I am not an American

And I feel it needs to be said.

It might seem strange, especially when you know that I was born in New Jersey, grew up in New York, presently reside in North Carolina, and a few hours spent in Canada is my life total of time in other countries. What else could I be?

But it must be something else, because I can easily tell you what I’m not.

I’m not someone who needs to tell everyone who I am or where I’m from, or that I’m proud to be this. I’m not proud, actually; the US does some incredibly stupid things, and its foreign policy falls everywhere in the spectrum between ‘opportunistic’ and ‘reprehensible,’ and has been that way for the past century. We can do better.

I’ve never thought, “My country, right or wrong,” was a meaningful ideology to hold. Shouldn’t one have some goals, some ideas for improvement, rather than declaring complacency?

I’m not someone who tries to deny this by waving a flag or chanting jingoistic slogans; we do not create our status through declarations, and to be honest, most of the people who have to tell you how great they are, aren’t – they’re trying to disguise how shitty they are in reality.

I have never believed that the flag, any flag, had any meaning whatsoever, much less felt the need to wave one or wear it or paint it on anything. It’s an archaic symbol intended to differentiate in times of war. That’s all. While residents of any country might believe their flag represents something virtuous, residents of other countries may believe it represents far less reputable ideals. If it can be interpreted at will, what’s the point?

I have never believed that patriotism, or any kind of crass tribalism, was a worthwhile pursuit. I would prefer to stand behind values and actions rather than some ill-defined concept of a ‘country.’

I have never believed that arbitrary, invisible, indistinguishable border lines made a difference between those on either side. Want to cross? Fine, have at it, and if you can find a job someplace, fantastic! That’s how free enterprise works. The US economy isn’t in the shape it’s in because of immigrants, but because of the self-absorbed greedy douchecanoes who believe they should be amassing vast amounts of wealth to win some fucking game, who knows what. I’m not proud of that either, or that much of US culture glorifies this for some reason.

I’ve never felt that calling this a “free country” was an excuse to engage in whatever self-important idiocy happens to come to mind. The concept of a ‘country’ is a culture of cooperative, mutually-supportive people aligned to common goals, not a subset of nitwits that want to play with guns or feel that bigotry makes them special somehow.

I haven’t forgotten what is, and isn’t, in the Bill of Rights, or that it does not exist solely to support my indulgences. Or that, if any portion turns out to be more harmful than beneficial to the populace, it can and should be changed.

I have never failed to understand that personal freedom stops when it comes to harming anyone else, even potentially. Actual harm, by the way, not just offense – I have no patience for those who try to trash free speech over butthurt.

I do not own a gun, and have no desire to. I know what the Second Amendment to the US Constitution says, and it has no application to me (I also know that it can be further amended as needed.) I see no purpose in individuals owning guns at all. I do not consider firing a gun a ‘sport.’ I do not imagine myself an impending hero. I am well aware of the overwhelming statistics that show guns are openly harmful to the populace, and I place the people higher than I place my own petty indulgences.

I haven’t forgotten learning about the founding of the US and that it is not, in any way, shape, or form, a ‘christian nation.’ There are countless aspects that confirm just the opposite, in fact.

I am not political, and openly despise the idea of partisanship, regardless of where it manifests. ‘Sides’ are for people that cannot count above 2, and labels for those who have to be told what to think. I can judge individuals without the assistance – and far more accurately, it appears.

While I consider a military force a necessity for defense, the US hasn’t engaged in defense since 1945. Most of the conflicts America has been involved in for the past 75 years have been its own doing, often to manipulate world markets and power structures, and I certainly cannot glorify or support that. Death should always be considered a last resort, not a means of leverage.

I haven’t fallen for the blatant demonizing tactics that are used constantly, so I don’t consider communism or socialism or any particular ideology as inherently evil or good, or that any ideological goals are maintained in actual practice. Again, we’re talking labels here, which hinders actual understanding.

I also don’t mistake ‘socialism’ and ‘socialized medicine,’ knowing they’re two entirely unrelated things, because I made it through the fourth grade without issues.

Most especially, I’ve seen that the vast majority of those that proudly and defiantly claim to be American have no reasoned arguments to offer nor any desire for accountability, and in many cases remain willfully ignorant of the world around them, often outright insular and xenophobic. This is despite the bare fact (known for a few generations now) that we’re all one race.

So with all that said, I can definitively state that I am not an American. What that does make me, I can’t say, except that it would be another label and who needs that? But kindly, do not lump me in with any of those ‘Americans’ above. It’s offensive.

It’s something

Courtesy of Old Man Weather, I had something to shoot today. Not that I should have bothered, but…

blob of sleet
This misshapen blob (that puts me in mind of a tardigrade) is just sleet, the ‘winter storm’ that we’re having right now in central NC – it’s been coming down steadily since 8 AM, according to The Girlfriend (I went to bed at 5 AM and it hadn’t started then – no, don’t ask.) It’s considerably better than a lot of the country right now, so no complaints, but it doesn’t provide much in the way of things to photograph. Not to mention that it’s presently warm enough that it might as well be rain, for all the moisture that gets on the camera equipment, so this is all that I’m going to do about it. As the temperatures drop tonight, things might get really ugly out on the roads at least, and there have been countless warnings about power outages because – and it still irritates me to say this – we still haven’t progressed enough as a species not to hang necessary utilities through the middle of the air, through trees, and so on. We apparently can remember slightly better than a goldfish to know when ice might drop powerlines and trees and so on, but not enough to do something about preventing it.

