31 May 2008

So much easier

when they aren't flying...
Mute swan at Tommy Thompson.
Today has otherwise involved finding out why they recommend not doing yum upgrades of Fedora distribution versions, manual interaction with boot loaders, and running xfs_repair -L (the do-or-die version, that is–toss all the existing state information and assume it will reconstruct properly. To my great good fortune, so it did...)
With any luck at all, I'll stop twitching soon.

30 May 2008

Landing Turn

Landing tern, too; I've cropped out the float covered in terns, gravel, and nesting structures.
Should have had the shutter speed somewhat higher for this one, but it is a fair impression of the motion all the same.

29 May 2008

Thinking of landing

Portions of this particular gull are even in focus!
The dark vertical streaks are vegetation in the (close) foreground, blurred out by the focal distance.

28 May 2008

Wish for flatter water

It doesn't do a bit of good, but there are surely times I do it.
This whole birds-in-flight thing is definitely going to take more practise.

27 May 2008

Savanah Sparrow

Cropped, but not downsized. Could be better, but I believe one can at least tell what it is.

26 May 2008

Beneficial scale differences

It is sometimes difficult to avoid the impression that not only have some gulls had the opportunity to commit a little homophagic scavenging, they'd really like to do that again.

25 May 2008

No whimbrel today

The OFO had a field trip today, out Tommy Thompson Park (an artificial spit of land that sticks out into Lake Ontario to the east of the Toronto Harbour) for "late migrants, breeding birds & butterflies". It's wooded landfill, more or less, but landfill where thought and attention went into making sure it would be good diverse habitat, since the early (if not original) intention was to turn this necessary breakwater for the expansion of the Toronto Harbour sure to come with the completion of the St. Lawrence Seaway into a bit of urban wilderness. (The traffic to the Toronto Harbour has declined steadily since the Seaway was completed, back in 1953.)

I got to try out the new backpack, intended to permit me to transport a tripod for a spotting scope readily; it worked well (pack technology has seriously improved in the last five years) but my tendency to overpack mean that I just went for a nine hour walk carrying about fifteen kilos of stuff. Didn't need the lens bag; need to get a 'batteries, memory, and cleaning supplies' bag that is possessed of the minimalist volume nature, and not carry an extra five or so kilos of glass that I'm not going to use with me. Carrying a tripod and scope over one shoulder works, too, but I may want to invest in some padding for the shoulder.

The main problem, though, is that a modern pack transfers weight to the hips; the shoulder straps are there to keep the thing aligned with your body. When I raise binoculars to look at a bird, though, I find myself picking up the pack by the shoulder straps as well as raising the binoculars, which is more of a workout than my shrugging muscles perhaps deserve. This argues against back packs for birding supplies. It also, perhaps, argues against taking a camera; one either goes photographing birds, or birding, but not both at once, at least not without either a cart or a porter.

Aside from birds, we saw two beaver, turtles, and giant goldfish. There were some three butterflies as well, but I regret that I did not retain any of their names.

I am told that the group list is over 90 species; this is for a group that started at about 35 people and was initially split into multiple groups in the woods, so I don't think any one person managed all ninety. I saw perhaps half the group total: American Bittern, Baltimore Oriole, Bay-breasted Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-crowned Night Heron, Black Duck, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Blue-gray Gnat Catcher, Blue Jay, Brown Thrasher, Bufflehead Duck, Canada Goose, Canvasback Duck, Caspian Tern, Cedar Waxwing, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Common Tern, Cormorant, Cowbird, Dunlin, Great Egret, Hooded Merganser, Kestrel, Killdeer, Kingbird, Least Sandpiper, Lesser Scaup, Lincoln Sparrow, Longtail Duck, Magnolia Warbler, Meadowlark, Morning Warbler, Mute Swan, Northern Harrier, Palm Warbler, Parula, Philadelphia Vireo, Red-necked Grebe, Redstart, Red-tailed Hawk, Rough-winged Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Swainson's Thrush, Willow Flycatcher, Wilson's Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Yellow Warbler. (49 species)

I am a complete sucker for goslings in the reminiscent-of-hadrosaurs stage, which makes photo choice easy:

24 May 2008

Pattern is real

No single chemical reaction is life, but you are alive. Every chemical compound, every element, every individual reaction, exists independent of life.
The thing that makes life is simply the organization of those chemical reactions, so that they—pretty much entirely, though the interactions get complicated—make copies of themselves.

