Portraits of Wildflowers

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Posts Tagged ‘Cedar Park

Gulf muhly on a breezy day

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On October 29th, when I drove up to the adjacent Austin suburb of Cedar Park looking for poverty weed at its fluffy best, I also came across some gulf muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) that looked good enough for me to get on the ground and aim up toward the clear blue sky. The top left portion of the photograph confirms the breeze I had to contend with that morning. Note the moon.


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The technical definition of a word sometimes differs from the common one. For example, most English speakers use the word bug to refer to insects in general or even other little critters like spiders. In contrast, etymologists use the term bug only for members of a certain order of insects, the Hemiptera; some sources say true bug to indicate the restricted scope.

That kind of difference between a technical definition and a common one came up recently in reference to some incidents this past week that you may have heard about in which organized “smash and grab” groups in the San Francisco Bay area stole lots of merchandise from high-end stores. In connection with that, I came across a report from station KABC with the headline “Experts caution use of ‘looting’ in describing rash of Bay Area smash and grabs.” The report notes that “The [California] penal code defines looting as ‘theft or burglary…during a ‘state of emergency’, ‘local emergency’, or ‘evacuation order’ resulting from an earthquake, fire, flood, riot or other natural or manmade disaster.” Because authorities hadn’t declared any state of emergency or issued any evacuation orders before the thefts, the argument goes, the stealing at the high-end stores shouldn’t be called looting.

Some would say that that’s just quibbling. It got me wondering how the average person uses the verb loot, so I checked a few online dictionaries:

Merriam-Webster:

1a: to plunder or sack in war
b: to rob especially on a large scale and usually by violence or corruption
2: to seize and carry away by force especially in war

Oxford Dictionaries:

Steal goods from (a place), typically during a war or riot. ‘desperate residents looted shops for food and water’
1.1 Steal (goods) in a war, riot, etc.

American Heritage Dictionary:

1. To take goods from (a place) by force or without right, especially in time of war or lawlessness; plunder: The rebels looted the city. Rioters looted the downtown stores.
2. To take by force or without right; steal: broke into the tomb and looted the grave goods.
v.intr. To take goods by force or through lawless behavior.

So yes, the verb has a historical connection to war and rioting and natural disasters. At the same time, definition 1b in Merriam-Webster and definition 2 in the American Heritage Dictionary show that people have also been using loot more loosely. It’s a truism of linguistics that words often change, both in how they’re pronounced and what they mean.

In looking up loot, I found that the word came into English from Hindi, presumably as a result of British colonialism in India. For a list of other English words borrowed from languages spoken in India, you can check out a Wikipedia article. You may be surprised that some very common English words make the list.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 27, 2021 at 4:28 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Sunny poverty weed

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On October 14th I photographed some wet poverty weed (Baccharis neglecta) flowering along Bull Creek under overcast skies. As the month advanced, many of these bushes reached their peak of fluffiness, which I spent time recording in the town of Cedar Park on the morning of the 29th. Now the sun shone and the sky was clear blue, so the photographs came out quite different from those you saw earlier. Another factor this time was the presence of wind, which blew the bushes about. In the top picture you can pick out a couple of bits of fluff that had gone airborne. To deal with wind gusts I turned to shutter speeds as high as 1/640 of a second. That was fast enough to stop the motion in the following picture.


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Pronouns, pronouns, who’s got the pronouns?

According to the Gender Pronouns page on the website of Springfield College in Massachusetts,

  • The best thing to do if you use the wrong pronoun for someone is to say something right away, such as “Sorry, I meant they.” Fix it, but do not call special attention to the error in the moment. If you realize your mistake after the fact, apologize in private and move on.
  • It can be tempting to go on and on about how bad you feel that you messed up or how hard it is for you to get it right. But please, don’t. It is inappropriate and makes the person who was misgendered feel awkward and responsible for comforting you, which is not their job. It is your job to remember people’s pronouns.

My pronouns this week are mzekpitran for the subjective case and ervijmpt for the objective case. It is your job to remember them.

[Craziness and frivolity aside, you may be surprised that my subjective and objective pronouns don’t resemble each other. Actually English does the same thing with some of its pronouns—a fact that native speakers don’t normally think about. Consider the way English pairs the first-person I as a subject with the dissimilar me as an object, and likewise we with the dissimilar us. Corresponding to the I/me forms in the singular are the related French je/me, Russian я (ya)/меня (menyá), Portuguese eu/me, Italian io/me, Catalan jo/me, and Spanish yo/me].

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 17, 2021 at 4:40 AM

Giant ragweed flowers and drying leaf

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On September 24th along the Brushy Creek Regional Trail in Cedar Park I noticed plenty of giant ragweed (Ambrosia trifida) flowering. The portrait above shows one inflorescence with some happily out-of-focus patches of blue sky peeking through the canopy of trees. (Not so happy was my nose: those yellow clumps in little downward-opening holders are pollen grains, which were getting released into the air whenever the breeze blew strong enough or something like a hapless photographer bumped up against the plant.)

