Tripod holes 49

trees in fog on Falls Lake not inverted
N 35°56’12.12″ W 78°35’55.49″ Google Earth location

I can pin down this location much better than when it was taken, partially because there’s no date stamp on the slide frame and it sits in the ‘Abstract’ section devoid of further context that might lend a clue – I’m going to say 1999, and let you attempt to prove otherwise. I was on – well, off of by this point – some hiking trails that bordered this particular branch of Falls Lake, early one foggy morn. This little ‘bay’ of the lake had a narrow isthmus across the mouth, certainly manmade, for reasons unknown, but it had a couple of – cedar? – trees growing upon it and I chose them for the fog shot. If I remember right, it was either on the north shore of this bay, or the one immediately north of it, that I found an old stone fireplace almost hidden within the woods, the remainder of the cabin/lodge/satanic altar since vanished. The isthmus wasn’t likely to be a dam, since it was far too low, on a shallow water site anyway, the feeder stream into the bay far too low in volume, and a much easier place would have been near the tip of the bay where the sides of the valley were quite steep. A bridge? Perhaps, but it would have saved only a few hundred meters at best, and linked to nothing apparent; the sides of the lakeshore were fairly steep all through here and the hiking trails meandered around and up and down and, really, the area was for footpaths or horses – little else could handle it.

Immediately north of this on the next bay is a small pond at the tip of the bay, and that was likely created by a manmade dam, because it’s too straight and not at all a natural-looking bit of geology. But I have no idea what this was.

Living in the past XVII

Contemplative Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis
Hopefully, it’s clear why this is one of my favorite images. The curious pose with its chin on its ‘hand,’ the downward, thoughtful eyes, and the soft and pastel, dreamlike background all work together extremely well – and all a happy accident; hell, I was only shooting with a wide-open aperture because of the light, and working without a flash. Plus I love the mosaic skin of the anoles, which fell into the narrow zone of sharpness. That the image is not exactly an accurate representation of what was going on is just fine – who needs the truth?

More human than human

Our legal system, at least in the US but I imagine in many other countries as well, has gradually become so broken that it barely serves its original purpose anymore, and while by all rights it should be improving, it is instead collapsing into a wildly manipulative affair that falls a long way from, “justice.” There are multiple factors behind this, but I’ll stick to the larger ones because I’m not going to do a treatise, and there’s a point that I’m about to examine.

Let’s start with:

Over-reliance on human testimony. By far, our courts rely on witness statements, which is perhaps the weakest factor that they could. Humans are notoriously prone to subjectivity, emotional bias, suggestibility, false confidence, and even “gut feelings,” something that a recent experience with jury duty reinforced, suggesting that we the jury ask ourselves whether we thought the witness’ statements felt correct. This is patently ridiculous, since courts are there to present evidence, not solicit feelings, and objectivity is intended to abolish whether we like some aspect or not – this is likely never completely possible, but at the very least the attempts should be actively encouraged, rather than subverted in this manner.

More specifically, however, humans make terrible witnesses, and this has been established and clinically proven time and time again. What someone says that they saw or heard should be taken with a grain of salt, especially if there is nothing solid to corroborate their statements. We tend to forget how often people lie, to say nothing of how often they’re simply dead wrong, and/or wildly mistaken in what they’ve seen or heard. Attorneys actually know this, because they’ll coach their clients, again and again, on exactly what to say, trying to establish confidence through repetition. The further people are from an event, the more likely their recollection of it is damaged or altered, and this has been well-established too, and preyed on just as much by attorneys.

Humans are notoriously biased. You can instruct jurors on penalty of expulsion or mistrial not to let prejudice enter into their decisions, and it won’t stop the lifelong, ingrained biases that they possess. The idea is that this balances out with multiple jurors, but in reality? Not so much, especially in some cultures, or portions of a city, and especially not if the attorneys are tasked with helping select jurors. And this says nothing whatsoever about judges, public defenders, and so on. It’s even hard to determine to what extent this takes place, though long-term examination of data and decisions often reveals some nasty little trends.