The life we have now is, without exception, the result of life that got copies of itself into the future; this is where the competition and the "nature red in tooth and claw" comes into it. It's also where the co-operation in groups comes into it; you and I are multi-cellular life, with many individually specialized cells and all sorts of pattern-copies from other organisms and, way back there, very probably the merging of different organisms to get the eukaryotic cell. But the essential thing is that patterns of organization are subject to selection based not on inherent efficiency or elegance but how well they do in the context of a great many other patterns of organization.

Unless you really need to find the breath of God in this somewhere, none of this is the least bit controversial; the thing that makes dirt and air and water into life is the specific organization of the dirt and air and water.

The same thing applies to social organizations; they compete with one another to get copies of themselves into the future. The mutation rate is higher, the way the patterns are created is relatively free of heredity, but we can still look at the organizations of human social co-operation and see that they have births and deaths and descent with modification, and are recognizable as themselves between the birth-analog and the death-analog.

So now I get to the 'just what is going on with the Chinese Communist Party" question, where some notice has been given to how this allegedly (and actually) autocratic and absolutist organization with a poor human rights record is doing such a good job of disaster relief, while the US government did such a very bad job of this with New Orleans.

The answer to this is (I think) pretty obvious; the Chinese Communist Party considers everybody in China to be part of the organization; they may be awkward, problematic, in need of education, and so on, but they are all minimally subject to the Party; there isn't anybody outside of that span of responsibility. This isn't true of the current US administration; it's scope of belonging is very narrowly defined by questions of wealth and belief. So there's the idea of responsibility in the one case, and not in the other.

The other part of the answer is that the Chinese Communist Party has—just—the living memory of the Long March, and the deep-seated cultural awareness after two centuries of horrible wars and foreign occupation, that everything can always be lost.

The US? Not at all; they have a national myth of victory, of being the good guys, of always winning. It does not occur as a normal part of their discourse to notice that they can cease to exist. So disasters are by definition temporary setbacks; the government cannot lose legitimacy, there will be no rebellion in the provinces, and lasting doom will not occur. Nobody in China believes that; what little information in English comes out seems to suggest that the wide majority are completely terrified of that happening, however variously likely they regard the possibility as being, and so willing to accept a great deal of autocracy as a trade off towards making sure that doesn't happen again.

Leaving aside the actual Sauron-cuddling moral status of the USG, and going with the public myth of being the good guys, this is the difference; morals don't matter, but the pattern of organization sure does, and if you know you cannot fall, are eternal and immortal and dwell in the special favour of God, nothing is urgent, because nothing carries with it the risk of death. (Or truly meaningful loss.)

So, really, it's all about patterns of organization and how well they do in competition with each other; the trick, if you like individual human rights, is to come up with a stable pattern of organization that supports those individual rights and out-competes those patterns of organization which do not.

How do you out-compete a meritocratic autocracy that's figured out—conceptually, though the implementation struggles—the rule of law?

Not a trivial problem.

23 May 2008

One end of the line

East end of the north wall of the great hall in Union Station.
I'm pretty sure you can take a train to St. John's—though I think they only load you, and not the train, on a boat—these days, but the carved stones would find two of those three flags very strange, if ever the stones take notice of what wakes thin shadows on them, dust of photons in the dust of years.

22 May 2008

A substantial head wind

One the between-track fence of the Kingston train station. It didn't feel anything like that breezy to me, and any oncoming trains happened fifteen minutes later.
Perhaps robins can generate a head wind the way cats generate gravity?

21 May 2008

The slow bones of sidewalks

Leakage, in Union Station, and it looks like deposition is winning over erosion. So the slow bones of the sidewalks are moving downstairs, where they are more free to express themselves in crystalline form and the feet can't find them.

20 May 2008

Most unlikely

Taken with a 50mm lens whilst perambulating about the perimeter of my grandmothers' new quarters. I get the feeling that they're awfully tame for goldfinches, and I surely do not expect to get a useful bird picture with so short a lens again.

A recipe of sorts

I did this with rib eye steak; I suspect just about any reasonably boneless cut would work. (I am sure it would work with sirloin, but hey, I generally buy sirloin in slabs these days.)

