Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘autumn

A tale of two sumacs, part 2

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In yesterday’s post you saw that Rhus trilobata, one of Austin’s three native sumac species, produces colorful fall foliage, though not on the scale of our renowned flameleaf sumac. The third species, Rhus virens, is known as evergreen sumac. (In fact Latin virens means ‘being green’; compare verdant, from the same root.) Normally evergreen sumac’s leaves do remain green, but some of them occasionally turn warm colors. In my experience, that seems to be when something afflicts the tree, e.g. a freeze, or when a branch gets broken and dies. From Allen Park on December 17th, here are two different-hued examples of evergreen sumac not being green. The sheen on the leaves characterizes this species.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

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My father and his parents and brother fled from the Soviet Union in the 1920s, so I’ve always been aware and leery of the tyranny of ideological regimes. Another Russian escapee, Anna Krylov, recently had a letter published in The Journal of Physical Chemistry in which she drew on her own early life in the USSR, “where communist ‘ideology permeated all aspects of life, and survival required strict adherence to the party line and enthusiastic displays of ideologically proper behavior.’ I noted that certain names and ideas are now forbidden within academia for ideological reasons, just as had been the case in my youth.”

Normally these days the people who uphold cancel culture lash out at anyone who speaks up against enforced ideologies. The reaction against Anna Krylov, however, was better than has recently been the case with many other people that illiberal ideologues have attacked: “I expected to be viciously mobbed, and possibly cancelled, like others before me. Yet the result surprised me. Although some did try to cancel me, I received a flood of encouraging emails from others who share my concern with the process by which radical political doctrines are being injected into STEM [science, technology, engineering, math] pedagogy, and by which objective science is being subjugated to regressive moralization and censorship. The high ratio of positive-to-negative comments (even on Twitter!) gave me hope that the silent liberal majority within STEM may (eventually) prevail over the forces of illiberalism.”

You can read more about this in Anna Krylov and Jay Tanzman’s article in Quillette, “Academic Ideologues Are Corrupting STEM. The Silent Liberal Majority Must Fight Back.” The article includes lots of links to related stories.

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 28, 2021 at 4:37 AM

A tale of two sumacs, part 1

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The title of this post aside, Austin is home to three native sumac species. By far the most colorful is the aptly named flameleaf sumac, Rhus lanceolata, which you’ve often enough seen here putting on great displays of fall foliage. Less well known is Rhus trilobata, the species name of which tells you that each leaf is made up of three leaflets, each of which can be seen as having three primary lobes. Vernacular names include three-leaf sumac and skunkbush, though nothing about this small tree has ever smelled skunky to me. In any case, the leaves of this species tend to turn colors in the fall, and that’s what you see in this portrait from Allen Park on December 17th. I’d gone out that morning with my ring flash so I could stop down for good depth of field.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman


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I recently came across the term cancel culture fittingly recast as coward culture in an op-ed by Bret Stephens. He wrote that “our universities are failing at the task of educating students in the habits of a free mind. Instead, they are becoming islands of illiberal ideology and factories of moral certitude, more often at war with the values of liberal democracy than in their service.” You’re welcome to read the full op-ed.

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 27, 2021 at 5:52 AM

More red from Inks Lake

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At the same place in Inks Lake State Park on November 29th where Virginia creeper vines announced their presence by turning bright red, Eve noticed and drew my attention to a nest in a prickly pear cactus (Opuntia sp.) It provided a deep red via its tunas, which is what the fruits of this kind of cactus are called in Spanish and increasingly even in English (they’re the supposed “pears” in “prickly pears”). One tuna on a different pad was in fact a twin tuna. Here’s a view looking straight down at that pear pair:


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Linguistics professor John McWhorter‘s book Woke Racism was recently released. I encourage you to watch an excellent 18-minute summary of the book via a PBS interview of McWhorter by Walter Isaacson.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 21, 2021 at 4:30 AM

More red creepers

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At one point in our wanderings at Inks Lake State Park on November 29th some distant patches of bright red drew our attention. Once we got close enough we confirmed them to be clusters of Virginia creeper leaves (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). In the top picture, notice the pencil cactus (Cylindropuntia leptocaulis) at the lower left and the prickly pear cactus (Opuntia sp.) at the lower right. Below is a better view of one of those bright red leaf clusters.

 As recently as this past Thursday I still found a few
scarlet Virginia creeper leaflets in our Austin neighborhood:

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On August 9th and November 9th and December 4th I reported that the people in charge of many American elementary and secondary schools are increasingly racializing and radicalizing their curricula. Publicly those educationists deny doing so, and they put out sophistic statements meant to conceal the truth. In internal communications and workshops, however, they make no secret of what they’re actually doing. I recently came across Sugi Sorensen’s article “Ethnic Studies as a Trojan Horse for Critical Race Theory,” which offers a lot more documentation of the deceit.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 19, 2021 at 4:31 AM

Backlit sycamore leaf

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The foliage of a bald cypress tree wasn’t the only backlit thing I portrayed at Inks Lake State Park on November 29th. The leaves of sycamore tree saplings (Platanus occidentalis) tend to grow in an upright posture, and that made it easy for me to line up one such leaf against the sparkles coming off Inks Lake. Lens optics turned that bright scene into a phantasmagoria. Note the spider silk across each of the two arcs formed by the leaf’s upper lobes.