Expert testimony is too often anything but. It’s fairly well known that police officers are usually considered impeccable witnesses – certainly their testimony will be considered much more reliable than any other participant unless strong countermanding evidence is presented, as if becoming an officer instills perfect objectivity while also eliminating bias – just saying that highlights how ludicrous this is, though most people never even raise the question. But at the same time, outside testimony, for instance by metallurgists or handwriting experts, is often selected carefully by the attorneys because such testimony hews closest to their desired outcome. No one is a certified “expert” that cannot be wrong, and such testimony thus comes down to how convincing they make their statements and how well, or poorly, the opposing attorney has sought their own expert witness. Moreover, precision in many of the sciences simply doesn’t exist, and despite the impression that DNA testing and such offers incontrovertible evidence, almost no one steps in and points out how often such things can and do go wrong.

Nearly everyone involved is more motivated by their own career, advancement, and ego. Judges, attorneys, police officers, expert witnesses – the idea of serving proper “justice” is not usually paramount to most of them. Instead, it’s their record, and their politics, how many ‘wins’ they garner, how high-profile the case is, what kind of settlement it’s likely to produce, and so on. Everyone is well aware of the “hanging judge,” or the public defender that doesn’t put much effort into drug cases, and so on; attorneys routinely juggle the court dates of their clients to aim for the desired bias.

It’s ridiculously, irrevocably, undeniably money-driven. With few exceptions, the client with the most money will win their case, and attorneys will even refuse cases based on who they’re up against rather than the merits of the case itself. While it may not be as distinct as implied here, a legal team receiving more money will devote more time to reviewing case histories for applicable precedents, seek out better testimony, and most especially, bend over backwards to ensure a larger settlement and thus a greater payoff from their percentage (which is often ruinous, and not in the slightest commensurate with effort involved or an ‘hourly rate.’)

It’s also disturbingly true that representing oneself is almost guaranteed to fail; the legal system is so byzantine and convoluted that trying to negotiate it without years of law school is impossible. Clients that cannot afford a decent attorney will therefore never get representation, in the vast majority of cases, meaning that many, many crimes simply never go to trial, something that large corporations prey upon ruthlessly.

There’s a lot more, but suffice to say, it’s fucked up.

Now here’s the curious, potential solution that’s been nagging at the back of my brain for a little while now: this is what artificial intelligence can actually provide for us.

Not in its current state, no – what we have now is not even remotely artificial intelligence, it’s just algorithms to find patterns. And it’s possible that we may never develop a system that mimics natural intelligence to any serious degree. But bear with me for a moment.

The biggest issue with artificial intelligence pursuits right now, that many don’t even realize is an issue, is that the biological imperative defines what we are and what’s important to us. Actually getting humans to think rationally requires effort – otherwise, we default to indulgences and reactions and feelings. It’s what worked best for us among the choices that arose, all during our evolutionary development, but it’s so intertwined with our thought processes that it defines us and guides us, and depending on what purpose we might want to develop AI for, it could be exceedingly difficult to ‘program in.’ It’s also what introduces a tremendous amount of the difficulty in producing a functional, objective, and fair trial of justice. Hell, we can even argue about what justice is and what our morals should encompass.

Very little of that would actually have to be present for a justice AI, and the lack thereof is what would produce the fairest and most focused system in the first place. No ulterior motives, no biases, no underlying self-aggrandizement, no past experiences that color perception, and especially, no corruption. As the saying goes, just the facts, ma’am.

It would take a lot of work, without question – but quite possibly a lot less than self-driving cars. Attorneys would still be necessary (that’s a hard sentence to type) to prepare the cases for presentation, at least for a while, though a system that can search a broad database for precedents and interpretations is well within our abilities now. it even has the advantage of being able to determine, through the same kind of data searching, what forms of ‘expert’ testimony are anything but, and where the flaws lie.

