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The Bookshelf

Doug's bookshelf: read

AntwerpWarsaw BikiniIcelandHow the Soldier Repairs the GramophoneThe Original of LauraBrief Interviews with Hideous Men

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Time Since Reboot

  • 1252 days, 3 hours, 30 minutes, 21 seconds ago

The Gilliand Soft Portrait

ISO 250, 1/125 sec @ f/5.6, 50mm
Nikon D90  |  AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D  
Ella, Ashley, Emma & Blu Gilliand  
Cypress Point – Lake Martin, Alabama USA 
May 5, 2012  5:38 PM 
© DRS 2013,
(cc) by-nc-nd

Science, Peace, and Photography

So first, in science:

Apparently we can bring light to a complete stop for a whole minute by storing it inside a crystal.  Physics is weird.

And the Death Star has entered orbit around Saturn.  Earth’s destruction is imminent. 

Fire at will, commander.

Here is an interactive map of New York City’s most peaceful places, as suggested by Times readers.

This video of out-of-focus fireworks by Stanislas Giroux is gorgeous.  Bonus points awarded for setting it to Thomas Newman’s American Beauty score.


Finally, all the respect goes to these street photographers in Afghanistan.  They’ve built their own cameras for making small ID photos for pedestrians.  Click the link and read the whole setup and history.  The cameras are works of art in themselves. 

Above Lake Martin

ISO 100, 1/640 sec @ f/5.0, 62mm
Nikon D800  |  Nikon AF Zoom-Nikkor 28-200mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED  
In Transit – Lake Martin, Alabama USA
July 25, 2013  10:40 AM
© DRS 2013,
(cc) by-nc-nd

Whither Our Inconsequentiality

The Day the Earth Smiled

On July 19th, our Cassini spacecraft, currently in orbit around Saturn, while using it’s wide-angle camera to survey the planet’s ring system, captured the picture above.  The white dot indicated by the arrow?  That’s us.  That’s Earth.  (The full-resolution, unannotated version is gorgeous.)

It is currently 11-ish AM on a Sunday morning, and I am sitting on the porch of my parents’ lake house sipping coffee and watching the boats cruise past Cypress Island on Lake Martin.  The sky is a cloud-specked blue, with some darker grey clouds threatening to move in from the East.  Our little plot of this Alabama paradise is likely something like 1 1/2 thousandths of one square mile.   Alabama itself is 52,420 square miles, and is one of the 50 states of the United States of America which covers 3.7 million square miles of the Earth’s 197 million square miles (and of which less than 50 million square miles are inhabited or inhabitable by human beings; us).  Rough-mathematically, my little portion of land, water and sky where I’m lounging and enjoying my coffee, and where hundreds of weekend vacationers are tooling around in their boats and watercraft, drinking, skiing and reveling in the last day before the working week starts up again, is 0.0000000000076 of our planet’s total surface.  Our planet.  That little white dot up there.

The average diameter of the Earth is something like 7,913 miles across.  Saturn (and the Cassini probe) is some 911 million miles away from us at this moment.  That’s how far away this photo was taken.  Just for comparison and wonderment’s sake, the Voyager 1 probe launched by NASA in 1977 is currently 11 1/2 billion miles away.  It will very soon become the first man-made object to travel completely outside of our solar system and into interstellar space.  It would take a photon of light, if beamed from the Earth’s surface, 17 1/4 hours to reach Voyager. 

My reality right now is what I perceive.  The sounds of the little waves splashing against the sea wall.  The various green hues of the island across the way.  The shouts of children and hums of boat motors.  The way the coffee tastes on my tongue and its warmth migrating down my chest.  A piece of pine straw caught in a barely visible spider web suspended between two wooden porch columns.  My wife’s smile and touch and laughter.  The text of the book I was reading an hour ago (Louis de Bernieres’ Birds Without Wings, if you must know).  The tactile feel of my fingers against the laptop keyboard, and the muted clack of the keys.  A lizard scampering along the boards.  An occasional bird chirp.  My tiny patch of reality.

And that reality, that perception, is really happening inside myself.  My five senses transmit these images and sounds and tastes via a network of nerves to the neurons inside the lump of grey mass inside my skull, which interprets those images and allows me to perceive them.  Those perceptions are likely influenced and perhaps distorted by my mood as affected by the amount of various hormones, amino acids, bodily chemicals being released into my brain at this very moment, so that the fluttering of a green leaf on a tree is different and means something different to me right now than it will next weekend or even an hour from now – and it definitely is a different version of the leaf than the one my wife sees.  Or the leaf perceived by a farmer in China half a world away. 

I am one of 7.13 billion living human beings.  Each one of these billions of people has their own reality, their own perceptions, their own worries, struggles, hopes and dreams, moments of pleasure, sounds they hear, tastes they enjoy, sights they treasure or revile, partners and families and friends they love or loathe, broken and mended hearts, senses of beauty, moments of enlightenment and uncertainty, bliss and anguish, truths, hatreds, passions.  I can speculate what some of these are for some people, but I and we are largely ignorant of the reality of others.  We exist in our own individual worlds – a bubble of perception ultimately impenetrable.  

My world is inside me.  It began when I was born and will wink out when I die.  At the very best my world exists for 100 years.  The human being subspecies has existed for 200,000 years.  The Earth was formed 4 1/2 billion years ago.  The universe, or this current version of the universe, came into existence 14 trillion years ago. 

We are beyond minute.  We are wholly insignificant in anything anyone would consider the “grand scheme of things.”  We are fractions of specks of blips adrift in the unfathomable vastness of space and of time. 

Carl Sagan reflected, upon the first “pale blue dot” photograph taken in 1994, that our insignificance “underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish … the only home we’ve ever known.”  (Read the full passage here.) 

I like that.  I want the world and its humanity to be like that.  But that isn’t the truth and never will be.  The truth is we cling to our individual realities and will lash out, often with violence and malice, at anything that threatens to disturb those realities.  At best there are those of us content to live their portion of space/time reality without pondering those questions at all, content to lie back and be distracted by vapid entertainment, chemical escapes, idle chatter, bland routine and workaday mundanity.  At worst there are those of us who will – often under the influence of other humans masquerading as gurus, leaders and advisors with a somehow deeper understanding of reality and of right and wrong than ourselves, who will commit atrocious acts against our fellow human beings in the name of “protecting” our realities, whether they be spiritually, monetarily, narcissistically or emotionally influenced. 

The best we can do is try to remember and recognize that our reality, our perception, is ours alone.  And that every other human being, great or small, alive on this speck of dust at this moment in time has their own reality just as vibrant and real as our own.  Collectively we will not, but individually we can try.  And the more of us that do, the better our world, for the brief instance we are given it, will be.

At any rate, that’s what that photograph from beneath the rings of Saturn says to me.  Do with it what you will.  And do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  That is all. 

A Place For Pies

ISO 125, 1/30 sec @ f/2.8, 28mm
Nikon D800  |  NIKKOR 28mm f/2.8   
Back Room at the Pie Lab – Greensboro, Alabama USA
May 25, 2013  1:47 PM
© DRS 2013,
(cc) by-nc-nd

The Body of Work (NSFW)

A weekly gallery of photographs I’ve come across in the internet’s vast expanse.  Mouse over the picture for the artist’s name and click to check out their portfolios or other source/presence on the web.  Enjoy.

Shuka4 Little Shao Pavel Flegontov Patty Maher Pierre Leblanc Victoria Audouard Robert Gaudette Magdalena Lutek Yusuf Sevincli Dan Busta