We go way back – like, 30 years before this pic even.

Watkins Glen State Park

But while I’m at it, at left is the first drop on Steel Vengeance, taken from the vantage point of the queue to get onto the ride – you can get even closer than this, but we blew through the best view between trains, since the line was moving pretty well at that point.

And I’ll embed a video (not mine) below for the first-person experience. The mic without a wind screen is kinda annoying, but Cedar Point’s official video lacks riders or even park attendees, so this has more atmosphere.

And Maverick – the photo here was taken on a flip-phone back in 2006 when it was under construction (I believe my friend actually took this, since I didn’t have a cell phone then.) I visited the park at least twice after it opened and never got the chance to ride it, so this year was actually my first time, after it was already old enough to pay adult prices at the movie theater. Sheesh.

And I’ll include a video of this one too, also not mine. Most of the videos that I found were from cameras with rotten iris control, meaning there was several seconds of ‘blindness’ after the tunnel, so this one wins the lottery.

Below is Millennium Force’s first hill, with the train stopped pretty much exactly where we’d been.

train stopped on Millennium Force roller coaster at Cedar Point, Ohio
And you can find a video of Millennium Force here, if you like.

On the day that I drove from Ohio to New York, the weather was clear and pleasant – up until I actually reached the region where I’d grown up. It very quickly clouded over and became lightly overcast, pretty much as I entered Montezuma Wildlife Refuge, so the light conditions were far from ideal. But you work with what you get, especially when you don’t have as much opportunity to choose your visits.

great egrets Ardea alba squabbling in shallow pool
I’m used to great egrets (Ardea alba) being a shore bird, with the occasional rare appearance in this area of North Carolina, so seeing a flock of them inland at the refuge seemed peculiar, but hey, I’ll take it. There was a lot of squabbling going on, lots of territorial disputes as they crowded together in the center of a very shallow pool, but apparently this was prime real estate to them, with an easy commute and good schools. Ha! Get it? “Good schools,” because they’re fish-eaters and fish-… oh, never mind.

common tern Sterna hirundo skimming water in flight
There was a flock of common terns (Sterna hirundo) there as well, and I tracked one as it flew low over the water, occasionally skimming the surface with its beak. I wasn’t sure if it was drinking or after little critters near the surface, but it still made a nice shot (tightly cropped, I admit – the distance was pretty significant.)

By the way, this was, after much digging through the Sibley Guide, determined to be a common tern by the dark wedge visible on the underside of the wings near the tips – that’s more than just a shadow that you’re seeing.

Meanwhile, out on the main road but still within refuge property, a number of large nests atop high-tension electrical towers showed the occasional sentry.

osprey Pandion haliaetus in likely eagle's nest on electrical tower
That’s an osprey (Pandion haliaetus,) which I’d never seen around Cayuga Lake back when I’d lived there (early seventies through eighties,) but were now visible all over the place. The nest, however, is awfully damn big for an osprey, and I suspect it’s actually a bald eagle’s nest from previous years. Especially since we’re now well past nesting season, and it was likely only being used as a perch or eating spot.

This is long enough right now, and I’ve got a lot more photos from the trip to feature, so I’ll simply close with one of the sunsets from Cayuga Lake that I witnessed while there. I have to admit, I saw a lot better skies in just a few days than I’ve seen in weeks or more around here – the weather and cloud conditions in New York lend themselves better to sunsets than do those in North Carolina, it would seem. But since this is probably because there are a lot more rainy days, I suppose I’ll take the good with the bad where I am.

dramatic clouds at sunset over Cayuga Lake
[A quick observation: to me at least, it appears as if the sun is physically breaking through the cloud deck here, and the clouds visible below it are actually farther away than the sun is, an amusing thought.]

Podcast: Off on a rant

This is actually the first of two – both are already finished, but we’ll see how quickly I post the second, since there are incidentals that go along with the audio. This one, however, requires no illustrations and was largely done so I could do the second without rabid frothing sidetracking – that means this one is entirely rabid frothing sidetracking by itself. What fun!

