Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘abstract

Longhorn Cavern

with 29 comments

 

I’ve lived in Austin since 1976 and the Lady Eve since 1988, yet not till three days ago did we finally visit Longhorn Cavern State Park, which is only about an hour’s drive west of home.

 

 

I’d called ahead to ask about the photography policy and was told pictures are fine as long as flash is turned off because it would disturb the bats that live in the cave. Figuring my regular camera wouldn’t have enough light without flash, I took only my iPhone 14 into the cavern with me.

 

 

Turns out the person I spoke with over the phone misinformed me. After we were inside the cavern, our tour guide made it clear that pictures with flash are generally fine, the only exception being in a spot where a bat is present. To tell the truth, I probably got better images with the iPhone 14 anyway. It’s good at taking pictures in low light, and it lets me go into raw mode to retain as much photographic information as possible (unlike the conversion to jpeg, which tosses out a lot of data). In addition, as long as I stick to the 1x camera, the pictures come out at a whopping 48.8 megapixels each. I stuck to the 1x camera.

All the lighting in these pictures came from the spotlights that the park service has installed here and there throughout the cavern. In many cases I went for abstractions of light and shadows.

 

 

 

✦        ✦        ✦

 

 

Surprising Facts

 

“If you think of the United States as a football field, all the garbage that we will generate in the next 1000 years would fit inside a tiny fraction of the one inch line.” For the uninitiated, let me add that a football field is 3600 inches long, so an inch is less than one-thirtieth of one percent of a football field’s length—and the quotation says we’re dealing with a tiny fraction of that already tiny amount. Would you have expected that?

You can learn more surprising facts about recycling in a seven-minute video by John Stossel.
One is that “Even Greenpeace says most plastic cannot be recycled.”

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 29, 2023 at 4:26 AM

A sixth installment of icicles

with 22 comments

 

On December 25th I spent nearly four hours photographing icicles hanging from a cliff in Great Hills Park just half a mile from home. In posts on December 28th, December 31st, January 8th, January 14th, and January 19th you’ve seen how I tried out various approaches, both with and without flash. Now here are some more views of icicles from that productive session.

To take the first picture, I deftly worked my way behind the icicles that were coming down from a limestone overhang. Aiming upward created the seeming convergence of the icicles toward the top.

 

 

For the second picture I also used flash.

 

 

The warm tones of the rocks and the pale blue of the ice in the picture above went well together.

The thin sheet of ice below was backlit by the sun’s rays. 

  

 

Similarly, it was sunlight that illuminated the icicles below.

 

  

 

§

§        §        §

§

     

A hot topic in genetics over the past few years has been what’s known as gain-of-function research. The term refers to manipulating the DNA of a virus to make the virus more potent. On the positive side, researchers might figure out ways to combat the more-potent virus while it’s contained in a lab and before it or a similar naturally mutated strain could infect a population. There’s also potential danger in gain-of-function research: a malevolent organization or government might turn a manipulated virus into a weapon, especially if they could figure out ways to keep themselves exempt from the effects of the more-potent virus. And, despite precautions, there’s always the risk of an accident in which a more-potent virus escapes from a lab, infects the nearby population, and perhaps even spreads much more broadly. Some scientists believe that’s what happened in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. Others disagree. We may never know because the Chinese government wasn’t forthcoming with the facts, and key evidence has long since disappeared.

I bring this up now in connection with an organization called Project Veritas (the second word in the name is Latin for ‘truth’). Project Veritas’s typical M.O (modus operandi, or ‘way of working’) is to send a disguised reporter with a hidden video camera to chat with a person who Project Veritas suspects is doing something nefarious. (Americans might be reminded of the long-running television show 60 Minutes, which has employed the same undercover technique on many occasions). The hope is that the interviewee, who doesn’t know the person engaging in a friendly chat is a reporter, will reveal information that would otherwise be kept from the public.

On January 25th Project Veritas released a 10-minute video compilation from its latest undercover investigation. The interviewee is identified as “Jordon Trishton Walker, Pfizer Director of Research and Development, Strategic Operations – mRNA Scientific Planner.” In the video, Walker speaks of “directed evolution,” which he says is different from gain-of-function research, but which the head of Project Veritas, James O’Keefe, believes might be a euphemism for it.

Check out the 10-minute video compilation and accompanying printed discussion about it and draw your own conclusions.