Anyway, I played for a few minutes, and I’ll take a moment here to address something incidental. I mentioned earlier that I keep roughly half of what I shoot, which might seem haphazard, or even a bit inept. But this is partial illustration of why.

sleet with red and blue highlights
I already knew, from past experience, that ice and snow are difficult to photograph, especially en masse as it were, because of how they scatter light. So I spent some time playing around with getting a viable image, which included pushing up the accumulated sleet into a peak to get a dark background, and in this case, flanking that little peak with red and blue paint bottles for reflected color. It’s a little harsh, and may have benefited from different colors, but I didn’t have a lot at my disposal and wasn’t going to go nuts over it either. There were also adjustments to light angle and intensity from the macro softbox rig. Which means that out of the 30 frames I just shot, I might keep three or four, but I also have a little more experience in tackling such a subject in future. And someone may ask, “So how often do you expect to photograph sleet?” but the same traits apply to raindrops and glass objects and so on. Just small additions to the mental catalog.

Visibly different, part 2

early morning on Outer Banks, North Carolina
For our next entry in this topic, we have an image shot on negative film at an unknown date and location, that can at least be narrowed down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, somewhere between 1994 and 1997, which would also make it shot most likely on an Olympus OM-10 – beyond that, I have no recollection nor notes. Obviously, I’d selected an abandoned stretch of beach, which is a lot easier at the Outer Banks than you might imagine, not long after sunrise. Noticeable in the image is a diffraction effect off of the sun, which was actually accomplished with a small filter that I had; not a proper one designed for photography, but a kid’s toy that I’d had for ages, As such, it was made from durable vinyl (or some analog thereof – I think I still have it someplace,) which meant that it acted like a soft-focus diffuser as well, so to get the rest of the beach sharp, it’s only peeking in at the edge, which is why there are only two rainbow arms and not more surrounding the sun – if you look very close, you can see the curved edge of a faint discoloration in the corner.

But even with that, the image lacks a point of focus, decent colors, and even any interest from the breakers. It barely serves as promoting a mood, and for the most part, it’s only a reminder of one of the trips that I made. There’s no indication of season at all. We can see a spot on the ocean at the horizon that might be a boat, but it’s too small to discern while still being obvious enough to attract attention momentarily.

We contrast that now with an image from 2018, twenty-some years later on.

sun-hiding clouds behind fishing trawler and driftwood on North Beach, Jekyll Island, Georgia
The difference is drastic, but let’s break it down. I was not only out before sunrise, I was at a very scenic location, North Beach on Jekyll Island, Georgia. There’s now foreground and background interest as well as a strong focal point, the fishing trawler, and the digital settings were enough to enhance the colors and contrast better than negative film ever could (though this is routine for digital images.) No filters – I now consider them mostly gimmicky and not worth carrying, though on occasion I’ll use a polarizer or neutral-density filter. While some of the appeal of the image can be credited to conditions that I had no control over, I’d made the effort to be in place to take advantage of them, and even when the sun never showed itself until well after sunrise, I’d found a way to make it work anyway.

But perhaps it should have been a little wider, getting more of the foreground driftwood in the frame instead of the little ‘hints’ from down below. Or I could have eschewed the driftwood and been right down at the water, perhaps shooting vertically, to make the ocean more dominant; it would have been easy to eliminate the beach entirely and then the idea is simply “out at sea” rather than from the beach, so we get more of an impression of being with the trawler instead of observing it. While this is allowing the exposure meter to define the settings, it would be get it a little brighter, lowering the contrast of the sky but bringing out the details of the boat better. And of course, with a little luck some coastal birds might get into the frame.

While I would probably not even attempt to shoot something like the first image again, given the same conditions and what I know now (which partially came from seeing that very image,) I’d certainly be making the effort to find something more compelling on the beach – and may have anyway. There’s a decent chance this shot was taken the same morning; I’ll have to go back through the negative binders and see if they’re from the same roll (both scans were done long ago, so I have no recent reference.) At the very least, they’re not more than a couple of years apart, so I wasn’t a total noob back then.

UPDATE: They were from the same roll, only a few frames apart, and judging from the position within the binder (which is not perfectly accurate because the negatives were not added in exact chronological order,) not long before I switched to Canon equipment, so probably 1997. Only took about ten minutes to determine that.

You want trivial? I’ll give you trivial!

Don’t ask me why I’m doing this, because I don’t know myself, but it’s better than doing drugs. I suspect, anyway. Herein lies a collection of trivia, backstories, and inside jokes regarding the Profiles of Nature posts – not every one, mind you, so it won’t be that long. But it’ll probably be long. If you like any kind of social media, this post isn’t for you, since your attention span can’t handle it.

