Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A model dragonfly

 No, these are pictures of a real, living dragonfly. The reason for my title is that this one acted like a professional model. It allowed be to get many different shots from different angles. I'm so used to dragonflies being skittish, though, that I couldn't settle down to get a really good shot. Some part of its body is out of focus in each of the pictures I took.

As with all of my pictures, just click on the picture to see it larger. The three pictures I've included here are in time order. I came up behind my subject expecting it to fly away at any moment but it let me get pretty close. The top picture was taken from about three feet away. I like how the veins in the wing came out but the head and eyes are slightly out of focus.

The second picture is the worst in terms of what's in focus but I like the sunlight on the wings. At this point, the dragonfly was turning its head and adjusting its wings as it studied me and was deciding whether to fly away or not. It did fly off at one point but came right back to the same limb. Only down a little lower.

I like the final picture the best in that it is from an unusual angle and the dragonfly appears to be looking right at me and smiling! Of course, it is not smiling and I don't think an insect's compound eyes can "look right at" anything. The bad part of this last picture is that I wasn't able to get the background to be blurry. Oh well, this is a learning experience. Unfortunately, I had to get back to work (I was on a walk at lunch time). I wonder how long my "model" would have stayed?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sometimes I can think quickly

About 34 years ago, when I first moved to Cape Cod, I was still young (about 27 years old). I was working for the US Geological Survey at the time and we often got summer interns from colleges around the country who were majoring in geology or geophysics and quite often, they were attractive young women. I was always leery of dating them because of the obvious limit in how long we could see each other. Also, with me being shy and not all that attractive, they probably wouldn't go out with me anyway, right? But a number of us unattached folks would often go places and do things as a group. I remember a bunch of us going to the county fair one summer and one of my co-workers pointing to an especially pretty young intern and saying to me, "Amy is pretty isn't she?" I answered, "Yes, she is." He asked, "Have you ever thought about asking her out?" My answer started as, "Well, you know I'm old enough to be..." and I almost ended the sentence with, "... her father." But I started to think about it. She was very pretty and we had talked to each other a few times and she seemed to not be repulsed by me. And she was a graduate student so our age difference wasn't as great as with the other interns. All of this rushed through my mind in a split second as well as thoughts about what it would be like to sit next to her and what she would look like at a nice dress and what kind of food she liked and would she like my corny jokes and I finished the sentence with, "... her older brother."

My friend just grinned at me and said, "Well?" Did I mention that I'm shy and not all that attractive? Amy and I never went out. But I never forgot this one example of my fast thinking reply.

[Update - I'm afraid I don't really remember if that young woman's name was Amy or not. I just thought I'd throw a name into the story. It sounds better if there is a real name in there. And I did have a crush on a woman named Amy at some point during my years in the US Geological Survey.]

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Why we wait

We've all been in this situation. You get to a traffic light just as it is changing from yellow to red and you have to stop. As you sit there, no one is using the cross street where the light is green. This is one of those dumb lights that just changes on a timer. It doesn't know whether there is traffic or not. It just changes when the timer says to change. So, you sit and wait for no reason. Then, off in the distance, you see cars coming toward you. You know the light is not going to change until they get there. It almost seems like they can time their arrival to the second the light changes to green! It doesn't seem fair. What do you do?

I think most people wait for the light change - and then wait while the "late comers" go through the light first. At least I wait. And do you know why? Because I know the minute I go through a red light, a cop is going to show up. Or I'll find that he was hiding there all along. Yes, part of it is because it is the rule and you're supposed to follow the rules. And, in the one in a million chance that you go through the red light and someone comes out of nowhere and you hit them, you have no excuse. So, is it worth saving a minute (and that's all it usually is) to take that chance? I don't think so. I'll be honest, the big temptation to go through the light is because I imagine someone is watching me just sit there for no apparent reason. I think that they are thinking, "What's he waiting for?"

Then there is the reality of God. I know in my heart he is always watching me. I know he is with me all the time. I know he sees everything I do. But, being totally honest again, I don't usually think about God at a time like that. I think that he has seen me do a lot worse things than go through a red light so why would he care about this? Then I start to worry: Do I really believe in God if I can ignore him in a situation like this? Yes I believe in God but do I really believe in God? If I really believed in God, why would I do those things "worse than going through a red light"? Is he watching me or not? I try to take solace in the fact that the Apostle Paul had the same struggles.
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Romans 7:21-25a   New Living Translation
Going through a red light is not evil but it could have terrible consequences. God still loves me even though I go through these struggles. But I can aim for a more real sense of God's presence in my life. I will pray that I imagine him watching - not to arrest me but to protect me and I must start to feel his disappointment when I don't do what I should.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Misunderstanding predators

I was reminded of this story after seeing the dragonfly pictured here on my walk at lunch today.