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Two posts back I mentioned that I’m reading Steven Pinker’s new book Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters. Based on some statistics he mentions that were taken from Bobby Duffy’s Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything, I invited you to estimate what percent of the American population you think certain groups represent. (The percents in other countries often differ, of course.)

Survey respondents on average have estimated 28% of Americans are immigrants, whereas the actual figure is 12%.

Survey respondents on average have estimated 24% of Americans are gay, while the true figure is 4.5%.

Survey respondents on average have estimated about a third of Americans are African Americans, when the actual figure is 12.7%.

Survey respondents on average have estimated 18% of Americans are Jews, who in fact make up only 2% of the population.

Survey respondents on average have estimated that in the world as a whole, 20% of girls and women aged 15–19 give birth each year, while the actual figure is just 2%.

One cause of the discrepancies in perception is media coverage, which focuses on certain things out of proportion to their actual occurrence. For example, you never see an urgent news story about the tens of thousands of airplanes that took off, flew, and landed safely today; you only hear about the minuscule fraction of planes that crashed.

People’s tendency to estimate the proportion of something based on the degree to which they’ve been exposed to that thing is known as the availability heuristic.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 17, 2021 at 4:38 AM

Return to Inks Lake State Park

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On May 6th, during a spring visit to Inks Lake State Park, we explored a section of the park that we’d not been to before and that proved rewarding. When we returned on November 29th for our first visit since then, we adopted the same strategy and walked an additional two trails we’d never trodden before. Among the first things to catch my photographic attention on that clear and sunny day was a bald cypress tree (Taxodium distichum) whose feathery leaves had turned yellow, orange, and reddish brown. I positioned myself under the tree and aimed toward the sun to let backlighting transluce and saturate the foliage even as patches of blue provided a contrasting hue.

Not far away, a different reddish brown revealed itself on the trunk of a fallen oak tree.

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“Mass migration only flows in one direction: from countries that haven’t made the meritocratic transition to those that have.” “One of the most reliable rules in life is that second-rate people will always appoint third-rate people in order to protect themselves from being shown up.” “We are about to learn that the meritocratic idea can be just as powerful in the service of state-authoritarianism as, until now, it has been in the service of liberal democracy.” Those are three lines from Adrian Wooldridge’s good article “The War on Meritocracy,” which traces the history of the meritocratic ideal and discusses the ways in which dogmatists are assailing and increasingly defeating that ideal.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 14, 2021 at 4:34 AM

Goldenrod as a source of colorful fall foliage

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I think most people’s fondness for goldenrod (Solidago sp.) comes from its cheery yellow or yellow-orange flower heads. Less often noticed is that its drying leaves are sometimes a good source of fall color. I made both photographs at the Riata Trace Pond on November 9th. (By the way, as recently as last week I was still seeing a few goldenrod plants with flowers on them.)

Like the two ladies’ tresses pictures featured here three days ago, this pair of photographs contrasts a soft approach using morning light and a wide aperture with a starker approach using flash and a smaller aperture.

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Here are two good articles in support of free speech and a diversity of viewpoints.

Higher Ed’s Free Speech Death Spiral,” by Nathan Harden.

Monomania Is Illiberal and Stupefying,” by Jonathan Haidt.

The first paragraph in the second article includes links to 15 more articles! Happy reading.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 9, 2021 at 4:31 AM

Red oak leaf and soft clouds

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While down close to the ground on November 22 photographing the Great Plains ladies tresses’ orchids you saw last time, I noticed some oak leaves near by that looked bright red from backlighting by the sun. As shown here, I managed to isolate one of those leaves against soft clouds. The species could well have been Texas red oak, Quercus buckleyi.

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“We write to express our alarm over recent trends in K-12 mathematics education in the United States.”

So begins an open letter signed by hundreds of experts in mathematics, computer science, engineering, and related fields. The letter goes on to explain that the movement for “equity” in mathematics education, whatever its professed goals, actually harms American students and reduces our nation’s mathematical preparedness. The letter isn’t long, and I encourage you to read it.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 7, 2021 at 4:15 AM

More dew, dew, dew

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Native grasses are a small-scale source of fall color in central Texas. Above, you’re looking at a sideways-leaning stalk of bushy bluestem (Andropogon tenuispatheus*) that had gathered lots of dewdrops at the Riata Trace Pond on the morning of November 9th. Fewer and smaller dewdrops coalesced on a nearby bushy bluestem seed head that had kept its normal upright stance; the pond provided the grey background.

* Just yesterday morning I (but not James Taylor) had to glom on to the reality that the members of the bushy bluestem complex have been reclassified, and that most of the plants in Texas have become Andropogon tenuispatheus and are no longer A. glomeratus. From now on, wordsmiths will have to play up the tenuous connections this grass has to other things.

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I think you’ll probably be appalled to learn the extent to which ideologues in some American schools are intruding into the private lives of even their elementary school students. Contrast that with a sentence I remember from the one year of German I took in college in 1966: Die Universität Deutschlands kümmert sich nicht um das Privatleben der Studenten. Universities in Germany don’t care about students’ private lives.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 1, 2021 at 4:28 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

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