Thursday, May 31, 2012

Irrelevant Citation: Mona Lisa

Here's another example of a meaningless reference to Mona Lisa.

Veiled? Well, maybe if that means "obscure."

 Does this quote mean anything? "If Karl Lagerfeld is the leading talk artist of fashion, Ms. Kawakubo is the Mona Lisa. She makes no effort to reveal her meanings, though at times she explains her methods."

Or is the New York Times following nationwide trends and thrifting the use of competent copy editors? Who knew?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Len's Birds

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A California Quail in the garden of our temporary apartment (we move tomorrow).

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A Stilt. See more at

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Isla Vista, California

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 Isla Vista, California, is a very small town almost surrounded by the University of California, Santa Barbara, and almost exclusively made up of student rental apartments and a few businesses that cater to students. (The actual city of Santa Barbara is a few miles down the coast.) Every apartment parking lot is bursting with cars, which park two-deep and onto the sidewalk. Besides cars the streets are filled with pedestrians, bicyclists, pedestrians carrying surf boards, cyclists carrying surf boards, skateboarders with or without surfboards, and whatever. Apartments crowd the bluffs overlooking the beach, with occasional pathways down to the waterside. Buildings are colorful and often decorated with artistic works.

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The seaside is beautiful, with large open spaces, especially near the University-owned cottages where we are staying this week. It's popular with painters, surfers, people strolling or cycling. The University has a wildlife preserve at Coal Oil Point just beyond the town, where snowy plovers nest and feed. Pelicans fly low over the beach and the open spaces; humming birds, shore birds, hawks, songbirds, raccoons, bunnies, and other wildlife are abundant.

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If you are old enough, you may remember the most famous event in Isla Vista history: in 1970, angry student protests created a very ugly scene, and near-riot, in which the Bank of America was burned to the ground. The image of the bank in flames became an icon of this era -- as one person said, makes Occupy Wall Street look tame.


Bank of America is still here -- though only an ATM:

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Leonardo da Vinci Describes Pinhole Projection

After watching the eclipse yesterday, I was intrigued by the history of observing pinhole projections. I mentioned Aristotle, who said "sunlight travelling through small openings between the leaves of a tree, the holes of a sieve, the openings wickerwork, and even interlaced fingers will create circular patches of light on the ground." We observed this -- see the four little crescent projections of the partially obscured sun:


Many other scientists (or natural philosophers) of early times also discussed various types of pinhole projections. Da Vinci wrote, in Codex Atlanticus:
"I say that the front of a building -- or any open plazza or field  -- which is illuminated by the sun has a dwelling opposite to it, and if, in the front which does not face the sun; you make a small round hole, all the illuminated objects will project their images through that hole and be visible inside the dwelling on the opposite wall which should be made white; and there, in fact, they will be upside down, and if you make similar openings in several places in the same wall you will have the same result from each. Hence the images of the illuminated objects are all everywhere on this wall and all in each minutest part of it. The reason, as we clearly know, is that this hole must admit some light to the said dwelling, and the light admitted by it is derived from one or many luminous bidoes. If these bodies are of various colors and shapes the rays forming the images are of various colors and shapes, and so will the representations be on the wall."

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Eclipse of the Sun as Projected through a Palm Tree


During an eclipse of the sun, it's not safe to look directly at the sun itself: your pupil doesn't shut down, because there is not a lot of light. However, the parts of the sun that are still exposed are very intense and can destroy the part of your retina that they hit. If you read anything about the eclipse, you probably heard warnings about this.

Today's eclipse was expected to cause partial blindness in some number of people who looked right into the sun -- it was sure to happen, as health professionals could predict. They probably knew about how many people would be affected, they just didn't know who.

You are supposed to watch the eclipse by projecting the sun's shape through a pinhole or the slit between your fingers onto a piece of white paper -- this effect can be enhanced in various ways. And don't point a camera at the sun either as direct sunlight even during an eclipse can similarly destroy some of the sensors of a digital camera. Or burn through your film if you have a film camera.

Like a pinhole in a piece of cardboard -- the recommended viewing device -- a tree casts a shadow full of little pinholes. Each one projects the same image of the shape of the partially-obscured sun -- but it's much more interesting once you know what you are seeing. The shadows of palm trees against the cottage where we are staying is an example: look at all the crescent shaped images! Aristotle noticed this phenomenon, but I don't think he took a photo.

Update: here is a photo of the shadow of a palm tree in normal sunlight: the projections in the center, where the leaves are close together, are (of course) circles:

Day 5: Ontario to Santa Barbara, California


As planned, we drove through LA early this morning, a Sunday. Thus the traffic was not terrible, and we could enjoy the mist or maybe smog that was almost concealing the mountains. We had no trouble finding our temporary campus cottage by the sea, making contact with the Sunday manager (who met us at the office as promised), and unloading the car.

