27 February 2009

Shifting Position

I neglected to note precisely what this creature is, but it was definitely at the zoo. And pretty dubious about photographers, all in all.

26 February 2009

Old Snow

Not many places to take pictures nigh-straight down into a wee and rather wild creek.
I may eventually take a good one.

24 February 2009

The wages of irridescence are overexposure

Not very much overexposure; the white rock behind the frondy leaf in the lower-right background, and the outside of the left leg.
I'm going to consider it a reasonable tradeoff; I don't often see one of these standing in full bright sunlight. (The "don't you dare ask me who my hairdresser is" look is standard, just generally delivered from under the vegetation somewhere.)

22 February 2009

A tropical beast

Sumatran tigers are smaller than their Siberian cousins, but they don't seem to have any trouble growing a winter coat.

I am pleased with how the tiger and tree-shadows went together on this one, especially in the second case. The zoo tigers often look like very large housecats, but something about the combination here manages to convey "apex predator", at least to me.

A fortune in goldfinches

All from three days ago, when it was snowing.
One of those neat indications that scale matters; people-scale creatures need a lot more specialized adaptations to do something like this.
Amazing luck on the bokeh here; I can see how and why it happened, but it required the bird to be at a particular spot on the balcony rail and the time of day/angle of sun to be just right.
The mood of aspiration is hopefully not spoiled by the knowledge that the wee chirpling bird is gazing up at the main feeder full of oil seeds.
I got very lucky on the bokeh with this shot as well—that's the branches of a maple tree back there—but I think what really makes it is the bit of ice on the beak.

21 February 2009

Climate Change Denialism considered as a fear of economic competition

Various folks have been noting that being a climate change denier is a very bad long term strategy because the change is happening, will keep happening, and is not going to get less obvious to people in general, but more; eventually it's obvious you're either an idiot or very malicious, and bad things will happen to you as a result.

The usual explanations for this are philosophical; anthropogenic global warming is a market failure, so if you believe in markets you mustn't believe in AGW, and so on.

I think this is view, while it obviously has some truth in it, is missing something. It's not just that people want to continue making money in the accustomed way; it's that they're very aware that they won't be the ones making the money in the replacement economy.

Replacing the fossil carbon energy economy is not actually technically difficult; it could be done now if the necessary political will existed. (Not optimally, but you can always do a better job in the future than you can do now.) It is in sober truth of fact an immense economic opportunity.

Replacing the whole physical plant is a lot of work, and here we are with a chance to have a generation of moderate labour shortage (which always drives innovation); four different fusion schemes; no smog (which kills thousands to tens of thousands, annually, depending on where you are and how you count it); and a new physical plant designed by and for an information economy. That can and should drive a general increase in prosperity.

Someone—many someones, almost certainly—will make a lot of money off of the new technologies required to do this. It's just going to be different someones. And the people who are currently in control of the core economy through their control of oil really would prefer general global disaster to loss of relative status. (Though it isn't likely that they're thinking of it that way, that is the result.)

Ground-ape band status rules, rather than civilized conduct.

A regal gaze

The Siberian tigers have a cave thing, too; it is larger, higher, and better exposed to sunlight than the one for the cougars.
So here we have a tiger in the cave. (The other on-display Siberian in this enclosure was up on the roof of the cave doing a most comprehensive rug imitation in a patch of sunlight.) I rather like the effects of shadow and the direct winter sunlight in this one.

A progression of agitation

Pine siskins (well, one goldfinch in the third picture) seem to have flock hierarchy issues either around the feeder or in the early spring.

I am getting better at getting clear shots of the flapping; it looks like it needs a faster shutter speed than 1/500, though. What it really needs is second sight, so I can focus where the agitated bird is going to be, but I understand that's much harder to learn than how to use the shutter priority mode on the camera.

20 February 2009

And you shall know disdain

Because, hey, not merely cats but the King of Beasts! Synchronized disdain is built into our genes! (Along with the cute black-tipped tails.)

Mrs. Cardinal

Rokinon 800mm/f8, 1/125s, ISO 400
I really wish I could get a long mirror lens with Pentax coatings. (Well, current-generation Pentax SMC coatings, better manual focus, autofocus, aperture control, and a larger maximum aperture, more or less in that order. C'mon, Pentax—DA 800/f4 for not more than 2 kCAD, you know you want to!)