I had never been to Florida and I was being sent there for my job. It was very exciting. In 1976, there was an exposition at the Kennedy Space Center and the US Geological Survey (who I was working for at the time) was one of the groups with a display. Our display showed how much water and other resources the United States used as a running total. It was an electronic display and was quite impressive (and a little scary - making you think about all the stuff we were using at such a fast rate) except it wasn't working. They needed someone to go there and fix it. I was the new guy and the youngest and the unmarried one so it was pretty obvious who they were going to pick to go. But I'd never traveled for the job before and I certainly didn't know what to expect in Florida.

One of the admonitions was to take plenty of changes of clothes. "You'll be sweating a lot," they said. "You'll be wanting to change your clothes often." Also, I was warned about the sun. "Take lots of sun-block," I was told. And finally, "Take plenty of bug spray with you," they said. Apparently, there were a lot of mosquitoes in Florida.

When I got there, I immediately realized that my friends had been right about the sun and the heat. But as I was driving the car along the highway, I was impressed by the number of dragonflies I saw. They were flying everywhere and were very active. I knew that dragonflies eat mosquitoes so I was very happy that at least one of my worries would not be a problem. Boy, was I wrong! I not only found a LOT of mosquitoes but they were big and they were fast. The bug spray worked pretty well but I was still miserable. It was then that I realized I hadn't been paying attention in the Predator-Prey Population Studies section of my biology classes in college. If the dragonflies had eliminated most of the mosquitoes, there wouldn't be that many dragonflies left. There were plenty of mosquitoes to go around for the dragonflies and still enough to chase me. In case you're interested, here's a paper to get you started. And don't forget the bug spray.

Friday, August 17, 2012


Anyone reading this blog must be tired of posts about mushrooms by now but I'm afraid you are going to have to deal with at least one more. On my walk yesterday, I saw two mushrooms with amazing colors and shapes. Usually, I see shades of white and perhaps some brown. But the top picture shows a mushroom that seems purple to me. But that is not all that is interesting. If you click on the picture, you can see it full sized. Look at the stem. It looks more like the rough bark of a tree than the usual smooth and round texture you'd see on a normal mushroom. This one seems to have defied the odds in rising out of the ground. It looks like it had to fight for every moment of its existence. Also, look at the area under the cap where the gills are found. Something like sap seems to be oozing out. From what I read, this is not uncommon for certain types of mushrooms but I've never seen it before.

The second mushroom is just as strange. Its color is even more vivid and it seems to have had just as torturous a life as the previous mushroom. I wish I could have had the time and patience to watch as it grew. I don't know if all mushrooms of this type grow like this or something caused it to be shaped like this. I will try to look this up. Also, I wonder if these colors are a warning of being poisonous. Do animals learn to stay away from these because of their vivid color? Is this like the warning color of a skunk or a wasp?

I find this all fascinating. I just wish I had the time to look into it more.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


Actually, the title should be "The Wiggles". They are a musical group enjoyed by children all over the world. They often introduce themselves with, "Hi. We're the Wiggles and we like to sing and dance." But mostly they're musicians. We went to see them yesterday at the Cape Cod Melody Tent. Even though I've lived here for over 30 years, this was my first trip to the Tent. It's a very nice venue with a stage in the middle and seating all around. It's nice for the audience but must be a little hard for performers to get used to. The Wiggles are very active and move all around the stage facing different sections of the audience all the time. But the stage can move, too, and it looked like the guys were a little confused as to where they were facing a few times!

While both of our children grew up liking them, the kids a little old for that style of music now. But some of the Wiggles are retiring (Murray in red, Jeff in purple and Greg in yellow in this picture) and this is their farewell tour. So, both of our children were anxious to see them one more time. We've seen them at least twice before and countless times on TV and on videos.

We all sang along and joined in with the hand motions and silly actions that the younger kids around us were doing. Why not? No one was looking at us. All eyes were on the stage. The Wiggles tunes are really catchy and the kids always enjoyed it when I would come home from work telling them how I was singing "Quack, quack, quack, quack, quack, Cock-a-doddle doo" all day while trying to get work done. That hasn't happened for a while but today I've been singing, "Can you point your fingers and do the twist?" all day. I'm not doing the hand motions at work, though.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Mushrooms in the woods

Yes, I like to take pictures of mushrooms. I have at least five other posts about mushrooms: "Mushrooms", "The mushrooms that bloom in the fall", "More mushrooms", "Just one more post about mushrooms..." and "A mushroom scene". If that's not enough for you, I saw some more interesting specimens on a recent lunch-time walk in the woods.

