30 April 2008

Gracious, it's been a month

More Aoife photos


Faded Flowers

Some rain and some wind have removed a good half of the little white flowers from whatever bushy plant it is in the back yard, but some of them are hanging on quite solidly.

29 April 2008

Between Mirrors

Every now and again I manage to think just how extremely strange it would seem in an earlier age to be making buildings out of steel and mirrors and then putting trees between them.

28 April 2008

It goes for noses

The autofocus, I mean; not the otter. Small black high-contrast noses particularly.Not that I have any just grounds to complain, nor indeed the inclination.

27 April 2008

Stop Using No Sex As A Weapon

I think the right thing to do, when helplessness is being used as a weapon, is to figure out how to take that helplessness away.
Sometimes the hard part is figuring out if what one is seeing is helplessness—an actual complete lack of realizable positive choice—or the kind of selfish externalized ruthlessness that really doesn't care what costs are borne by others.
Sometimes the hard part is that maybe both descriptions apply.
There are people who have a functioning social empathy and model other people as other people; necessarily simplified, but a thing-like-me, not necessarily deterministic in behaviour, contextual, all that stuff, where new information expands the descriptive power of the model, rather than breaking.
And there are people who don't; they have to model other people as patterns of responses. If event, then response.
This doesn't work very well; lots of things about people simply won't reduce to simple linear rules. (Consider just how much effort and intelligence has been expended by game designers, trying to do this, and how profoundly all those models fail to describe actual people.) But someone who is smart and determined can get a fairly long way like this. They're going to have real, serious, hopeless trouble with actual empathy, the way someone congenitally blind is going to have trouble with colour, but something like an ability to function socially can be constructed.
Something like, but not the whole thing; it fails at edge cases, and, well, intimate relationships are edge cases. (Does that use of "intimate" not mean sex? No. Does that use of intimate only mean sex? No.)
So there are these efforts to create or impose rules; since the level of complexity is too great for individual human brains to model, from first principles, prescriptive rules concerning outcomes will always fail to be complete. (We've got the problem of a system having to be complex enough to model itself, and we've got the problem of a system having to be complex enough to model two systems, equivalently complex to itself, interacting. Not going to happen even when the system doing the modeling is one of the interacting systems.)
Which is OK, if you're one of the people who benefit from the current set of rules; if you're one of the people who don't, you've got (at least in the abstract) a range of choices.
One category of choice is "we want these rules changed"; this can work (women have the vote, slavery is nominally unlawful most places) for broad categories of law, but for the intimate relationships? Not all that useful, because those get into the line between good and evil in the individual human heart, rather than the statistical mass of humanity.
Another category of choice is "these are the rules of how the interaction will be conducted"; no attempt to determine outcomes (which anyone who likes the current outcomes will be at least very wary of, because, at least relatively, they're going to either lose status or change their imagination of the world, and asking "does the courtship ritual have the Buddha-dharma" is one of those tough questions.) This has the advantage that you can constrain away the bad categories of interaction (Do you have to tolerate pain or damage to get what you want? No.) and the disadvantage that you've got very little ability to predict outcomes. (That thing about complex systems again, but now they're complex systems in the future.)
So, back to the idea of intimate relationships—which is basically anything involving prolonged deliberate touch, even the really ritualized versions of touch like visits to the dentist—and interaction-limiting rules.
It's really easy to come up with a basic set of rules:

  • what causes you to like yourself less, do not do

  • do with others only what you are mutually enthusiastic about

  • anything but an explicit "yes" is construed as "no"

  • choice constrains the future; avoid trading narrow present gain for lasting
    future loss.