I started feeling a bit better about the content roughly halfway through – this was an exercise in purposefully writing humor, and it told me not to (“No shit, Al!” yeah, shut up.) As brief as they are, they took longer to write that you’d think, and the quest for obscure ‘favorites’ was challenging; for reasons unknown and purposefully unexamined, “peanut brittle” kept popping into my head when I stopped to think of what to put in there. But nearly all of the names therein, including those in foreign (to me) scripts, are real, selected for obscurity, a reaction from my wedding shooting days when nearly every reception had a kid running around named either Brandon or Dylan – don’t choose names from TV, people.

Also, paying attention to the tags would reveal at least another, topical bit of wit within, or what passes my low standards for such anyway.

Regardless,

#2 – There’s a comment in there about mistaking Bruce Willis for H. Jon Benjamin (mostly known for voiceover work,) which is a reference to Benjamin’s hilarious autobiography Failure Is An Option wherein he recounts being mistaken for Bruce Willis for an entire evening, albeit by a very drunk guy.

#3 – Beverly Cleary was still alive when I wrote this, passing away just two months later (at the age of 104!) And she’s not the only one. Meanwhile, I chose this name as being considered one of the hardest to pronounce, by a source that refused to tell me how, so don’t be asking.

#4 – I’m very proud of ‘Victoria’s Egret.’

#6 – ‘Gollumer’ and ‘Leggite’ are two of the alien races from the old, excellent computer game M*U*L*E, while The Kids from CAPER was a short-lived Saturday morning kids’ show when I was growing up; hoping to snag someone who recognized either of these. It would help if I actually had readers.

#7 – ‘Naifispuni’ is pronounced “knifey-spoony,” a reference to The Simpsons episode, “Bart vs Australia,” but of course you caught that. God I need a life.

#9 – ‘Itch Diddli’ is a fragment of my niece’s baby talk that entered my lexicon, don’t ask me why.

#10 – Did you notice how the parts that she’s played were dead people? Opossums, playing dead? Oh never mind…

#14 – It says that Balthazaar’s preferred dipthong is aʊ, which is pronounced, “ow,” or even, “Al,” hinted at in the tags at bottom.

#15 – There’s a comment in there about a spider that likes movies that kill off William Shatner, a reference to the obscure 1977 film, Kingdom of the Spiders, before Shatner became aware of his hamminess. Not that he wasn’t hammy in it; he just played it serious.

#17 – “Her great-grandparents came over from South Sudan.” South Sudan is the youngest country, having been established in 2011, so her great-grandparents couldn’t have come over too long ago, ha! Snuck that one past you! But then again, snakes can breed every year, so far from the realm of ludicrous I guess…

#19Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins was an absolutely horrible film adaptation of The Destroyer book series, itself a satire of numerous pulp novels, my best example of Hollywood obliterating something so promising. But yeah, not gonna play on Broadway…

#21 – ‘Chollum Bargarnthupi’ is actually the name of my first, long-lived character from my Dungeons & Dragons days, springing somehow full-blown into my head when asked to name my character. But I’m very fond of, ‘camel-toe tongue’…

#24 – “…playing the court herald in The King’s Creampuffs.” I’ll give you three guesses what part I played in the fourth grade. Meanwhile, if you’re wondering about these rendered names (which takes a lot more effort than you may have realized,) the Anglicized versions are always in the tags. And, “MacBayeth” – my talent is wasted here.

#28 – Easily the naughtiest entry. But, “Her favorite conspiracy is whether Gilligan was actually employed by industry rivals to keep Mr Howell out of the picture,” is not espoused anywhere, to my knowledge, since I made it up on the spot. But I like it, so feel free to start spreading it around.

#37 – “We have a stuffed croc from Pearls Before Swine on top of our desk.” We (well, I) really do.

#39 – ‘Groft Smiel’ is not at all a real name, but an inside joke from, again, my D&D days. Don’t ask me why – I normally find inside jokes to be far more self-absorbed than amusing.

#40 – I resorted to a sports joke – what the hell was wrong with me?

#41 – The ‘Cotton Pony’ line is a reference to a deadly skit from The Carol Burnett Show, which each of those names is from – go look for it, it’ll be worth your time. While the ‘Sugar Bear Musical christmas Ornament’ thing is not only real (they all were, actually,) but possessed by my roommate and I many years ago, the source of a stupid but wildly entertaining spontaneous game between us.

#42 – The tags reveal that I had originally used the name, ‘Gideon,’ and never updated them after the change. Meanwhile, can’t you just hear that mysterious noise?

#43 – References to the lyrics of ‘Convoy’ by CW McCall in there, but of course you caught them. I bet you never noticed that Nien Nunb wore a vest too, though…

#46 – “She also started using Liquid Paper as eyeliner because she loved The Monkees growing up, and frequently sports a wool cap, or tuque, or toboggan.” If this went past, look up Liquid Paper. Notably, this posted 22 days before Mike Nesmith passed, the second celebrity coincidence. Creepy! Jimmy Fallon is still alive, though; of all the places for the coincidences to collapse…

#48 – “…cruising through an ivy-league college despite not knowing how to pronounce, ‘nuclear.'” That’s a reference to a certain president, who I thought would never be able to be topped for ignorance…

#51 – “…those little feathers on a lanyard and clip from the eighties…” I honestly wonder how few people have the faintest idea what I’m talking abut here, but for a year or so, they were the fashion accessory for high-schoolers. And as the tag implies, they likely had a specific purpose.