Right now the idea is only half-baked in my own head, and needs more consideration; witness statements, for instance, which should probably take place in the forms of immediate recordings and specific questions to eliminate the subjective and exaggerating aspects – though this should be the case regardless. Cross-examination? Is this possible for an AI to accomplish functionally?

But overall, it suggests that it could potentially produce the environment that we’ve striven for all along, the elimination of human pettiness and imperfect concepts of justice, as well as the aforementioned biases and unrelated motivations. I’m at least finding the idea rather intriguing…

Living in the past XVI

Very close ground strike lightning
I probably shouldn’t even feature this, because it represents a stupid move on my part, a failure to register the imminent danger. I’d gone out to a nearby clearing to witness a distant thunderstorm, which petered out, but then I noticed that the clouds directly overhead were starting to get active. There were no ground strikes, not even any thunder, just cloud-to-cloud activity. Until this one. It was the only ground strike of the entire storm, but it struck within a couple hundred meters, which is way too fucking close – you’re looking up the bolt here. I knew it could happen, I just wasn’t thinking. It could easily have killed me.

If it had, this image would possibly have garnered worldwide attention for a few days, unlike what it’s doing now. I wouldn’t have made any money from that of course, but The Girlfriend could have built a nice nest egg. Kabang!

We might also conclude that there was an even worse atheist than me nearby, more deserving of the whole vengeful wrath thing. I never heard of anyone being struck, but you know, we typically don’t merit the media attention…

November is not

Not after today, anyway. And that means we have the end-of-the-month abstract to deal with, because it’s tradition now. Meaningless ritual. Completely idiotic superstition. You know the deal.

glitter trail through autumn needles of bald cypress Taxodium distichum
Definitely abstract this time, if not a bit hard to fathom, but this is the glitter trail of sunlight reflected from slightly choppy water, seen through the needles of a bald cypress (Taxodium distichum.) They were there, I had to do it, and I regret nothing! Nothing, I tell you!

Well, maybe it would have been a little better with a tilt to it. But beyond that, the regrets are nonexistent.

Okay, maybe a section of more geometric or even branches. But beyond those

Though wait! We have another, only an hour and twenty-two minutes and five seconds later.

sailboat in distance over deep field of placid water
Easy to recognize this time, yet still abstracty enough, using what little color the sunset produced. Absolutely no regrets over this one.


Too cool, part 51: Enki Catena

I still routinely check out Astronomy Picture of the Day, even though I’ve come to personally call it the Photoshop of the Day because the number of edited images are now surpassing the unaltered ones – virtually all of those showing starfields over landscapes, certainly. But yesterday’s deserves a look at least. It’s a magnificent sharp image of Jupiter’s moon Ganymede, taken by the Juno spacecraft, and the detail is stunning – clicking on their image (linked within the one below) will take you to the full-resolution version, and it’s well worth it.

Jupiter's moon Ganymede from Juno
Image credit: JPL-Caltech, SwRI, MSSS. Processed by Kevin Gill

Just the textures and details revealed when viewed at full resolution are fascinating enough, but there’s a specific detail that jumps out when you find it, vaguely visible in the smaller version here. About one-third down from the top and just left of the center of the moon is a prominent white splash on the edge of a dark smear, and through the middle of that white region runs a connected string of smaller craters – thirteen, to be exact, in a remarkably straight line.

Turns out this is Enki Catena; ‘catena’ is the term for a line of craters, as if you didn’t know that. It is presumed that they were all formed either simultaneously or in quick succession from an object, likely a comet, that got close enough to Jupiter to be broken up by the gravitational forces. and later impacted on Ganymede. Recent investigations into the nature of comets has revealed that they are more loose collections of dust and boulders than they are a solid body, unsurprising to a degree because they’re too small to compact themselves tighter through their own gravity; more surprising is how the whole mass gets redirected into long-term orbits between the outer reaches of the solar system (the Kuiper Belt) and the sun or Jupiter. Yes, there are comets that orbit around Jupiter itself rather than the sun, because it’s big, you know. But it likely takes rather specific conditions to direct such a mass away from typical orbital profiles into the elongated ellipses that comets typically follow, without just tearing them apart. And Enki Catena, at least, indicates that this particular one didn’t begin with a much larger, solid body that gradually accumulated more dust and ice, because all of the craters are roughly the same size.

