Thursday, April 30, 2020

First dahlia photos of the year

Although they are immigrants, not home grown. Still, I love their cheerful colours, and we're hoping the first bees discover them for breakfast. I had fun taking photos of them. Yes, Linda is covering them up at night, just in case.

I had some fun with intentional camera motion.

Here's one of the blossoms that is sad because it fell off the plant. Or if you like, I suppose you could think of it as growing up and through the table.

Other plants are doing their thing as well. I'm still a sucker for the hens and chicks. I've several photos of them that I'll spread out. Technically this is a macro shot since that little bud is only a few mm across, but I didn't want to wait for macro monday.

A little earlier I found this almost swampish reflection.


Driftwood of the day

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Couldn't finish

For some of you, that's all you need to know.

 But wait, there's more to the story, and that's part of the problem.

Some stories are easy to follow. Ones based on the hero's journey typically are. Think of every superhero movie lately; they plod along from step to step, dull as used dishwater at best. Writers found they could build interest by combining several stories, or mixing up the order the story is told in, or adding extra layers of description. Anything to dress up one of the few original plots. (Some say 7, some 12, but in any case there's only a few.) Writers have to tickle your imagination, but movie makers can delight it with special effects showing things never before seen, or utterly impossible things, or they can bludgeon your poor imagination into submission with badly done effects.

For me, there has to be a character I care about for some reason somewhere along the way, preferably one of the main characters. I'll noodle through poor writing, dreary chases, artificial complications, whatever, to see what happens to 'my' character. I don't care how they dress up a chase, it's boring unless you care if 'your' character escapes or catches their goal.

That turned out to be the problem with Starless Sea. The person I thought of as the main character was completely colourless. He went through these beautifully described, magical places, and I had no idea why or what he was trying to do. He might as well have been a marble bouncing around a pinball table.

I wanted to like it. Her first book, The Night Circus is amazing and I recommend it to everyone. Even Starless Sea, I loved the descriptions of the places, and they tickled my imagination, and some of the little side stories are wonderful. But we'd see a place and move on, never to return. I couldn't see how the places affected the character, or how the order of them mattered. Then time travel started coming into it, and I started to lose it. Then a wardrobe and I was done. I put it down and looked at it for several days and couldn't pick it up. I think Linda has started, but don't know what she thinks.

Next is Shadow of the Wind.

Some waterfall shots for you. These are between Dunedin and Invercargill. We stopped to have a snack and do this short walk. As will be obvious, I played with different camera settings.






A flower from the rose garden in Dunedin.

Cats of the Day

Driftwood of the Day
All the same chunk. This beautiful smooth gold finish shows up periodically, and in the right light it's absolutely gorgeous.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Do you think the world is getting worse?

Many people recently thought the world was going to hell, and that was before the coronavirus. Now all they see is ever greater numbers of people infected and dying. They see the damage to the economy with so many people laid off, so many businesses shut down and maybe never reopening. If you're of a particular mindset you're more concerned about future generations paying back the money the government is shelling out and the possibility of fraud along the way. I guess you figure people won't be starving to death on your street.

But when you step back a bit, things have never been better. Really. Coronavirus and all. By stepping back a bit, I mean taking both a more global view and a longer term view. Only then will you see really how good here and now is.

A few years ago I stumbled onto one of Hans Rosling's TED talks. I was blown away how he made the bubbles on the graph move. Something that looks that good and that easy almost certainly has huge charts of data behind the scenes, and even more effort to get the data cleaned and assembled.

He's done any number of talks on various topics related to the state of the world, and it's a joy to see the data dance. Then there was this book.

Pop quiz, from the book.
How many people in the world have some access to electricity?
A: 20 percent
B: 50 percent
C: 80 percent

No Googling! What do you think? In Canada only 19 percent of the people he tested answered correctly. In all his questions as a control asks chimpanzees the same question. One third of them got this question correct.

It's C, 80 percent. Are you surprised? Yes, in some places the supply is unstable and there are power outages. Maybe the wiring isn't as safe as it could be. None the less, they have some, maybe just enough for a few lightbulbs and keep a cell phone charged.