As a reminder, I believe it’s always good to be circumspect about what you read on the internet. I found an article on the substack site “Investigate Everything with Brian O’Shea” in which O’Shea reports the results of his efforts to confirm that the person shown in the video really is the person Project Veritas claims he is. You’re welcome to read that article as well.

And here are Newsweek’s cautions about the Project Veritas story.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 28, 2023 at 4:30 AM

Racing against the sun

with 16 comments

 

Two months ago today we drove from Lost Maples to Kerrville. The route eventually runs alongside the Guadalupe River, and by the time we reached the town of Ingram the sun didn’t have much longer to stay above the trees. I hurried to take a few pictures by that last and very warm light. One was the abstraction above, showing the upper parts of sunlit sycamore trees (Platanus occidentalis) reflected in the river. The camera sensor’s weakness—its limited dynamic range compared to the human retina—worked in my favor by rendering details on the river bank very dark in comparison to the water and the reflections; processing pushed the dark to black. The more conventional scene below, no longer lit by direct light, features a bald cypress tree (Taxodium distichum) that had turned russet.

 

  

§

§       §       §

§

 

“Have you heard? The world’s about to end.” Well, of course it isn’t. In a seven-minute video John Stossel highlights a bunch of cataclysmic predictions that failed to come true. And no, the predictions of doom didn’t come from leaders of religious cults—unless, of course, you recognize climate catastrophism for the secular religious cult that it is.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 27, 2023 at 4:34 AM

An early-in-the-season and early-in-the-year look at fully fruited possumhaw

with 27 comments

 

On January 3rd I drove across town to Austin’s main post office to talk with a postal inspector about an unknown packet I received; it turned out to be our federal government spending our tax money to send us yet another round of Covid tests that I hadn’t specifically asked for. Afterwards, a few blocks away from the post office, I noticed a possumhaw tree (Ilex decidua) with a good amount of fruit on it. I also noticed how wispy the clouds were. So began my quest, carried out in at least four places that morning and early afternoon, to match up those two things in photographs.

 

  

I also took dozens of pictures of the clouds in their own right, so right did they look in the sky.

 

 

 

✦        ✦

 

Check out a four-minute video in which Konstantin Kisin describes a clever psychological experiment that shows how someone’s mindset can distort the person’s perception of reality. In particular, a belief in victimhood can lead a person to perceive victimization where there isn’t any.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 21, 2023 at 4:26 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , , , ,

A fifth installment of icicles

with 31 comments

 

On December 25th I spent nearly four hours photographing icicles hanging along a cliff in Great Hills Park just half a mile from home. In posts on December 28th, December 31st, January 8th, and January 14th you’ve seen how I tried out various approaches, both with and without flash. Now here are some more icicles from that productive session. The upside-down dead tree in the top photograph was an Ashe juniper, Juniperus ashei.

 

 

The second portrait is an artsy abstraction.
It’s almost monochrome, with a slight brown tinge in the lower left.

Icebergs often look blue. Icicles can appear that way, too:

 

 

Lots of the icicles that morning had a gnarly look. You might consider the ones below a sort of
bas-relief, given that they didn’t hang completely free of the vertical rock face behind them.
Once again the ice could almost pass for melted wax that had dripped and then congealed.

  

 

 

¢

¢

 

Last year I wrote a commentary about Marva Collins, an elementary school teacher in the poor Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago. I quoted parts of an article by Carrie-Ann Biondi in the Spring 2019 issue of The Objective Standard, including this one:

Observers in Collins’s classroom repeatedly were astonished by the high-level curriculum she developed for students ages three to thirteen. She began each year with essays such as Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” and fables such as “The Little Red Hen.” Students soon moved on to poetry, including works by Rudyard Kipling and [Henry] Wadsworth Longfellow. In time, they progressed to Plato’s dialogues. By second and third grade, they were reading William Shakespeare’s plays (Macbeth and Hamlet were student favorites) and reciting Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. With these under their belts, it was not uncommon for students to dive headlong into a seemingly unquenchable reading frenzy. And Collins kept hundreds of books on hand, suggesting just the right one for each student to read next. Each student wrote a report every two weeks about his latest book, presented it to the class, and answered questions raised by the other students. This sparked so much interest in reading that book that students vied to be next on the waiting list.