What is not easy is actually following a set of simple rules. You have to notice what makes you like yourself less (hello, axiom of inherent value; a remarkable number of people have this either hammered out of them completely or largely tied to external approval); you have to be willing to say what you're enthusiastic about, the second time, after you did it the first time and the person you told not only laughed, they told everyone they met for the next month; you have to say yes, if you mean yes, and find out that wasn't the question you were being asked in any way at all.
Self-honesty is tough; internally sourced self esteem is tough, too, because there's a real limit about how practical that is. Socially isolated humans go crazy, and often in ways that stick; undoing the social isolation doesn't fix the crazy.
So there's real selective pressure maintaining social systems that apply prescriptive rules about outcomes, and there's real selective pressure, especially around more basic needs in the hiearchy of needs, to get those by whatever short term means work.
This gets into why class structures are of benefit to the powerful, but that's another polemic.
The point I'm getting to now is that this "open source boob project" is one of those prescriptive outcome, model-others-by-pattern-of-response, any-means-at-all mechanisms to get a need met; it's trading immediate results for a worse future (as any number of people have been concerned to describe), and it's putting a need for esteem ahead of a need for safety, which is inverting the appropriate priority order. (air-water-food-shelter, safety, love/belonging, esteem, self-actualization, going up Mazlow's hierarchy.)
Is it quite possible that the individual proposing it sincerely thought it was a good idea? Sure.
Could it be the case that they're just not going to be able to empathicly model other people as equivalent entities, and as such are stuck in the frustrating, bewildering, and fundamentally not that effective position of modeling others as stimulus/response patterns, rather than a whole person seeking to meet objectives of their own? Very likely the case.
Is this a helplessness that can be taken away?
Probably not. It's one of those generational problems, like "women are people" and "sex is not a sin" and "prefer absolute power to relative social standing".
It's still, well, putting your emotional security ahead of someone else's safety, however indirectly, is going to fail to recommend your character, and make it that much harder to find an enthusiasm for touch you can justly take personally.
(Of course it's a real question of safety; any least pursuit of the appropriate grim statistics will tell you that, and to the very cold eddies of the river Gjöll with any impulses of fannish exceptional ism.)
Hard work for the better odds of the good thing, or much, much less work for a repeated pattern of damage ought to be an easy choice to make.

Flexible Moods

A creature of flexible moods, the blue jay; I believe these are all the same bird, and the four pictures were taken between 15:51:04 and 15:55:11 yesterday. (Thank you, exiftool.)
Here we have the dejected jay, all fluffed up and no place to go.
Correcting the unacceptable state of its feathers through complex preening maneuvers.
Experiencing doubt.
I believe the experience of doubt involved the clicking noise from the camera. Since corvids are pretty smart, and I don't imagine that it thought there was any risk to it involved, one can only conclude it thinks the shutter noise lacks aesthetic merit.
Here we have the iconic blue jay, and a 4.6 MiB PNG file, rather than a JPEG.

26 April 2008

Backyard flora

A whole vast reaching branch of these, or a bush if three branches make a bush, by the back fence
And here are the purple flowers previously mentioned, but open now.
They don't seem deterred at all by the flower stalk having fallen over.

25 April 2008

Friday is a good day for moose

It's spring, so no antlers beyond the buds, and it's been warm enough long enough that there was a lot of ear flicking at flies going on, most unnatural for April.

24 April 2008

Signs of Spring

Not that we really need them, specifically and locally, just at the moment, having had multiple shorts-weather days in the first half of April, but hey. Spring is narrow.
This is one of a number of feral daffodils in the carefully unmanaged plots of woodland on the way into the Zoo. Since the daffodil isn't a native plant, I am forced to postulate a secretive sect of ninja gardeners, out to beautify the public woodlands.
It's really hard to look dignified when you've got feathers stuck to your nose.

Botanical Haplessness

Anyone got any idea what this is?
There's one growing in the little flower plot in the back yard.

23 April 2008

Anomalous Robin

I am by no means in a good position to give advice about photography; I will, however, say that I don't think I ought to be able to expect to have a picture taken through a dirty, backlit, double-pane glass window of a subject in a tree in front of a large, blue, mirrored glass wall on a decidedly windy day actually turn out.
Fortunately for me, the clever folks at Pentax apparently disagree.

22 April 2008

The nose is scale-invariant

Pity about the shadow from the metal mesh of the enclosure; these guys were sacked out in their little den thing around noon, blissfully ignoring ground apes with cameras.

21 April 2008

Red-winged Blackbirds

I find these guys challenging photographic subjects.
They're dark all over, except for the brilliant shoulder patches, which, this early in the spring, are brilliant indeed. So getting the creature evenly rendered in the image is hard.
They're also somewhat adverse to either sitting still or perching anywhere all that near people; cattail stalks out in the swamp are much better breeding territory, and while the males are somewhat indifferent to their surroundings this time of year, they're not indifferent to the whole better breeding territory thing, which tends to keep them chasing one another around the swamp rather than suspiciously withdrawing from the human presence. From a good photograph opportunity standpoint, it's much of a muchness.So we have the fellow above, trilling his heart out.
This one, looking dour and dubious and indeed he flew off half a second later.
And this one, which came out fairly well, pond scum and all.