Melt bacon fat to cover and a bit more—you want to see a wave in the pan when you tip it, but you don't want an impression of depth—in a cast iron frying pan well large enough for your steak. If you have an electric range like I've got, the right setting for this is a bit past medium; if you don't, you want to have it hot enough that the fat isn't spitting, but it would if it were appreciably hotter.

The steak has been hauled out of the refrigerator, freed from packaging, and rinsed under cold water while the bacon fast was melting; shake it a bit (the less water on the surface, the better) and sling it into the pan. It helps to have done the pan tipping just before so the fat coverage of the pan centre is as deep as it's going to go.

Cover haphazardly—the objective is not a thick crust, but it should be mistakable for one by someone not paying close attention— with ground cinnamon, modestly with crushed dried leaves of tarragon, and apply a very light (two eighth turns on the grinder) quantity of salt. Cover the pan with one of those splatter screens, and do something else for four minutes. (I did dishes.)

Remove the splatter screen, lift the steak off with a fork, do the pan rock thing to get the fat redistributed, and flip the steak over back into the pan. Replace the splatter screen for another four minutes. (You didn't think I could get all the dishes done in the first four minutes, did you?)

Flip the whole thing again; you now have two minutes. (For a sort of rare; if you want crunchy blue, the times go down to under three, two and a half, and a bit more than one, minutes, and the heat goes up a bit and the splatter screen is not at all optional.) In that two minutes, find a jar of organic applesauce, a cutting board with edge gutters, a respectable slicing knife, a large bowl, and whatever you use to deglaze the pan. (I use a lamentable brandy; it comes in a glass bottle, and that's about the limit of what I can hope to say in its defense. On the plus side, cooking returns strong drink to the mean, and it's excellently effective at the deglazing part.)

The heat is turned down to simmer, the steak comes out, is given a vertical moment to lose any surface liquids back into the pan, and gets put on the cutting board.

A goodly dollop of brandy goes in the pan, and there is much scraping with a fork (Aoife is not enamored of this noise whatsoever) until it is indeed deglazed. Three and a half tablespoons—meaning as much applesauce as will stick to the tablespoon in result of a scooping motion, not a measured tablespoon—go into the pan and there is further stirring. A certain small quantity of water needs be added so that things will smooth. Remember to take the fork out of the pan again, and put it somewhere it shan't become contaminated.

Slice the steak into quarter inch thick strips, more or less; the long ones in the middle get sliced in half (I think one is after pieces of a comfortable size to eat with chopsticks, but opinions will probably vary) and the whole lot get tossed into the large bowl. (Big soup bowl, small serving bowl sort of size.) Any juices on the cutting board go into the pan, and there is more stirring. A little bit of salt goes on to the meat in the bowl; the knife gets washed, dried, and put away, and the cutting board gets washed and put on a rack to dry.

Final bit of stirring, with optional turning up of heat until the contents of the pan is threatening to boil, then the whole lot gets poured over the contents of the bowl. (Which would, it must be admitted, probably do entirely well for two in the presence of side dishes and/or less appetite.) Wash and dry the pan; this takes but moments with warm water and steel wool, and it keeps the cleaning step from being a sorrow and a lamentation after things have had time to dry and bind to the iron as curses bind to the guilty.

Eat with chopsticks, a glass of orange juice, and looks of serious bafflement from a cat who is quite entirely certain that nothing involving cow is possessed of the food-nature.

19 May 2008

Dead Grass, Yellow Bird

The swamp across the road from the train station in Kingston; I have no idea what those reeds or marsh grass are, but they appear to get approximately twelve feet tall.
Almost certainly a yellow warbler, since there are other pictures and I can get a look at its head and thus convince myself. (Though in the case of yellow warblers, a less shiny shot might be diagnostic with only the provided view.)
This is with a zoom lens at the full 300mm extension. I want a hand-holdable 600mm f3, dammit, however impractical the desire. (Well, OK, if some combination of diamond optics, that metal sheet with nano hole fresnel lens/diffraction grating approach being proposed for space telescopes, and scandium lens tubes become collectively available, along with a willingness to abandon the pure-refractor habits of lens designers, to make the thing short enough, it's just possible I could have such a thing. But not soon, alas.)