This week I finished reading the 1982 (and updated in 1990) book Marva Collins’ Way, by the teacher herself and Civia Tamarkin, with a foreword by Alex Haley of Roots fame. Here’s a line that stood out:

The longer I taught in the public school system, the more I came to think that schools were concerned with everything but teaching.

That’s unfortunately as true today as it was in the 1970s and ’80s. This past November, people in Austin (but of course not me) approved a school bond package of $2,439,000,000 (that’s $2.4 billion!) mostly for school modernization projects, security improvements and other upgrades. None of that fortune will lead a single child to read better or do math better or know more about history, geography, or science. It’s a disgrace.

A big reason that so many children don’t learn much in schools is the ineffective methods that teachers have been trained to use. Here again Marva Collins was on to that half a century ago:

Over the years, I have come to believe that some of the problems plaguing modern education are the result of the emphasis placed on “progressive” teaching methods. In an effort to follow John Dewey’s notion of a student-centered rather than subject-centered approach to learning, schools have too often sacrificed subject matter, being more concerned with how they taught rather than what they taught. During the late 1960s and the 1970s, when our society was becoming fascinated with pop psychology, many young men and women entered the teaching profession thinking “As long as I can relate to a child, what difference does it make if he or she can’t spell cat?

If you’re interested in education, check out Marva Collins’ Way. In addition to dealing with effective approaches to teaching, the book includes many endearing stories about the children Marva Collins taught.

 

 © 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 19, 2023 at 4:31 AM

Both sides now times two

with 29 comments

 

In neighboring Great Hills Park on 11/22/22 (great date) I noticed how different the two surfaces of this drying grape leaf were. I don’t recall ever seeing an upper surface colored and patterned like this one. The underside’s slight fuzz had and still has me thinking the vine was a mustang grape, Vitis mustangensis, the most common species of grape in Great Hills.

 

 

On December 23rd, hours before a more-than-daylong freeze was due to hit
central Texas, I was out documenting native plants that still had flowers on them.

 

 

One such was the blackfoot daisy, which you see here from above, above, and from below, below.

 

  

The maroon “nerves” or “veins” so conspicuous from underneath
are barely discernible on the ray florets’ white upper surface.

 

§

§       §       §

§

 

Reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.

 

That line from physicist Richard Feynman was quoted in Joanne Silberner’s January 4th article “The Reason There’s Been No Cure for Alzheimer’s.” For several decades now, the funders of medical research on Alzheimer’s disease have given grants almost exclusively to researchers pursuing one theory about the cause—and therefore the potential cure—for that ailment. As in so many fields, groupthink has settled in, despite the fact that treatments based on the reigning theory about the cause of Alzheimer’s have produced practically no improvements.

You can learn the details in Joanne Silberner’s article in the Free Press.

 

§

§       §       §

§

 

UPDATE: On December 22nd I reported how Stanford University had created a compendium of supposedly harmful language. You know, despicable words like American and grandfather. On January 11th Inside Higher Ed published an article by Susan D’Agostino titled “Amid Backlash, Stanford Pulls ‘Harmful Language’ List.” Let’s welcome any move toward sanity in academia.

  

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 17, 2023 at 4:30 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , , ,

A fourth installment of icicles

with 43 comments

 

On December 25th I spent nearly four hours photographing icicles hanging from a cliff in Great Hills Park just half a mile from home. In posts on December 28th, December 31st, and January 8th, you’ve seen how I tried out various approaches, both with and without flash. Now here are more icicles from that productive session.

 

 

The shattered dead tree in the second photograph was an Ashe juniper, Juniperus ashei. The ice-framed alcove below struck me as a sort of shrine, with the ice at the bottom reminiscent of the accumulated wax from candles that have burned all the way down.

 

 

Below, I worked at catching a drop of meltwater just as it was about to separate from the icicle’s tip.

 

  

 

§

§        §        §

§

 

We often hear that the United States has become highly polarized, with roughly equal numbers of people in camps that for convenience might be called “progressive” and “conservative” (though within each of those camps beliefs also vary). Confirming the polarization is the fact that many recent key elections have been quite close. Members of the Senate and House of Representatives are almost equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, which are labels that serve as proxies for people with progressive and conservative views.

