Thursday, January 10, 2019

Books I'm Reading: A Beautiful Question

The last book I read in 2018, Nobel Prize winner Frank Wilczek's A Beautiful Question (Penguin, 2015) is one of those books that you immediately want to re-read the moment you're finished with it because it handles such difficult subject matter.

I periodically subject myself to these books on physics, because I want to understand what human beings so far understand about the universe, but I never seem to make much progress. The fault is mine, not the author's.

Wilczek lays out the now-familiar history of the development of quantum physics but approaches the story from a somewhat unusual perspective. His focus throughout the book is on beauty and idealizations of reality and the relationship of these to actual reality as we understand it. His greatest pleasure is in pointing out how human intellect, inspired by notions of the ideal, has arrived at solutions to basic problems that in large part conform to expectations—and in this symmetry, this conformance of real to the ideal, he sees great beauty. He looks at the universe as envisioned by Pythagoras, Socrates, Galileo, Newton, Maxwell, Einstein, and then by physicists of the modern era, pointing out along the way how our understanding of the universe points to a positive answer to the question he initially posits "Does the universe embody beautiful ideas?"

I see that I read only 14 books in 2018, which seems a shamefully small number. That's a book every 3.7 weeks. I'd like to be near one every two weeks, at the very least.... So many books. I will have to try harder in 2019.

Plants I'm Growing: First Blooms—Cyclamen Coum and White Flowering Plum (First Week of January 2019)

I've become lazy about keeping track of first blooms in the garden. I think this is because, having taken fairly careful notes, for several years, I've satisfied my original curiosity about the consistency of bloom dates. At first I recorded the first blossoming of virtually every plant in the garden. More recently I've limited by attention to a smaller sampling and missed a few dates I would have liked to have recorded more carefully.

As usual, Cyclamen coum, a dwarf cyclamen variety, was the first flower to bloom in the garden in the new year, several blossoms were already open on the 2nd or 3rd of January, but a single blossom had already opened on December 16--which is quite a bit earlier than every before. Probably an outlier, not part of a trend. Last year this plant bloomed first on January 4. So, aside from the one early bloom, this is in line with its usual pattern.

The white flowering plum on the side of the house began blooming almost a week ago, but I missed the exact date. Probably around January 4. Always pretty, always delightfully fragrant, the bees are already swarming it, probably mostly to collect the abundant pollen. We lost our bees this past summer, so these are bees from hives the neighbors keep. The plum first bloomed last year on January 14, so this is comparatively early, although not unusually so. The tree has had its first flowers as early as December 30 in the past.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Rain: Lots More Rain

It's been rainy for the past few days and the forecast is mostly for rain in the coming week. People are already grumbling about it. How quickly we forget about drought....

Since last reporting, we've had 3.50 inches of new precipitation at my location in northeast Santa Rosa. That brings our total so far for the 2018-2019 rain year to 13.95 inches as of noon on January 8, which is about two inches below the historical average (about 15.9 inches) for this time of year, but judging from the forecast, we could easily make that up in the coming few days.

[As of the morning of January 12, we've had another 1.10 inches of rain at my location, bringing the total to 15.05 inches. Average cumulative rainfall for January 12 in Santa Rosa is just under 17 inches, so, we remain a little under two inches behind.]

[As of the afternoon of January 17, we've had 2.80 more inches of rain, bringing the total to 17.85 inches, but it's still raining....]

Monday, January 7, 2019

Art I'm Making: My Second First Cyanotype

A few weeks back, I posted here my "first cyanotype." Being new to this process, I was pleased with an image that had faults that I was willing to overlook in the excitement of getting a moderately successful image. Here, I post what I think I will be able to look back on as my real first cyanotype in the sense that this one actually looks the way I envisioned it from the outset.

I've been working to create a curve that works for me. However, this image worked a little by accident, I believe. That is, I think the curve I'm using now just happens to work well with this particular image. Using the same curve on other images and on a test target has been disappointing. I'm still have trouble getting a range of tones at the highlight end of things.

For the moment, though, I'll take what I can get. This is repeatable because I have the successful negative, but my work will continue until I get a curve that works more generally.

For those who like technical details, this is a print using the traditional cyanotype formula on Arches Platine, double coated, exposed for 15 minutes under an artificial UV light source. Developed in water with one tbsp of vinegar per quart for one minute under constant, vigorous agitation (which seems to be the key to keeping the highlights from getting stained) and then for 30 seconds in water with one tbsp of hydrogen peroxide added per quart of water. Washed ten minutes. The bird is a Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus), photographed in Santa Rosa, California (digital capture, negative made on Pictorico transparency film). The Great-tailed Grackle is a comparatively unusual bird here, but it is becoming more common as it appears to be extending its range into our area of Northern California from its traditional range, mostly in the southwestern and south-central US and Mexico.
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