That dark smear that it crosses the boundary of, by the way, deserves a close look too, because it’s pretty specifically delineated, and the other image of Enki Catena, obtained in 1997 by the Galileo mission, clearly shows a boundary trench, which is also visible in other portions of this image away from Enki Catena. Is the whole region bounded by a trench, and moreover, what caused this? That’s something else to ponder. Makes me wonder if we’ll get a lander onto Ganymede within my lifetime.

Profiles of Nature 58

The combination of rituals, lucky talismen (talismans? Whatever, we don’t care,), cutting foods ending in “S” from your diet, and talking backwards on Tuesdays failed to work, because we’re here again with the Profiles! Right when you were thinking, Maybe. Just maybe…

American alligator Alligator mississippiensis Caleb recovering from a hard night
Today we have Caleb, up well before he ever wanted to be and quite sure the breeze is making too damn much noise. Caleb thought he had struck gator gold when he happened across a flock of egrets too unresponsive to escape last night, realizing now that they’d been partying hard (it was an Ardean holiday yesterday, the Feast of the Timely Tailwinds,) and he definitely exceeded his limit of schnockered seabirds on an empty stomach. The last thing he needed this morning was paparazzi, which might normally have been very bad for us, but the thought of doing a death roll makes him want to blow chunks, and even a fat floundering guinea pig could escape by making the water ripple a bit too much. Because of all this, Caleb wasn’t answering our questions with anything more than a weak groan, so we’re using his Herpepedia page for the remainder (no, that has nothing to do with STIs – geez, read a science book.) Caleb is in high demand among directors because he can tell the difference between a popular, A-list actor and the special effects mockup spurting fake blood, so he knows when he can chomp down; additionally, he knows the difference between a popular, A-list actor and an extra getting paid $25 a day so, you know, the catering costs are greatly reduced. Caleb was discovered while he was ‘performing’ (lying there) in a roadside attraction as the largest alligator in Florida – one of 758 of them, anyway – but has now been in every movie featuring Florida in the past eleven years. The popularity of such, however, has waned recently and Caleb isn’t in demand as much anymore, so he’s now hoping to meet a certain ex-President who is by no stretch of the imagination a popular, A-list actor; following that meeting, Florida may again start to be more acceptable in the media, but even if it doesn’t, Caleb considers this a valuable service to his country. He admits that he never picked up a hobby because he thought spare time had something to do with bowling and not about ribs, the fool, but he has campaigned against Pearls Before Swine and The Far Side for their bigoted stereotyping of crocodilians. Caleb reluctantly admits that his favorite song that no one knows the name to but was not actually used in that The Simpsons episode where the power plant is bought by a German corporation is, ‘Happy Go Lively.’

Will it be six months from now? Will it be next week? Will it even be later this week? No one knows, including us, but the Profiles will return. Book your therapy now.

Living in the past XV

Mecaphesa crab spider in defensive posture
Another from 2014, I always liked this direct portrait of a minuscule crab spider (genus Mecaphesa) – I went back to the original post to find that she measured 6mm across the legs in this position, which doesn’t make her a whole lot bigger than a tick.

Then I looked at the date, which was familiar, and thought, Is this the last arthropod photo that I took at the old place? Because we moved to the new house the day following, or over the next few days anyway. So I went back and checked through my stock; the answer is no, but close. The last was this (previously unpublished):

juvenile Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis on azalea after getting misted
This batch of Chinese mantids (Tenodera sinensis) had hatched from an ootheca right on this very azalea bush and I had been following their life cycle, so I was determined to collect a few and bring them along with us to the new place and continue monitoring them. Except that the very next image in the Arthropods 4 folder was this one:

juvenile Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis on Japanese maple tree at new place
This was taken on the Japanese maple tree alongside the front door at the new place, about the same size as the previous mantis shown, so there had been a hatching there too, and I figured I’d leave the others at the old place and just work with these. Moreover, it’s the same Japanese maple that has appeared in dozens (if not hundreds) of images here over the past 9 years.

