Abstract photography

‘Photography’ means ‘writing with light’ and that’s what we do with the camera – write or (better) draw on the film or sensor with the light coming through the lens. There’s nothing to say the picture must be realistic or even representational, and these few don’t try to be.

swirls of colour on dark background
Gesture 1
swirls of colour on dark background
Gesture 2
bars of colour on dark background
Gesture 3

Sitting on Picnic Bay beach on Magnetic Island on Sunday evening I liked the lights of Townsville across the bay. My camera told me it wanted a very long exposure to capture them – four or five seconds – so I thought I would make a virtue of necessity  and move the camera around deliberately while the shutter was open. Two different gestures with the camera produced the first two images.

On the ferry approaching the brightly-lit docks a little later I did the same sort of thing with a rather shorter exposure to produce the third image above.

Is it art? Who cares?

Surely the better question is, “Do I like it?”

And each of us must answer for ourselves.

More netizen science

Encyclopedia of Life

One of my first posts to this blog mentioned Encyclopedia of Life, a major international collaborative effort to document the living world around us. Its list of sponsors and supporters starts at the highest possible levels (Smithsonian Institution)  and goes all the way down to amateurs like myself, contributing by uploading photographs of my local wildlife.

Dragonfly perched on twig
Local wildlife: Australasian Slimwing, Lathrecista asiatica festa

There is only one way for an ordinary person to contribute images, i.e. the EOL Flickr group at http://www.flickr.com/groups/encyclopedia_of_life/. The rules for the group basically say that images need a creative commons license allowing third parties to use them free of copyright and a ‘machine tag’ which will enable automated harvesting of images from the group to EOL itself.

Flickr membership needn’t cost you anything. A free account allows you to upload 300MB worth of photos per month and if you resize them to roughly screen resolution (say 1000 x 750 px) they will be under 1MB each, allowing you hundreds of uploaded images per month if you have that much free time.

It takes a bit of time and fiddly work to set up a Flickr account, choose photos and tag them, but anyone can make a useful contribution to a worthwhile project. And any Australian photos will be picked up automatically from EOL by the Atlas of Living Australia, a similar project run by CSIRO and most of our state museums.

Climate science

A question that popped up on RealClimate recently was, “In what ways could an amateur scientist contribute to the study of climate, and assist the professionals?”

The question continued, “I don’t mean advocacy, but assist in actual research. As an example in a different field of study, amateur astronomers are playing key roles by looking for supernovae and then alerting professionals when one is first found so that the far more powerful telescopes can be directed towards the exploding star to collect data …  Just like there are certain tasks that professional astronomers ‘downsource’, so to speak, to amateurs, I am curious if there are certain tasks that professional climatologists are looking to downsource.”

A good question, and it promptly got a good answer from Gavin Schmidt, one of the core members of RealClimate: “Some of the most active ‘citizen science’ projects related to climate are focused on the digitisation of old weather records (here and here) …”

The best Australian equivalent to the US phenology projects Gavin mentions is probably Climatewatch, but there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other citizen science projects ranging from divers helping count marine life to students trapping and identifying barley mildew. Search the net for “citizen science projects [your state]” and find one that appeals.

Happy Birthday, Green Path

Today is the first anniversary of launch of my blog in April, 2011. I am quite pleased that I have been able to maintain it at the level of two or three posts per week (the average is actually just over three) and to keep a reasonable variety of themes ticking over.

Changes? My working title during development was ‘Bugblog’ and that made it onto the finished site, in a few not-too-important places, but I can’t see that it is useful: ‘Green Path’ is better, so dropping ‘Bugblog’ (however cute it is) will save any confusion over the blog’s title. Also, the Search Engine Optimisation plug-in which I installed at the end of January is quietly increasing readership but more could be done and I will try to find time to add buttons for social media to make it easier for my readers to recommend an article to their friends.

Regrets? I had hoped to get more of a sense of community through a stream of comments. That may have failed because the blog format is not particularly congenial to conversations – bulletin boards are better and Facebook, while not better, is more popular – but still, it would be nice.

Another personal online milestone slipped past recently before I noticed it: I posted my one thousandth photo to my Flickr photostream a month ago. There is some sort of poetic justice in the fact that it was a picture of an ant, a creature known for its quietly persistent industriousness.

I joined Flickr in April 2010, so my average there is ten photos per week. Nearly all of them are insects and spiders of North Queensland, and two thirds of them – representing perhaps 300 species – have been taken in my own garden, an indication of just how much usually-unnoticed life goes on around us.

Going solar: off the grid

We recently visited Hidden Valley Cabins, 25 km inland from Paluma, for a very enjoyable social occasion and I took time out to look at the resort’s solar power installation.

Hidden Valley is isolated enough that the resort was always off the grid, dependent on a diesel generator for all its power. About four years ago, with the help of funding from a programme designed to help isolated users make the change, they installed a custom built 12 kW system comprising ninety 130W panels feeding into an inverter and a roomful of batteries.

Solar panel array at Hidden Valley
The solar panel array at Hidden Valley Cabins

The panels are mounted on frames on concrete pads just up the hill behind the resort and produce 19,500 kWh per year. The resort only use two thirds of that amount but the extra system capacity ensures that the batteries are fully charged for cloudy periods. The old diesel generator is still in its shed nearby and hooked up to the system as a backup, but I got the impression that it is rarely called upon.

The owners are very happy with the system. They have set up the shed housing the batteries and inverter as an interpretive centre, and have various brochures about solar power for visitors who may want to follow their lead.

The batteries
The batteries

One of the advantages they appreciate most is one I hadn’t thought about: it is silent, and gets rid of the generator noise they had to put up with 24/7. But of course, the savings in diesel fuel are enormous (I did see a figure but don’t appear to have jotted it down – sorry) and they don’t have to worry that they will lose power for lack of fuel if the gravel road is washed out in the Wet … which reminds me to mention that the system has survived cyclone Yasi, much more intense where they are than it was in Townsville.

Problems? Battery maintenance was ‘a bit of a learning curve,’ but that is about all.

System schematic
System schematic (click to read!)

Visit the Hidden Valley Cabins site to read more about the resort and its solar power installation.

Sim City gains an environmental dimension

The game franchise that first defined the city-building genre in 1989 will be re-released next year as a multi-player online computer game, developed by Maxis and published by Electronic Arts Inc.

This time, however, SimCity has an environmental theme …  a fetish for coal burning plants in one city can spread smog and sickness in adjacent cities run by other players, for example … “For the first time in SimCity, players’ decisions will have consequences that will extend beyond their city limits,” said Lucy Bradshaw, senior vice president of Maxis. “It’s up to the players to decide whether to compete or collaborate to shape the world of tomorrow — for better or for worse.”

With thanks to dbostrom on the RealClimate Open Thread, which contains miscellaneous lighter items amongst the serious discussion of the latest in climate science. Read the whole article on the LA Times site, and read lots more about it at eurogamer.net, if it is your kind of thing.