Big bird’s back

Carla Rhodes takes beautiful photos of strange-looking birds in an ugly situation.

A biologist, an outlandish stork and the army of women trying to save itThe New York Times
After returning from India, I realized that my encounter with the greater adjutants had irrevocably changed me. Until then, I’d doggedly chased a career in New York City as a comedic ventriloquist while juggling mundane day jobs. Wildlife photography was relatively new to me; I had only considered it an enjoyable hobby. But suddenly I wanted to pursue conservation photography with every fiber of my being.

More Skeksis than stork, I think. But how they look is only half the story.

I quickly discovered the work of Dr. Purnima Devi Barman, a wildlife biologist who has dedicated her life to protecting greater adjutants. The founder of the Hargila Army, a local all-female, grass-roots volunteer conservation effort, Dr. Barman led her corps of women in protecting nesting sites, saving fallen baby birds and educating the Assamese community on the importance of these rare and endangered scavengers.

Needless to say, I’ve never seen anything like that round my way. Maybe I just need to keep looking.

Bird cams: A virtual window into the natural world of birdsThe Cornell Lab
Our viewers tell us that watching the cams is a life changing experience: an unprecedented learning experience that they liken to virtual field trips or field biology in their living room. We’re excited to continue sharing and learning with the community as we watch the world of birds together.

Royale with cheese

I’m not a fan of soap operas and schmaltzy dramas, but it’s been hard to escape reaction to The Crown’s latest spin-off.

‘I didn’t want to be alive anymore’: Meghan Markle-Prince Harry’s revelations during Oprah interview leave internet shockedThe Indian Express
Post the broadcast of the interview, social media is abuzz with netizens reacting to the various revelations made during the interview. The hashtag #OprahMeghanHarry soon began trending on Twitter with many drawing parallels between the situation and what Princess Diana went through during her time.

This write-up from across the Irish Sea really nailed it though.

Harry and Meghan: The union of two great houses, the Windsors and the Celebrities, is completeIrish Times
Having a monarchy next door is a little like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and has daubed their house with clown murals, displays clown dolls in each window and has an insatiable desire to hear about and discuss clown-related news stories. More specifically, for the Irish, it’s like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and, also, your grandfather was murdered by a clown.

Shouldn’t really be too flippant about all this, institutional bigotry is no laughing matter, but this image of the Queen caught my eye shortly after reading that.

Artist brings everyday objects to life with smartphone and no editingDesign You Trust
“I think it’s a fun way to make an ordinary situation extraordinary, to make magic by combining two different things into a whole new story. A smartphone is something we all carry all day and it allows me to take this kind of photo spontaneously on the spot whenever an idea comes. I always carry two phones to do this.”

Quite a few are from the movies …

… including Pulp Fiction …

… which brings us back to where we started — Americans and royalty.

Royale with Cheese (dialogue)Genius
As Jules Winfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta) drive along they discuss trivial matters regarding the little differences between Europe and America.

Finding my way, under starry skies

I’m still trying to get my head around Second Life. The scale of it confuses me, with its talk of continents and regions, parcels and places. I need a map. It seems there’s a longstanding technical difficulty with that currently, but here’s a helpful resource — an inworld Maps of Second Life exhibition.

The maps (and more) of Second LifeInara Pey: Living in a Modem World
The maps start from the earliest days of Second Life – 2002 – and run through to almost the present. It encompasses “official” maps, those produced by SL cartographers depicting the Second Life Mainland continents, and specialist maps charting air routes, airports, the SL railways, specific estates. Not only are they informative, some stand as works of art in their own right.

For more background on how that exhibition was curated and designed, here’s an interview with its creator, Juliana Lethdetter.

In an earlier blog post, Inara Pey notes that, whilst maps might not contribute greatly to a sense of community, they’re vital for establishing a sense of presence.

Maps as metaphors: Second Life and SansarInara Pey: Living in a Modem World
However, the idea that the world map presents Second Life as a place, adding to our sense of presence, is harder to deny. In fact, given that Second Life is intended to be a single world of (largely) interconnected spaces, its representation via a map can be a vital aspect of reinforcing this view. In other words, the map is, for many – but not necessarily all of us – an intrinsic part of how we see Second Life as a connected whole, a place.

