Archive for the ‘Nature’ category

Brain/eye candy: timelapse of L.A. wildfire

September 1, 2009

Extraordinary video of fire as both process and kinetic sculpture.Footage by Dan Blank. Music by Brian Eno.

Shot on Panasonic HS-300.

Actual length: 40 mins.
Filmed from Tarzana, CA

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Friday Fun: Nudity, Sex, Beaches (SFW)

July 24, 2009

I actually found this clip because of an actual professional interest. (yeah: and you get magazine X for the articles, right? — ed.) Several higher end still cameras are turning themselves into HD video cameras, and generally with much better optics than the basic consumer camcorders. With an interest in low-budget and more importantly, low profile documentary production, the quality of this video shot on a sub-$3,000 body and a seriously wonderful long lens impressed the hell out of me. Plus it gave me the opportunity for a classic headline bait-and-switch. Heh.

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Video of least terns mating at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach, California. Taken with Canon 5D Mark II with Leica 800/5.6 lens mounted on it. It was quite windy on that day, as it commonly is over there, and you can hear the wind.

Insect Lovers should check out

January 8, 2009

Wikimedia Commons Picture of the Day for January 8, 2009:  a very nice “anatomy of a bee with numbers.”

Image:  Paul de Longpré, “Roses and Bumblebee,” 1898.

Ooops — Missed Anniversary: Darwin/Wallace edition

July 3, 2008

I goofed. I meant to take notice of the anniversary of the birth of the modern theory of evolution. Yesterday, July 2, 2008, came 150 years to the day after Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace presented their independent, but congruent work on the question of evolution by means of natural selection to the Linnean Society.

Click the link. Within its rather austere presentation you can catch just a whiff of the human drama. Here it is, in the very oblique terms that Darwin’s interlocutors (some would say, his defenders) used to describe the three documents reaching the Linnean. The three men, Lyell, Hooker, and Bennett, organized the package with Darwin’s two pieces — a draft excerpt of a planned longer exposition and a summarized letter to Harvard’s Asa Gray — coming first, with Wallace’s finished essay bringing up the rear. They defended this rather odd presentation with this argument:

So highly did Mr. Darwin appreciate the value of the views therein set forth, that he proposed in a letter to Sir Charles Lyell, to obtain Mr. Wallace’s consent to allow the Essay to be published as soon as possible. Of this step we highly approved, provided Mr. Darwin did not withhold from the public, as he was strongly inclined to do (in favour of Mr. Wallace), the memoir which he had himself written on the same subject, and which as before stated, one of us had perused in 1844, and the contents of which we had both of us been privy to for many years. On representing this to Mr. Darwin, he gave us permission to make what use thought proper of his memoir, &c.: and in adopting our present course, of presenting to the Linnean Society, we have explained to him that we are not solely considering the relative claims to priority of himself and his friend, but the interests of science generally; for we feel it to be desirable that views founded on a wide deduction from the facts, and matured by years of reflection, should constitute at once a goal from which others may start, and that, while the scientific world is waiting for the appearance of Mr. Darwin’s complete work, some of the leading results of his labours, as well as those of his able correspondent, should together be laid before the public.

History has mostly judged this arrangement to be fair; certainly, Darwin was the center of both the intellectual creation and the human infrastructure that propelled development of the theory in whose origin Wallace shared.

(To get a sense of just how much Darwin did to foster a world-wide evolutionary endeavor, troll through his correspondence here. Scientific knowledge has always flowed through both formal and informal networks — I’m still waiting for Simon Shaffer to publish his wonderful essay “Newton on the Beach” to have a compact demonstration of just how extensive this was at the birth of modern science — but I’d like to know of any more formidable web-spinner, as able to draw together both facts and people as our man Darwin. I can think of none.) (Maybe Erdős — but, cowering as I am at the prospective onslaught of outraged mathematicians, Darwin’s doings were more important.)

But even so, a day late, I’d like to tip my hat once again to Alfred Russel Wallace, a truly great naturalist, able, with Darwin, to interpret what he had seen into the foundations of the most important scientific idea since Newton’s, and a generous man.

Also, on all of this, read this post by Carl Zimmer in his new blog home at Discover Magazine. He takes the time to propagate the debunking one of the most persistent Darwin myths, that “the Devil’s Chaplain” so feared the religious implications of his theory that he refused to publish for decades. Not so — and Zimmer tells you why. (This is by way of a long h/t to Zimmer for the reminder of the anniversary, and to hope he enjoys his new blog-digs.)

Image: Ernst Haeckel, plate from his 1905 collection Wanderbilder, from an 1882 painting.  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

Program Notes: NY Times/Ansel Adams edition

April 29, 2008

The Gray Lady of 43rd St. (no more!) has posted a nice taste of Ansel Adams’ Yosemite photos.  The commentary comes from one of Adams’ assistants, but it’s the photos that carry the day.

This isn’t exactly science, I’ll admit — but I’m with John Muir on this one.  It’s worth being reminded of the wellsprings of scientific imagination.  Here’s Muir  on an afternoon storm in the valley:

About noon, as usual, big bossy cumuli began to grow above the forest, and the rainstorm pouring from them is the most imposing I have yet seen.  The silvery zigzag lightning lances are longer than usual, and the thunder gloriously impressive, keen, crashing, intensely concentrated, speaking with such tremendous energy it would seem an entire mountain is being shattered at every stroke, but probably only a few trees are being shattered, many of which I have seen on my walks hereabouts strewing the ground.  At last the clear ringing strokes are succeeded by deep low tones that grow gradually fainter as they roll afar into the recesses of the echoing mountains, where they seem to be welcomed home.  Then another and another peal, or rather crashing splintering stroke, follows in quick succession, perchance splitting some giant pine or fir from top to bottom into long rails and slivers, and scattering them to all points of the compass. Now comes the rain, with corresponding extravagant grandeur, covering the ground high and low with a sheet of flowing water, a transparent film fitted like a skin upon the rugged anatomy of the landscape, making the rocks glitter and glow, gathering in the ravines, flooding the streams, and making them shout and oom in reply to the thunder.

How interesting to trace the history of a single raindrop!  It is not long, geologically speaking, as we have seen, since the first raindrops fell on teh newborn leafless Sierra landscape.  How different the lot of these falling now!…(Italics added)

(John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra, Houghton Mifflin, 1979, pp. 124-126)

Muir was no scientist.  A great naturalist, a founding environmentalist, a passionate advocate, but not a scientist.  But I read in him the joy in nature that makes me, at least remember why scientific discovery does more than please my curiousity; following Muir, the recognition of order within beauty moves me too.

Ansel Adams’ photgraphs say it better.  Enjoy.

Image:  Ansel Adams “The Tetons and the Snake River,” 1942 Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the National Park Service. (79-AAG-1)  Not one of the Yosemite images, of course, but it is one of the great ones nonetheless.  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.