Where I managed to get a clear shot of the sky I made a sculptural portrait of a drying and curling giant ragweed leaf. What let me stop down to f/25 for good depth of field was flash, which also caused the sky to register as a preturnaturally dark blue-indigo. But hey, what’s reality, anyhow? That’s a question I and a zillion philosophers have asked many times. We’re all still waiting for an answer.

For a different diagonal take on a drying leaf, check out this monochrome composition by Alessandra Chaves.

During one of my photographic stops along the Brushy Creek Regional Trail that morning several women walked past me and I heard a single sentence that one of them said to the others: “She spent $30,000 on her dog, including therapy.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 7, 2021 at 4:29 AM

Sunflower and more

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From Twin Lakes Park in Cedar Park on September 24th, here’s a backlit back view of a sunflower (Helianthus annuus) with out-of-focus silver bluestem seed heads (Bothriochloa laguroides) beyond it. On one of the sunflower’s rays I noticed a tiny insect. Once I did, I brought my macro lens as close as possible to what turned out to be a true bug (as opposed to the common English use of bug to mean any kind of insect). Naturalist Ken Wohlgemuth says it might be in the genus Harmostes (which I showed a member of in 2015). Click below to truly enlarge the true bug.


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Discussions of taxes focus mostly on income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and other overt forms of taxation. Many people don’t realize that low interest rates are a form of tax. For much of my life, and as recently as 2008, people who lived within their means could save some money and put it in a bank to get interest of 4% per year. As decades passed, compound interest would let a person’s savings grow to a nice nest egg for later in life. Since the financial crash of 2008, however, governments around the world have kept interest rates artificially low, so low that 1% has often been the best deal available. A big reason why governments have done so is that they continue borrowing extravagantly, and lower interest rates correspond to lower repayments of debt.

Another tax that often isn’t thought of as a tax is inflation. People in recent months have begun to notice it because so many prices have been rising. Among the most conspicuous are the prices of staple foods—have you been to the supermarket lately?—and of fuel. The price of natural gas has risen 100% in the United States this year, and 280% in Europe, as winter approaches and the demand for heating homes heads for its annual peak. According to one website, “The annual inflation rate in the US eased [!] to 5.3% in August from a 13-year high of 5.4% reported in June and July.” So even as thrifty people struggle to get pitifully little interest on their savings in a bank—the best rates are currently running at about half of a percent—the value of each dollar keeps going down.

Not only is inflation a hidden tax, but it’s the kind of tax economists classify as regressive. That means it disproportionately affects people who are the least able to afford it. A wealthy person doesn’t care if gasoline is $3 a gallon or $6 a gallon, or if a loaf of bread this year costs a dollar more than it did last year. But for a person who is living on the margins and who needs to drive to work, the dollar-a-gallon rise in the price of gasoline over the past year is painful, as is paying noticeably more for a cart of groceries to sustain a family.

Several years ago I would occasionally ask someone out of the blue: “Have you got your $60,000 ready?” That was the share of the national debt owed by each person in the United States, from newborn baby to centenarian. By 2019 the per-capita share had risen to around $69,000. By 2020 it had soared to almost $81,000. As of two weeks ago, the amount every single person in America owes was calculated to be $85,424.

I bring all this up now for a couple of reasons. One is that it’s distressing to watch helplessly as the money we’ve dutifully saved by living within our means is worth less and less each month. Another reason is that the current administration in the United States is pushing to “spend”—which means borrow—$3.5 trillion more than the trillions it has already borrowed. That will drive the national debt even higher; soon I’ll be asking you whether you’ve got your $100,000 ready to pay your individual share. Profligate borrowing will also further incite inflation, which, as noted, most affects the people least able to cope with it. To use a word that’s in vogue, all this is unsustainable. Our representatives in government have to find ways to begin paying down the national debt, not driving it ever higher. In short, just as individuals have to live within their means, so do governments.

(And let me head off potential criticism by adding that I was against the large increases in the debt under both Obama and Trump. Inordinate debt is bad no matter which party is responsible for it.)

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 6, 2021 at 4:27 AM

Yellow with a blush of pink

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Our two local species of Tetraneuris both go by the common name four-nerve daisy. The one that I find in much larger numbers and that I’ve therefore most often shown here is T. linearifolia. On June 18th in the town of Cedar Park I came across the other species, T. scaposa, and took advantage of the find to make a portrait with some nearby mountain pinks offering their contrasting color in the background.


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Here’s an interesting bit of history I learned from an article by Jarrett A. Lobell in the July/August 2021 issue of Archaeology, which is one of the magazines I subscribe to: “When it was built nearly 5,000 years ago, the Great Pyramid of Giza was the tallest structure in the world, a title it would retain for more than 3,500 years, until it was surpassed by several of England’s medieval cathedrals.”