This is the one actually crisp image out of 14 shots; focus confirm is a fine thing, but it has trouble with shooting into a thicket in a snowstorm. About half of the images would be useful for "what bird is that?" purposes.

And, really, twitchy manual focus, handheld 800mm, through a filthy bedroom window, through falling snow, and into a thicket, after a bird declining to hold still; I should be—and am, really—pleased that I got one decent result.

But, dammit, I ought to be able to do better than that.

19 February 2009

Where still the mighty moose

The Rouge Valley would be splendid moose habitat were it not for all the ground apes; I would not be entirely surprised if there are one or two down there from time to time anyway.
This fellow isn't one of them; I do wonder how the zoo gets a moose to stay in fences, since this is reputed to be very challenging. (Besides electrifying the inner fence, I mean.)
Lots of snow glare, but otherwise not so bad.

A departure from slumber

The cougar display at the zoo is frustrating; it's a large enclosure made out of (effectively) telephone poles and heavy metal mesh, which is all well and good for purposes of cougar containment, but it's rather lacking something in terms of photographic opportunity; the second, "stop here" fence being positioned so that there's no way to get a camera right up to to the mesh, pretty much guaranteeing that there will be out-of-focus mesh lines blurring across the picture.
Then we throw in that the cougars have a cave and platforms; the platforms are either above head height or in the midst of trees, and the top of the cave is maybe at my knee level.
So, yes, full marks for habitat design—the inhabitants do generally seem happy and indolent in the fashion of contented cats—but photographically I am just compelled to grump about it.
Cougars are not generally morning people. (The first three of these were taken about 12h25.) Nor is giving them coffee widely regarded as a good plan.
Some of them are more readily awakened than others, though. (That white stuff? Snow. Shooting into a cave with snow in the foreground? Argh.)
But I don't want to wake up!
Quarter after one, and we have two awake cougars but neither of them is really looking greatly pleased about either that or the presence of yet another ground ape. It's February, it's snowy, there should be peace and quiet!

This is so far my leading contender for "picture I hope I am sensible enough never to try to take if the fence or other effective barrier isn't there".

18 February 2009

Sad owl in snow

I got very lucky here with both the angle of the light and the angle of that branch providing blurry shadow along the left hand side of the owl. I don't think the angle of the owl is luck, as such, since it seems to be consistent by species. The location of the owl probably qualifies as fortunate, though.

17 February 2009

Sullen Giant Goat

Really; musk ox are in Caprinae. They've also had a major Quaternary loss of diversity, reasons not properly established.

It is perhaps unfair of me to describe this fellow as sullen; musk-ox are social, and so far as I know, the Metro Zoo has only the one individual, so this is just as likely to be loneliness as a fit of sullen.
In some ways this is a very feline pose with a lot of lateral flexing.
Nose up.
From a musk-ox perspective, it was a warm day. So this might have been an attempt to pick a sunny spot.

There's no way to get above the second fence, there, hence the very many shadows from the inner fence wire. Not quite annoying enough to make me want to learn to use all-terrain snow stilts.

Three views of a caracal

One Metro Zoo employee described these guys as "keeper-aware", so one can almost always see them. (One could even, in wild fits of optimism, imagine that they are after ear-scritching and general petting as much as chow; they seem remarkably like large house cats in most respects.)

The downside of their reliability of display in the enclosure is that the big sheet of plexiglass one is expected to look through is covered with ground-ape nose prints and paw smudges. It's also bent, I think as an inevitable side effect of a metal frame in the cold, so it's fairly comprehensively optically unhelpful.
Also optically unhelpful are the diverse bits of (currently dead) vegetation, but fortunately these can generally be focused past. (And being dead, they more or less fit with the caracal colour scheme, which is handy.)
None of which saves me from the framing difficulties here; should have backed up or reduced the zoom, so as to get all of the ears in the frame.
The facial expressions are pretty good, though. It was a bright sunny day and I think that was being appreciated.
Here we have the whole creature, complete with decidedly Dr. Seussian ears and an interesting dappling of shadow.