If you’re looking for photo tips or encounters, you’re out of luck. If you’re looking for deep philosophical insights, go fish. If you’re looking for bad language and pet peeves, however, I got you covered, fam (whatever the fuck “fam” is supposed to mean – I don’t use these except as open mockery of dumbass trends.) And so without further ado (whatever the fuck “ado” is supposed to mean, but I can assure you none was harmed in the making of this podcast,) we proceed:

Walkabout podcast – Off on a rant

By the way, a couple of things that I forgot:

  • North Carolina drivers typically only use a turn-signal to try and excuse them cutting you off – apparently, to them that blinking light makes it permissible to perform an unsafe lane change and shove directly in front of you because they never bothered to pay attention to the last two kilometers of “Lane Ends” warnings. If it helps: when the lane is not adequately clear, you wait until it is. Sorry, but you’re not that important.
  • I live among three college towns, and try desperately not to ever drive among campus. Why? Because for some reason, students are encouraged to cross the roads any damn time and place they see fit, and traffic stops dead every time this occurs. Students are not automatic red lights for drivers – if a car is coming, it is actually illegal (in every state that I’ve seen) to walk in front of it. It’s got to do with stopping distances and the chance that the driver is looking in another direction. And you see, there’s this crazy thing about “right of way” – even if you have the law on your side, there’s not a court in the universe that’s going to rule in your favor hard enough to bring you back to life, or heal your shattered skull or mangled spine. It’s weird that way. And I’m terribly sorry that someone’s going to be late for class because they got up too damn late (and we all know why) – what, the college docks pay for that, right? Gives written warnings? Students lose their class over it? You can see how sympathetic I am to students (who are, you know, supposed to be better educated…)
  • I really am going to get a large-print decal across the top of my windshield that says, “Get in your fucking lane!” It’s that goddamn prevalent around here.
  • Anyway, that’s my therapy for this week. Join us next week for my views on clamshell packaging, and product glues that are stronger than the materials they’re gluing…

    Auf wiedersehen, August!

    osprey silhouette in bad light with image stabilization
    So for August, we’ll have two month-end abstracts, and you can pick your favorite. Both were from central New York, a day-and-a-half and about five meters apart – well, my shooting position at least. The osprey (Pandion haliaetus) above was cruising past in the distance after sunset, with the light low enough that the shutter speed was too slow, yet the lens stabilizer did its best, producing several overlaid images. And no, I did not convert this to monochrome – the sky really was that colorless, at least in this particular section.

    Below, a bit more color, even if it’s a little too similar to other month-end offerings that I’ve posted. I actually shot a couple of frames during the trip solely for their abstract value, but really didn’t like them very much, so we’re falling back on this one. I don’t consider it weak as such, just not as creative or different as I should be producing. Ah well.

    raind-laden lily pads on Cayuga Lake
    Aw, now, hang on a second. I think this one needs the channel/contrast treatment. Let’s see, let’s see…

    same image in high-contrast monochrome
    Yeah, that’s not too shabby. Or at least I don’t think so…

    Seriously, what?

    great egret Ardea alba from below
    I just realized that, a year ago, I posted a pic of a great blue heron seen from the underside as it perched in a tree above my head, and I had the image above sitting in the blog folder waiting on my chance to make a post, so I couldn’t let this go by. Is this the start of an annual routine? Well, I guess we’ll just have to see how often such a thing occurs…

    This is instead a great egret (Ardea alba,) a shade smaller than the great blue, but not noticeably, and once again, on the shores of Jordan Lake – just, like, kilometers away from the spot where I captured the heron. But this one was being unbelievably cooperative after it landed in the tree over my head, so I took full advantage of it – more pics will be forthcoming. Right now I have to post this to make the anniversary, or I’m in deep trouble. Somehow.

