Monthly Archives: January 2016

Western skies: Lenticular clouds

The western sky is as vast as the western landscape (that I have admired in so many other posts). It’s full of dramatic colors and exotic clouds. And because I am a geek, I bought a book about collecting clouds, The Cloud Collector’s Handbook.

I was inspired to buy this book after seeing several lenticular clouds. Lenticular clouds, sometimes mistaken for UFOs, look like giant horizontal lens in the sky, thus the name. They’re beautiful. Here in New Mexico, I see them over the tops of mountains, just hovering there. Unlike other clouds, lenticular clouds tend to stay in one place. That’s because lenticular clouds have an interesting formation mechanism.

Do you remember standing waves from your high school physics days? Lenticular clouds are a grand natural example of them. In our class, we bobbed a metal sphere up and down in water, and depending upon the shape of the container, waves would either travel or “stand.” In a traveling wave, the maxima travels across space; in a standing wave, the maxima is stationary. Standing waves are resonance patterns–if you recall the famous Tacoma Narrows bridge collapse, that was a result of a standing wave pattern.

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Standing wave example in the surface of a drum (Wikipedia). Note that the maxima doesn’t travel in space, it just oscillates in magnitude.

So, lenticular clouds are standing wave patterns in the sky, made visible by the condensation of water. They stay put because that’s what standing waves do. They tend to form over mountains or hills because these structures disrupt the movement of airflow and cause eddies that sometimes lead to lenticular clouds. If you have ever watched a flowing river and observed a whorl behind a log or rock, well, a lenticular cloud is like that, but in the sky. Pilots avoid them because of the strong winds that create them. Though they look serene, they are not!

Below are some great example pictures that aren’t mine. This time of year, lenticular clouds are rarer, and I was too busy gawking this summer to take pictures. So as the spring winds and summer rains of the west approach, keep on the lookout for lenticular clouds. I will be!

 

Writing prompt: Hugging Day

Time: 10 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Hugging Day” (Inspired by this list of silly holidays.)

 

Every species we knew said the Zagadins were the most caring and advanced species in the galaxy. When we finally managed to encounter them, it was with a sense of excitement. At last, we were friends with the cool species.

Cool be damned, thought the military—the Zagadins had technology, and they liked to share. For decades, other species had been able to travel faster than us, able to make ships we could only dream of. And when we asked for or demanded their technologies, they shrugged (or whatever a shrug was to their species) and said it came from the Zagadins. We could finally fleece the galaxy’s biggest hippy chumps and become king of the ant hill.

The Zagadins diplomatic arrival was all over the News Nets. They wanted to meet everyone! Secretary of state, president, secretary of the navy, senators, mayors, professors—for them, it was the more the merrier. They wouldn’t hear of restricting the event. Thousands of people came.

And the Zagadins introduced themselves with their cultural tradition—hugging. The military knew they had these hippies now. Everyone at the arrival got a hug from a Zagadin. And as promised, the Zagadins sent the government files full of technology afterwards.

But a strange thing happened. Those who had met the Zagadins didn’t care about using the technology to conquer. They just wanted to hug, and then the people they hugged became peaceful as well.

We asked other species. They shrugged some more. That’s how the Zagadins work. Their hugs transmit resequencing retroviruses that promote peacefulness. The Zagadins won’t meet a species until they work out the retroviruses necessary. Perhaps it’s a little invasive, but let’s hug it out, the aliens said.

A few hugless humans remained, and they were horrified. They fled to Io and founded a hugless colony. But they should really loosen up. Too bad they can’t hug it out.

 

Painting with dark: books of night-themed art to inspire the high ISO photographer

Photography means “painting with light.” But how much light? Today, cameras are more light sensitive than ever, with ISOs up to 400,000 or even 4,000,000. Some have described cameras that can take video by the light of a candle as “painting with dark.” After discussing these advancements at a photo event yesterday, I found myself thinking about how that affects an image. If light is the exception rather than the rule, what kind of images could I create?

So I visited my bookshelf! And I found two art books themed around darkness and nighttime. In a future post, I’ll have to see how these inspiring books guided me. After all, it’s a great time of year to find guidance in darkness.

The Night Life of Trees by Bhajju Shyam, Durga Bai, and Ram Singh Urveti

This book is from Tara Books, a company that does beautiful and imaginative books. I also recommend Waterlife by Rambharos Jha, which I wrote about in a previous post. Both Night Life and Waterlife are silk-screen print books, which gives the colors and ink a life that other printing methods don’t match. Both books also smell amazing. (This sounds weird, but they just do. I don’t know whether it’s the ink, the paper, or both.)