16 February 2009

Lurking Robin

So, substantial enclosure full of leaves, sunlight, bare dirt, and apparently a bird.
It turned out to be two birds:
In back of the sign, and some leaves, on a funny angle reachable mostly by standing on tiptoe and angling the lens at them so it almost gets the centre focus through the effectively more narrow gap left in the already fairly fine-gauge mesh by the need to point through it at a tight compound angle.
One could almost feel bad about pointing a lens at them like that, given that they were pretty clearly huddled in a spot that was supposed to make them very hard to see from outside the enclosure. (Their choice of spot is going to work with great reliability on anybody not at least 180cm tall, too.)
On the plus side, the picture comes out looking more "wild habitat" this way. On the negative side, it could be a much better picture.

14 February 2009


One of the sitting rocks at the entrance to the Austro-Malayan Pavilion. Since I remember it from my grade 6 field trip to the Zoo, it's stood up pretty well to a generation and a half of children.
Though I still want to know what causes that green.

Down by the water hole

This the side of the path through the African Savannah trail; just past the elephants and about where they start talking about the importance of water holes to the savannah ecosystem. Since it's also a rather hadrosaurine pose for the cardinal, I couldn't resist the resulting post title.
Same fellow, slightly earlier, looking much more traditional in a thorn bush.
100% crop of the above. I like how the shadow of the branch sits on his head.

13 February 2009

Quite the beak

Some unfortunate enclosure-mesh diffraction grating artefacts showing up, but not too badly. Much better than the usual case of an owl way high up and behind a great deal, too, though like most of the large enclosures along the Canadian Domain trail I want to be able to levitate a bit to a better position.

Great Horned Owls always look a little mad, and this one is no exception. I don't think this is because I took a picture of the other platform with the un-regarded lunch (two dead day-old chicks) on it, but one never knows.

12 February 2009

Happy Darwin Day!

I could presumably lash something together that attempted to talk about some core principle in On the Origin of Species but, well, lots of much better qualified people are doing that. Pretty much all the political posts I make are informed by the ideas of population thinking and selection in any case, and nothing in that line is especially nibbling on my brain just now, here in the bleak midwinter. So I'm just going to go with an example of environmental change.

So here we have a large, tropical, mostly hairless animal, by virtue of its great size doing just fine in an environment alien to it. (You get the rhino because none of the elephant-eating-snow pictures turned out well; elephants move the trunk to the mouth fast.)
And yes, zoo, with heated enclosures and a guaranteed food supply and all. And Toronto is fairly far north. But I wouldn't take any bets on a herd of any kind of rhino, left to its own devices, not doing just fine in North America, given the opportunity, and neither should you. It's a pity it would take so long for them to become their own kind of rhino; it would otherwise be a fine experiment.

11 February 2009

And the sun came slanting through trees

Driving rain today, and tomorrow, and temperatures well above freezing, so we are not all that likely to have settled snow cover again this winter. Makes me glad for the pause on the climb out of the Canadian Domain to take these. (This is my favourite of about 15 pictures.)

10 February 2009

Group Selection, Social Systems, and the Common Weal

Ernst Mayr defined hard group selection as
"if, owing to the interaction of the composing individuals or owing to a division of labor or other social actions, the fitness of a group is higher or lower than the arithmetic mean of the fitness values of composing individuals, then the group as a whole can serve as an object of selection."[1]

In strictly biological contexts, this is almost always kin selection, because the social group involved is a kin group, a group of closely related organisms. In order for it to be actually distinctly group selection, there has to be a social group composed of relatively unrelated individuals.

Which becomes relevant in humans; we're specialized for co-operating in groups to an extent that it works well in non-kin groups. (Unlike anything else that's even close to being as good at co-operating in groups; ants and bees are mostly haploid siblings, after all.)

The second piece is that fitness values are, always, without exception, completely contextual; they're set by the environment and present need. Being a mighty mammoth hunter has no fitness value if what you need to do is set a bone or start a fire. (Being a top notch accountant has no fitness value if what you need is to change the washer in the kitchen tap; being a skilled plumber has no fitness value if what you need to do is file small business taxes, and so on.) This is a different way of putting the Adam Smith insight about the division of labour; getting really good at something and trading for your other needs is more productive than trying to know how to do everything. (Try imagining knowing how to do to a professional standard a tenth of the things listed in the yellow pages as services...)