Of course, there are other ways of seeing Second Life.

Explorer shoots impressionistic photos while traveling through a virtual worldNew World Notes
Mei Vohn’s photostream is a glorious travel journal of Second Life sims highlighted by a person who sees the beauty in a single detail. Her pictures are very impressionistic. They make me think of the phrase “see through a glass darkly” from First Corinthians. Her pictures give us impressions, we have to go there to see it for ourselves.

But let’s go back to 2007, with a video that shows that, whatever technology we use to visualise the worlds around us, Van Gogh’s never far away.

Watch the World – Starry NightAustin Tate’s Blog
Robbie Dingo (aka Rob Wright) produced the “Watch the World” machinima in Second Life in 2007 depicting a build of the Vincent Van Gogh “Starry Night” painting…

Remake the starsNew World Notes
What Robbie Dingo has done is something Akira Kurosawa only envisioned: brought Van Gogh’s masterpiece to rich, three dimensional life, and for a brief moment, recast it as a living place. (Brief, for the construction was always intended as a temporary project, “so it’s all been swept away now, leaving only the film behind.”) But for a breathtaking moment you get to the most iconic of starry nights recast under the rising sun.

“One of the challenges was to make it look fluid and simple,” Robbie tells me. “If I have got it right, then it should look like something that was thrown together very quickly, but in reality I worked on this in dribs and drabs over a number of evenings.”

Things are looking up #6

I’m sure President Biden has enough on his to-do list at the moment to be giving Space Force and the politics of space much thought, but this new book from Benedict Redgrove might spark some enthusiasm.

Benedict Redgrove’s intimate photography book lands us inside the world of NASAIGNANT
Redgrove has been fascinated by space suits and shuttles since he was a young man. “The image of the astronaut or spaceman has been with me ever since, as a sort of talisman to all that is great and good,” he shares. “They symbolize the explorer, the hero, the good character, the leader. The spacesuit takes on that character, the suit and the human become one entity, more powerful than either on their own.” Combining his fascination with space technology with his interest in photography, the British creative took on the challenge to document America’s home of space-based research and development in intimate detail. Redgrove spent almost a decade working on the project, negotiating access and forming relationships with NASA, researching, investigating, and producing over 200 images of NASA’s facilities and the many objects that made their space travel imaginable and possible.

The engineering involved in landing on the moon was incredible. To fully appreciate that, I think I need to add this epic piece of journalism to my reading list.

Of a Fire on the Moon by Norman MailerPenguin Random House
For many, the moon landing was the defining event of the twentieth century. So it seems only fitting that Norman Mailer—the literary provocateur who altered the landscape of American nonfiction—wrote the most wide-ranging, far-seeing chronicle of the Apollo 11 mission. A classic chronicle of America’s reach for greatness in the midst of the Cold War, Of a Fire on the Moon compiles the reportage Mailer published between 1969 and 1970 in Life magazine: gripping firsthand dispatches from inside NASA’s clandestine operations in Houston and Cape Kennedy; technical insights into the magnitude of their awe-inspiring feat; and prescient meditations that place the event in human context as only Mailer could.

Norman Mailer’s A Fire on the Moon: a giant leap for reportageThe Guardian
In the age of Gravity, of simulated cinematic immersion in space, it is more striking than ever that footage of the greatest technological feat of all time looked no better “than a print of the earliest silent movies … Ghost beckoned to ghosts and the surface of the moon looked like a ski slope at night.”

That line about the poor quality visuals (deliberately poor, apparently) not matching the scale of the achievement reminded me of Brian Eno’s dissatisfaction with the audio, the chatter of the experts obscuring the event’s grandeur and strangeness.

