Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday photo

Some messages are just meant to be kept in-house.

Central Campus Transit Center. Ann Arbor, MI, November 2010.

I'm offline most of the week, so nothing wordy today. Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday photo

Old Faithful Inn Anniversary. Yellowstone National Park, May 2004.

In 2004, Yellowstone celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Old Faithful Inn, an originally quaint, now Byzantine wooden hotel that sits exactly one eighth of a mile from Old Faithful Geyser. Begun in the summer of 1903, construction was finished in time for the Inn to open the following season and it has been one of the most famous buildings in the West ever since.

That precise distance from Old Faithful Geyser is no accident. It was as close to the geyser as they could legally build. However, one notable, if often overlooked, feature of the Inn is that it is aligned to direct visitors' attention away from the geyser and toward the rest of the geyser basin. If you stand outside the front door, or lounge on the observation deck above the porte-cochere, you have to make a 90 degree turn to the right in order to look at the geyser. Looking straight out presents you instead with an invitation to discover the rest of the amazing Upper Geyser Basin, full of wonders such as Castle Geyser, Grand Geyser, Morning Glory Pool, and -- not the best, but my favorite name -- Spasmodic Geyser. If you come to the Inn and don't discover there's more to Old Faithful than Old Faithful Geyser, it's your own danged fault.

Unfortunately, the two huge wings added to either side in 1913 and 1928 spoiled the balanced appearance that the Inn originally presented (as well as blocking the view of Old Faithful from the dining room). Besides sprawling like overturned tractor-trailers off both ends of the "Old House," they abandoned the log construction of the original, as well as the A-frame roofs.*

However, the interior is still a delight. What I like in this photo is the number of distinctive Inn features I was able to gather into a single image. The distinctive wooden supports, both in full view on the opposite side, and close up so as to show the beetle scorings that create the most incredibly artistic-yet-natural effect; the US flag hanging over the lobby; the old electric lights; and, for the anniversary season, the large banner suspended from the ceiling and one of the smaller banners hung from the balcony. I rather regret the speaker in the lower right corner, as well as the light coming in from the dining room, but otherwise I enjoy the harmonious composition. This is one of those photographs where I spent a good twenty minutes fussing because the tripod was six inches too far to the left, or had raised the camera four inches too high.

The immense open space in the Inn lobby has been known to scare the hell out of modern structural engineers who venture into the building. The supports in the upper reaches look, shall we say, spindly, and they all seem to run mainly lengthwise, implying that the seven-story roof has no cross support. Apparently, that support exists elsewhere and the building is safer than it looks, and considering that it has stood for over a hundred years in a seismically-active region, and, survived the 7.4 Hebgen Earthquake, it would have to be.** Nonetheless, the recent renovation project has addressed some of the structural concerns, as well as making many aesthetic alterations. I left Yellowstone just as they were beginning and haven't been back in the meantime, but you can learn about them here.

Further reading:
Quinn, Ruth. Weaver of Dreams: The Life and Architecture of Robert C. Reamer.
Reinhart, Karen Wildung, and Jeff Henry. Old Faithful Inn: Crown Jewel of National Park Lodges.

* The flatter roofs are much friendlier to the winterkeeper who has to go up remove the snow that the high-pitch roof is supposed to shed, but doesn't always. In the film version of The Shining, we're told that a winterkeeper has nothing to do but putter around and keep the heat running; the truth is, there can be some hard work involved.

**I have heard it claimed, albeit not directly from an expert, that this was mainly because of the luck that the ground wave was traveling from northwest to southeast; had it come from another direction, the Inn would probably have collapsed.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

How to get on the wrong side of the internets, conclusion

Under a storm of negative publicity over acts of plagiarism and jaw-dropping ignorance of copyright law, Cook's Source magazine has been hounded into oblivion. Let that stand as two warnings: if you publish, you need a basic understanding of copyright; and, in the internet age, that presumed non-entity on the other end of your emails just might be able to conjure up a horde of rampaging barbarians faster than a Capital One commercial.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Beautiful Mother Earth

From the USGS, The Earth as Art:

This is the Dasht-e Kevir, the Great Salt Desert in Iran. Mostly uninhabited, for the same reasons that the Mormons stopped when they reached the Great Salt Lake and didn't continue on to the Bonneville Salt Flats.

The whole display consists of 41 LANDSAT 7 images, selected for their aesthetic qualities rather than for their informational value. Some of the colors will look unnatural, as LANDSAT captures images in a variety of wavelengths of the visible and infrared spectra. My favorites are those that don't get too radical with the coloring, but your tastes may vary (i.e., be wrong).