So; humans co-operate in groups to increase their fitness values. Individual humans will generally co-operate in multiple such groups for different purposes if they have that option. (You don't want to have to rely on a single group to increase your fitness with respect to finance, health, and social standing if you can possibly help it, for instance, even if this was the traditional role of the extended family.)

The utility of the group being used as a co-operation mechanism can be evaluated by looking at that arithmetic mean of the individuals, and comparing that to the fitness results for the group, but this is not a useful evaluation. It produces a choice between the social group and functioning in isolation, and the group needs to be actively pathological before some group stops being better than no group.

It is much more useful to be able to compare the function of social groups in increasing individual fitness.

Unfortunately, that would require being able to compare the results of membership in different groups, which immediately gets into abstractions if we try to do it predictively. It should be possible to do it with a little more rigor retrospectively; if you belonged to this group or group of groups during that set of past events, how well would you do?

But before we can do that useful, we have to be able to define fitness, and wealth is not a good proxy for fitness.

This is because wealth is also entirely contextual (is that 1,000 1890 dollars or 1,000 1990 dollars? Are you in New York or Moose Factory or Tashkent? Do you need dinner or dental work?) and relating the two contexts introduces unnecessary difficulty; because wealth is not a good measure of social fitness, which necessarily involves getting copies of a social organization into the future; and because wealth does not reference the type of social organization that produces it, which does not matter in consideration of wealth but matters considerably in terms of fitness; land and trade and post-industrial means of production may produce the same degree of relative wealth for an individual, but they are not at all the same mechanism of co-operation.

Remember that we are defining fitness for social group selection; the core criteria is that the arithmetic mean of the fitness of the individuals belong to the group becomes greater, through group membership, than the arithmetic mean of their fitness considered as individuals; that in humans, a highly social species, near-completely dependent on social group selection mechanisms for survival, the default case is some social group, not no social group; that this means humans compete for position in their social group more than for membership in any social group; and that the social groups themselves compete for membership and for relative success.

Fitness has to consider four things:

  1. competition with other forms of social organization

    • efficiency in use of resources

    • withstanding direct attack

  2. how readily it permits members to increase their scope of choice

  3. how readily it permits members to have their scope of choice decrease

  4. stability of the system over generational time

More or less in order:

Other forms of social organization can use resources more efficiently; if the current group an individual belongs to turns x resources into 0.1 y increase in fitness, and some other group can turn x resources into 0.5 y increase in fitness, indiviudals will defect from their current group to the other group. (But not entirely, and not all at once, because individuals will be considering the other fitness criteria as well. This is why shifts from agrarian to industrial economies, or from from human handwork agrarian to animal traction agrarian economies, are generational and messy.)

Other forms of social organization can concentrate force better; agrarian societies displaced hunter-gather societies not by producing better living conditions for their inhabitants but by allowing an order of magnitude greater population. Whether or not it was a healthy, happy, population didn't matter; the hunter-gathers were militarily displaced. (A slower version of this happened with agrarian societies and nomadic herding cultures.)

So it does no good to produce a culture that's a lovely place to live in; it also has to be able to withstand cultures that don't care if they're lovely to live in, they want you to obey. (Even the elf-lords singing the woods have to be able to deal with Mordor's expansion somehow; the historical case is much more about dealing with high mobility barbarians.)

"Scope of choice" is being used as a convenient shorthand. Once basic survival needs are met—air, clothing, water, food, shelter, food storage...—specific priorities will shift due to individual preference and environmental factors (hardly anyone in Havana wants a parka; hardly anyone in Ottawa in January is much worried about insect repellent), the point is that individuals have a strong interest in increasing their perceived scope of choice, even if they do not necessarily understand how to go about achieving this. If you are a neolithic subsistence farmer, your scope of choice comes down to "hoe turnips or die"; it's really "be decently lucky about the behaviour of your environment and hoe turnips, or die" and as a culture we're still getting over the management strategies for being aware of the "luck" part.

On a scale of social organizations, increase in scope of choice—those things you as an individual can practically hope to achieve through work and planning, without a requirement of either exceptional luck or exceptional ability—happens through import replacement. (How and why this works are open questions; that it happens is an observation. Those who object to the idea of import replacement are reminded that you can falsify axioms but not events.)