Since 2010 the world’s tallest building has been the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. I can’t imagine it will retain its title for another 3500 years; it’s highly unlikely to still even exist 350 years from now. Sic transibit gloria mundi.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 2, 2021 at 4:43 AM

Time again for mountain pinks

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Flowers and bullet-like buds of Zeltnera beyrichii on June 18th in Cedar Park.
Thinks to Kathy Werner for tipping me off to the location.
(In return I tipped her off to the location of some bluebells near there.)


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A few days ago I finished reading Douglas Murray’s excellent book The Madness of Crowds, in which he pointed out something I’d begun noticing, too: the hits that come up in response to certain searches on Google are biased. Murray gave several examples, one of which was that when he searched for “straight couples,” many of the pictures that came up in Google Images showed gay couples. His book is from 2019, so I tried that experiment for myself last week to see what sort of results I’d get in mid-2021.

The top row of hits I got for “straight couples” contained seven pictures. The first showed a lesbian couple. The second showed a gay male couple. The third showed a male-female couple. The fourth showed a lesbian couple. The fifth showed a male-female couple. The sixth and seventh both showed lesbian couples. In summary, only two of the seven pictures in the top row matched the search string “straight couples.”

It’s practically impossible for a set of hits so different from the search string to come up by chance. To understand why, imagine all the pictures of couples out there on the internet; billions of them have been posted. Now imagine that you searched for pictures of couples without specifying any particular kind of couple. Using the estimate that 5% of couples are same-sex, I did the calculations to find out how often a random grab of seven pictures of couples would yield an assortment with five gay couples and two straight couples. The arithmetic shows you can expect that to happen only 0.14% of the time, or approximately 1 out of every 700 times. And remember, that’s without specifying what kind of couple you’re after. The fact that I searched specifically for straight couples makes the 5-gay-and-2-straight result I got much less probable than the already tiny 0.14% we’d expect if we didn’t specify the kind of couple.

The only conclusion possible, in fact the one Douglas Murray came to, is that Google is cooking the books—and since Google is a search engine and not accounting software, cooking the books means rigging the search algorithm to distort reality. And this from the company whose original motto was “Don’t be evil.”

Oh, and just in case anyone feels an overwhelming ad hominem urge to label Douglas Murray homophobic for pointing out what he did about Google, he happens to be gay.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 28, 2021 at 4:27 AM

A large redbud tree blossoming

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Here’s how a large redbud tree, Cercis canadensis var. texensis, looked in the town of Cedar Park on March 17th. While no bright St. Patrick’s Day green put in an appearance here, the scene’s color scheme does remind us that before the middle of the 20th century Americans went with pink for baby boys and blue for baby girls. In the realm of geology rather than sociology, the magnetic polarity of the earth has also occasionally reversed. So have a few of my opinions, and presumably so have some of yours as well.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 25, 2021 at 4:28 AM

Silver bluestem seed heads blowing

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November 9; Brushy Creek Lake Park in Cedar Park.
Silver bluestem = Bothriochloa laguroides.
Backlighting; shutter speed = 1/640.

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© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 9, 2020 at 4:36 AM

Snow-on-the-mountain from the ground

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When I say “from the ground” I mean lying on my back on the ground with my 24–105mm lens zoomed out at or near the wide end to play off some gone-to-seed snow-on-the-mountain plants (Euphorbia marginata) against the clear blue sky. As you see, horizontal and vertical compositions are both possible.

I found these plants adjacent to the pond on Discovery Blvd. in Cedar Park on November 18th.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 23, 2020 at 4:33 AM

3-D

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Here’s something different: a stereo* pair I took at a quarry in Cedar Park on September 14, 1980—40 years ago today! To see the image in 3-D, I suggest you get about 15 inches away from the screen and line each eye up with the matching half of the pair. Look straight ahead, then relax your eyes. Once you get used to things, the left half should drift a bit to the left, the right half a bit to the right, and in between them should appear a fused image of the two halves. If you manage to discern that middle image, your brain will interpret it as 3-D and you’ll see the big slab and the boulders behind it as having depth; the cloud was too far away from the foreground to have any depth. People’s vision varies enormously, so to get 3-D you may have to enlarge or shrink the images on your screen, or view the screen from closer or farther away, or put on or take off glasses, or drink a magic potion. Whatever you do, don’t close one eye; it takes two eyes to see 3-D, which is why we have two eyes. (People who have lost the sight of one eye or close one eye retain their sense of how things look in the physical world and may imagine they’re still seeing in 3-D, but they aren’t.)

Here’s a related fact for today: well-known movies filmed in 3-D include “House of Wax” (1953), “Kiss Me Kate” (1953), “It Came from Outer Space (1953), “Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954), and “Dial M for Murder” (1954).

* We’ve grown up with the word stereo referring to music played through two speakers. More than a century before scientists applied the term to sound, though, they applied it to sight. The Greek original meant ‘solid,’ and solidity, i.e. three-dimensionality, is what a photographic stereo pair conveys.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 14, 2020 at 4:31 AM

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