20 April 2008

This Digiscoping Thing

Seems like a good idea; I get to spend an order of magnitude less, practise taking pictures with a very small field of view, and possibly get a few pictures I would not otherwise have been able to obtain.
So I collected self, two sets of binoculars, Sibley Guide, foodstuff, water bottle, lunch, camera, lens bag, spotting scope, and tripod into a roughly luggable format—everything out of its normal containers and into a large day pack, except the tripod, which is awkward, spiky, and has a shoulder strap—and set off for the zoo, on the cheerful grounds that the waterfowl pond down in the Canadian Domain section must have thawed by now, and indeed ought to have one or more interesting birds.
Which it had, and which it did.
What was lacking was some specific functioning neurons on my part, because having got all that stuff in a heap and trotted off with it, I neglected to bring any additional SD cards, leaving me with the 2GB card in the camera and that's it.
With a Pentax K20D, shooting DNG raw files, 2 GB is 82 shots. [1]
I realized this at the zoo, after expending a couple-four of those 82 shots getting the camera settings back to normal from where they'd been doing the practise digiscoping out my window at an at least mostly immobile bit of maple-blossom. I did get a tolerable image of a feral daffodil out of it, but still.
So I was very, very careful.

And, ok, you can tell what it is, and it was taken from something like twenty five meters away, and it was sitting on a high twig that was blowing back and forth in the breeze. And it is, unlike various ducks, and given those caveats, plausibly in focus.
But still. Not what one could describe as sharp.
On the plus side, there are some good regular photos; as a spotting scope the spotting scope works entirely fine; the 20x60 Pentax binoculars, picked up on something close to a whim, are just dandy for waterfowl in bright light; I saw some sunning turtles I would not have seen without at least one of the long binocs or the scope; there were soaring vultures, a harrier, and something that looked like a crow-sized duck with white cheeks.
And it got me outside, and somewhere quiet, so by no means a waste of time.

[1] Yes, I know, Whiskey-Foxtrot-Whiskey. For someone who never shot film, and who has been getting used to SD cards being the constraint, rather than the battery, for a couple years now, having enough battery for something like 1500 shots and enough SD card for 82 is decidedly annoying.

19 April 2008

Dynamic Range

While none of these are to be described as exemplary, and indeed a couple of them are things sensible people don't try, I was trying to get a sense of what the extended sensitivity range in the ISO settings would do. And on that level, I'm quite pleased with the results.

18 April 2008

Ibis, Sacred, One

Don't know what happened to the left foot, or if that's just the ibis version of stretching.

17 April 2008

Not so unlike me

I tend to be seriously conflicted about our fellow great ape clade members in zoos; even these guys, who diverged something like 30 Myears back.

On the one hand, warm, well fed, and safe. On the other hand, even the quite large and carefully planned enclosure isn't as big as a single large tree in their native habitat, and, well, the facial recognition wetware in my brain goes off. This is a creature not so unlike me.

16 April 2008

Guestimation of Unsaturated Swans

The guessing comes in when, rather than taking the picture directly, one switches the drive mode from "Single-frame" to "Self-timer (2 sec)"; that lifts the camera mirror assembly, counts to two, and then triggers the shutter. This is intended to allow the vibration involved in moving the shutter to damp out before the picture is actually taken, and is a recommended technique for taking pictures at particularly long focal lengths. It also gives the swans-a-swimming lots of opportunity to be not quite where one expected.
These were not taken at a particularly long focal length; 300mm, which gives (on an APS-C camera) a field of view equivalent to a 450mm lens on a 35mm camera, and field of view is what I am given to understand matters for managing shake.
The pictures are 100% crops, in PNG, from the original images; I've turned all the adjustments in the raw processing to 0, so this is not so much straight out of the camera as false black and white. Both were taken from a tripod, with the in-camera shake reduction turned off as the manual instructs when using a tripod.

1/350, F6.7, ISO 100, drive mode "Single-frame"
1/350, F6.7, ISO 100, Drive Mode "Self-timer (2 sec)"

(If anyone wants the full exif info from the DNG files, at about 7kb each, let me know.)