On the scale of individuals, increase in the scope of choice is a function of your ability to accumulate a surplus. If you can't accumulate a surplus, all you can do is meet present need; you don't have an ability to plan for either environmental nor deliberate change. This set of implied constraints—the more surplus you have, the better you can cope with environmental surprises, and selection is all about coping with environmental surprises—drives competition between individuals within social groups as well as providing the motivation for individuals to join social groups.

So there's three kinds of selection pressure on systems of social organization that come out of scope of choice;

  1. how well can individuals accumulate surplus? (because if another system lets them accumulate more, individuals will defect to it)

  2. how well does the system structurally increase scope of choice? (industrial civilization has only happened once, despite there being a number of possibilities; increasing scope of choice isn't automatic.)

  3. how well does the system structurally manage parasitism by individuals seeking to divert structural increases in scope of choice to their individual surplus? (This is the basis of aristocratic systems that use peasant production to fund luxuries; it's also a serious problem in any complex society, because parasitism is obvious, easy, and tends to kill the host. Consider the Roman Senatorial classes' collective belief that the Roman state existed to keep them rich.)

Stability of the system over generational time is a requirement because selection functions on how well things get copies of themselves into the future. Having a great and good culture functioning happily does no good if it collapses as the founders die out. This has implications for education, class mobility, and generational transfer of power. (Aristocratic autocracies, for instance, generally have serious problems when anyone able enough to concentrate great power dies, because even successful automatic succession, by no means a given, does not replace the web of promises and knowledge that successful person represented. Consider Oliver Cromwell in England. Consider also any number of very long term American senators or multi-term Canadian prime ministers.)

Ok; so we have a requirement that social systems -- these things that are objects of selection because, and only because, they produce an arithmetic mean of fitness across their members that's higher than the arithmetic mean of the fitness of those members considered as individuals. Like any other entity subject to selection, chance environmental events matter; there's still the production of variation and the winnowing process of selection, as various social systems perform less well in the present environment than others, and diminish or die, being replaced by the more successful systems. Other social systems are of course part of the environment, as are individuals, some of whom will have new and clever ideas. Repeat indefinitely.

Given that model, one can reach some political conclusions.

  1. Aristocracies (functional or declared) are analogous to parasites; they're diverting the ability of the system to produce increased choice into a narrowly held set of individual surpluses. This really is bad because:

  2. All fitness is contextual; social systems have to function in an environment that includes predation (hostile social systems), parasitism (aristocracies), and random events (volcanoes, earthquake, drought, floods, locusts, wheat rust, epidemics....). In this context, it is almost impossible what positive traits will be required by easy to predict what negative traits are harmful. As such, diversity of positive traits is to be desired, which implies broadly distributed ability to accumulate surplus.

  3. Mechanisms that forbid your escape—switching to another social system—are an overt admission that this social system is being run for the benefit of someone who isn't you; you don't belong to it, you are being used by it.

  4. Fairness, perceived and actual, is important.

  5. If we can quantify fitness (or accept some proxy for it, which money isn't) we can quantify how well society is doing.

  6. Individual access to choice through accumulating surplus and system increase in access to choice through import replacement mechanisms are good candidates for fitness proxies

  7. The unknown future is a good reason to support diversity

  8. and a reason to plan; the social system has to get copies of itself into the future somehow. (Start thinking about opposition to public education in these terms; it's an attempt to ensure that most people have no ability to get their social system into the future with a level of complexity larger than a small village or largish church congregation.)

And there, I am going to stop, because this is already way long.

[1] Mayr, Ernst What Makes Biology Unique?, Cambridge University Press, 2004; the definition cited is on page 146 of the paperback edition.

Grooming in colour

Much heaving on the brightness curve, and not too bad if one ignores the awful fate of the bright bits of the background.

Certainly one gets a sense of the coat patterns, which is doing well enough.

Forest of the Night

This is partially inspired by Mike "The Online Photographer" Johnston's reference to an archive post of his, PS XS, where he says, entirely in passing, "I find DSLRs nearly useless for B&W because of the highlight issue. There's just no information there."
Now, I know less about photography than Mike Johnston's left thumbnail, and I have no particular interest in black and white, other than having noticed that ufraw has picked up a new tab for it in recent versions, and being a bit curious.
But I have certainly got bunches and bunches of pictures with highlight issues; swans on snow, or water surrounded by snow, pictures taken towards blazing bright sunlight because that's where the wretched bird was sitting, and so on. Some of the recent ones are the clouded leopards from the Metro Zoo, where a combination of exterior glass, snowfield, and maintenance removal of the anti-glare film on the Malaysian Woods building has resulted in some very thoroughly backlit leopards.

