I Like To Think Of This As The Universe Expressing An Opinion About Today’s Incarnation Of The Party Of Lincoln

I mean, this picture sure seems to make a cosmic viewpoint clear:

Keyhole_Nebula_-_Hubble_1999 crop

You may consider this an open thread.

Image:  NASA, The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI) – Space Telescope Science Institute, Keyhole Nebula, crop of the feature known as “God’s Birdie,” 1999.

Morning Garden Chat – KILL IT WITH FIRE

Morning everyone. I noticed yesterday that butterflies had started showing up on the weeds native flowering plants in my patch of green, so being an obsessive diligent photographer type I got out my macro and flash to capture a few of them shaking off that chrysalis hangover. Neither of these shots came out perfect by my tastes but they could make nice 8x10s on a wall somewhere. I noticed a few bees out among the flies and bumblebees, not as many as I expect by now, but still encouraging. I dread the year when I don’t see any.

Then one of those movie moments happened where you glance up from the very close subject of attention and the focus racks out to something more troubling. Ima put it below the fold and throw out a trigger alert because some bugs are less adorbs than others.


Apparently the kaiju on my flowers is not deadly. Says MikeS,

It is is a large robber fly called Ospriocerus vallensis unsurprisingly the only common name I can find is “Large black and red robber fly” see:

They are predators that catch other insects in flight. They are good for your garden as they eat other flies and many other pests. It isn’t likely to be aggressive since it is not a wasp and has not nest to defend, although it would certainly bite you with its piercing mouth-parts if you tried to catch it in your bare hand and iit would probably hurt.

The butterflies are also apparently not butterflies but some type of moth.

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Another thread

Looks like I have the blog to myself today. That means I can put up vacation pictures and they can stay on top of the blog for as long as I want. However I feel a little bad about the creed thing, even considering that some of you can neither wait for an open thread nor use the previous one, so I will post good vacation pics. Well I think they are good pics, and my judgment is pretty good. They both come from our Christmas trip to San Diego.

First, some shorebirds.

One shorebird.

Two more below the fold. I don’t want to spoil anything, but they are both pictures of rocks. I would have posted one picture of a rock but I could not decide which one I like better. Maybe you guys can help.


Awright fine. The dog stayed in Pittsburgh, but here is a pic of him looking noble on one of our country’s other great coasts. Perhaps he is watching out for sharks, or considering a life on the sea.

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Raindrops Keep Fallling…

I’ve always loved this passage in the introduction to M.F.K Fisher’s  memoir-cum-essay-collection The Gastronomical Me:

People ask me:  Why do you write about food, and eating and drinking? Why don’t you write about the struggle for power and security, and love, the way others do?

One paragraph later, she replies:

The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry.  But there is more than that.  I tseems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others.  So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writig about love and the hunger for it, and wormth and the love of it and the hunger for it….and then the warmth and ricghess of hunger satisfied….and it is all one. [ellipses n the original]

People don’t often ask me why I write about science, and not politics or economics or culture or war…the way others do.

But I’ve asked it of myself, and I find myself lining up with Fisher.*  Science is so utterly intertwined with how we live that to write about its history, its discoveries, its many discontents,  implications, way of thinking, is to interrogate politics, culture, conflict, philosophy and everything else…food included.

But still, writing about science is not just a sneaky way to comment on Republican anti-rationality or whatever; it’s not just a means to another end.  I’ve written a book about the science of climate change, and though that book is as much about politics — and human nature — as it is about carbon chemistry and Milankovitch cycles, I remember one encounter I had while researching it.

I was in the woods in mid-New Hampshire in October or so, a research forest, walking around with the scientist who’d spent a couple of decades at least measuring everything he could about that ecosystem.  We were talking about acid rain and the changes he’d been able to document, and all that you’d expect in such a conversation, and then he stopped in his tracks at a little jog in the trail.  “That’s an ash tree,” he said, pointing to what was clearly an old friend.  It was desert-highway straight, tall, in fine health.  “These are one of my favorites,” he said.  “They make baseball bats out of these, which is very satisfying to me.”

Which is to say that there is simple pleasure to be had in the scientist’s life, or better, for most of us who aren’t practicing researchers, in a science-infused view of life.  Sometimes, there’s just the fun of the imagination leaping from the forest to the diamond; sometimes it’s the joy of the puzzle;  or the adrenaline rush of the extraordinary (did you know a wolverine can bring down a moose?  I didn’t until I read this);or — and this is what I think first drew me into the story — it’s simply those moments when science offers up a glimpse of pure, disinterested, astonishing beauty.

Like this one:

blue morpho

This image was made with the help of a friend and sometime co-blogger of mine, Dr. James Bales, assistant director of MIT’s Edgerton Center and a master of high speed photography.  It shows a drop of water striking the wing of a a blue morpho butterfly.  It came about in the context of the work of a group of researchers at or recently of MIT who have been studying how to reduce the contact time between water and hydrophobic surfaces.  Cutting the interval during with sprays of water remain on such surfaces matters to applications like preventing icing on aircraft wings.

It turns out that engineering surfaces with tiny ridges does the trick — so far, the team has managed to reduce contact time by 40%, using surface configurations that can be achieved with readily available tools.  More details here.

That’s all well and good — in fact, better than.  As someone who flies pretty regularly out of Logan Airport, I’m all for anything that erodes the threat of icing.

But why the butterfly?

As Jim tells it, the group knew that they had, in essence, reinvented something nature’s been doing for a long time:  what you see happening on the blue morpho’s wing above is exactly what engineered ridges on aluminum can accomplish.  And the researchers wanted to express that realization in a way that acknowledges the elegance thus implied.  Their own images were more useful than grand, and that’s where Jim came in, with the results you see above…**

…which are to me, before anything else, simply beautiful.

From time to time I do ask myself why write about science.  An answer, not the only one, nor the whole of it, can be seen above.***

*People also rarely — never — juxtapose me with Fisher, but that’s another kettle of fish.  I read her; I get to quote her.

**For those of you who like to think about such things, Jim says that “The tricky bit is getting the lighting just right (involved finding the right angles between strobe, wing, and lens, along with a mirror on the far side of the wing from the strobe to get a good fill light) and getting the timing right.”  (That, by the way, is what good photographers say.  The tricky bits are you know, everything.)

For the ubergearheads among us, Jim reports that the image was made with a Nikon D700, mounting a 70-180mm lens (presumably Nikon’s old macro unit), with a 1.4 teleconverter, a StopShot trigger unit (from Cognysis, in the US) and an Ultra Micro Flash from LaserScribe (an outfit in the UK) which has a flash duration of approximately 10 microseconds.

***Two more images for your delectation can be found below the jump.

All images: credit A. T. Paxson, K. Hounsell, J. W. Bales, J. C. Bird & K. Varanas, used by permission.

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One Week Last Summer

Andrea Gjestvang was named Photographer of the Year at the Sony World Photography awards last week, in part for her photographs of survivors of the Utøya massacre. Here are some with cutlines, some others, and here are some more without. They are haunting.