By noon, we were established, by two we had found a place to eat lunch, a farmers' market with local produce, and a supermarket with staple supplies, so our shared kitchen is stocked with a few days' food.  Our suitcases are unpacked, our bicycles are assembled, and we hope we'll find a place to view the eclipse. Unfortunately there's a lot of coastal fog today, we plan to drive up the hill to see what we can see.

We'll be in this location for a week, then on to a more conventional apartment.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Day 4: Nephi, Utah, to Ontario, California


Utah scenery is breathtaking. Huge fields in the well-irrigated basin south of Salt Lake City look abnormally fertile, as the jagged hills and towering mountains are clearly very dry. Irrigation waters come from an aquifer which will eventually be depleted, causing everything to be arid again.

After Las Vegas, the highway turns towards the southwest, crossing a corner of Arizona. The road follows the canyons of the Virgin River (downstream from Zion National Park). Sometimes the road seems to be suspended on pylons above the river, sometimes the river is next to the road. At the end just before the California border, the road and river pop out of the mountains and onto the still-sloping plane. Looking back, you can't even see where the road enters the mountainside.

 A view of the river and the satellite map of that location:



The Mojave Desert is big, with Joshua trees and chaparral and very few places to stop. We quickly arrived at our final overnight destination: an airport hotel in Ontario, California. Tomorrow we hope to get to Santa Barbara in time to get into our temporary residence (duration: a week) and to see the solar eclipse. After that, we'll have an apartment for the duration of Len's workshop.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Day 3: Cheyenne to Nephi, Utah


We left our motel this morning humming "Goodbye, Old Paint, I'm a-leaving Cheyenne." (See previous post). We were again on I-80, which has been our road since Chicago -- we switched to I-15 some time this afternoon.

On the wide plains in the middle of Wyoming we saw many pronghorn antelope grazing in fields along with the cows. We couldn't figure out if they were wild or if ranchers kept herds of them.

Western Wyoming is beautiful. We enjoyed a number of views of snow-caps and deep valleys -- but the road is very straight and fast. Coming down from the heights as we entered Utah, the road continues to be well-engineered and wide, but more curvy. On the 6% grades there's an extra lane for large trucks, for which the speed limit is 40 mph.  Frequent heavy rain squalls made it even less fun to drive.

The picture above is the open road, I-15, south of Salt Lake City -- the heavy traffic and congested roadside businesses here contrast enormously with the really open empty spaces in Wyoming. Tonight we are in a motel in Nephi, a bit south of Provo.

Leaving Cheyenne

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Day 2: Des Moines to Cheynne


Oversize loads of prefab houses, gigantic construction equipment, and outlandishly large tires on flatbed trailers seemed to be everywhere on the highway today, along with frequent construction projects. The scenery varied, beginning with rolling hills in western Iowa. Atop the highest hilltops we saw wind farms with rows of huge white modern windmills.

On the planes and hillsides of Nebraska and Wyoming we saw huge watering rigs that traverse the fields. The wind was blowing much of the day, and there was one quick violent rainstorm in Nebraska. The cloud formations producing the rain were deep blue with rain streaks connecting clouds and fields. Lots of cows.


We ate dinner a couple of miles from our hotel in Cheyenne, downtown near the vast rail yards and the repurposed railroad station from 1887, now a museum --


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Day 1: Ann Arbor to Des Moines


From Ann Arbor to Des Moines is neither varied nor very interesting. Beautiful barns and silos, plowed fields (probably going to be corn), baled hay on still-green hillsides. That's about it. Move on, nothing to see here, folks!

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Arboretum


The Ann Arbor Arboretum, late afternoon, sunlight streaming through the trees -- beautiful!



The peonies in the peony garden are almost all still buds, except for this one bush.

Friday, May 11, 2012

In the Garden

The  three larger photos show our garden today, including the lilacs in bloom and the red maple. The third photo shows the garden as it was in April, 2006, a year after it was planted.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Mason Neck Park, Near Fairfax, VA


 One weekend activity: a walk along the shore at Mason Neck State Park and the adjacent national wildlife refuge. It's really beautiful. We saw turtles, songbirds, and best of all, we saw the eagles that nest there as they flew above the woods. Wild or maybe semi-wild iris and mountain laurel were blooming in the woods.

Teacher Appreciation


Today was Teacher Appreciation Day. This morning (just before we left Fairfax) Miriam and Alice picked some iris and peonies to bring to several teachers. When we were children, we also had iris and peonies in the yard and brought them to our teachers. I not only remember what they look like, and what it's like to cut them, but also the powerful perfume from both flowers.