And if you like these, you'll want to check out the sequels, Earth as Art 2 and Earth as Art 3.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Irony, or Why I don't take conservatives seriously, pt. DCCXIII

Politico reports:

Republican Andy Harris, an anesthesiologist who defeated freshman Democrat Frank Kratovil on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, reacted incredulously when informed that federal law mandated that his government-subsidized health care policy would take effect on Feb. 1 – 28 days after his Jan. 3rd swearing-in.


“Harris then asked if he could purchase insurance from the government to cover the gap,” added the aide, who was struck by the similarity to Harris’s request and the public option he denounced as a gateway to socialized medicine.

Understood properly, however, Mr. Harris isn't really being the hypocrite he appears to be. Conservative hostility to health care reform never rested on fiscal concerns. It all comes down to the most fundamental dichotomy of conservative thought: their self-image of themselves as responsible, hard-working producers v. lazy, irresponsible parasites (aka "liberals"). It's why Social Security and Medicare remain untouchable, while health care reform was frequently opposed on the grounds that it would offer benefits to illegal immigrants (surely the most trivial of concerns regarding the financing of health care reform).

Mr. Harris is hard working and responsible. He deserve health care, and he deserves it now. I won't quibble with that. I just wish he would consider that he might not be the only one.

Via The Daily Dish

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday photo

Grizzly Lake. Yellowstone National Park, September 2003.

I'll give you a second to figure out what's going on with this photograph. I did introduce a little digital noise, to give it a grainy look, and removed the color. But all that fuzziness and squiggly contours in the trees are entirely natural - no filters, no Photoshop work.

The trick is to realize that the photo is upside down. This is a reflection in the lake, a lake that was quite calm but supplied just enough ripples to distort the image of the shoreline. I just love the effect, especially the blurred distant forest on the left side.

Dead to irony

These days, I spend so much time rolling my eyes that I'm afraid the optic nerves are going to tangle into a knot. This appeared in The Watchtower:

Yes, the Jehovah's Witnesses are complaining about people who won't keep their opinions to themselves. But I suppose they are the experts on that subject.

Via The Friendly Atheist

Saturday, November 6, 2010

How to get on the wrong side of the internets

Apparently this story is making the rounds and now an ignorant, arrogant, unscrupulous small time publisher has learned two things about the internet that anyone in her position should already have known:

1) things posted to the internet are not automatically in the public domain;
2) millions of strangers can form a poor opinion of you in a remarkably short time.

Picked up at Pharyngula; the original post is here.

Update: The slapdown was immense, probably more than was at all necessary. Still, this made me laugh:
The company said it shut down its Facebook page on November 4, but it has since been hacked and is no longer controlled by Cooks Source. Ironically, the publication complained about the hackers who are posting items to its Facebook page "without our knowledge or consent" and posted a link to a Facebook tutorial about how to report claims of intellectual property infringement.

You'd mock Charles Dickens for this ....

... but the Vice-President of the American Forest Resource Council is named Ann Forest Burns.

Via James Fallows

Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday photo

Larkspur dorm, Old Faithful. March 2004.

You might have to look at this photo for a moment before you figure out what it is, but that is an underside view of snowpack sliding off a roof. That's in slow motion, of course - the snow wasn't visibly moving when I took the photo. You could almost call it glacial speed, except it's certainly quicker than most glaciers move.

The dorm has a metal roof, which helps remove the snow by providing a slippery surface when there's a little bit of melt. It reminds me of earthquakes, actually, because the forces build up invisibly and then release their energy with no warning. The snow sits on the roof quietly, and then suddenly the friction can no longer hold the weight; you hear a sudden soft rumbling as a strip of snow slides down the roof and then a whump whump whump as it all falls to the ground.

But as I said, the snow in the photo wasn't moving that fast. This is a porch roof on the north side of the dorm and it doesn't get much sun. It's also smaller, so there's less weight pushing the snow downhill and it just creeps slowly instead of sliding off in a rush.

It looks like about a foot of snow slid off the roof during the day, halted when the temperature dropped, and began again the following day, when I took the photo. But during the night, the weight of the overhang was just enough to bend it downward without breaking off, leaving an unconformity of sorts that's obvious because of the way the roof structure leaves grooves in the snow. Would have been cool to have a time-lapse video of the process, but it's also just as cool to see the effects frozen (heh heh) in place.

You can see a couple more photos of sliding ice and snow here. I think I like these because of their similarity to geological and evolutionary processes: always at work, but only visible after a certain amount of time has passed.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010