The Night Life of Trees is full of illustrations depicting just that—trees at night and what goes on in them. The images are screen prints on black paper, allowing the book to “paint with darkness” in a way that other books just can’t. Check out the beautiful images below.

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The House in the Night
by Susan Marie Swanson

A children’s book with awesome art. Sometimes kids books have the best art because they keep it simple. This book is literally about light at night. I don’t think that needs too much explanation. Just check out the art, which incidentally mimics the woodcut style that I discussed last week.

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Writing prompt: dress up your pet day

Time: 10 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Dress up your pet day” (Inspired by this list of silly holidays.)

 

My alarm sounds. I hear the pitter-patter of soft feet racing to the bed, and feel those feet step on the softest parts of my torso and groin.

“Good morning, kitty,” I croak. I reach over and slap the alarm. I open my phone. Euler purrs like a bulldozer and nearly nuzzles my phone out of my hand.

“Oh kitty, did you not want me to see today’s notifications?” I coo. I scroll through the day’s appointments and reminders. “Today is Dress Up Your Pet Day.” Euler head butts my hand. In his opinion, I should be using that hand to make him happy. I scratch his butt. He flops over and kneads the air.

“You’re happy now,” I say to him, “but we’ll see about later.”

 

On the way back from work, I swing by WalMart and go to the baby clothes aisle. My mom would love a picture of Euler dressed as a sailor.

Before I even open the door, Euler is crying to see me. I feel bad that he spends so much time alone, but hey, he’s a cat and I work to put food in his bowl. My guilt is not remarkably deep.

I open the door, and Euler jumps on my shoulders. “Kitty!” I shout, dismayed. It’s really my fault, I haven’t trimmed his claws lately.

Whelp, I’ve bled on this shirt now, I think. I take it off, put stain remover on the spots, and switch shirts. Euler purrs and slithers on the bed.

“Dress your pet day,” I say. “And it’s you who’ve made me change outfits. I’m your pet, aren’t I?”

Euler straightens. I’m sure it’s just my imagination, but there is a glint in his eye. A knowing glint. A cold shiver rushes up my spine.

Euler leaps at from from the bed, pushing me into the closet. The last thing I see before I black out is cats holding garments.

M.C. Escher: revisiting a familiar name

M.C. Escher and Salvador Dalí are two of the greatest reality-bending artists. So, fittingly, the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida recently hosted a special Escher exhibit. I’ve visited the Dalí collection many times, but I’d never seen Escher in person.

I had many Escher calendars as a kid. When I took crystallography, we studied the symmetries in Escher’s tessellations. I’ve always been interested in design and mathematics, and Escher is the purest intersection of the two. I was ecstatic to see the exhibit.

Before the exhibit, I was most familiar with Escher’s lithographs. Without too much elaboration, lithography is a high-fidelity technique which allows the artist to produce an image that is not directed by the mechanics of printing (I’m sure the method does direct some artistic choices, but as a non-expert, that’s my rough take on it).

The exhibit contained many of Escher’s woodcuts, which were new to me. Woodcuts are make by carving a plate of wood, coating the plate with ink, and pressing the plate to a page. The page will be white where the wood has been cut away and the page will be colored where the wood remained. Woodcuts have a distinctive style–they cannot render colors in between white and ink color. Multiple colors can be achieved with additional pressings, but the technique is inherently color-limited.Additionally, the resolution of the print is limited to the fidelity of the wood. These two aspects give woodcuts a distinctive artistic feeling. If you can’t tell, I’m currently a little in love with woodcuts.

Escher died in 1972, but thanks to Disney, his works remain out of the Creative Commons. However, I am allowed to use low-resolution works for discussion purposes. You’ll have to buy books if you want anything with much detail, though. Below are a few of my favorite Escher images that are available through Wikipedia, as I have linked them under the image.

Some of Escher’s early works were illustrations. There was a beautiful cathedral, half underwater. There were evil-looking creatures in forests. It was such a romantic side to an artist most think of as a master of geometry. Below is an example of one of his illustrations. Even though it’s of a conventional subject, the Tower of Babel, the perspective is beautiful. I love the lines; this work just wouldn’t be whole using a method besides woodcut.

Below was Escher’s first impossible reality. And look, it’s a woodcut! Hooray!

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Still Life and Street: Escher’s first impossible reality

Below is one of Escher’s more famous images. It is a lithograph printing. See how various tones of gray are possible with this technique, as well as high-fidelity. It lends this images a very different tone than the one above. The lizard design is called a tessellation. Tessellations are plane-filling patterns. They occur in nature and area subject of mathematical study. Escher was inspired by the tiling work at the Alhambra in Spain, another example of tessellation.