Now, human traits like musical ability, athleticism, and intelligence, occur according to what scientists call a normal distribution. Here’s what it looks like for IQ scores:

 

  

The distribution is symmetric. Most people cluster in the middle: a little more than two-thirds of the population has IQs between 85 and 115. As you go farther from the center in either direction, the number of people tapers off. A few people with very low and very high IQs are at the extremes.

Political leanings are independent of intelligence. Some progressives are highly intelligent; others lack intelligence. Some conservatives are highly intelligent; others lack intelligence. Given that reality, you’d expect progressives and conservatives to be about equally represented among college professors. The reality is strikingly different.

The Summer 2018 issue of Academic Questions included an article by Mitchell Langbert titled “Homogenous: The Political Affiliations of Elite Liberal Arts College Faculty.” Look at this chart from the article that reports the results of a study that included 5,116 professors:

 

 

To the right of each blue bar is a number that gives you the ratio of registered Democrats to registered Republicans for professors in that field. For example, the first row in the chart shows that among professors of engineering in the elite institutions surveyed there were 1.6 registered Democrats for each registered Republican. Among professors of history there were 17.4 registered Democrats for each registered Republican. In English departments the ratio was a whopping 48.3 to 1. And in the fields of anthropology and communications not a single registered Republican could be found!

Someone who wanted to be sarcastic might say: Well, Republicans aren’t very bright, so that’s exactly what you’d expect. Obviously that’s not the reason. In fact Republicans are most represented (though still way underrepresented) in intellectually demanding fields like engineering, chemistry, and mathematics. (And now I’ll be sarcastic and point out that any dolt can be an English major but it takes brains to do calculus.) Furthermore, if you go back say 50 years, you didn’t find hugely lopsided ratios like these, and surely the distribution of human intelligence hasn’t changed in half a century.

No, the heavily skewed distribution in the 2018 study (and it must be even more so now, after the pandemic of disease and delusion that struck in 2020) reflects the way leftist ideology has taken over almost all of academia. Many departments just won’t hire an applicant whose work goes counter to the prevailing orthodoxy and who has too much dignity to genuflect and swear the required oath of allegiance to the triune academic gods of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion*, hallowed be their names.

You’re welcome to read Mitchell Langbert’s article and also the January 11th one in Quillette that alerted me to the older one: Elizabeth Weiss’s “A Report From the Stanford Academic Freedom Conference.”

 

 

* Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion often goes by the initialism DEI, which appropriately is the Latin word for ‘gods.’

 

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 14, 2023 at 4:27 AM

Light and shadow play on palmetto leaves

with 30 comments

 

On December 15th of the recently ended year we went to Palmetto State Park about an hour south of Austin so I could record the ways light and shadows played on the leaves of palmettos (Sabal minor), whether green and alive as above, or brown and dead as you see below.

 

  

§

§       §       §

§

 

Outrage! Outrage! Read all about it!

 

You’ve probably heard the proverb “Not all that glitters is gold.” It means that different things can look alike and that appearances can be deceptive. Iron pyrite glitters but it isn’t gold. Water can glitter, and yet it’s certainly not gold. Illusions exist among words, too. Take outrage. It’s easy to assume the word came about from conduct so far outside the bounds of decency that it sends people into a rage. Nice story. All it lacks to make it true is the truth. The word actually arose from Old French outre, from Latin ultra, meaning ‘beyond.’ The rest of the word is a common suffix, the same -age we find in blockage, orphanage, postage, percentage, voltage, and outage. So even though outrage looks like it’s out + rage, it isn’t. Not all that glitters is gold.

Ideologues would do well to check the origins of words before assuming things about them that aren’t true. One such was a member of the House of Representatives named Emanuel Cleaver, who gave a prayer during the opening of the 117th Congress in January 2021. At the end of his prayer he said “Amen and awoman.” He apparently believed that amen contains the English word men, which is why he felt the need to balance amen with awoman—though the plural awomen would have been the logical parallel. The truth is that amen is an ancient Hebrew word that meant ‘certainly, truly.’ That origin led one wit to quip about the closing of Representative Cleaver’s prayer: “If Amen is Hebrew, Awomen must be Shebrew.” Touché.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 13, 2023 at 4:29 AM

Still more and different takes on icicles

with 39 comments

 

Here’s a third installment of portraits that came from nearly four hours of
photographic playing with icicles on the morning of December 25th.

 

 

The location was a stretch of cliffs along the main creek in Great Hills Park.

