Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘abstract

Rosy splotches and an upright flounder*

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At Allen Park on December 17, 2021, I cautiously maneuvered among some prickly pear cacti (Opuntia engelmannii) to take pictures of aging and deteriorated pads. The one above looked to me like it had the measles, while my imagination insisted on comparing the pad below to an upright flounder. Or maybe it was a worse-for-the-wear owl seen from the side.

* I’m pretty sure that of all the hundreds of millions of people who’ve ever spoken and written English, not one has previously used the phrase that serves as this post’s title.

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The academic literature on the use of facts to correct delusions shows very mixed results. It sometimes works, it sometimes works in a limited way, and it sometimes doesn’t work at all. The effects sometimes seem to last over a longer period, and sometimes they don’t. It depends a lot on the issue being tested, how it’s done, and what we’re expecting to shift, from factual knowledge to policy preferences to beliefs.

That makes perfect sense when we bear in mind the theory of cognitive dissonance and consider what we know about how we think. We naturally look for confirming information, and discount disconfirming information. When the evidence reaches a tipping point and there is sufficient weight against our current view, we switch. The dissonance is emotionally unpleasant, and while we’re attached to our current opinions, it becomes less unpleasant to shift than to cling onto them.

The message is that we can’t always solve delusions with more facts alone, but that we definitely shouldn’t give up on them entirely. People are marvellously varied, and different approaches work with different people in different situations. Of course, facts don’t exist entirely outside of their context: as we’ve seen, many measures are more complex than they seem, require cautious interpretation, and selection of other, equally valid facts can paint a very different picture. But this is not an excuse to give up on the value and power of the best facts we can muster. They can indicate an underlying truth that we shouldn’t carelessly discard because they are imperfect.

That’s one of the conclusions Bobby Duffy reaches in the closing chapter of Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 10, 2022 at 4:35 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , ,

A tiny white snail shell as a sarcophagus on a carpet of fallen dry Ashe juniper needles

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Allen Park; December 17, 2021.

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Have you ever noticed that some people have appropriate names while others have ironic names? An example in the “appropriate” category was a United States district judge for the Eastern District of Texas named William Wayne Justice.

Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) provides two examples in the “ironic” category. The current police commissioner there is named Danielle Outlaw. But what’s in a name? The double irony is that while Danielle Outlaw is actually trying to enforce laws and protect the citizens of Philadelphia, the real outlaw in Philadelphia’s justice system is the district attorney, Larry Krasner. His family name ultimately goes back to a Slavic word that means ‘beautiful,’ yet he is anything but beautiful in his stubbornly ideological refusal to prosecute many criminals. Unfortunately the new district attorney in Manhattan, Alvin Bragg, began bragging on day one of his term that he also will refuse to prosecute many crimes and will downgrade others from felonies to misdemeanors. You can read even more about that if you wish.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 9, 2022 at 4:31 AM

We welcomed winter

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We welcomed the first day of winter, December 21, by hiking along Panther Hollow Trail and Little Fern Trail at River Place. One stretch of Little Fern Creek widens into a natural pool, at the bottom of which sits a rounded basin in the bedrock that’s visible through the water. An adjacent sign says that people have assigned the name Story Hole to this area. What intrigued me there were the ripples on the creek, and I made an abstract portrait of them. In the center of the photograph you may be able to make out the rounded contours of the darker area that corresponds to the basin in the bedrock. The way the ripples created visual cells reminds me, albeit with different colors, of the way Gustav Klimt portrayed Adele Bloch-Bauer during his “gold period.”

I experimented with flash for some of my pictures. Unfortunately, for my purposes, that extra light revealed too many unwanted details of the bedrock and sediment and therefore detracted from the abstraction I was after. In the interest of geology rather than aesthetics, if you’d like a view that’s closer to what the scene “really” looked like, you can have it.

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Critical Race Trove From California District Tells Students How To Use Witchcraft On People Who Say ‘All Lives Matter.’ That’s the hard-to-believe-it’s-true-but-it really-is-true headline of an article discussing the many ways one California school district promotes the tenets of what’s been called “critical race theory” and “wokeism.” Proponents of that ideology often deny that schools are pushing it, but evidence speaks louder than sophist denials. The article includes links to many documents confirming educationists’ racialized orientation.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 30, 2021 at 4:35 AM

Lost Horizon not always lost

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When the day number was most recently twice the month number, I stationed myself late in the afternoon at a place with a good vista along Lost Horizon Drive in our Great Hills neighborhood and waited for what I hoped would be a colorful sundown. Most of the sky stayed clear, however, which doesn’t make for good sunsets, so I decided to use a long lens to get close looks at the layers of wispy clouds close to the horizon. Zooming in like that to magnify the relatively small band of colorful clouds gave the resulting photographs a lot more drama than a person standing there would have perceived in the scene as a whole; call it not poetic license but photographer’s license.