Rosling makes the prosaic point that many of these people want a world where they can buy a clothes washing machine, and are on the verge of being able to afford it. We take such a thing for granted, but in poorer parts of the world women spend a lot of time washing clothes and other fabrics. Why wouldn't they want to put clothes in the machine, and then go do something else, like work to earn money for their family, or read books to their children. These are the first steps to rising out of the economic mire.

There are other questions in the book. One of the fundamental ones relates to the us and them view of the world. Does your world view think there are a few places in the world where people have long lives and small families, and lots of places where they have short lives and large families? A developed and developing world? If so, your thinking is 60 years out of date. This is just one of the talks with some of this data, one of the older ones from 2007. It's still worth a watch if you haven't seen him.

The book is about some fundamental misconceptions that even highly educated experts have, even within their own fields. If you're a pension fund manager, how can you invest money profitably if you think that only the rich Western countries have money? The fact is the Asian countries are where most of the people are, and their economies are growing far quicker than Western countries. Rosling predicts than the per capita income of Asia will surpass that of the USA in 2048.

That isn't very far away. Many of the people reading this blog have a good chance of seeing that date, and I'm certainly planning to. Some might even still be working then. At least a couple of my readers are in the financial industry. I wonder if they know about that income growth, and how that will drive the investment world.

Make no mistake, those people see how we live here, and they want the same things. Reliable electricity to run the many conveniences of the modern world, access to family planning, better health care, and much more. They want it, they'll be able to pay for it, so we all need to figure out how to deliver it without breaking the climate worse than we already have. That's a better problem to have, much better than coping with periodic mass famines, or missing an Ebola-like outbreak.

One of the points Rosling makes is that it took a long time for the USA, UK, and Europe to increase the per capita income and increase the health (measured in life expectancy and child mortality) to the levels they are today. Now that we know how it's done, it's much easier for other countries to do it.

How? Educate girls, provide basic health which includes vaccines and family planning. Supplying clean water and treating sewage. Every country that has done this has seen their child mortality drop, their life expectancy increase, and their per capita income increase. Rosling shows data that says a country can go from what used to be called third world status, to near first world status in 50 years.

As a side note, the USA is currently proving the converse of that, that restricting health care and education will drive down per capita income and health indicators.

If you look at current data from around the world you can see things are getting better. Life expectancy is increasing, child mortality is dropping, many fewer people are living in abject poverty. There are fewer wars, fewer famines, fewer plagues. These are all good things.

There are some exceptions, of course, but don't fixate on them, thinking they are the norm. Note they are exceptions, and try to figure out if it's a temporary thing or a more structural problem. Issues arising from an earthquake or a tidal wave are temporary. Issues that come from the failures of colonialism or corporatism, or a kleptocracy in charge are more structural, and take longer to overcome.

When you think about why things are happening in the world, keep in mind that some of your assumptions might not be correct. In fact, Rosling's data suggests that most of your assumptions are incorrect. In many cases when you ask why lots of people are doing something you don't understand, the most likely answer is that everything else is worse. Why live in a half built house? Because you can't afford to build it all at once and the money supply and its value are unstable. Buy a few bricks when you can afford them, and you'll always have them.

The book has a number of graphs made based on real actual data over decades, and the trend lines are all good. But that's what you have to do, is look at the trends. There are blips and exceptions. Stay alert to avoid being caught up in them. That might mean not being in a country as there's an anti-government riots, or keeping a low profile during a virus outbreak. That's easy for my blog readers and most other Canadians.

So if you're going nuts, wondering when the COVID restrictions are going to be loosened, keep in mind that most of the world would like to be in your shoes. Access to soap and clean water and a toilet and fast internet would be a dream come true for all too many people. Just think, the effort to supply you with marginally faster internet, could provide basic internet to a significant part of the world.

As a last thought, if you're feeling depressed about the world, go talk to the oldest member of your family about what the world was like when they were a child, and the stories they can tell from their parents. My maternal grandmother was born near the end of WWI, and was a young woman going through the depression. I think that's the experience that marked her for life. Ask about polio and tuberculosis and what happened before penicillin was introduced. Ask about what happened when you lost your job. It's much better now, and getting better for everybody. Let's keep at it.