#52 – Both of these names were obtained from lists of Malagasy first names, Malagasy being the primary language of Madagascar, which is where lemurs are from – such depth! And who could resist, “Barguy?”

I also have to note that the original idea became a bit harder in practice, since it almost required critter portraits that seemed to have some expression to them – quite challenging when so much of your stock consists of insects, despite the fact that this one immediately came to mind when I considered the topic. And I was merciful and didn’t include the one below, because there’s a limit to even my sadism. Yet we can all rejoice that it’s over now.

female fishing spider possibly whitebanded fishing spider Dolomedes albineus clutching egg sac
Or is it?

I don’t mean to tag, but…

Hoo boy, yesirooty! It’s that time of the year, the time when we rub your face into the cold, boring weather and the lack of interesting subjects by doing the ol’ tag roundup! In case you’re new here, I’ll point out that tags are the little topical words attached to posts…

“I know what the hell a tag is, Sunshine,” you may say derisively, but I shoot back, Ah, but in the case of Walkabout, they’re also cutting or snide commentary on the post content, like those things muttered under your breath as the boss turns away. If you haven’t been examining them at the bottoms of posts, you been missing out on so much bloggy goodness – well, bloggy something. So to help you out, I present a few of the single-use tags that have popped up herein. The numbers have expanded disturbingly, largely due to the Profiles of Nature posts, and pretty soon we’ll probably have to hire someone to trap them and release them in a toxic waste dump someplace. But until then…

All bastards are bastards, but some bastards is bastards – Along with, ‘no worries,’ ‘pea soup floater,’ ‘Dijabringabeeralong,’ and, ‘mwaa.’ And of course, tags are separated by commas and cannot have one within, so that’s two tags at the forefront, chosen so nothing could get between. I felt using any fewer than these was not doing it justice, but to understand any of them, I think, you’d have to have read the book. Also, there are no italics in tags, but the original quote had them so I upgraded it here.

you like that do you? – Yeah, you’re a bad chick…

don’t ask where the pig is – I mean, the glare is a clue…

did you see Bigfoot in there? – I’m sure an experienced crypto-tracker would find him. It. Whatever.

tell me that’s not the same mook with the camera – I may have a reputation.

knockin’ lots of boots – Some of these I simply stare at in confusion, trying to remember the context (because I have to extract the tags alone without links, at least until I know more SQL – look, never mind,) and then I find the post and recognition dawns.

we come in AAUUUGHH – It’s no joking matter.

you know Gilligan in the opening credits? – Also, ‘Boy Scouts be shakin’ their heads,’ and, ‘one word: porters.’ Listen, I don’t like missing shots, okay?

them damn libs – And, ‘blame where blame is due.’ See above.

Poindexter of the Piedmont maybe – With, ‘no I didn’t yodel,’ ‘not even George,’ and, ‘we were idiots.’ It was a holiday, so I was obligated.

some of us have the belly for it – As well as, ‘no not the The Bangles song,’ and, ‘ook,’ which should have been used before. If you were sharp-eyed, you might have noticed what seemed to be a typo in one of those, but it’s actually correct, because the band name contains ‘The.’ Of course, another holiday – how’d it go for you?

bad film I tells ya! – Followed by, ‘oh who the fuck cares?’ Nobody shares my drama.

But we can’t ignore the Profiles:

it’s been downhill since the beginning and it’s not even accelerating – With, ‘yeah well my dad will – never mind.’ Bullies are the worst.

at least I didn’t go with common cockchafer – While, ‘HR Pufnstuf we could understand,’ goes hand-in-hand with that.

a little mousse for dessert – Had to.

Beyonce are you listening? – Please, please, please take that hint.

98 – 99 – 100! – Some photos had lots of possible interpretations. But, ‘brit milah (we will not let you go!)’ was inexcusable, I admit. Not that that ever would have stopped me.

‘Diddlepunk’ is my Bay City Rollers cover band – S-A, T-U-R, D-A-Y, night! C’mon, sing along!

ladies and gentlemen is this the face of a parasite?Former maggot – former.

so so tired of Timbits – And who wouldn’t be?

uneven bars are still parallel dammit – Gym teachers hate math students.

no not “art is anal” hard as that may be to believe – Though if you pronounce it this way people will stop using it, so there’s that.

totes yeeted – Rad as heckin’.

And perhaps my favorite:

bird – Courtesy of The Manatee, filling in while I was traveling – credit for this precise identification.

The previous tag roundups can be found below, because why stop a bad thing?