18 May 2008

Old and New

Generally speaking, taking pictures of lit light fixtures against lit—meaning it is not dark outside—windows is not a good idea. It's even less of a good idea if one has been a tad foolish and left the camera sensitivity on ISO 1600 from one's manual focus, black cat in darkness experiments the evening previous.
On the other hand, at full size, I could quite happily read the bottom LCD screen's list of train arrival and departure times, and it is at least four time periods showing, three of them time displays. So I didn't do too badly out of it.

17 May 2008

Going up and down in the world

Kingston and back today, so just getting this post up before midnight.
Parts of the trip may result in my hapless (and potentially theoretical...) readership being subjected to architectural photography, but for now, that prosaic thing, the puddle.

16 May 2008

From leaves to megafauna

High browsing, herbivorous megafauna, admittedly, so the distance from leaves is not all that great, but one does what one can.

15 May 2008

Drowsy leaves

At the risk of committing a sort of botanical theme, maple leaves and keys in an incipient state on a maple in the back yard, from about a month ago.

14 May 2008

New leaves

Newly opened oak leaves are one of my favorite smells in all the world.
These are on a tree on the north side of the building; aside from a mirrored wall making the camera metering a bit deluded (and the background the blue of captured sky), the leaves are opening late, at least for local values of late.

13 May 2008

It's a finch

But, alas, not a finch I can identify with confidence.
If it were not for the forked tail, I'd be sure it's a House Finch; we have the pale cheek and the streaked flanks. Relative stubbiness of bill or curve of culmen I'm not able to judge, but the forked tail would suggest it might be a Purple Finch instead.
House finches are much, much more common, and the picture was taken in the middle of an office park development in Markham—many eight story office buildings in a clump—which is much more plausible habitat for a house finch than a purple finch. So I'm going to go with house finch but there are doubts.

12 May 2008

One swan a-swimming

That feather on the beak was plenty stuck.

11 May 2008

Romeo and Juliet

So I saw a matinée production of this yesterday (that would be Saturday, 10 May) at Stratford (which is the one in Ontario, not the one in Merrie England); this is a new artistic director's first season there, and this was a pre-season production. (Which I rather prefer; the cast isn't bored yet, and while there may be the occasional glitch there is also some considerable intensity which I suppose to be involved in avoiding the glitches, the production not having burned its ways by much repetition down from the brain into the spine of all involved.)

The production started in modern dress, complete with Vespa-style scooters and switchblades and snuby revolvers for rapiers. (The prince's machine pistol gets fired in the air to restore order.) It went from there to Elizabethan (Romeo and friends changing for the party on stage, with much pulling on of high boots), and from there to High Tudor (most of the interaction of Romeo and Juliet, and of Juliet with her parents); it then went back through Elizabethan for the scenes around the crypt, and ended in modern dress. This extended to using electric flashlights in the modern dress and torches with open flames (!!) in the Elizabethan and Tudor sections. The program asserts that this was undertaken to emphasize the timeless nature of the story. Since I read the program when I got home, I was wondering if love wore old-fashioned clothes and authority modern dress for awhile.

The split between the comedy, before the death of Mercutio, and the tragedy after, was in some sense completely ignored before it happened; I have seen other productions of the play that have the looming tragedy inform the first half, and darken the actor's moods and meanings. This one did not, to I think great effect; the comedy was done as comedy entire, and it made the contrast sharper.

The set was a marvel of simplicity in some respects—one set, two levels&mdashwhile most clever in others. A large illuminated globe that raised and lowered from the ceiling stood for sun and moon (blue, in unfortunate times); the raised portion of the set slid forward and backward to be Friar Lawrence's cell and the crypt; the trapdoor had been replaced by a (presumed) scissor lift, so that various bits of furniture (once with Juliet sitting on it) would rise into the middle stage. (When Capulet orders the fire put out, it is too warm? there was a fire pit in the middle of the stage, being danced around, and just that thing was done.) The first attempt at the scissor lift missed, slightly, bowing the whole stage up quite visibly. Not an actor batted an eyelash, and the crew below soon managed to realign matters.

All the roles were played by people who at least appeared quite appropriate in age; this extended out to tone and bearing, in a way that conveyed a living history of social interactions, rather than a sense of being a play. The Prince in particular conveyed a fundamental authority and gravitas such that one cannot doubt that, indeed, he does entirely over-awe Montague and Capulet.