It's hard to see a difference; I think it does make a difference, but at the shutter speed involve not much of one. At slower (tenth-second) shutter speeds, trying to take pictures of swimming swans is close to hopeless, but with flowers in the dim evening it does seem to matter.

15 April 2008

Red Dog

Dhole, Asiatic wild dog. Doesn't seem too much like the version in the Mowgli story, somehow.

14 April 2008

Backyard Mammalian Fauna

I can't tell if the black squirrel is eating buds, berries, or flowers; my bet is that it's leaf-buds, but I could easily be wrong about that. Whatever it is, it's worth being out in the rain to get.

I don't know where the red squirrel spends rainy days, but it's somewhere other than my back yard. So all the pictures I have are taken in bright sunlight, which cheerfully blazes off the little fellow's white underside.

These I'm pretty sure are flowers; compact and tasty ones, to go by squirrel behaviour.

13 April 2008

Backyard Avifauna

These were taken yesterday (Saturday), through a hard cold rain and a window screen. Some of them were attempted to be taken through a cat's head, when Aoife got bored with her window screen and wanted to know what the whirring noise was.[1]

So we have a launching house sparrow, dusted in maple pollen and rain:A dark-eyed junco, a bit shimmery with rain:
A red-breasted nuthatch, a most distrustful, flighty bird, so that while I lament that branch, this really is the best shot I've got of the kinetic little thing:
And an American Robin, somehow managing to convey no joy in spring whatsoever:
And a ground feeding mourning dove, one the concrete flagging under the balcony that has the bird feeder. I have some shots of doves looking epically bedraggled, perched in trees, but this seemed at least moderately more cheerful, to counteract the robin of sullen disdain.

[1] Auto-focus works on contrast; having a black cat ear intrude, at a range of contact with the objective lens, when the intended photographic subject is through a screen and fifteen or twenty feet of driving rain, really messes with auto-focus. To the point where one can listen to the lens whir and hunt for awhile before thinking to check for a cat.

12 April 2008

Pigeon From The Paint Factory

Actually a Nicobar pigeon, Caloenas nicobarica from the Africa Pavilion at the Metro Zoo.

First respectable picture of one I've managed to get; they're generally quite lacking in anything resembling shy, but they're also typically strutting briskly about below the foliage, where it is quite dim and hard to take pictures. This was a pleasant combination of a sunny day and spring, which makes the male of the species inclined to a certain amount of static display.

I don't imagine anyone at the Zoo is enameling pigeon toe claws, but will admit to a certain difficulty believing that colour is natural myself.