The first one amazed me because it was right in the path. It stood so tall and erect but I knew it wouldn't last long. Someone was sure to knock it over by mistake. So, I needed to get this picture before that happened. I love the tan coloring on the pure white background. It's just perfect as it is. It's sad to think that it won't last long.

The next one is almost the opposite. It looks so old and tired. It's off to the side of the path and will probably last longer than the first mushroom - unless it turns out to taste good to some animal that happens along. It seems to have had a hard life and this mushroom is just exhausted. It's resting its head on the path for now and I didn't want to bother it.

As you can see, I like imagining human-like traits in the mushrooms I find. This next one is a familiar theme in my mind. It reminds me of a mother and child. The smaller one looks so pure and untouched. The larger one seems to be shading it and protecting it. The smaller one seems to be a little unsure on its base as it is leaning a bit. Kind of like a young child learning to walk.

Oh well, I know none of that is true. But I still love the shapes and the colors. And if they suggest stories to me, so much the better. I liked these pictures so much that I didn't reduce their size before uploading them to the blog. So, if you click on them to see them in their original size, you'll see the full resolution that my camera can produce.

OK, just more more picture from that walk but this time it's not a mushroom! This is a tiny flower I found in the grass that I nearly missed. The flower is about three eighths of an inch across. I had to get really close to get this. I like the pattern of white markings on the petals. But , of course, the main color is nice, too. See, I do like things other than mushrooms.

[Update - As I was looking through some of my older blog posts ("I wrote that?"), I noticed that I took a much better picture of a flower similar to this one in my post "Now my pictures look better".]

Monday, August 13, 2012

"And good luck to you"

We drink too many carbonated drinks in our house (it's called "soda" here in New England and "pop" where I grew up in Western Pennsylvania, see this nice map for a further breakdown). Because we drink so much soda pop (I'm willing to compromise), we collect a lot of cans and bottles. Here in Massachusetts, you pay a 5 cent deposit on each can and bottle that you can get back if you recycle them. This week-end, it was time to return the bottles and cans because the shed was filling up with bags of them and it was getting hard to get to my scooter!

I wrestled the seven bags of cans into the van and when I got to the store where the recycling machines were, I knew I'd never be able to carry them all to the store from the car in one load so I got a shopping cart and piled them in. It made quite a stack and it was still hard to move them as I needed to balance them while pushing the cart and keeping an eye out the drivers who didn't seem to notice this mountain of plastic and aluminum moving through the parking lot. As I was pushing them along, I passed an old guy (even older than me) sitting in a chair in front of the store with a can for donations. He was wearing a brightly colored vest identifying him as a member of the Knights of Columbus and that he was collecting for the "Protecting God's Children" program. Now I'm not one to care much about my appearance (my wife is a saint for marrying me) and I often go out in dirty clothes with my hair in a mess and my beard untrimmed. But this guy wasn't in any better shape than I was. He didn't seem to fit in the chair and he appeared to be in pretty poor health. But he was doing a good deed and I respected him for it. I planned on making a donation once I was finished returning all the bottles and cans. But as I walked by him, he said, "And good luck to you." I think he thought I was a homeless man with this shopping cart full of bottles and cans that had been collected by the road. It made me a little ashamed that I looked bad enough to bring that reaction. But I also liked him more because for as bad as he looked, he took the time to encourage someone he thought was in worse shape than himself

No matter how bad our state, there is always someone worse off than we are. There is always someone we can try to encourage. I was determined to quickly finish up the returns, get into the store to get the deposit money back and come back out to make a donation to his cause. But you have to return the containers one at a time by pushing them into the machine and waiting while it decides that you're not trying to cheat. It took me over a half an hour and by the time I was done, my friend had left. I'll keep an eye out for him and next time, I won't wait to make a donation.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Shooting Through

One of the techniques my wife and I learned on our photo tour of the Heritage Museums and Gardens was called Shooting Through an Object. That gives you an interesting effect of a hint of one color in the foreground and a sharply focused subject (of a different color, I suppose). I'm not very good at it but I think I'm getting better. I keep practicing it and it seems a little more natural to me now. The top picture has a white color in front from some Queen Anne's lace and a thistle is in focus. As with all of the pictures in my blog, just click on them to see them in a larger size.