Mercutio's crude humour came across as plenty crude, but an entirely amiable value of crude; Romeo managed to come across as someone very believably not regularly so insufferably soppy, so you could see why his friends cared for him. One could also feel that the Capulets were making a horrible mistake, because, when he's not being overwrought, this is an entirely formidable young man. His speech to the apothecary about the utility of the law, in particular, was delivered in suddenly entirely sane calm and considered tones to what I felt was great effect. I also found it interesting that the fight choreography arranged matters so that while most fights, Mercutio and Tybalt in particular, were matters of style and presentation, Romeo fought with a specific determination to kill the other fellow and no concerns of style whatsoever. (The fellow playing Tybalt did an excellent job of conveying by expression and body language that, hey, wait, this was not what he was expecting, at all, what, I'm losing?)

All the Capulets are a bit mad, or at least prone to great extremes of feeling; Juliet's frequently near-hysterical delivery worked really well. (Juliet was Nikki M. James, someone in her first season at Stratford. She did a most excellent job.) The unrelieved awfulness of Juliet's circumstances was presented very clearly; if she is very highly wrought, there is much wreaking upon her, and she is managing, somehow, to make the effort of thought and of hope throughout all this, right up until she is presented with a dead Romeo, whereupon she does keep thinking.

So far as I can tell, they did the whole thing, too, without much emendation, down to the musicians in the bedroom round Juliet's corpse, that example of the robust jollity of the Elizabethan theatre-goer.

The Avon river (of course they called it the Avon) by the Stratford Festival's several theatres is slow; so slow that the half hour of lunch before hand saw two yellow water lily flowers, clearly loose from all roots and moorings, move maybe five meters in a direction that might have been downstream, or might have been the laborious eddy of some willow roots. Walking back from dinner after the play provided swimming ducks with fifteen meter V wakes behind them, round ripples round the plunged heads of swans, and the dissolution of a wedding back over one of the arched bridges to an island in the river.

A good play, and a good day, and may all who read this find the same.


My guess "moult", combined with the interesting property of most derived birds of not having complete feather coverage in their skin; it looks like it from the outside, but the actual feathers are all in defined lines. (Defined lines with no phylogenetic signal, alas.)
Of course, it could be a nervous disorder from being stuck in a cage with mousebirds, or just a really really truculent itch, but having watched the hoopoe in question preen like a mad thing having a good time, I think 'moult' is the correct explanation.

10 May 2008

Flowering Trees

A sprig of flowers from one of the many flowering trees around the CAA office up in Markham.
The full sized image is a JPEG, but it's a fairly large one.

09 May 2008

And the sun came slanting through the trees...

Yesterday's sunset, shining through my bedroom window on to the wall.

08 May 2008

Not good with mornings

One must assume that hibernation is a slow thing to wear off, even if one is in a nice comfy zoo with regular meals, because those little eyes opened with a sort of infinite weariness.
Of course, it could have been an infinite weariness of the form gods of the wild, not that awful shutter noise already? rather than any physical sort of weariness.

07 May 2008

Never Anything Dead Around Here

They look awfully disappointed, too.
Hyenas at the zoo; for an African animal, they certainly seem to prefer temperatures on the chilly side for getting up and wandering around.

06 May 2008

It's hard work being a tiger

You have to yawn right down to your toes.

05 May 2008

Winter Bright Day

The end of March, and so not really qualified to be winter, but still. There is as much of winter in its endings as in its beginnings.

04 May 2008

An Ornate Duck

In the water trap of the Metro Zoo's rhino house, back in March. I need to look up if the much plainer ones with the green feet are the female or some other species entirely.

03 May 2008

Quite a lot of rain

So I feel compelled to be clever and try getting a picture of the tree in the puddle. The puddle is not (yet) quite sufficiently vast to get the whole tree in, but it's working on it.

02 May 2008

Little Brown Bird

I don't recommend white buildings as backgrounds on a sunny day, but the birds will sit where they are pleased to sit.
From the same day as the blue jay, and I have no idea what it is, beyond a vague sense of "probably some sort of sparrow".

01 May 2008

May flowers

Although I would not care to assert that the April showers have quite ceased.