Wallaman Falls by moonlight

Wallaman Falls by moonlight
Wallaman Falls by moonlight

The moon was nearly full when I camped at Wallaman Falls (previous post) and plenty bright enough for a moonlight ramble so I wondered if it might be bright enough for a moody photo of the falls. I knew it would be a technical challenge for a photographer with an entry-level DSLR and no tripod or remote shutter release, but I don’t mind a challenge and it was a good-enough excuse (if I needed one) for visiting the falls at night.

The shot above, straight from the camera except for a size reduction for online use (click on it for a larger version), was one of the better results. For the technically inclined, it was taken on a Canon EOS 600D, with a Canon 15-85mm zoom lens wide open at 15mm and f3.5, ISO 800 (higher ISO’s with this camera lead to unbearably noisy images) and an exposure time of 13 seconds. And no, it wasn’t really hand-held – I rested the camera on the lookout railing and held it very firmly as I pressed the button.

Two nature photography competitions

Winter sky from Ross River estuary, with Mount Elliot on the horizon

Friends and family have alerted recently me to two photography competitions which they thought I might like to enter. They were right, and the photo above is one of two that I’ve submitted to The Wild Beauty of Weather, the competition sponsored by ABC Science (the other is from the series of misty Magnetic Island views I took during the Wildlife Queensland walk around Many Peaks in May).

The other competition is more local: the Museum of Tropical Queensland’s Backyard Safari Photography Competition. It opened in June and doesn’t close until the end of October so there’s still plenty of time for everyone to enter. Entry is free (at is it for the ABC competition) and you don’t even have to win a prize to get a little kudos, since entries nominated by the judges will be exhibited during December 2014 and January 2015.

And I do encourage everyone to enter (although by doing so I must be reducing my chances of winning) because looking critically at our photographs to choose the best of them is valuable in developing our photographic skills. It can also be an excuse for an enjoyable ramble through the archives; most of the shots on my shortlist for the Backyard Safari have already appeared, as you might expect, on this blog, e.g. Percival, or on my Flickr photostream and looking through them has brought back many pleasant memories.

Oh, and the competition can be an excuse for a day-trip somewhere special to get that photo we’ve always dreamed of … too bad about weeding the lawn.

Geeky fun: metronomes and extreme video

My spies alert me to some fascinating science and tech stuff on the web (thanks, guys!) and it’s time to share again.

1. Metronomes

If you put lots of metronomes on a table and start them at different times, they look for all the world as though they notice each other and gradually agree to line up so that their ticking is synchronised. See a very cute video of it here and read about why it happens.

Read the comments, too. As a musician I particularly liked the one from Bill Benzon:

I make synchrony the centerpiece of my book on music, Beethoven’s Anvil: Music in Mind and Culture, where I discuss Strogatz on fireflies and Barbasi on synchronized clapping. I argue that, when people make music together they individually give up so many degrees of freedom that the overall neural-state space for the group is no larger than that for any one independent individual. And that’s a good thing, otherwise no one in the audience would be able to make sense of the performance as no one has more than their own brain available to make sense of the sound.

2. Light at one trillion frames per second

If the metronomes made you smile, this one will make your jaw hit the ground. The TED talk speaker leads a group which takes high-speed video to levels I had never even contemplated: they have made a movie of a beam of light progressing through a Coke bottle. I have seen it and I still think it sounds flat-out impossible but I have to accept that they have done it.

More geeky fun

Previous posts: Lightning, mathematical butterflies and Kottke’s blog;  interactive periodic table; the scale of the universe; or just browse the ‘technology’ category via the sidebar menu.

Amazing Inventions and Concoctions

As we get older, we forget what’s new and what’s not. In 1988, Amazing Inventions and Concoctions by Howard Elson (Octopus, UK) introduced ten-year-olds to quirky facts about old inventions and to the newest technology of the time. It makes thought-provoking reading today.

Media and communications technology

The default audio technology was gramophone records. Walkman cassette-tape players were cutting edge, replacing (according to the jokey illustration, at least) open-reel tape recorders. The book overlooked CDs, which were first released commercially in 1982 and going strong by 1985 when Dire Straits became the first artist to sell a million copies of a song on CD. Similarly, videotape was new in 1975 and DVDs, developed from CD technology in the early 1990s, weren’t even on the book’s horizon. Both CD and DVD, in turn, are now in decline, being replaced by purely digital sales.

The invention of photographic film a century earlier is celebrated, but with no mention of digital cameras, let alone any prediction that film would vanish from consumer photography within fifteen years.

‘There is a fortune waiting for anyone who can invent an efficient typewriter that can be used in Japan,’ according to the book. Not now, there isn’t: typewriters are obsolete and the Japanese are perfectly happy with their computers, just like the rest of us. Yet computers for personal use don’t even make it into the book.

Online shopping was experimental, as was the possibility that aircraft passengers could telephone people on the ground; and the fax machine ‘in a few years could make sending letters a thing of the past.’ Two out of three is not bad, but the fax itself is nearly history now.


Concorde was relatively new (it entered service in 1976) and still glamorous; but it is was withdrawn from use in 2003 with no successors. It seems that the demand for speed had met its limits.

The pedal-powered aircraft Gossamer Albatross crossed the English Channel in 1979. What did that lead to? Ask Wikipedia: “As of 2008, human-powered aircraft have been successfully flown over considerable distances. However, they are primarily constructed as an engineering challenge rather than for any kind of recreational or utilitarian purpose.”