2015: Tagged
2016: Tagged again
2017: Papa’s got a brand new tag
2018: So what did 2017 hold?
2019: Do not read tag under penalty of law
2020: Tagginses! We hates it forever!
2021: Tag ’em and bag ’em

We cannot ignore the holidays we all celebrated in 2021, can we?

Prep Your Home Video Setting Day, January 27 – so much for that winter project.
Remember The Dumb Shit That You’ve Done Day, February 26
Provide Unwanted and Disregarded Insight Into Yourself Day, March 28 (it was still winter.)
I Meant To Do That Day, April 1
Blurred Bird Day, May 29
Don’t Drive Anywhere At All Day, June 28
Walk Like an Orangutan Day, July 6
Find the Flounder Day, August 16
Shoot The Moon Twice In Different Phases Day, September 24 – yes, this is the correct holiday, and not that Beware of Strangers Baring Gifs Day shit.
Discard An Old Photo That You’re Never Gonna Use From The Blog Folder Day, October 28
Never Assume That Someone Else Did It Correctly Day, November 27
Capture Something Inadvertently Day, December 24

… which of course, all have their own appropriate tags.

You’ve been wondering if I’m gonna get to the stats, haven’t you? You should know not to doubt me about boring content.

2020’s image total of 1,037 was a major line to cross, and I didn’t make it, but it had also been a huge jump ahead of all previous years, so I don’t feel too bad – I came 56 images shy and blew second place out of the water, so, fine. I don’t feel I was lacking in regards of illustrations or regular content, even though it got a little slow towards the end. The post count was definitely a record, having passed all other years in October I think, so go me. The word count of 199,928 was also a record, but that’s related to the post count of course. I note that I was only 72 words short of breaking 200,000, which I would have done just for the hell of it had I checked before the end of the year, but oh well. That brings the total word count for the blog, since inception, at a little under 2 million.

Are these good? Not really. Maintaining regular content means something, I guess, but if people aren’t visiting, what’s that say? (A friend recently said that I tend to be “loquacious,” and credit for the fifty-cent word, but that may be a factor of the visitation stats.) At the same time, I have no patience for the short-attention-span crowd, and some of the blogs that I routinely visit far exceed my efforts, word and count wise, as well as having exponentially more visitors. Some of it comes down to discovery in a glutted medium, I know, but how much? And what are my goals anyway? Well, more sales, certainly. I’ve been into this before.

However, this is me, and I’m not going to change to reflect what’s popular – that’s a fickle mistress, to be sure, so the solution is to locate those who appreciate the same things. How to do that? Iunno. Maybe I already have.

But all that angst aside, we forge onwards, with more bugs and lizards and birds and wretched humor, and not one fucking vapor-brained celebrity. Cheers!

Looking back on those we post in 2021

Okay, was that a particularly terrible title? I dunno, it had that certain cliché-trashing aspect to it…

Anyway, a look back at posts and photos from last year that I’m fond of, which you should definitely consider fair warning, because you’re not getting any others. There will be a couple more posts of a similar nature coming, one of them the annual tag roundup, so this will have companions eventually. Also, while there’s no point where I could say that I ever did insightful posts, last year was notably thin on those that fit my own definition, so there will be a little more concentration on photos, here. Anyway, favored posts in chronological order:

So many questions – More about nomenclature than anything, but it reveals ongoing research into our ancestry. And it has a followup post further down.

A little bit – Surprising finds for February, but always appreciated in those slow months.

Came through in the end – A serendipitous photo sequence – well, okay, perhaps not, because it’s exactly the kind of thing we were there to find, and managed not to interrupt it or anything so, all skill, baby.

But still, ‘snot art – Cropped into a vertical from a horizontal original, and one of a sequence of frames as they passed, it all came together for this to make it one of my favorite beach pics.

The backstory (part 1 perhaps) – Just a few pics I like, mere grab shots during a road trip.

New York: The raptors II (On the Move) – The names is cribbed from the movie Mannequin Two: On the Move, but this is much better by far, and I can say that having only seen the first. This, however is part of the reason why bird photos outnumbered all others this past year.

Not even a day – I’m gonna cheat a little here, because there are three posts all together featuring the juvenile green treefrogs, but I couldn’t decide on which was the best to feature, so also check out I did and Can’t leave ’em alone.

Here be dragons. Tiny ones. And bugs – A great day at the NC Botanical Garden, with one of my favorite subjects taking the lead.

Going criticalMan, we need some more emphasis on critical thinking in this country. Well, all over the world, really, but it’s especially embarrassing when it’s your own country.

Too cool, part 49: Genetics and Human Evolution – This is the followup to a post above, even when it didn’t answer the main question, but that’s okay because it’s an excellent video nonetheless.

Not too shabby at that – Good conditions for the not-total lunar eclipse of November 2021 (yes, I know the correct term is ‘partial lunar eclipse,’ but this was so close to total that “partial’ gives the wrong impression.)