Below is another Escher woodcut, done with several plates to achieve multiple colors. Even when Escher wasn’t exploring impossible realities of geometry puzzles, he chose interesting perspectives.

Writing prompt: Old rock day

(It’s the new year and I going to restart my weekly prompts! Hooray! I slacked a bit this fall, which means I’m chock full of inspiration, right?)

Time: 10 minutes plus a 5 minute edit. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Old rock day” (Inspired by this list of silly holidays.)

After I went to an exhibit on Mars rocks, I was determined to find my own chunk of Mars. I dropped $1500 on a Pocket Geology GC™ Field Testing Kit. The Pocket GC could vaporize a small chunk of rock and run it through a tiny analyzer. Based upon the composition and structure, it could access an online database and tell you how the rock formed, where it was from, and how old it was. Crowd sourcing meant better data every day. If you really needed to be sure, you could send it off for authentic geological testing by certified scientists… for a price.

Only a handful of Mars rocks have ever been found because most rocks just look like rocks. Peering into their history isn’t something human eyes were made for. But since the Pocket GC hit market, the number of samples had grown by 50%.

I drove throughout the southwest. I studied the circumstances of other rock finds. I kept looking. I kept failing, but I was keeping busy, which is important, right?

I found it, appropriately enough, in City of Rocks State Park in New Mexico. It wasn’t a Mars rock; it was something else. I only went there for the scenery; the rocks there are way too young to find a Mars rock. But, so accustomed to fiddling with my hands, I tested an unassuming chunk of rock.

“Origins: Unknown, age: unknown,” my phone displayed, followed by a mess of chemical data. The Pocket GC didn’t return “unknown” too often these days. Sometimes scientists in the lab with new substances stumped it, but after 5 years of crowd supplied data, it had seen almost everything. So I had found something wonderful: a puzzle. I knew I should send it in for the extra testing. But I decided to keep it intact for a few days as a trophy. It was almost a compulsion, I couldn’t stand to hurt it more than I already had for the testing.

I set the rock on the bedside table as I went to bed that night. In the morning, I woke tired. The dreams crept up on me slowly over the next few nights.

My Florida Bird captures

I’m wrapping up three weeks birding south Florida, testing my new 70-200mm lens. I was inspired by a recent photography class through my local Albuquerque photography club, the Enchanted Lens. The instructor showed many beautiful images of birds using 600- and 700mm lenses. I can’t afford 600mm lenses. I wanted to see what I could accomplish with my new (and already very dear) 70-200mm. I’ve had a 70-300mm lens for 8 years now, but it is optically weak. It takes gray, lifeless images. It has a resale value of $12. With my new, colorful, sharp lens,  I’m falling in love with the 70-200mm zoom range all over again.

Below are my captures on this trip. I always learn more when I bring my camera; I get to study for an hour that which I saw for a moment. I see that macaws can have multiple colors on one feather. I find out what macaws are. I see which parts of the color were skin and which parts are feathers.

Some of the images below I shot in the wild. Others I shot at the Peace River Wildlife Center in Punta Gorda, Florida and at the Sarasota Jungle Gardens in Sarasota. I uploaded many more pictures at full res at my Flickr site, and my birds album.

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A wild great egret

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I couldn’t figure out what this guy was! He resembles a double-breasted cormorant, but all the example images I found of them had orange beaks. I found this fellow hunting in the wild.

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A brown pelican at the Peace River Wildlife Center in Punta Gorda, Florida.

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A rescued sandhill crane at the Peace River Wildlife Center in Punta Gorda, Florida.

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A great blue heron at the Peace River Wildlife Center in Punta Gorda, Florida.

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A yellow-crowned night heron at the Peace River Wildlife Center in Punta Gorda, Florida.

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A white ibis at Sarasota Jungle Gardens in Sarasota, Florida.

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A flamingo at Sarasota Jungle Gardens in Sarasota, Florida.

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An indian ringneck parakeet and a sun conure parrot at Sarasota Jungle Gardens in Sarasota, Florida.

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A hyacinth macaw at Sarasota Jungle Gardens in Sarasota, Florida.

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A blue and gold macaw at Sarasota Jungle Gardens in Sarasota, Florida.

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A military macaw at Sarasota Jungle Gardens in Sarasota, Florida.

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A female eclectus parrot at Sarasota Jungle Gardens in Sarasota, Florida.