So I set out to see what I could do.
Very dim, might actually pass for night on "what night looks like in movies" visual conventions, and you can still tell what it is, so that's good.
Not quite the same shot -- the exposure one after it -- as posted yesterday; there's less total range of shiny, so the leopard is dimmer but the overall light is lower, too. (Cloud outside? I have no idea.) It's also in some ways a better feline facial expression.
Black and white version of the shot I posted yesterday; I am not sure but that this works better than the colour version does.
And the uncropped shot, showing the vast mass of bright windows. (And the, to me at least, odd optical illusion of the leopard developing a look of long-suffering patience what with all these photographic instances.)

I think I'm going to see about developing more practise with black and white processing.

09 February 2009

Clouded Leopard, Vexed Lighting

Normally these guys are zonked out in elevated and barely visible locations.
Which is fine; cats, sleep 16 hours a day, etc. It is their natural feline right to be zonked in an awkward location.

So I was completely delighted to get a chance to take a picture of a whole clouded leopard, as opposed to a cute little nose, rather blurry because of some sort of glare reducing film on the glass of the enclosure. The weird film was even off half the glass, I presume since the zoo is in the middle of winter maintenance.

After much image file wrangling, I wound up with:
Which is a crop from:

Blazing bright backlighting, weird coloured film on the other half of the glass providing reflections, and hanging vegetation right in front of the cute nose aforesaid.

I clearly need to get better with qtpfsgui (the High Dynamic Range software). What I want is a team of window-blocking ninja, but that's probably way, way out of my budget. (In case of such budget ever arriving, clouded leopards are very far up my list of "build enormous enclosure; keep several" creatures. Biggest proportional canine size in the felids and all.)

There are some other pictures and I'll be seeing what I can do with them if I don't get distracted by the shiny.

08 February 2009

Not precisely a depression

Various scary US job and economic performance graphs have been emerging this month, and that's kicked over various Great Depression comparisons.

The Great Depression happened because of a misuse or misunderstanding of the machinery of finance, so that the overall economy wound up underutilized not for lack of stuff to do or ability to do it but for lack of ability to do it profitably.

What's happened this time is that since about 1980 or so, there have been two economies; the actual, real, import replacing one (which includes some real "knowledge work"; computer programming and industrial design, say) and the fake one that's been supported by the betwixt-theft-and-counterfeiting abuse of fractional reserve banking "financial engineering" approach.

Money has no independent reality; it depends on something delivering material value somewhere in the financial activity chain. And there is no, and no possibility of, any real value attached to the great majority of the money products of that abuse-of-banking economy, no matter how much wealth it appeared to generate.

Since the nominal inflation rate during that period, particularly the last decade or so, has remained low despite what was effectively widespread counterfeiting—maybe 15% of the total US nominal GDP has been based on abuse-of-banking—which means that a lot of the currency creation going on has been on false pretenses, which would normally trigger inflation just as surely as a government running the printing presses would. It hasn't, so either information hasn't cleared or the real situation is deflationary.

Throw in that in import replacement terms the US economy hasn't grown since about 1980, and that the greater part of its creative ability has been sucked into defense applications which are economic net negatives, and I have this awful suspicion that the nosediving employment numbers are moving to conform to the size of the actual, without-abuse-of-banking economy. Which is at most about 70% the size people think the US economy is.

Which is not actually a total diaster in some happy theoretical land with ideal people who will recognize that money isn't value (value is a ratio of cost to benefit; good value is when you get proportionally more than you'd expect for the price, compared to some market environment, whether that's retail shopping or investments) and economies really do run on import replacement which implies an ability to make, fix, and improve real things, rather than abstractions, and that there just isn't as much profit involved. (On the plus side, there's no inherent ghastly collapse.)