Thanks to the orientation of the horizon, sunset pictures are usually horizontal, so for variety I experimented with a few vertical takes like the one below that came four minutes after the one above. The second picture excludes the horizon and is therefore also more abstract.

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With regard to the current pandemic, an article from Our World in Data clears up the confusion that some or maybe even many people have about the risk of dying from Covid-19. The easy-to-follow article distinguishes between, and offers simple numerical examples of, three ways to estimate or determine that risk: the case fatality rate, the crude mortality rate, and the infection fatality rate. I wrote “estimate or determine” because only the infection fatality rate is the number we really want to determine. The case fatality rate (which is often reported in the media), like the crude mortality rate, likely misses the true value by a wide margin.

 

That website’s About page also offers the following insights:

 

To work towards a better future, we also need to understand how and why the world is changing.

The historical data and research shows that it is possible to change the world. Historical research shows that until a few generations ago around half of all newborns died as children. Since then the health of children has rapidly improved around the world and life expectancy has doubled in all regions. Progress is possible. 

In other important ways global living conditions have improved as well. While we believe this is one of the most important facts to know about the world we live in, it is known by surprisingly few. 

Instead, many believe that global living conditions are stagnating or getting worse and much of the news media’s reporting is doing little to challenge this perception. It is wrong to believe that one can understand the world by following the news alone and the media’s focus on single events and things that go wrong can mean that well-intentioned people who want to contribute to positive change become overwhelmed, hopeless, cynical and in the worst cases give up on their ideals. Much of our effort throughout these years has been dedicated to countering this threat.

Researching how it was possible to make progress against large problems in the past allows us to learn. Progress is possible, but it is not a given. If we want to know how to reduce suffering and tackle the world’s problems we should learn from what was successful in the past.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 8, 2021 at 4:38 AM

Spider enclosure

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On November 1st I came across this small spider enclosure on a
purpose-bent stalk of little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium).
Three weeks later the enclosure looked about the same.


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Why don’t problems that are easily fixed get fixed?

So I was checking out at Whole Foods a couple of months ago. Because of the pandemic, many credit/debit card terminals have been upgraded so that now you can tap a card on the device instead of having to swipe the card or insert it. The problem is that a customer doesn’t know exactly where on the terminal to tap the electronic chip in the card. My first taps didn’t work, so I asked the checker-outer specifically where I needed to hold my card. She indicated a place a bit further back from where I’d tried. That worked.

I pointed out to her that the store could head off this problem by putting a little sticker with the words TAP HERE in the exact place under which the hidden sensor sits inside the terminal. She and the bagger seemed not to understand what I was saying, or else didn’t think it was important. I went on to explain that different stores use different kinds of terminals, and some of them are finicky about exactly where a card needs to be tapped. Employees who work the registers learn where that spot is, but customers can’t be expected to know, so a little sticker or some other symbol would show us the right place to tap. Eventually, one right after the other, the two clerks suddenly changed demeanor and said my suggestion was a good one and they’d pass it along to the management, but I got the distinct impression they were just saying that to get rid of me. If I go back to that Whole Foods a few months from now, I seriously doubt I’ll see a little sticker on each terminal showing where to tap a card.

Store bathrooms often present the same kind of problem in automated sinks, hand dryers, and paper towel dispensers: where exactly to put your hand(s) to make the device come on. I often have to move my hands around to various positions until the device finally activates—and sometimes no hand position ever manages to make the device come on. The easy fix would be to use a sensor that responds to a broader range of hand positions. If the concern is that a more-sensitive sensor might cause unintentional activation by people relatively far way, then a device could have two or three less-sensitive sensors spaced out to cover different hand positions. That would raise the machine’s cost a little, but I think reducing customers’ frustration and wasted time would be worth it.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 30, 2021 at 4:28 AM

Two brown things

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The opening picture confirms that as I was wandering near Bull Creek on September 30th I noticed something brown on a sideways inflorescence of giant ragweed, Ambrosia trifida. I managed to find a position from which the unknown thing—probably the remains of a caterpillar—lined up with a nearby prairie agalinis flower, Agalinis heterophylla. The photograph below, from November 9th at the Riata Trace Pond, is of a curlicue or tilde coming off the main part of a bushy bluestem seed head, Andropogon glomeratus. Whether the tilde is upside down, as shown here, or right side up, depends on which side it gets looked at from. Now that I think of it, that could be a metaphor for many things in life, couldn’t it?

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The other day I came across a revealing 14-minute excerpt of a discussion between Coleman Hughes and Bonnie Snyder about some of the abuses being perpetrated by “woke” teachers in our public schools. The examples provided in the interview refute the claim that Critical Race Theory isn’t really being taught in our schools. You can find out much more in Bonnie Snyder’s new book, Undoctrinate.