Of a Fire on the Moon was first published across three issues of Life magazine (much like John Hersey’s Hiroshima, published in its entirety in The New Yorker in 1946), and is yours in book form for a tenner or so. Or, if you want to spend a little more…

Of a Fire on the Moon; $112,500 coffee table editionWikipedia
The 40th anniversary of the first Moon landing was marked in 2009 by the release of an abridged, limited edition of the text, re-packaged with images from NASA and Life magazine. This production retitled the work, MoonFire, and was presented in an aluminium box with a lid shaped like the crater-pocked surface of the Moon; the object was mounted on four legs resembling the Apollo Lunar Module’s struts. Thus, the coffee table book came inside its own lunar-themed “coffee table”, with an uneven surface (see photograph). The package included a numbered print of the famous portrait of Buzz Aldrin standing on the Moon, framed in plexiglass and signed by the astronaut himself—and enclosed a lunar meteorite. Only 12 were created and the price was $112,500.

2021 off to a flying start

Trump and his followers aren’t going out quietly, are they?

Pro-Trump mob storms US CapitolThe Guardian
A mob of Trump supporters invaded the Capitol after mass demonstrations in the nation’s capital. They breached security, took over the rotunda and House chamber, and disrupted the vote certification for Joe Biden.

Riot, insurrection or social media performance?

The pro-Trump mob was doing it for the ‘GramBuzzfeed News
For Trump supporters who occupy those extreme-right universes, anyone who believes that Trump lost the election is the delusional one. What’s more: they experience this narrative entirely online, safe from facts, where stars of this alternate universe emerge to cement it for them. And there is a reward to be found in that stardom: After all, why would anyone don a costume like the QAnon Shaman, if not as a play for the cameras?

But if the stardom is the reward, what of their revolution? Don’t they have work to do, a vote to stop? For many in the mob that showed up in DC, the posing is the work.

Twitter has been such a huge part of this presidency, it’s hard to imagine one without the other. Up to now, at least.

Twitter permanently suspends President Donald Trump’s accountTime
In a series of tweets on its @TwitterSafety account, the social media giant said that Trump’s account had continued to violate the rules even after being warned by temporarily locking Trump’s account on Wednesday evening after the insurrection that caused the death of at least six people, either at the Capitol or from injuries sustained there.

“After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence,” Twitter said in its announcement. “In the context of horrific events this week, we made it clear on Wednesday that additional violations of the Twitter Rules would potentially result in this very course of action.”

Permanent suspension of @realDonaldTrumpTwitter Blog
Our public interest framework exists to enable the public to hear from elected officials and world leaders directly. It is built on a principle that the people have a right to hold power to account in the open. However, we made it clear going back years that these accounts are not above our rules entirely and cannot use Twitter to incite violence, among other things.

Well, that’s one less password for him to remember, at least.

Trump goes “ballistic” after Twitter ban, says he’s looking at creating own platformSlate
Trump seemed to be engulfed by a burning desire to tweet and so he grabbed hold of the official @POTUS Twitter account and published a statement that the White House also issued separately. Trump lashed out at Twitter, saying it had “coordinated with the Democrats and the Radical Left” to remove his account. Trump also said he had been “negotiating with various other sites” and that he and his allies are looking “at the possibilities of building out our own platform in the near future.” Twitter quickly took down the messages from the @POTUS account. Donald Trump Jr. characterized the ban as “absolute insanity,” adding that it showed how “we are living Orwell’s 1984.”

Trump Jr’s reference to 1984 is interesting. He’s not the first to spot similarities.

One alternative to Twitter, favoured by his supporters is (was?) Parler.

Apple suspends Parler from App StoreTechCrunch
Apple confirmed that it has suspended the conservative social media app Parler from the App Store, shortly after Google banned it from Google Play. The app, which became a home to Trump supporters and several high-profile conservatives in the days leading up to the Capitol riots, had been operating in violation of Apple’s rules.

Amazon will suspend hosting for pro-Trump social network ParlerBuzzfeed News
“Recently, we’ve seen a steady increase in this violent content on your website, all of which violates our terms,” the email reads. “It’s clear that Parler does not have an effective process to comply with the AWS terms of service.” […] On Parler, reaction to the impending ban was swift and outraged, with some discussing violence against Amazon. “It would be a pity if someone with explosives training were to pay a visit to some AWS data centers,” one person wrote.