We don't live in that happy theoretical land. We aren't, baring a major miracle, going to see anything like effective action in the US, especially since a major US political faction wants to prove a false free market model works, and will accept any cost in preference to acknowledging their error, since that model justifies their understanding of class and the privileges they derive from their class membership. Which means the US will probably hit something like 30% unemployment, becuase there isn't all that much economy actually there, and this will become obvious as the massive insolvency starts to become known.

Which is a screaming shame, becuase it's not at all inevitable; just the (utterly vital for unconnected reasons) concerted effort necessary to replace the fossil carbon energy infrastructure would also and happily solve the economic problem.

07 February 2009

A certain smug lurkingness

Cardinal from the bus stop at Sheppard and Meadowvale. I think he might want work with a Christmas card company, and is working on his repertoire.


Paper wasp nest from perhaps fifteen feet, slightly odd Rokinon colour transmission and all. The nest was probably close to invisible with leaves on that tree.

She tries to help

Here we have little miss linty paws, attempting–she insists–to help smooth out the fitted sheet as I am making the bed.
Complaints about the linty paws produced a demonstration that no paws were, in fact, in contact with the substrate so there could not possibly be a problem.
After some negotiations about the top sheet and the duvet and the blanket, normalcy was restored and things were officially declared as being restored to their right and proper state.

Apple-mushroom-parsnip soup

While it mostly managed to avoid the problem of pure vegetable soups tending to taste somewhere between "wet" and "like the spoon", I think this recipe would benefit from about half a cup of ground hazelnuts or something to give the flavour some bottom.


A 5 litre pot is plenty.

In a litre of boiling water, add a palmful of crushed tarragon (dried, adjust fresh) a scant rubbed palmful of basil (daf), three pinches of salt, a palmful of powdered thyme, and a scant palmful of paprika.

Chop two bunches of green onions up to the branching point of the stems, and add to the boiling water.

Wash and chop three large portobello or portobellini mushrooms into coarse chunks; blender into slurry, adding the minimum water required (consistency of chunky apple sauce); add to the boiling water. (1 pint or so of mushroom slurry.)

Wash and chop three apples into coarse chunks; blender into slurry (1.5 pint or so). Add.

Wash and chop one large sharp white onion into coarse chunks; blender into slurry. (1.5 pint, more or less.)

At this point it's worthwhile to take a silicon scraper and another cup of water to the blender, to scrape or rinse whatever sticky remnants of the mushrooms, apple, and onions are clinging to the sides; evict those from their comfy home in the blender and into the soup pot.

Simmer stock 1 hour.

Add a tall palmful of basil (daf), a palmful of crushed tarragon (daf), and a sifted tablespoon of imperial mustard powder. Add another palmful of powdered thyme. When making this, I added a couple tablespoons of demerara sugar (actually two such goodly lumps as I could conveniently pry up) in the interest of bringing out some of the flavours; because this simmers long enough for the onions to go sweet, I think that was a mistake. Some ground nuts would work better. So would cream if you can have dairy.

Add 2 pints slurried parsnips. (2 big parsnips, washed, peeled, chopped coarsely, blenderized with the least sufficient water.) This will cause the soup to thicken, so stir in water until the soup convects again.

Add 4 large portebello or portobellini mushrooms, chopped into small, comfy-on-a-teaspoon, pieces. Add the rind of one large carrot, washed and peeled, that has been shaved off with the peeler into strips. If you want the carrot strips to present as intact orange noodle things, don't add the carrot strips until some time less than one half hour before serving; after an hour or so of simmering the carrot strips disintegrate.

Stir in 1/4 cup olive oil and some extra water as required to keep the simmer generalized.

Simmer until ready to serve; not less than 1 hour. As the soup simmers, you may wish to add the odd cupful of water. By two hours the onion has all converted and the soup is fairly sweet.

Serve with rice or some other source of starch; serving over rice results in a sort of glutinous mushroom porridge.

Pray it doesn't taste like the spoon.

05 February 2009


Theropod feet!
Well, except for the retroverted hallux and the perching adaptations and all. But still, proportionately huge claws, tridactyl, and scaly; it goes with the voracious look and the incipient Doom of the Oilseed most excellently.
Taking one's oil seed away to nibble on without someone else's wing in your ear. Weird maple blossom-bokeh, but I am increasingly hopeful I'll be able to hand-shoot the Rokinon and usually get something good enough to help confirm identification.