    Storytime 35

    likely little brown bat Myotis lucifugus perched on tree
    One day four years back, I was checking out the neighborhood pond and noticed something slightly odd about a tree at the head of one portion of the trail; it seemed to have some dry leaves adhering directly to the trunk, which of course is not where you typically see leaves hanging. Had it been anywhere else, I likely would have passed it by without even noticing, but this was right at eye level and warranted a closer look. As you can see, it wasn’t leaves at all, but a bat clinging to the trunk at midday – identification is tricky when working from the limited photos that I obtained without disturbing the critter, but I suspect this is a little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus.)

    This find was curious, because the area plays host to plenty of bats, but they do not generally roost in exposed places like this, and I have never seen one at such a low height since. The risk of rabies is high enough that I did not disturb it, even though I’ve had my shots (no, really – I used to work in animal shelters and rehabilitating wildlife, so it was recommended,) and since the behavior was atypical, that was potentially another indication because infected animals often act differently. I did several natural-light shots from different vantages and left it alone.

    I actually like bats – they’re delightfully creepy-looking, but distinctive in nature and fun to watch on summer evenings as they wheel over the pond or street in search of insects. The Girlfriend does not share my enthusiasm, especially not when I engage in a favorite past-time, which is tossing small stones into the air just as they’re approaching to watch them follow the descending object down in a tight spiral, eventually determining (by sound, it seems) that it is not actually a nutritious insect – at this point they are often just over head height. One night out in the open lawn near the pond and not even trying to draw one nearer, one passed so close by my ear that I heard its soft chittering in passing.

    From time to time I endeavor to get a photo of one in flight, which understandably is a challenging pursuit. I’ve succeeded a couple of times, without producing anything impressive; one time can be found here, while another can be seen below, taken under a highway overpass in Florida when I was experimenting with B&W film.

    unidentified bat caught by flash
    To capture this one, I set up under a bridge that was a known haunt, and you could even smell their presence since guano has a distinctive odor. It was ridiculously dark, so I locked the shutter open and tracked the movements of the bats with a low-powered flashlight, triggering the flash unit when one passed within the camera’s field of view; I actually caught two in this frame. Focus is just a shot in the dark, as it were, so this didn’t turn out as badly as it could’ve.

    My most memorable experience came at dusk, decades back, while my cousin and I were tossing a Frisbee back and forth. The light had dropped almost too low when he sent a smooth and flat toss my way, and about halfway to me, a bat fell in behind the Frisbee and followed it closely, giving the disk the appearance of towing a pair of fluttering leaves in its wake. I just watched it pass open-mouthed, since the Frisbee spanned about the same as the bat’s wings, which would make it weigh roughly four times the mammal’s own mass; what the bat could possibly have been thinking I can’t imagine. And as I type this, I’m wondering why I’ve never gone out since with a Frisbee and a video camera to try and repeat this experience. Looks like I’ve got something to try tonight…

    Three moons

    Just over half moon
    Just posting three photos from a recent trip (which I’ll cover in detail a little later on.) I thought the comparison was worth seeing. They are from August 8th, 10th, and 14th.

    waxing gibbous moon
    These are fairly good illustrations of why shooting a moon that is less than full can look a lot more dynamic. You get great shadows and textures from a slightly oblique sun angle, and the results just seem more real.

    The last shot appears a little less sharp than the others, which may be true, due to handholding the camera while the moon was dimmer down towards the horizon during moonrise, or possibly due to thicker atmosphere and humidity – there’s a faint cloud shadow along the top. But then again, it’s the shadows of the craters and rills that make sharper edges too, so it’s likely a combination. The first, with the blue sky, was handheld too, but at least higher in a clear sky.

