Getting closer

Epidendrum porpax

I get tired of lugging a heavy tripod around when I want to take close-up pictures, but it’s a necessity with a heavy macro lens and long exposures. Yesterday I tried a different system on my trip to the botanical garden. Instead of the 100mm macro, I used a small, light and sharp 18-55mm zoom that is capable of near-macro work, and I added a diffuser to a hotshoe flash. It worked pretty well, as the above picture demonstrates. There are more pictures using the system here. I think it should be adequate for most pictures at the orchid show at Botanica November 3-4.

Flash plus diffuser works also with a true macro, as illustrated below. However, the lens I have is heavy, and it’s hard to hold the camera steady enough to keep the focus where I want it. A monopod would help, but that starts to get cumbersome.

For stacked focus (which is how I would ordinarily take pictures of small, intricate things) and extreme close-ups a tripod is indispensible, of course, but such stunt photography is generally not feasible outside of a studio.

This knight is four inches tall.

Miscellaneous quotes, decline and fall edition

Fillyjonk:

… something I read in this week’s The Week that is one of the sadder things I’ve heard recently: apparently animal behaviorists have found some dogs are “depressed” because of a lack of eye contact – because their owners spend so much time staring at their smartphones….

The Z Man:

The classical period featured a celebration of human beauty. The artists strove to capture the ideal of man in those beautiful statues we still have today. The medieval period had the celebration of God and his love for man. Walk into an old cathedral and you immediately feel the essence of that relationship. Of course, our canon is packed with poetry exploring the beauty of life, all of which was composed in a prior age, by men who are strangers to us now.

Walk into a modern building today and you know what it is like to be in the chute at a slaughter house.

William Torrey Harris, U.S. Commissioner of Education 1889-1906:

Ninety-nine [students] out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom. This is not an accident but the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual.

and

The great purpose of school can be realized better in dark, airless, ugly places … It is to master the physical self, to transcend the beauty of nature. School should develop the power to withdraw from the external world.

*****

Continue reading “Miscellaneous quotes, decline and fall edition”

Remembering Steven

Last Sunday marked the second year since Steven Den Beste’s last post. The internet has not been the same since he’s been gone, and I miss checking Chizumatic first thing when I crank up the computer in the morning. He was by far the most indefatigable commenter here, and seeing his avatar when I review old posts is a bittersweet pleasure.

I’d occasionally read USS Clueless, but it was his commentary on Serial Experiments Lain (summarized here) that made it clear he was someone I could take seriously. He remains the most reliable guide to Japanese animation that I’ve found; if you’re interested in the period from Dirty Pair to Girls und Panzer, his reviews are a good place to start.

The sylph with the hairy chest

A pas de deux from the 1935 ballet Светлый ручей (The Bright Stream), with music by Shostakovich, libretto by Adrian Piotrovsky and choreography by Fedor Lopukhov, re-choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky for the ballet’s 2004 revival. There’s a story behind the ballet, and not one with a happy ending: “A work meant to be light, entertaining, and uplifting had proved the downfall of its creators.”

Winfield, at last

At the Beautiful Music booth

I thought I’d grabbed just a few snapshots at this year’s Walnut Valley Festival two weeks ago, but when I got home I discovered I had over a thousand frames. I finally sorted through them all. Here are a couple; there are more here and here.

Contra dancing

The fiddler in the contra dance band Friday evening was Roger Netherton, whom I’ve mentioned here many times. His first CD is finally available. If you like old-time fiddle or just enjoy good music, check it out.

Saliva as a cleaning agent, voodoo dolls in the office, medical applications of roller coasters, and more

The 2018 winners of the IgNobel Prize were announced earlier this month, recognizing noteworthy research in many fields. Perhaps the most provocative this year was the Nutrition Prize, awarded to James Cole “… for calculating that the caloric intake from a human-cannibalism diet is significantly lower than the caloric intake from most other traditional meat diets.” I’m not sure I look forward to the diet books that Cole’s work will inspire.

Are there straws in Vatican City?

Pope Frankie in perspective:

On September 1, 2018, this successor of Gregory I, who saw Latin civilization crumbling, and Leo IX, who grieved at the loss of Constantinople, and Pius V, who pitied souls lost in the heretical northern lands, implored and lamented: “We cannot allow our seas and oceans to be littered by endless fields of floating plastic. Here, too, our active commitment is needed to confront this emergency.” The struggle against plastic litter must be fought “as if everything depended on us.”

(Via William Briggs.)

Psittacosis

It’s Squawk Like a Parrot Day. Here are the Bonzos with an appropriate tune.

Addendum: If it’s pirates you want, here’s a set of variations on a tune named for Gráinne Mhaol, alias Grace O’Malley, the Pirate Queen of Ireland.1

Saa! Kaizoku no jikan da! Let’s not forget Marika Kato.

There are many space pirates in anime, and a surprising number of the are women. Their speech sounds like normal Japanese, and none of them gargle their rrrr’s.