Feral Protestantism and the Leaking God

You can't stub your toe on a religion.
The artifacts of a religion—a church, a temple, the eleven hundred kilo gold-plated statue of the compassionate aspect, bound books of teachings—sure, but the religion itself is an inherently intangible thing.
Which means that whatever religion you've got, you've made up. (In the precise same sense that everything in your head is a made-up model of your experience of the world; the world itself is not in there, it wouldn't fit.)
Sometimes this is a side effect of transformative experience, but almost always it's from various component parts that are provided, often eagerly provided, by other people who want you to be part of their clade of religious ideas. (It's difficult unto impossible to have everyone following the same religion, but the point of a religious tradition is to try, and common tradition is a real and powerful thing in pretty much any context.)
Which is all well and good and basically human—what makes us human is other humans; bootstrapping social intelligence in one generation functions poorly—but it does have failure modes.
One of the failure modes if the falsification of components; we can see that going on right now with the whole notion of biblical inerrancy running into a much better, verifiable, and repeatable notion of how the world works. So that brick, that often foundational brick, in the Lego set of the particular religion, is either not there anymore, and the structure you can build must change, or the brick is asserted to be there, and the mechanism of building must, also, change, into a much less honest one.
That's a fairly easy failure mode to see; it's common to organizational transmission in all parts of life, and it happens at many scales, so people have a pretty good idea that there are limits to the utility of pretending that something non-factual is true and then proceeding on that basis.
Another failure mode is that the bricks, by the each, go feral.
This is a lot harder to see, and in many ways I think much more dangerous, because there's no longer any necessary constraint of structure. If you're trying to build a Methodist religion out of the Methodist religion kit of Lego blocks, or an Anglican, or an Asatru (most of those blocks are at least known to be missing....) you have some existing idea about what the result is supposed to look like.
It's hard not to notice if, metaphorically, you were trying to build a model of Chartres Cathedral and what you've got has a stern paddle wheel, cargo grapples, and a steam-driven Wurlitzer in all the bathrooms. Whatever that is, it's not Chartres Cathedral.
If you don't have the preexisting model, it's very hard to notice the feral Lego blocks, because you have this axiom, permeated through your culture, and no other axioms against which you can check it for fit.
And context of axioms is very important.
One of the basic Protestant axioms is "be like God"; whether this is God-the-Father or God-the-Son or a less relentlessly gendered God or just what is up to the diverse Protestant traditions, but the idea is there, and gets loose, and is, without all the other ideas to give God some kind of shape—a perpetual act of metaphorical sculpture goes on, with a living tradition—really dangerous.
One way in which it is dangerous is that it can give axiomatic force to anything at all; anything that has, for an individual, some element of the divine in it, can be connected to that feral Lego block, and become an axiomatic unconstrained good, against which anything done in the way of words or actions become an absolute evil.
This happens, has happened quite commonly over historical time, with ideas like "profit" and "safety", but it happens with all sorts of ideas, that become axiomatically good-without-a-context. Since the world has always got a context, and error bars, the results are, soon or late, bad ones, and that particular line of cognitive descent tends to end. (Or get severely pruned back.)
Another way in which it is dangerous is by leaking.
What is God like?
Most basically, God -- God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and of All Things Visible and Invisible -- can do anything. ("That ye may know that I am Eru, the One..." and creation happens, all of it, that angels may be educated in some ineffably necessary way.)
People though, people are finite. They can't do anything. They can't do anything at all by unmediated will; they can't do anything that takes living a thousand years; they can't do anything that takes bathing in molten lava or breathing in the abyssal ocean water or dwelling naked in vacuum or dancing on a -- one, singular -- molecule of water. They most certainly cannot know the precise shape of the future.
People are finite. They have a scope, a scale, a sphere of action.
They can also have that feral Lego block, without its context of tradition—which to say, the accumulated bad experiences, work-arounds, clever thoughts, and compromises with being finite and tangible generations of people have accumulated—telling them to be like God, who can do anything.
Which leads to relatively harmless things, like space exploration triumphalism—the reason why we don't have colonies on Mars is a lack of will, not the enormous cost and extreme difficulty of the problem—and excruciatingly harmful things, like people who can't forgive themselves for having not known the specific future, or being arbitrarily strong in childhood, or some other painful aspect of finity. If only they were a good person, they would be like God, and that particular finity would not be true.
The Lego block can be a fine thing, when it's in the structure of tradition; it's got something to give it shape, and limits.
All by itself, a lurking dark mass in the foundations of how you imagine the world, you can stub your toe and break your leg.

11 April 2008

Flowering spring

Which comes before the greening spring in practice, or at least here abouts.
Anyone clicking for a larger view, these are both quite large (range of 1.5 MB) PNG files, rather than JPEGs.
Hundred percent crop from the original of the above.
Too many of these and I'm going to need a "camera gloating" tag.

Oh, and for those interested, there are more pictures of Aoife at


10 April 2008

The sparrow is a flighty bird

But sometimes I get lucky, and manage to get one in focus.
This one was inside the Africa Pavilion at the Metro Zoo, perched fairly high on the grating that I would assume was intended to keep the flying birds on one side or the other of itself.
And yes, I do agree with this guy on the feeder -- I need to clean that window.
So far as my limited identification skills will allow, these guys are all House Sparrows, and thus of modest interest to birders, but, hey -- challenging photographic subject!

09 April 2008

A brief attempt at narrative

It was that season of the year.The decidedly damp, thawing, muddy sort of season, with minimal actual greenery as yet, though the incipient greenery has clearly got to thinking about specifics.
This is Heather.
And this is Howie, before he elected to go for a roll and and decorate himself with all sorts of seasonally appropriate substances.
And this is Heather and Howie together. Note that no attempt is being made to ride outside, amongst the seasonally appropriate substances, most of which are slippery.
Which makes me think I might have done better to try taking these pictures out of the sunbeam from the barn door, but hey -- experimental highlights. Will be experimenting with filters next time.
And they do look like they are having fun.
I had fun too, though I may need some pitons in the photography learning cliff thing before too long.