It seems to me that these people aren’t contesting their 2020 loss, but the one from 1865.

Things are looking up #5

I don’t remember adding this to my YouTube ‘Watch Later’ playlist, but I’m glad I did. A charming documentary on a bizarre, elegant, yet absolutely enormous cloud.

Secrets of a Strange CloudYouTube
This is about the Morning Glory Cloud in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Queensland, Australia. It is an amazing atmospheric phenomenon. It is a shockwave which can be over a thousand kilometres long. Other meteorological terms for this type of formation is a shelf cloud, roll cloud or soliton. They can happen unpredictably in other places in the world but the Gulf of Carpentaria is the only location place where they happen with some degree of regularity around September and October.

Whilst we still have our heads in the clouds, ponder this strange notion — that we didn’t always know where birds went in the winter. They seemed to just vanish each year. Perhaps, rather than flying to different countries, they flew a little further.

When birds migrated to the MoonThe MIT Press Reader
Morton rejected Aristotle’s widely accepted hibernation theory, and pointed out a major flaw in the theory that the birds simply migrated to another place on Earth: No one in Europe knew where they went. They literally disappeared. He argued that returning birds, like woodcocks, appeared to drop suddenly from the sky over ships at sea.

Their round trip to the moon took one month each way, taking the distance to the moon and the length of their absence into account. There was no atmospheric resistance to impede their flight (so he had taken on board that much of Pascal’s conclusions) and the journey between the worlds was aided by lack of gravity. They slept for much of it, living off their body fat. It was all logical enough, in its own way.

You must read that article for its charming account of Domingo Gonsales flying to the Moon on his swan engine.

It’s a good job he didn’t try that trip a few hundred years earlier.

In 1110, the Moon vanished from the sky. We may finally know whyScience Alert
“On the fifth night in the month of May appeared the Moon shining bright in the evening, and afterwards by little and little its light diminished, so that, as soon as night came, it was so completely extinguished withal, that neither light, nor orb, nor anything at all of it was seen,” an observer wrote in the Peterborough Chronicle.

It was bright enough a week ago, spookily peering through the clouds, though this shot using my binoculars doesn’t do it justice.

Perhaps I need to take some pointers from the experts.

Taking good photos in bad lightPhotography Life
When the sky is gray or the sun is directly overhead, it can be tough to find inspiration for high-quality photography. My hope with this article is to share some tips that have worked for me when I photograph in bad lighting conditions – something which every photographer experiences at some point.

Time flies

Do you remember Noah Kalina, the photographer who took a picture of himself every day for twenty years? Here’s something similar — less structured, perhaps more melancholic.

The photographer who set out to watch herself ageThe New Yorker
Over nearly four decades, beginning in the early eighties, the photographer Nancy Floyd executed an epic project of self-documentation, the results of which are collected in her new volume, “Weathering Time.” But it is not Floyd’s strict adherence to a plan that makes her project so compelling. It’s that she completed it with a laid-back kind of tenacity—an anti-perfectionistic, unfixed attitude, which lends her book, a curiously organized archive of some twelve hundred black-and-white images, a meandering charm.

Nancy Floyd has been photographing herself every day for almost 40 yearsi-D
The resulting “visual calendar”, as Nancy calls it now, consists of over 2,500 photographs. “Most often I’m by myself in these straightforward images, but sometimes I’m with family and friends. As time passes, births, deaths, celebrations, and bad days happen. Pets come and go, fashions and hairstyles evolve, typewriters, analog clocks, and telephones with cords disappear; film gives way to digital and the computer replaces the darkroom.”[…]

I like the surprises that arise when I pull together photographs to create new categories, such as Trousers or Shirts with Word. … I’ve been waiting for years to be the same age as my parent’s in my pictures. This year I made my first image: Mom and Me at 63. Viewing the pictures side-by-side there is no doubt that I am my mother’s daughter.

I’ve got to try this for myself. There must be some interesting juxtapositions to be found within the thousands of photos I’ve got on Flickr, not to mention all the boxes of old prints squirreled away in various cupboards upstairs…

Objectified

Making a spectacle of themselves.

Let’s have some quirky selfies and self portraits of a different kind, now.

Helmut Smits creates pinhole cameras that take playful selfies of your favourite objectsIt’s Nice That
What would a self-portrait made by an object look like? We usually forget a product’s packaging once we bin it after using the product. But what about, say, a tin of pringles? Is it the too-salty curved crisps that you think of, or is it the red tin that’s always too small for your hand to fit through? Can you separate what you consume from the way that it has been advertised?

In his project, A Product’s Self Portrait, Rotterdam-based visual artist Helmut Smits commits a playful approach to this topic. Because photography is a material process, Helmut has been magically creating 27 pinhole photos of products, using 27 matching pinhole cameras made from their packaging.

A beautiful year, nevertheless

It wasn’t all bad.

The of the year articles seem a little early this year. I wonder why we’re so keen to get 2020 behind us.

2020’s weather photography of the year doesn’t disappointMoss and Fog
The Royal Meteorological Society Weather Photographer of the Year contest is now in its 5th year, and has some amazing entrants that show us 2020 wasn’t just about a raging global pandemic. Indeed, Mother Nature, combined with a rapidly warming planet has resulted in record storms, floods, droughts, and wildfires this year.

Phu Tho province, Vietnam — Vu Trung Huan
Lake Baikal, Siberia — Alexey Trofimov

Top shots from the 2020 International Landscape Photographer of the YearThe Atlantic
More than 3,800 entries were received in this year’s landscape-photography competition, from professional and amateur photographers around the world.

Tromsø, Norway — Kelvin Yuen
Motukiekie Beach, New Zealand — Sergey Aleshchenko

There are many more beautiful images on those pages, do check them out. And here are some more wonderful things of a different kind.

100 best inventions of 2020TIME
Every year, TIME highlights inventions that are making the world better, smarter and even a bit more fun. … 100 groundbreaking inventions—including a smarter beehive, a greener tube of toothpaste, and technology that could catalyze a COVID-19 vaccine—that are changing the way we live, work, play and think about what’s possible.

They’re taking over

Yesterday, upon the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there.

I’ve shared articles about these fake, engineered nobodies before, but the transitions, animations and sliders in this piece from the New York Times are very effective, and great fun — a genuine individual on every frame.

Designed to deceive: Do these people look real to you?The New York Times
Given the pace of improvement, it’s easy to imagine a not-so-distant future in which we are confronted with not just single portraits of fake people but whole collections of them — at a party with fake friends, hanging out with their fake dogs, holding their fake babies. It will become increasingly difficult to tell who is real online and who is a figment of a computer’s imagination.

You think you know someone …

… but they turn out to be …

… someone completely different.

All these fakes — people, art, feet — it’s hard to keep track. Well, not any more.

This X Does Not Exist
Using generative adversarial networks (GAN), we can learn how to create realistic-looking fake versions of almost anything, as shown by this collection of sites that have sprung up in the past month.

Grown on me

Spindly trees, I’m a big fan. They’re just giant, 3D pen and ink drawings, really, and I’ve been snapping photos of them for a while. Though none of my pics come anywhere close to capturing the atmosphere of these tulgey woods, as Things Magazine described them.

MysticalNeil Burnell
“There’s real magic in this series, with thick fog shrouding the gnarled moss-clad oaks, one can almost visualise fairies flying effortlessly into the scenes.”

Perhaps my love of twisty, organic lines explains why I found these sculptures by Sun-Hyuk Kim so fascinating.

Stainless steel roots sprawl into figurative sculptures by artist Sun-Hyuk KimColossal
Just like a tree, the spindly branches that shape Sun-Hyuk Kim’s sculptures extend from a larger, sturdy limb—or in the South Korean artist’s case, neck or spine, too. Kim creates sprawling artworks that merge human anatomy and the root systems that crawl underneath the earth’s surface. Sometimes painted in neutral tones and others plated in gold, the sculptures are composed of stainless steel that trails out into figurative forms.

Something about them reminds me of Kumi Yamashita’s installations.