I find the best way to get this effect is to put my camera in macro mode, focus on something about 2 - 3 feet away and, while holding the button halfway to maintain the focus, lower my camera (without changing my distance to the subject) until my "color" object is right in front of the lens. Of course, you don't want to completely obscure the subject but you want the unfocused color to be around the focused subject. In the second picture, the foreground color is from goldenrod with thistle, again, in focus.

As you can tell from my description, it's not an easy process. At least it's not easy the way I do it. Perhaps real photographers know quicker and easier ways to get this effect. Then again, perhaps real photographers have practiced this more than I have and it just seems easier and is quicker because they don't have to think about it as much as I do. As with any skill, it is always harder at first. I'll just keep practicing. It's certainly fun.

Monday, August 06, 2012

A new Olympic event

With the 2012 Summer Olympics in full swing, it's an appropriate time to mention an idea my son, Evan, came up with. It's also appropriate as the swimming events come to an end and the track events ramp up.

We were talking about why there are so many swimming and running events. In swimming, there are 100 meter and 200 meter events for each style of swimming (freestyle, breast stroke, butterfly and backstroke). Then they also have 200 and 400 meter medleys (where the swimmer does all four strokes). Running is similar with variations of distance and styles (straight running, hurdling and walking - although I've always thought it would be interesting to add backwards running as an equivalent to swimming the backstroke). But the running styles seem much different than the swimming styles. You often see swimmers competing in more than one style of swimming but runners rarely compete in multiple running styles (except for the decathlon athletes). But it seems like swimming could use a really different event to liven it up.

So, Evan came up with a new swimming event - Swimming Hurdles. Instead of diving over the hurdles, though, you would swim under the hurdle! I think this is a great idea. The swimmers already swim underwater for short periods at the start and at turns but this would be a real test for them. Like the running hurdlers, they'd have to be especially good at breaking their stroke to dive down and then pick up their stroke again when they came up to the surface. I don't know how many hurdles there should be in the 50 meter pool length but they could start with a hurdle at the midway point. Also, I don't know how deep the hurdle should go. That would take some testing but I think just a foot or two would be enough. But think how exciting it would be if the hurdle was deeper. The swimmers would dive in one order as they came to the hurdle but no one would know who would be in front until they surfaced again. Imagine the excitement when someone who was behind but was especially good at swimming under water would burst into the lead!

I'm not sure who we would submit this idea to and we certainly wouldn't be the ones to test it. No one in our family can swim.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The Rules of Life - Part 4

It has been years since I last wrote about my rules of life. Part of that was that the third of my rules was The Golden Rule. To me, that's the number one rule. So, how can I top that? I can't and I never will. But that doesn't mean I shouldn't add to the list. So, here goes.

Yesterday, it was going to rain hard in the afternoon and I didn't want to chance getting caught in that while riding my scooter so I took our van to work (after clearing it with my wife and kids, of course). As I approached the driveway to our office, I noticed a BMW sports car speeding up behind me. I was glad I was pulling off the road so they could pass me but they didn't. The car pulled right in behind me rushing to get into our company's driveway, too. Well, they were in a rush but I was not going to speed up and drive dangerously just to keep them happy. If they were late for a meeting, it was too late to make up time now. They were just going to have to live with the consequences. As I drove along the driveway, I prepared to turn into the parking area. I always use my turn signals so the impatient BMW could see I'd be getting out of their way and, hopefully, could relax that I'd no longer be holding them back. But as I went to pull into the lot, someone was walking out and I needed to stop as they crossed the road. Well, they headed right across the road Impatient BMW and I were on. So, I had to stop as it took longer for the pedestrian to walk across to the sidewalk. But Impatient BMW wasn't about to just sit there while I "blocked" their way. They started to pass me! We're on a narrow driveway on the edge of a parking lot and they are going to pass me! But the worst of it was that they didn't know why I was stopped. They were going to hit the person walking across the driveway.

Fortunately, Impatient BMW had pretty quick reflexes and stopped just in time. The pedestrian stopped, too, with an alarmed look on their face. I could hear Impatient BMW wave them over while saying, "Go ahead. That's OK." That's OK? You came close to knocking them over. You were in the wrong and you are acting like you're giving them a break! I didn't want to get into an argument with someone I worked with so I let it go. But I've come up with a rule.

Rule of Life #4 - You are not the most important person in the world. Sometimes, you just have to wait.

It's important to not act like anything is allowed if we think we need to get somewhere or do something and someone is in our way. If we want something, we are not allowed to disregard everyone else to get it.

My other rules are here: Rule 1, Rule 2 and Rule 3.