 

 

In the odd-numbered pictures I used flash. In the even-numbered photographs natural light had its way with the ice. Each approach had an advantage. Flash allowed for more to stay in focus from front to back. Natural light let the icicles hold on to the colors they picked up from their surroundings.

 

  

(Pictures from Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas panhandle will resume next time.)

  

§

§        §        §

§

 

Parents in the United States have a strong preference for charter schools, regardless of demographic factors including race, income, geographic region or political affiliation, according to a report released by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

An online survey of some 5,000 parents of schoolchildren revealed that 74 percent would consider sending their child to a charter school if one were available to them. Even among parents who might not choose a charter, 84 percent believe charter schools should be available to others.

Nearly 90 percent of families whose children have switched school types experienced a positive change as a result of the switch, with 57 percent saying their child was happier.

 

So begins a January 6th story in The Epoch Times. You can read the whole article. One thing I would want to know is how representative the online respondents were of the American population as a whole.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 8, 2023 at 4:31 AM

More takes on icicles

with 35 comments

 

Icicles and I had something in common for nearly four hours on the morning of December 25th: we met at a cliff along the main creek in Great Hills Park. As the day advanced, I swapped my heavy winter jacket for a lighter one and took off my gloves. The icicles, clad in nothing, had only parts of themselves to shed, which at first they barely and then more noticeably did.

I took hundreds and hundreds of pictures as I tried different ways of portraying the icicles. Sometimes I used flash, as above, where the nether ends of the icicles merged with ice that had formed when dripping water froze on a stone slope.

 

 

At other times I went without flash. After I noticed the still-low sun intermittently peeking through far branches and close icicles pendant from a rock overhang, I exposed for the bright light, knowing the rest of the image would remain, and wanting it to remain, largely dark. Aiming into the sun produced two artifacts. One, expected, is the sunburst. As for the other, serendipitous and pareidolic, I’ll leave it to you to see whether your imagination works the same way mine does.

Also without flash, and much farther from my subject, is the view below showing tiers of icicles adjacent to southern maidenhair ferns, Adiantum capillus-veneris. From what I’ve read, the brown fern leaves were dead, even as the plants they were on might have been merely dormant.

 

 

 

§

§        §        §

§

 

The other day I complained about Congress passing an “omnibus” bill filled with many wasteful and frivolous things that will cause us, the taxpayers, to borrow another $1.67 trillion at increasingly high interest rates. Not only doesn’t Congress rein in profligate spending, our government doesn’t seem duly concerned about stopping fraud. Here’s a case in point.

As someone of a certain age, I’m on Medicare, which is a government health program for old folks. My December Medicare statement showed two unauthorized charges, one for August 26, 2022, and the other for September 26, 2022. In each case the biller was West Lake RX LLC, at 1255 SW Loop, Suite 120, San Antonio, TX 78227-1666, with phone number 210-851-8448. The billing in the amount of $351.90 on each of those two dates was for “1 Supply allowance for therapeutic continuous glucose monitor (cgm), includes all supplies and acces[s]o[ries] (K0553-KXCG).” The doctor who supposedly prescribed this, Laeeq Butt, is unknown to me, but when I searched online I found he practices telemedicine in Florida. I have never had any medical condition that requires glucose monitoring. When I called Medicare to report the unauthorized billings I was told that this is a known fraud and constitutes criminal activity because Medicare paid the company $183.93 each time. West Lake RX LLC doesn’t seem to have a website of its own, but at Yelp I found many people reporting similar fraudulent billing from the company.

Human nature being what it is, we expect some people to commit fraud. We also expect our government employees, of whom there are millions, to do something about it. Alas, the agent I spoke with at Medicare when I reported the unauthorized billing told me Medicare has no mechanism to flag fraudulent claims on people’s accounts. That seems to mean criminal companies will keep billing Medicare, and Medicare will keep using our tax money to pay the fraudulent claims. Outrageous, isn’t it? It’s also outrageous, since this is a known fraud, that the Federal District Attorney in San Antonio hasn’t filed charges against the company and had the police arrest the people committing the fraud.

I’ve reported all the details of my fraudulent billing not only to Medicare but also, as the Medicare agent instructed me to do, to the Office of the Inspector General and the Federal Trade Commission. Whether it will do any good remains to be seen.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 31, 2022 at 4:27 AM

%d bloggers like this: