Monthly Archives: September 2012

Cat at Work

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I recently heard a story on NPR about how Berliners use lampposts as “virtual totem poles of information.” In some parts of the city, the posts are covered by layer after layer of flyers and personal announcements. One that attracted the reporter’s attention said, “A HORRIBLE ACCIDENT HAS HAPPENED.” It turned out a woman had lost one of her favorite stiletto shoes. A guy who collects samples of the Berlin notices describes them as affording “a deep insight of the soul of the city. These are real treasures that need to be documented, because it’s part of our everyday life culture.”

There are places in Berkeley (and elsewhere nearby) where lampposts and telephone poles and have been converted into conduits of information (or requests for information). Notices reporting yard sales and lost pets are the most common. Sometimes the inquiries are more unusual: a guy looking for a lost belt buckle, a neighbor berating the thief who broke into their car. Occasionally the postings become more elaborate. The person who lectured the break-in artist, for instance, augmented the note with the charger for a flashlight that had been stolen.

Pictured here is a uniquely elaborate example of the Berkeley street notice, over on Sonoma Avenue. The sign reads: “Bentley, our cat, loves to hunt, and brings us garden gloves he finds. Please take those you own with our apologies.” The best part is the improvised mini-clothesline with the stray gloves pinned to it.

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Family Group

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When I was back in Chicago following my dad’s passing in late July, I went for a couple long walks from my sister Ann’s house to local cemeteries. It’s amazing how quickly you can cover six or seven or eight miles after you’ve set out for a stroll up there.

One day I wound up in Rosehill Cemetery, one of Chicago’s oldest, between Western and Ravenswood south of Peterson. Another day I walked up to Calvary Cemetery, a Roman Catholic establishment on the southern edge of Evanston that stretches between Lake Michigan on the east to Chicago Road on the west.

The Calvary visit was late in the day. On the way up there, I walked past a railroad viaduct that had some attractive sunlight shining through it. I stopped to see if I could get a picture that captured the light and shadows (I didn’t get anything worth keeping). What I didn’t spot when I first started shooting was a group of people on the sidewalk on the other side of the passage–two women, a man, and a girl of about 10. “You want to take my picture?” one of the women asked. I didn’t understand what she was saying and didn’t respond, so she repeated the question. “Sure, I’ll take your picture.” The man hung back, but the women and the girl posed briefly. I took a total of four or five shots.

I got an email address from one of the women; I sent these pictures there, though I never heard anything back. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any names, even first names.

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The Arctic 2012: A View from Above

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One of the Tweet-worthy current events items I’ve come across in the last couple of days is news that climate scientists say the Arctic ice pack has reached its lowest extent since the satellite records began in 1979. The National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado says the Arctic sea ice appears to have reached a season minimum this past Sunday, September 16, of 3.41 million square kilometers (1.32 million square miles). That’s half the average seen in the years 1979-2000 (and above, that’s a graphic from the NSIDC showing the sea ice extent for September 19).

What does it mean? Here’s a decent summary of the basic thinking from today’s PBS NewsHour:

The ice is younger and thinner than it was in the 1980s. Of the ice surveyed this summer, the majority was one to two years old and three to five feet thick on average. That’s down from 10 to 13 feet thick in 1985.

Losing sea ice also has immediate impacts on Arctic wildlife. Walruses that normally rest on the ice while hunting ocean fish moved ashore by the thousands last year. Arctic seal populations have already declined as a result of disappearing ice. And a 2009 United States Geological Survey estimated that by 2050, the world could lose two-thirds of its polar bears as their ice-dwelling food sources disappear. The ice is also home to delicate microorganisms, which, if lost, could upset the entire Arctic food chain, Meier said.

Ted Scambos, senior research scientist at NSIDC, said that changes in the Arctic’s ice and snow are making the Arctic warmer, which may mean major weather and climate changes for the rest of the planet. Sea ice reflects the sun’s rays, which helps regulate the planet’s temperatures, especially during the summer. Losing the reflective ice surface causes temperatures to rise. If the North Pole is not as cold as it used to be, that has the potential to change wind and weather patterns throughout the Northern Hemisphere.

“But a wider impact may come from the increased heat and moisture that the Arctic is adding to the climate system,” Scambos said in a press release yesterday. “This will gradually affect climate in the areas where we live…We have a less polar pole–and so there will be more variations and extremes.”

Having read some of the accounts of the sea ice retreat yesterday, I went looking for images of what the Arctic looks like. A favorite resource: NASA, which publishes a bunch of cool images of various Earth features every day. One of the services, called MODIS(MODerate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer), includes daily mosaics of the Arctic snapped by NASA satellites. Every time I see these images of Earth from space, the thought that seizes me–or maybe it’s more of an emotion–is what an incredibly beautiful place this planet is.

Looking at the Arctic day to day, I wondered whether I could turn the images into a “movie.” Well, I could, sort of. I downloaded 185 days worth–from March 20 through September 20–then turned them into a slideshow, saved that as a movie, and uploaded it to YouTube. Here it is:


I will say up front that while the view is breathtaking, the Arctic weather screens the view of precisely what’s happening with the ice. It’s not as stark as you might expect (and of course, this is just one season we’re looking at; there’s nothing here to give a comparison to how this scene unfolded 30 years ago).
One note of orientation and explanation: The North Pole is near dead center in the images. Greenland is clearly recognizable at the lower left; Iceland is at the lower center, and Scandinavia and the northern coast of Russia are at the lower right. Siberia dominates the right side of the map (these images show weeks of heavy smoke from fires there). At the top margin, the Bering Strait, where Siberia nearly meets Alaska, is just left of center. Alaska appears inverted at the left, with the Gulf of Alaska at the top left corner.

One more video: This year’s Arctic ice melt as presented by NOAA’s Environmental Visualization Laboratory:

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Journal of Airliner Seat Photography 2

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Further notes on my occasional hobby/obsession with snapping pictures while strapped into an airliner seat: The scene above shows the Byron Generating Station (a nuclear power plant) in Ogle County, Illinois, about 70 miles west of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. The view here was taken July 26, 2012, from American Airlines Flight 1661, to San Francisco, about 12 and a half minutes after takeoff (we lifted off the runway at 6:43 p.m. CDT, about two hours late). The view here is north/northeast. The Rock River is at the left, and the town of Byron is at the upper right, about three miles from the plant; the town of Oregon, Illinois, is just out of the frame at the lower left.

As it happens, Kate and I were driving in this area last week, and when I saw the plant’s cooling towers in the distance I started looking for a place to stop and take a picture. We found Razorville Road, which runs north-south about a mile west of the plant, and pulled off. The roadside was studded with “No Trespassing” signs, and I was careful not to stray beyond them. I half expected armed guards to show up, but none did. I got my pictures, and we drove off to another local attraction, the Black Hawk statue at Lowden State Park.

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Journal of Airliner Seat Photography

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One thing you notice when you spend hours staring out an airliner window in flight is other airliners streaking past. Sometimes you’ll see them headed in the same direction, flying roughly parallel to your path. Mostly, you see them go flashing by in the opposite direction (last week, we saw four in the space of about 30 seconds).

In the shot above, taken July 26, I was on an American Airlines flight headed west from Chicago to San Francisco. The local time, somewhere over Utah, was about 8:20 p.m. Suddenly, I spotted a jet heading north/northeast that appeared to have crossed below and ahead of us. It was there and gone in a few seconds, but I had my camera in hand and shot several frames before it disappeared.

Looking at the pictures afterward, I tried to make out the words and logo pained on the aircraft. After searching for a few minutes, I came up with an answer: Air Berlin. My educated guess, thanks to the airline site and looking for records on FlightAware.com, is that this was Air Berlin Flight 7499, about 46 minutes into a direct from from Las Vegas to Duesseldorf, and that our position at this moment was about 50 miles northeast of Price, Utah.

Below is a cropped image of the airliner, an Airbus 330. And below that is the original image–which among other things makes it clear how late in the day it was–before I started fiddling with it digitally to identify the plane.

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Looks Like Home

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As noted often before, my Number 1 favorite activity during a plane flight is staring out the window at what’s below. My Number 2 favorite activity is taking pictures of whatever it is. Above is a shot from Tuesday evening, as we approached San Francisco International Airport on our flight home from Chicago. This shot looks north across Sunol Regional Wilderness to San Antonio Reservoir (one of the many reservoirs in the San Francisco water system). I love the light on the contours of this landscape. (The air? I believe it was smoky from fires we’ve been having in Northern California, though I never followed up on that to figure out where the closes fires were.)

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Your Official Labor Day Weekend Slogan and Butterfly

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Above, it’s the California Sister (Adelpha californica). We spent the weekend with our friends Jill and Piero in that part of Calaveras County where the foothills turn to the mountains, on a ridge south of the Middle Fork of the Mokelumne River. On Sunday, we walked down to Blue Creek, then walked up the stream a short way. This butterfly was hanging out and posed while I tried to get a picture.

Back at base camp, also known as Casa Della Montagna, a construction project was under way. Piero and Jill were building a small deck for a wood-fired hot tub. The underlying framework was a beautiful, asymmetrical web of beams and joists. I commented on the workmanship, which I always find impressive. Piero seemed to see it as more of a rough-and-ready carpentry job. He said, putting a new spin on an old proverb, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the done!”

Kate and I spent the afternoon watching and occasionally lending our hands as Jill and Piero measured angles, cut planks, and screwed them into place. They were done by dinnertime.

(Click pictures for larger images.)

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