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UPDATE. The day before yesterday I mentioned that I gave up my subscription to the New York Times some years ago after I found that too many of the stories the paper presented as news were ideologically slanted. Yesterday I came across an Epoch Times article from March 2021 reporting that New York Supreme Court Justice Charles Wood similarly found that “in stories from 2020 about Project Veritas videos, [New York Times] writers writers Maggie Astor and Tiffany Hsu had inserted sentences that were opinions despite the articles being billed as news.”

“’If a writer interjects an opinion in a news article (and will seek to claim legal protections as opinion) it stands to reason that the writer should have an obligation to alert the reader, including a court that may need to determine whether it is fact or opinion, that it is opinion,’ Wood wrote in a 16-page decision denying the paper’s request to dismiss a lawsuit from Project Veritas.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 18, 2021 at 4:36 AM

Pearl milkweed vine, old and young

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A common vine in my northwest Austin neighborhood is Matelea reticulata, known as pearl milkweed for the lustrous protuberance at the center of each small flower. The top picture shows the remains of a pod, and the bottom one a new tendril and leaves. Both minimalist views are from Morado Circle on October 23rd.


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“Stand your ground, but also stand corrected. Check your facts, not your privilege. Stay civil and speak up. You will be surprised by your power.” — Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge (2021). Those exhortations make cogent aphorisms, don’t you think?

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 15, 2021 at 4:24 AM

Rain-lily seed capsules and clouds

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By the time I found a group of particularly tall rain lilies (Zephyranthes chlorosolen) in Great Hills Park on October 23rd, the flowers had given way to seed capsules. At least the height of the capsules made it easier for me to get on the ground below them and aim partly upward to include clouds as a backdrop, as you see here. Change the scale of the top picture, use a hefty dose of imagination, and you might be looking at the Tower of the Americas 90 miles to the southwest.


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“The miracle is how robust free expression and liberal science have proved to be, despite unremitting attacks from every direction over hundreds of years. The idea that obnoxious, misguided, seditious, blasphemous, and bigoted expressions deserve not only to be tolerated but, of all things, protected is the single most counterintuitive social principle in all of human history. Every human instinct cries out against it, and every generation discovers fresh reasons to oppose it. It is saved from the scrapheap of self-evident absurdity only by the fact that it is also the single most successful social principle in all human history. Those of us who favor it, and also our children, and also their children and their children, will need to get up every morning and explain and defend our counterintuitive social principle from scratch, and so we might as well embrace the task and perform it cheerfully.” — Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge (2021)

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 14, 2021 at 4:35 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , , ,

Sunflowers from behind

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You could say I’m behind in my pictures of Helianthus annuus, the common sunflower. From the Arbor Walk Pond on October 8th, here are photographs from behind showing sunflowers in two phases. The views resonate with me, so to speak, and a sticky drop confirms that the flower head and the seed head “resinate.”


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Good news from Austin!

Right here in Austin, Texas, some high-minded people devoted to
the pursuit of truth are taking the first steps to found a new university:

  • We’re reclaiming a place in higher education for freedom of inquiry and civil discourse. Our students and faculty will confront the most vexing questions of human life and civil society. We will create a community of conversation grounded in intellectual humility that respects the dignity of each individual and cultivates a passion for truth.
  • The University of Austin is a liberal arts university committed to freedom of inquiry, freedom of conscience, and civil discourse. To maintain these principles, the university is fiercely independent—financially, intellectually, and politically.

You’re welcome to read more. And scroll down to see the well-qualified board of advisors.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 10, 2021 at 4:32 AM

What a difference the speed makes

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After Austin got a bunch of rain, I headed over to Bull Creek off Lakewood Dr. on October 14th to see what sorts of pictures I could make of a waterfall there. I took the top photograph at a shutter speed of 1/8 of a second and the bottom one at only 1/1600 of a second. Neither of the images matches what my eyes and brain saw when I was at the waterfall, and that once again raises the question of what is real.


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From reading Jonathan Rauch’s The Constitution of Knowledge, I’ve learned a little about the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce [pronounced Purse], who lived from 1839 to 1914. Here’s a relevant passage from Peirce:

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Upon this first, and in one sense this sole, rule of reason, that in order to learn you must desire to learn, and in so desiring not be satisfied with what you already incline to think, there follows one corollary which itself deserves to be inscribed upon every wall of the city of philosophy:

Do not block the way of inquiry.

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Alas, in today’s academic world, ideologues are increasingly blocking the way of inquiry by peremptorily declaring certain topics off-limits and attacking anyone who investigates those topics.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 7, 2021 at 4:27 AM

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