Against Evelyn Wood

Fillyjonk:

(I have never read particularly fast, but maybe that’s not such an awful thing: I do find when I read more slowly my comprehension and memory for what I’ve read is much better).

Which brings to mind an old favorite story, R.A. Lafferty’s “The Primary Education of the Camiroi.” The text is not available online,1 and I’m too lazy to transcribe the relevant passages, so I’ll link instead to Alan Jacobs:

I recommend a story by one of the all-time great weirdos of American literature, R. A. Lafferty. The story is called “Primary Education of the Camiroi,” and it concerns a PTA delegation from Dubuque who visit another planet to investigate their educational methods. After one little boy crashes into a member of the delegation, knocking her down and breaking her glasses, and then immediately grinds new lenses for her and repairs the spectacles — a disconcerting experience for the Iowans — they interview one girl and ask her how fast she reads. She replies that she reads 120 words per minute. One of the Iowans proudly comments that she knows students of the same age in Dubuque who read five hundred words per minute.

“When I began disciplined reading, I was reading at a rate of four thousand words a minute,” the girl said. They had quite a time correcting me of it. I had to take remedial reading, and my parents were ashamed of me. Now I’ve learned to read almost slow enough.”

Slow enough, that is, to remember verbatim everything she has read. “We on Camiroi,” one of the adults says, “are only a little more intelligent than you on Earth. We cannot afford to waste time on forgetting or reviewing, or pursuing anything of a shallowness that lends itself to scanning.”

So maybe what matters most is not how many books we read, but how thoroughly we read them.

The delegation’s ultimate recommendations for Dubuque schools include “b.) A little constructive book-burning, particularly in the education field. c.) Judicious hanging of certain malingering students.”

The story is in Nine Hundred Grandmothers. (If you find the book at a reasonable price (good luck) and are new to Lafferty, I suggest starting with the last story and working your way to the front of the book. The first few stories are not the Lafferty I like best.)

Too many futures

The heavy-duty shelves where I kept the bulk of my science-fiction library collapsed. Rather than replace the shelves, I’ve decided that it’s time to cull the collection. This won’t be easy; discarding books is something I just don’t do. However, I’m unlikely ever to read most of these again, and there’s no point in hanging on to them. I need to grit my teeth and haul at least two-thirds of them to Goodwill this weekend.

So, what stays, and what goes?

Some decisions are easy. All of R.A. Lafferty, all of Gene Wolfe, all of Philip K. Dick stay on my shelves. The multitudinous Roger Elwood anthologies can all go, every single one. Ray Bradbury, Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore, Cordwainer Smith all stay. Ditto Poul Anderson, William Tenn and John Sladek. George R.R. Martin goes.

Others are more difficult. Early Alfred Bester, before his disappearance, was very good; after his return, he was a different, lesser writer. I’ll keep the older books and discard the later ones. Much of Samuel Delany goes not to Goodwill but straight to the trash, but I’ll hang on to his Driftglass collection. I’ll probably keep all of Ursula K. Le Guin, even though nothing she wrote after The Lathe of Heaven has held my interest. Similarly, I’ll keep all of Joanna Russ, though it’s mainly the Alyx stories that I reread.1 Frederick Pohl’s short story collections stay, but all his novels except perhaps Gateway are expendable. And so on, and so on.

And then there are the anthologies. I have lots of anthologies. Let’s see…. The Judith Merrill best-of-the-year volumes are of historical interest and contain surprises — I discovered George P. Elliott’s “Among the Dangs” and Muriel Spark’s “Portobello Road” in #7. The Carr, Wollheim and Carr/Wollheim annuals are where I first encountered many of my favorite writers, including Lafferty and Wolfe. These stay. The many other year’s best anthologies are less useful and ultimately probably not worth the shelf space. Other anthologies go to Goodwill unless there is a particular story I like in one that I don’t have elsewhere, though I might hang on to Damon Knight’s Orbit series.

The sorting should occupy my evenings for the rest of the week.

Fiddles in snow

Girls und Panzer is on Crunchyroll, and I have the discs as well. However, for the eighth episode I always watch the fansub. One of the highlights of the franchise is the Russian team singing “Katyusha.” Thanks to imbecilic copyright laws, the song is missing from the American edition of the show.1

There are many recordings of the tune available, though none suggest tank girls in snow. I recently discovered that Alexey Igudesman, of Igudesman & Joo, composed a set of variations on “Katyusha” for solo violin. Here’s a performance by Irina Pak.

Not familiar with Igudesman & Joo? Here’s an introduction. If you don’t have time for the whole thing, skip to the Rachmaninoff section starting at around 40 minutes. There’s plenty more on YouTube.

Before there were I&J, there was P.D.Q. Bach. Peter Schickele is still making discoveries, such as the Concerto for Simply Grand Piano and Orchestra.2 Here’s a performance with Jeffrey Biegel. While Biegel is certainly up to the technical demands, he’s not quite enough of a large ham to make the performance convincing. Perhaps with a bushy beard and another 50 pounds he could pull it off.