I mentioned the Arthropods 4 folder; I limit them to about 4,000 images to make them easier to skim through, and I’m up to 7 now. The Arthropods 3 folder, however, contains images solely from October 2012 to August 2013 – easily my most prolific bug period. Someday schoolkids will be required to know that…

Tripod holes 48

This one’s for Mr Bugg, who is likely to be pretty damn close to this spot in about a week or so.

yellow-crowned night heron Nyctanassa violacea seen through foliage in JN Ding Darling National wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida
N 26°27’10.73″ W 82° 7’33.94″ Google Earth location

Accuracy? I sincerely doubt it. But I was somewhere along Indigo Trail in JN “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida when I took these frames, and that’s close enough, especially since this bird is unlikely to still be there 28 years later. I was on my first dedicated photography trip alone, though my second visit to Ding Darling – I’d visited the year before with friends – and was hiking the walking trail looking for critters. A then-unknown bird species was calling out across the marshes and, after spotting it in the treetop, I stalked it carefully, pausing every handful of meters to take another frame in the certainty that it would notice me soon and take flight. Yet it did not, and within a couple of minutes I was directly underneath it – there was zero chance that I had successfully maneuvered so close without it being aware of my presence, so apparently it just didn’t care. After securing some nice frames, I brashly imitated its call.

yellow-crowned night heron Nyctanassa violacea looking directly at photographer in JN Ding Darling National wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida
And this is what I got in return: the yellow-crowned night heron (Nyctanassa violacea) fixed me with an evil glare and held it, which I have to say is the only time I’ve been so honored. It’s easy to imagine what was going through the bird’s head and virtually guaranteed to be absolutely wrong; the best I can say is that I either did more than a passing imitation of its calls, which demanded close examination to determine that there was no actual interloper on its territory, or (more likely) I was only close enough that it was confused as to what was making this inept attempt. Regardless, I took advantage of this with delight.

And then after a moment or three, the bird looked away again, dismissing me as inconsequential. I have to note that this was taken at 260mm, since that’s the longest lens I had at the time, and while cropped, I was only a handful of meters from the bird’s position, quite close as far as wildlife photography goes – the first frame at top is uncropped and taken while I was still further off. But my proximity was no matter – the bird had more important things to tend to.

yellow-crowned night heron Nyctanassa violacea back to ignoring photographer in JN Ding Darling National wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida
I want to point out that the species does not have an orange stripe along its jaw at all; that’s simply a leaf in the way, visible in the second image too. What’s funny about this is, I still consider Ding Darling to be a great place for photos, but when looking for examples as proof, I have nowhere near as many frames as I do of other locales. Truth be told, I’ve been there four times, I believe, and two of them were remarkably unproductive; the last visit with The Girlfriend (in 2009, damn) has so few frames I could easily argue that it’s a poor choice. Yet my first fartistic gator shot came from here, not half an hour before these, plus some raccoons, plus some fartistic lizards, so, hit-or-miss, but when it’s a hit, it’s a big one. That probably says enough.

Living in the past XIV

I threatened to do this, and it was not a mere bluff – I’m going through with it, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.

[Well, there probably is, but let’s not go there…]

contrast and selective focus
We’re back to revisiting some of the images from years past that I particularly liked, and this one certainly counts – dating from 2014, it’s been a part of a gallery show, and resides on the main site, and has even been converted to monochrome. Moreover, the effort in achieving it was minimal – I think I had to be in a slightly awkward position to get it, but it was right outside the door one cool and humid morning and the light was right. ‘Course, knowing that it might look great with extremely short depth-of-field was all skill, baby…

Actually, I recognized the potential, but the result exceeded my expectations – not exactly a happy accident, just a nice bonus. Of course it deserves to be seen again.

1 2 3 273