    full moon during moonrise

    A pattern I haven’t determined yet

    Out last night poking around in the backyard, for the first time in days, I came across a green treefrog (Hyla cinerea) – gratifying, because I’ve been trying to convince them to hang around in the region, but curious nonetheless because I haven’t seen one here since early spring; I thought the Copes grey treefrogs had pretty much taken over. I didn’t have the camera in hand when I initially spotted it, and ended up coming back over 30 minutes later, by which time it had shifted a bit but had not scampered off someplace. First though, I had to fire off a shot of the other visitors, who had heard me coming out but not gone too far off – not quite as accommodating as a bit earlier, but still too curious to flee.

    white-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus watching warily in the dark
    Since you didn’t bother clicking on that link (did you?) these are white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) looking back into the flash from the darkness – there were four of them, but only two looking at me when the shutter tripped. Sorry, the focus could be better, but I was doing it manually by the light of the headlamp and only the eyes existed in the viewfinder to even lock onto, so give me credit for that at least. However, these are not my main subject, just an incidental. Here’s my primary objective:

    green treefrog Hyla cinerea perched on leaf
    Now, that’s okay, but I’ve got a post in the works about doing more with macro work than that, so let’s go for another perspective for more drama.

    green treefrog hanging almost hidden behind leaf
    I liked the toes peeking around, and the idea that the frog was almost hidden from view, from a given angle, so had to go on the other side of the fence to get the view I was after.

    Since I was shooting among several low-hanging branches, I also had to play around a bit with flash angles and moving leaves out of the way to get clean lighting. One of the shots that I had initially felt was a miss, however, turned out on closer inspection to be pretty dramatic in its own right, the muted light giving it a much moodier tone.

    green treefrog Hyla cinerea creeping on the neighbors
    Says a lot now, doesn’t it? And if you look close, you can see how this was accomplished (wholly unintentionally, I must admit): look at the eye to see the reflection of a half-blocked flash, which should be a nice circle. Hey, I’ll take it.

    I wish I knew what dictated the appearance and disappearance of this species; the only thing I can say that was different was that last night was noticeably cooler than it had been for months. I’m not convinced that this makes any sense because the nearby pond, which is only a few hundred meters away and thus remains in the same climate, has hosted the greens all summer long. Perhaps they simply don’t compete well with the greys, but I am quite sure the greys are not gone for good here either, so that’s not a working hypothesis. We’ll just have to keep observing and see what happens.

    Storytime 34

    planetary conjunction or something, I don't know
    I’m not even going to tell you what you’re looking at here; I’m simply going to let you puzzle it out on your own, given the visual clues within. Then you can tell me the story behind it.

    Oh, all right – since you’ve read all this way, which certainly puts you ahead of most webnauts anymore, I suppose I can fill you in. Except, not entirely, because I no longer remember the entire story behind this image – I think I was trying to fulfill a photographic challenge with the bare topic of “light.” The basic premise was, I was experimenting many years back with a digital camera, trying to see what kind of effects I could produce, and this one came out (after much experimentation, which is where digital photography really gains an advantage) more-or-less how I wanted it to. Well, it did if you’re seeing some kind of planetary composition. But if you’re seeing a white balloon and a racquetball, then you’re seeing accurately, but not at all what I was trying to accomplish.

    Here’s the layout. The big white curve off to the left is a white balloon, splashed with a little cornstarch to provide a ‘texture’ of sorts. It is lit from behind with a flash unit, within a dark room. The blue sphere is, as I said, a racquetball, perched on the top of a lightstand – I am aiming straight down from the top to disguise this support. The entire floor beneath this setup is shrouded under a black cloth, and on a separate little stand of some kind sits a small slave flash unit, one that goes off when it detects the light from another flash. To reduce and properly shape the light emitted by that, it is firing through a small hole in a piece of cardboard, and these are both positioned to barely appear past the curve of the racquetball. The other little bright bugaboos that you see are merely lens effects. Pretty simple setup, really.

    I’m wondering now why it didn’t occur to me to use the cornstarch to put some blotches and swirls on the racquetball and try and make a cloud cover for that ‘planet.’ Man, I hate when I think of ideas, like, fifteen years too late…