And now, a few of my favorite images from the past year [cue sappy music]:

juvenile northern water snake Nerodia sipedon sipedon from opposite angle
Wasn’t expecting to find a juvenile northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon sipedon) active in March, but I’ll take it.

osprey Pandion haliaetus flying off with fish in either talon
For all the trouble I’ve had focus-tracking on diving osprey (Pandion haliaetus) the past few years, this is way sharper than it had any right to be. Put ’em both to use!

black racer Coluber constrictor in close portrait
A briefly cooperative black racer (Coluber constrictor,) right in the side yard, and very likely one I’d seen the previous year. Welcome back!

person pn horizon appearing to shoot enormous sun above them
Sunrise with a long lens, and someone nearly two kilometers off. I bet it’s hot over there…

green heron Butorides virescens looking globular
Of course this was gonna make it up here!

closeup profile of male pileated woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus
… and this. It’s easy to say something like, “Well, sure, you had that monster lens,” (go ahead,) but 600mm doesn’t magnify that much – I had to be fairly close for both of these, so I’m showing off. Deal.

juvenile bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus staring into camera
Acting on a hunch after hearing some calls and seeing an adult fly off, I found this newly-fledged juvenile bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) enjoying its catered meal.

sunset through thin clouds over Cayuga Lake, New York
Same day.

roseate spoonbill Platalea ajaja and unconfirmed gull, likely herring gull Larus argentatus, hanging out
A few months after saying that I’d only photographed them once in my life, perhaps, I found this roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) in central New York. They do not belong in New York. At all. Not even close.

lone juvenile green treefrog Hyla cinerea looking unconvincingly earnest
Trying too hard to look totally guileless.

newly adult Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis sporting water droplets
The mist was my own doing, but the Chinese mantids (Tenodera sinensis) usually appreciate it.

close crop of Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis covered in dew
This dew is perfectly natural, and the juvenile Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis) is tiny. And on our rose bush.

inset of previous moon photo stretching from Copernicus to Tycho craters
Full resolution crop of the moon one night, Tamron 150-600 at 600mm with Tokina 2X teleconverter.

stark trunk silhouetted against bright autumn colors
An autumn color tableau.

fireplace and holiday lights
Experimenting with the holiday lights.

Originally, I had done a post with the first and last photos of the year in each of my stock categories, but after spending too much time on it I found it was boring and trashed the post. However, in that process I did tally up the number of saved images for the year:

Aquatic: 16 (didn’t do a lot of fish in 2021)
Arthropods: 729
Beach: 195 in a mere five days
Birds: 2,978! I think it was a birdy year…
Invertebrates (which is mostly snails/slugs): 22
Lakes/Streams/Waterfalls: 533
Leaves/Plants/Trees: 754
Mammals: 145
Mountains: 23 – I don’t do enough mountain trips, and this year was no exception.
Reptiles/Amphibians: 1,165
Scenic/Abstract: 755
Science/Miscellaneous: 705
Space: 243
Sunrise/Sunset: 666

That totals to 8,929, but that isn’t accurate since a) a number of those are duplicated across multiple categories, and b) it doesn’t include the personal shots that aren’t counted as sellable stock (unless you’re making an offer?) In comparing the first and last image numbers for the year, I find I shot a hair over 15,000 images, so retention was somewhere around half – this is typical for working photographers, maybe slightly higher than average, but that could only mean I’m not being as critical as I should. I’m surprised the Arthropods aren’t higher, really. But I’ll close with one of those bookend images that never got uploaded before, the last shot in the Beach category, from way back in May:

scenic sunrise over foam on North Topsail Beach
the author encountering a small T-RexBut I can’t let it go at that, either, so I’m adding a photo of yours truly, taken by The Girlfriend’s Sprog at the Greensboro Science Center – the fences really should have a buffer barrier in there…

Thinking of getting into computers?

Thinking of doing HTML or webdesign, programming/coding, even database management?

Don’t. Pick something less frustrating, such as herding cats or teaching Republicans how to recognize utter bullshit.

Here’s the story: For the previous post, I was linking to something much older, and as I’ve found for years, some of the older posts have small formatting issues due to screen width and browser size and all that, so they look a little weird if you’re using a browser different from the one I’d used at the time. Fine, understood. I knew how to correct them, so as I come across them, I add them to a list to tackle when I have a little free time.

Only, if you just go into the post itself through the normal route and update them, they will reappear in RSS feeds as a new post, and likely in other ways. So I got in the habit of simply correcting them in the database itself. This means finding them, among well over 2,000 posts now.

It used to be that I’d search on the date, but with the switch to the new host, that function hasn’t been working. Eventually, I determined that a buttload of stuff in the database has corrupt date stamps – they display the correct date, but the query or search functions do not, apparently, use what I’m looking at in the results. What do they use? Got me. But it doesn’t work.

[I need to note that the date stamp includes the time as well, down to the second, so even searching on the date takes modifiers because, unless you know the exact second that it was published, it won’t be found without fudging the search criteria with “>=” factors, and again, only if the date stamps aren’t fucked up.]

Then I started searching on the post title – seems simple, right? I mean, I even endeavor not to repeat titles so there’s no confusion. But on occasion, this returns nothing.

Why? Well, in this case, it’s because the title had an apostrophe in it, and whatever apostrophe I was copying directly from the title displayed on the screen, was not the same apostrophe as the search function seemed to be looking for.