They can’t be more different, can they?

A big day in the USA, with the whole world watching, hoping they don’t mess it up again.

Trump and Biden pictured through the yearsBBC News
President Donald Trump, 74, and Democratic challenger Joe Biden, 77, each have more than seven decades of personal and professional experience behind them.

Experience of what, though? That’s the question.

Meanwhile.

Smile for the robot

This couple hired a robot photographer for their wedding dayMy Modern Met
For anyone wondering about how the guests felt about having the robot photographer at the wedding, the groom assures that Eva was positively received by the entire wedding party. “This was a fantastic addition to our day and our guests are still talking about it,” Gary told Bride Magazine. “It made a nice change from the normal photo booths.”

But don’t worry, Eva isn’t designed to replace real photographers. Gary and Megan hired a professional photographer, too. “The robot is a great alternative to traditional photobooths, which are slowly going out of fashion,” Service Robots says. “Hiring both a traditional photographer and a photobooth robot like Eva means newlyweds can look back on crisp, professional shots as well as more candid, fun and cheeky photographs taken with the robot’s help.”

Bird watching, kind of

Find yourself staring out of windows? Try some different ones.

WindowSwap lets you cycle through picturesque views from all over the worldThe Verge
There’s something very positive about the experience. Strangers are taking their time to share their favorite watching spot to help those who might not have one (or are just tired of their own). It is a small gesture of kindness and reminder of the positive ways the internet can make the world feel smaller.

As I mentioned before, one of the benefits of working from home is I get to enjoy the view of our little bird feeder all day. I’ll be back in the office at some point, I’m sure, but I know which website to turn to when I get there.

Bird Library, where the need to feed meets the need to read
Welcome to the Bird Library, feeding the birdbrains of Virginia. Concerned about bird literacy? So are we. We believe in biodiversity and welcome birds of all colors, shapes, and species … even squirrels.

Its live video feed is the only way I’ll get to see cardinals, I think, and all the library’s other exotic (to us in the UK, at least) patrons.

But if you’re wanting to see some truly beautiful birds:

Fantastical images of birds from the 2020 Audubon Photography AwardHyperallergic
The National Audubon Society annually rewards excellence in nature photography; the 2020 winners offer a stunning array of aviary photographs that continue to amaze with their vivid colors and curious behaviors.

This hypnotic artwork from Andy Thomas is my favourite, I think. I’ve seen visualisations of bird flight before, but not their song. These reinterpretations of bird song take very strange and dramatic forms reminiscent of flowers, insects and the birds themselves.

Digital sculptures visualize chirps of Amazonian birds in a responsive artwork by Andy ThomasColossal
Based on an audio recording from a 2016 trip to the Amazon, Australian artist Andy Thomas interprets birds’ trills, squawks, and coos through an animated series of digital sculptures. … With each chirp, the fleeting masses contort, grow, and disassemble into a new, vibrant form.

Instead of a window I could happily have this playing on a loop all day on a monitor on a wall or something. I wonder what the sparrows and goldfinches on my bird feeder would make of that.

On the shelf

I’ve a number of posts here about libraries, but I’ve never seen one with such substantial shelving.

The Old Cincinnati Library before being demolished, 1874-1955Rare Historical Photos
Built in 1874 on the site reserved for an opera house, the Old Cincinnati Library was a thing of wonder. With five levels of cast iron shelving, a fabulous foyer, checker board marble floors and an atrium lit by a skylight ceiling, the place was breathtaking. Unfortunately that magnificent maze of books is now lost forever.

Some rather more genteel shelving on display here.

One of the world’s oldest reading rooms at the University of OxfordThe Mind Circle
This collection of images of the Bodleian Library in Oxford, while not of the most impressive library interior, are actually extremely rare, and most likely the best images of the interior available anywhere online. Photography of this library, which dates as far back as 1487 during the Medieval period, is usually completely prohibited as it contains many priceless original books, including manuscripts of the gospels of the Bible from the 3rd century, a Shakespeare First Folio and a copy of the Gutenberg Bible (one of 42 left in the world).