A solar powered car developed for the World Solar Challenge in 1987 has done rather better. The Challenge is still being run and its technologies have spun off into both battery-electric vehicles and solar panels for non-transport applications.

Hi-tech sailing ships get a mention: ‘now that the world’s natural supply of oil is running out fast, the Japanese in particular are pioneering ways of returning to sail power to propel their ships into the 21st century.’ It now seems like an even better idea, but little progress has been made. Wikipedia informs us that developments have continued but only as far as a very expensive ‘proof of concept’ vessel, a super-yacht called the Maltese Falcon; commercial freight usage now seems improbable and is, at best, a very long way off.

Looking to the future

What will we be using in twenty years’ time? It’s easier to say what will have vanished than what will replace it.

There is no end in sight to the digitisation of our daily life, so CDs and DVDs do look likely to follow gramophone records and cassette tapes into oblivion. Newspapers are already on the way out, being replaced by online equivalents. Will books follow them? Perhaps, but (I hope) not so quickly – paper is a pretty good medium for publications with intended lifetimes of years rather than days.

Petrol and diesel powered transport will be rare, both because we can’t afford to keep on dumping CO2 into the atmosphere and because the cost of oil is going to continue its upwards trend. For the same reasons, mass transport on land should make a comeback with trains, trams and (electric) buses taking an increasing percentage of commuters in the cities and trains replacing a lot of long-distance road freight.

Air transport, both passenger and freight, will become increasingly expensive (again for the same reasons) unless there is a technological breakthrough and will therefore decline. Virtual conferencing is already replacing the physical event, holidaying closer to home will become more attractive as airfares rise, rail freight will save a more significant cost at the expense of only a little time, and so on.

These predictions, of course, assume that our civilisation undergoes no radical shocks. If the banking system collapses or the sea level rises five metres, all bets are off.

Microfauna (1) miscellaneous

Planthopper nymph, Eurybrachyidae
The TV antenna bug, more scientifically a Plant-hopper nymph, Eurybrachyidae, 2-3mm long

Over the last few months I have been exploring the limits of insect macrophotography, primarily by focusing (pun inevitable, I’m afraid) on the tiniest creatures I can find. I will present three collections under the ‘microfauna’ title; the other two will be spiders and flies, the two biggest groups of tiny invertebrates I have been looking at.

Just how big are they?

  • The biggest insects are moths the size of dinner plates – 300mm across.
  • The majority of insects that we notice are perhaps in the 5 – 50mm size range – ants and house flies up to hawk-moth caterpillars, dragonflies and biggish butterflies.
  • Everything on this page and its sequels is in the 1 – 5mm range, or smaller than a house fly. At life size they are roughly the size of a couple of letters of this text.

The smallest invertebrates to be found are smaller still (e.g. the smallest known adult spider is just 0.1mm long) but these are the smallest my camera can see clearly – and I will discuss the reasons for that sometime, too. Clicking on images will, as usual, take you to a larger version but the technical limits mean some are not very much larger.

Anyway, here is my tiny zoo. Its denizens are every bit as varied as their larger relations and some are quite bizarre. Most are unfamiliar because we don’t look properly at tiny bugs but just think ‘fly’, ‘ant’ or ‘dirt speck’ (and are, incidentally, more often wrong than right when we do so).

Planthopper nymph side view
Plant-hopper nymph, Eurybrachyidae, side view showing the odd rear-mounted antennae more clearly.

These nymphs (juveniles) look nothing like the adults. They moult (see a cast-off skin here) and end up looking like one of these bugs … very strange.

white hopper on leaf
Nymph of a plant-hopper, 2-3mm long.
green hopper nymph on leaf
Nymph of a plant-hopper, 3-5mm long
Hopper adult on leaf
Adult hopper, Fulgoroidea, 3-5mm

There’s another of adult, of a different species in the same family, here. The two nymphs above probably belong to the same family. They look rather like cicadas but are much smaller and are not very closely related.

Yellow and brown moth under a leaf
A tiny moth, 3-4mm long, hiding between the veins on the underside of a leaf.

This moth is probably from the Tineidae family, known as ‘clothes moths’ but eating a much more varied diet than that name suggests – see Wikipedia.

Orange wasp with dark wings hanging under leaf.
Wasp, possibly Braconidae, hanging under a leaf.
Wasp on orchid leaf
Small wasp, perhaps Braconidae, on orchid leaf; the ovipositor (‘sting’) shows it is a female.

Both these wasps are about 5mm long, so they are among the bigger bugs on this page. Braconid wasps are parasites of other insects. There are 15,000 or more species so identification is quite a task.

Black weevil on leaf
Black weevil, Curculionidae, 2mm
Brown weevil on leaf
Brown weevil, Curculionidae, 3mm

Weevils are beetles (Coleoptera) but have strange trunk-like snouts. Some members of the family grow to 15mm or more but the ones in my garden are tiny. There’s a whole page about Aussie weevils on OzAnimals.com.

Orange ladybird on hibiscus bud
Orange ladybird, Coccinellidae, on hibiscus bud

I will finish this page with a ladybird because it’s such a monster … compared to the other insects in the picture. Can you see two tiny pale greenish critters down inside the base of the bud? Now they are tiny!