Why are there different apostrophes? The fuck if I know. I got one key on the keyboard that applies to both apostrophes and single ‘quotes’ (like those,) and even though I’m sure they’re technically different to English pedants, I have no way of differentiating them in the system nor of knowing which one was just used in a title. So I eventually determined that I had to delete the apostrophed word from the search term and use REG EXP as a modifier to the search (I’m assuming this means Regular Expression, but what that means in SQL is anybody’s guess – if there’s more than one goddamn apostrophe, the meaning of Regular Expression probably requires a Wikipedia page someplace.)

Anal me stalled the new post for fifteen minutes to allow myself time to correct the older, linked post, but it took over forty minutes to determine that it was the fucking apostrophe that hung things up (as well as trying numerous other search avenues, including in a different browser.) Who needs that shit? I remember this kind of nonsense back from my days diddybipping around in BASIC, where an “O” where a “0” should be would crash the whole program and could take a ridiculously long time to find – I’m aware of that now (and it makes at least a modicum of sense, even when it’s barely different on screen.) Even this post title, with the question mark in there, has to be externally saved as a text file (which I do routinely, after some database crashes years ago made me start covering my ass,) without the question mark, because that means something else in the operating system’s filenames.

So seriously, pick another field to get into. I only dabble in this and it’s noticeably unhealthy to my mood. If it helps, all three of my personal acquaintances who do this kind of thing routinely, each about the same age as I am, have significantly less hair than I do. Coincidence?

Visibly different, part 1

And so we come to the new weekly topic for the year, which may seem a bit self-absorbed at first, but is something that I recommend to everyone because it not only helps to see the progress that you’ve been making, it points out the progress still waiting to be made. In short, it’s a comparison of an older image, preferably one that I was once proud of capturing, with something current. This was almost a singular post of its own last year that I let slide, but I recently realized that I could (perhaps) make a whole year out of it.

We begin with one that currently resides in the gallery section of the main site, taken better than twenty years ago now (the copyright date actually indicates its first publication in media, in this case the web, rather than the year it was taken since I’m not sure about this.)

green treefrog Hyla cinerea preparing to leap from unknown plant in Butterfly House of Museum of Life and Science, Durham NC
At the time this was taken, I had yet to spot a green treefrog in the wild, and even finding them within the Butterfly House of the Museum of Life & Science in Durham, NC (where this was taken) was challenging; this may have been because there were very few therein, or simply because the species is nocturnal and so usually snoozing during open hours. As the position implies, I was shooting from well beneath, but this gave it a dynamic composition that I’m still pleased with. The combination of using contrasty slide film (Fuji Provia 100F) and digitally adjusting the exposure due to accidentally under-exposing the image produced, well, something that looks a little too altered.

Yes, even film cameras of that time had exposure meters, but I was using small, manual flash units strapped directly to the lens hood for macro work, since the shoe-mounted 380EX flash aimed too high for close subjects; I had yet to even get an off-camera cord to move the flash to a bracket where the aim could be adjusted, much less perform the umpteen changes that led to the current rig (and even that’s not perfectly current, because it’s since been rebuilt out of hardier materials and reshaped a little.) I had performed a plethora of lighting tests to become familiar with the little strobes’ level of light output, but neglected to account for the light loss from using a teleconverter for the shot.

That all brings us to this image from last summer.

green treefrog Hyla cinerea perched awkwardly
It’s easy to see the better color and contrast, though not quite as obvious is the improved lighting – still bright enough for good detail, but not straight-on and so providing better shaping. Not at all visible are the conditions, which was in our own backyard, not captive in any way. I’d spent years without seeing the species in North Carolina, and finally started finding them sporadically when living in Florida (only a couple of years after that copyright date up there.) Upon returning to NC, I then would only see them no more than twice a year, before the move to the new place (nearly eight years ago now) where I discovered a pond that they adored. But I was still hoping to get them established closer, and this eventually happened; we’re now at the point where I see them far more frequently than the other common species (the Copes grey treefrog,) and don’t even have to travel minimally to do so. The ready availability means that I can spend the time finding more esoteric and expressive poses, as well as more behavior and various life stages.

Yet I still have the goal to produce images that don’t look like they were shot at night, even when that’s perfectly natural: more background detail, a nicely-lit setting. This will require multiple lights to even illuminate a setting, once found, and this is considerably less portable than a strobe attached to the camera. Still hashing that part out, so perhaps we’ll see a new technique by the end of the year.

Vermilion Monday

No, this isn’t going to be a regular thing – I don’t think. I just had a couple of photos to upload and needed an appropriate title, and the callback to last week just happened…

But, the backstory. My mom was always found of houseplants, even though her cats didn’t approve of keeping them in pristine condition, and one of her long-term succulents was a jade plant. Sometime after her death almost six years ago, my brother gave away the jade plant because someone wanted it and he knew he wasn’t as inclined to maintain it. A week after that, he moved a bit of furniture near the window and discovered a branch that had broken off of the plant when it had been moved. It still seemed viable, so he popped it in water and, many days later when it was sprouting roots, into its own pot.