Some recent photos.
Curtis and Celina doing their thing.

Some spring garden shots.

 The bush across the road had some interesting light on the new growth.

The dread Alberta rose beside the garage.

Driftwood of the Day

Monday, April 27, 2020

The black and white world

Celina! I was working the front garden and noticed she was giving me the eye, in a lazy cat sort of way. As I started to photograph her, she perked up slightly. The window is filthy, the lighting and shadows are tough, and the colour is terrible. Convert to B&W and some of those problems go away. I think this is one of the better Celina photos.

Some plants emerging from winter. I think these are lambs ears, and they have a great texture. No colour to speak of, so B&W brings up the contrast.

There are numerous B&W driftwood shots that will show up as we get there, but I saw this one as I was looking for today's blog photos, and decided to include it.

In our day to day lives we are often presented two choices. A or B. One or the other. With us or against us. Black or white. (see what I did there?)

Look suspiciously at the people presenting you such choices. They are almost certainly trying to delude or manipulate you. Life is almost always more complex than this, and the truth somewhere in the messy middle. A shade of grey. Nuanced. It takes more words to describe those positions. More than a sound bite. More than a tweet. Sometimes much more. There might even be facts involved.

This is difficult and unpopular, but none the less, it's how the world is. A virus doesn't care what you believe. Stupidity and bad luck often been a capital crime. Less so now, mostly, but wander off the trail with inadequate food or shelter and you might freeze to death. The weather doesn't care.

Worse, what used to be true may no longer be true. You might be basing today's actions and opinions on an outdated view of the world. I'll be going into more detail on this next blog. Think Hans Rosling, and enjoy the anticipation.

Driftwood of the Day
Also B&W just because. Some driftwood has little colour but great texture. It took me a while to learn to routinely convert to B&W and tweak from there but I think I've got it now.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

I often feel like he looks

This is a fairly normal expression for Curtis.

He is a kitty that likes to think about things. He often tells me that if I open the door for him just one more time he'll figure out the locks and be able to go out by himself. He watches carefully, but hasn't got it so far. Next week, I admit, might be different. He sometimes appears to be on the brink of a breakthrough.

In this photo I was chatting with some buddies via Zoom and woke him up. He settled in and watched me for a while, and I could see plain as day he was wondering who I was talking to and why it wasn't him. After a few minutes he settled into the expression you see. Thinking. Probably muttering 'rotten human' to himself.

I look at what's going on in the world and think about it a lot myself. All too often my main thought is WTF.  (You can safely read in lots of exclamation marks after that.) I get there are lots of ways the COVID-19 pandemic numbers can be sliced, and there is some uncertainty to the numbers, more in some countries, less in others.

The current numbers for Alberta as I write on Saturday afternoon is 216 new cases, 4233 total cases, and 73 deaths. 1471 are listed as recovered, but recent news indicates that they could still catch it again. These are the cases that we know about. The actual numbers can only be higher, and we don't know if they are a little bit higher, or a lot higher. The province has completed 127,165 tests. Note, the population of Alberta is 4.41 million as of March 2020. We have tested about 2.9% of the population, and probably actually slightly less, given that at least some people will have had multiple tests.

That is 1.7 deaths per 100 cases. Yes, some of these are elderly, or have underlying conditions, but does it really matter? Some are young and healthy. I haven't seen a good breakdown of the demographics of the deaths, but then, I haven't particularly gone looking either.

Suppose you knew that someone was going around a building with a box of candy. All the candy is tainted a bit, and 2% of them are actually tainted enough to kill the person who eats it. If the person comes close enough to touch you, you have to eat a candy from the box. Some of the people who eat a candy get a box of their own, and start to wander around the building offering candy. Wouldn't you take extreme measures to keep them away from you?

Really, you're willing to risk an avoidable 2% chance of death for an intangible like 'the economy'? Oh, wait, I get it. You're willing for other people to take that risk. The elderly, the immune-suppressed, the homeless, those dealing with the virus while having to wear sub-standard PPE.

There is growing evidence that the virus causes other damage even when it doesn't kill the victim. That damage may leave the victim more susceptible to other illnesses, or may shorten their life. We don't really know for sure yet.