This past summer when The Girlfriend and I were at his place in New York, we saw the sprawling and abundant plant that had grown from this single branch (so it appears he was better at its care than he suspected,) and he suggested we take a couple of cuttings home with us, since they’re that easy to cultivate and transplant. And they were; all three rooted immediately, and when transplanted into their own pots, simply exploded. And just a few days back, I noticed that they were starting to bloom. I would have done some photos last night, only I discovered that these were the type of flowers that close at night, so the session waited until this morning.

flower cluster of neverdie Kalanchoe crenata
Only, as The Girlfriend repeatedly told me, this isn’t a jade plant, though it’s related; it’s a neverdie (Kalanchoe crenata,) with thinner but broader leaves. It took a plant ID app on the smutphone to pin this down. But it’s winter, and they’re flowering, so one of the three came down from an upstairs window for a short session, including some applications of the misting bottle.

misted flowers of neverdie Kalanchoe crenata
Given our sporadic luck with plants, including countless seedlings that started and faltered, and several purchased plants that thrived for a couple of weeks after transplanting then simply died, these three have scoffed at their finicky and sensitive brethren, now threatening to get huge and make us look for a bigger house. Seriously, if you have bad luck with plants, get one of these – they’re like therapy.

We also received a small cactus for christmas from a neighbor, and while we were told that the red flower it sported was simply a fake for appearance, I had brought the cactus down for some ‘dew’ sessions as well, and it was this fake flower that produced the best images at extreme magnification.

misted artificial flower on cactus
Nothing exciting, but we’ll call it a month-beginning abstract, and thematic for this Monday.

There are more things in the works, including the standard retrospective jazz, but I’m moving slow right now so I opted to go with a little color for the winter, to start the year off. Even though I’m not fond of red, myself, and calling it by another name doesn’t change that.

Not done yet

You think I could let the end-of-mear/yonth abstract go by like that? Not hardly!

closeup of pair of American or Caribbean flamingos Phoenicopterus ruber napping
Moreover, this is quite current, having been taken today, so deal with that! You know you can’t! And we gots that color in winter thing going on too, practically assaulting your eyes.

profile of Indian peafowl or peacock Pavo cristatus from Greensboro Science Center
A handful of us (if you’re missing a finger on that hand, anyway, and if you consider a ‘handful’ to be defined by how many fingers and not how many could actually be held in that hand, which would be ‘none’ unless you count only portions that we’re not even going to examine,) paid a visit to the Greensboro Science Center in, of all places, Greensboro, NC. Curiously, I ended up shooting a lot more video than still photos, so while you’re getting a selection here, the more interesting captures will come later on after a bunch of editing, which will include deciding how much of the esoteric background noises (mostly kids saying the damnedest things) will be retained.

The last visit that The Girlfriend and I paid to the Science Center was long ago, pretty close to this time of year, but it was in relation to their hosting of Bodies: The Exhibition (which was fascinating, and in fact, the second place we’d seen it,) and I don’t think I’d lugged the camera along because they didn’t permit it within the show. Our briefer visit to the animal exhibits afterwards were thus photo-free, which is a small shame – worse, however, was not returning in well over a decade. Greensboro is not that far away, so we will be rectifying this long lapse more often, I believe.

profile of Aldabran tortoise Aldabrachelys gigantea at Greensboro Science Center
While we saw activity from plenty of species, many of them weren’t displaying or even visible, which is typical of zoos, and so return trips are necessary if you wish to get good examples of most of the residents. The Science Center has many indoor exhibits and a decent aquarium, so plenty more to see than the sample that I’m showing here, but most of the indoor stuff I didn’t even bother opening the camera bag for, knowing the anemically low light would only introduce slow shutter speeds and thus plenty of blur. I also have to point out that most of the aquarium exhibits featured rounded glass, and there’s no way to get decent photos without horrendous distortion through that; some of them were even faced with giant magnifying lenses, which was great if the subject in question decided to be centered, but otherwise was easily capable of inducing motion sickness just in passing. Cylindrical tanks are fine to let a large number of people view species at once, but distortion is omnipresent, and hexagonal, flat-sided tanks would be far better.

portrait of Komodo dragon monitor Varanus komodoensis
They have a few species there that are hard to find in other places (like, hundreds of kilometers away,) so we really should have been visiting more often. I’m just nagging myself now.

Anyway, that’s four more images to add to the year’s total, which isn’t going to beat last year’s (exhorbitant) number, but takes a firm second and isn’t a bad showing for all that – 971, I believe, so, yeah.

Happy New Year, all, and enjoy yourselves, but responsibly! (I sound like a mother, don’t I? That’s what getting old does to you, but I’m this old by being responsible, so I’m living proof of the benefits. Probably not the best way to convince people, come to think of it…)

*     *     *

Species seen above, in order:

American or Caribbean flamingo, Phoenicopterus ruber
Indian peafowl (commonly just called, ‘peacock,’) Pavo cristatus
Aldabran tortoise, Aldabrachelys gigantea
Komodo dragon or monitor, Varanus komodoensis

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