So in the WTF department, why did I see a wedding procession of more than a dozen cars full of people pull out of a side street near my house, and go honking down the street, streamers and balloons waving from the cars? Why do I see a bunch of kids ignoring the rules about closed playgrounds? Why do I see someone giving a security guard a hard time when all they're trying to do is space out the number of people going into a grocery store? WTAF, people?

I picture someone who is infectious with the virus looking something like a comet. There's the bright ball and a long fuzzy tail. The ball and tail is the virus, spreading in the air and persisting on surfaces behind that person. The closer you are, the more likely you are to get sick. They cough when you're both in an elevator and you're quite likely to get it. Touch a surface they just touched, and then wipe your mouth, you're less likely to get it but still possible, though there's a lot of uncertainty about the details.

The estimates of how long the virus will live on a surface and still be infectious are just that, estimates. It depends on a lot of factors, such as the exact variety of virus, the type of surface, air humidity, ordinary cleanliness of the surface, and probably other factors as well.

So imagine there's someone, feeling fine but infectious as hell, leaving a trail of virus behind them with every breath, cough, and sneeze. Everything they touch, everything they breath on, everything their sneeze spittle lands on gets some degree of infection.  Someone could touch one of those surfaces, and then touch something else, leaving the virus there, and then wash their hands. A doorknob could be infectious for 5 days if not sanitized. If you're vulnerable to the virus, it isn't a 2% death rate, it's much higher. It's hard to argue that you're being over the top unreasonable as you swab and sanitize everything around you.

So that's the WTF death and sickness side of things. Here's some spring and new growth WTF awesomeness, plants growing where just a week ago there was ice and snow.

Driftwood of the Day

Friday, April 24, 2020

Hindsight dive?

Do you ever second guess yourself? Do something one way, or answer a test question you aren't sure about, then dither about changing?

It sometimes happens to me in photo editing. With Lightroom it's possible to make as many copies of a photo as you like, and export different versions. The original is still there, and you can start over again if necessary. I have done that any number of times.

Or, like saving a game before you get into a tricky bit, you can edit part way and then branch it to try something different. So this is Wharariki beach, in an ordinary beach photo. I don't know who those people are. Even with a longish drive and 1K walk to get to the beach, there was lots of people on it. Then again, it's a lovely beach, and it was a beautiful day. Not a crowd, but lots by the standards we had come to get used to.

This is mostly the original photo. I've cropped in a bit on each side but it's still the original aspect ratio, and did my normal edits. However, the more I looked at it, the more I twitched about all that blue sky that doesn't seem to add anything to the photo. The one bit of cloud in the top right keeps distracting me. All the blue seems to make the line of clouds seem small when in real life they were quite dramatic.

This morning I went back in and re-cropped it to get the one below. I tweaked the whites and blacks slightly but otherwise left the rest of the settings the same. I liked the different colours in the water and sand and left that in. I experimented with cropping off much of the bottom but didn't like the result so much.  It then seemed to be too wide and restricted from side to side, so I wanted a bit more depth up and down. Of course, I could branch it again, and play with the settings even more, to make the clouds whiter on top and darker on the bottom, and make the sky bluer. It's easy to get carried away to the Mordor of photo editing, but I think I'm happy with this.

Now you can weigh in. Which version do you like? What edits would you have done? Just for fun, here's the original straight out of the camera.

Curtis of the day.
Having a snooze, being his normal photogenic self.

Driftwood of the Day

If that first one looks familiar, you might be remembering this one. It was posted along the way, but they're all the same log.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Of the day

One of the dilemmas of having many photos to show off is finding a way to do that without burying my faithful readers in unrelated images, or indeed, just images. There's more than 1,000 in my unblogged folder. Many are driftwood, and even my driftwood fans would hit overload soon. I've been doing a regular feature of Driftwood of the Day for about a year now. There have been some other periodic features. I think what I'll do today is a cross section. A bit of everything.





Open beach


Artsy Stone Pattern
As found.

Artsy Sand Pattern

Serendipity (same file number as Linda. Also counts as Astro) This is the scenic lookout over Dawson Creek.

This is the last of the Nanaimo pieces.