Photography


Other Worldly Cabin Sunset

Other Worldly Cabin Sunset

One nice thing about the end of February, other than that it means this month is almost over, is that financially it is rather lucrative for me. This last week, I received my annual bonus and my raise card. The bonus comes on top of a regular paycheck, so one time out of the year I get a check that truly reflects my own sense of self-worth. Technically, I won’t start earning my raise until next week, but at least I know what it will be. In past years my bonus was usually spent before it arrived. The worst year was when we literally flushed the money down the toilet. We had a new sewer line installed that year. This year is different though. This year the bonus is effectively disposable cash. Also this year, the company offered the option to contribute part of the bonus to my 401(k), which I should have taken them up on, because all of my regular pay went to pay the taxes and whatnot on the combined check. My take home pay was almost exactly equal to the bonus.

This year’s bonus will finance our trip to DC. And it allowed me to purchase a new camera. It is a Canon SX60, which is the latest in the series of Canon point-and-shoot cameras that I have been using for some years now. It is the third one that I have purchased. New features include a 65X optical zoom, about twice what my previous camera had, HDR, Wi-Fi and a continuous shooting capability. I went to Forest Park this morning to experiment with it. Like most first attempts, this one was not entirely satisfactory. I got a couple of good shots that I’ll eventually post, but more importantly I learned a few things about the camera. It has a “creative” mode where the camera takes a series of near simultaneous pictures, all with different filters. I can’t really say how effective the camera’s HDR facility will be, because today was a rather gray day, so there wasn’t that much dynamic range to be had. I got the Wi-Fi hooked up to the iPhone, which will let me post photos from the camera, while in the field. In the past I always had to take a few iPhone pictures just to be sure that I would have something to upload. This feature alleviates that need. I had hoped to use my new super zoom power to get a better photo of the Great Horned owls of Forest Park, but I couldn’t find them. Before and after buying this camera, I also spent money on some photographic guilty pleasures. No, none of that. I got a set of three clip on lens for the iPhone, wide-angle, fish-eye and macro. They were only $15. I also spent money on some new photographic apps. Alien Sky supplied Saturn over the beach in this post’s picture.

Live Long And Prosper


Star Trek Insigna

Star Trek Insigna

This is e-week or in the vernacular, Engineering Week. The purpose of this week is to celebrate engineers and all that they do for us. Being an engineer myself, this celebration is more than a little self-congratulatory. Still, it is a relatively arcane discipline, practiced by many of the most eccentric folks that I know. To non-engineers, my colleagues must appear as the very embodiment of geek-dom. The Fashionista would be appalled with our dress code. Our body images tend to segregate themselves into either pencil neck geeks or overweight fatties, with few of us in the happy middle. As a group, we are not even the most personable of people. If we were still in high school, we would all be trying on locker overcoats for size. So we are not much to look at or be around, but then we are not being paid for are good looks or personality anyway. We do things. We create things. We make our modern life possible. When you buy some new techno-bauble it is me you should thank. When your car starts it is me you should thank. When your toilet flushes it is me you should thank. You’re welcome!

This celebratory week was tinged with sadness with news of Leonard Nimoy’s death today. An actor that has been ambivalent about his role as Mr. Spock on Star Trek, he served as a lightning rod for my kind. I heard him speak once at a Star Trek convention in Dallas. My brother Chris and I went there together. Jewish, he spoke at length about his then upcoming series of Hanukkah stories that I later listened to on NPR. His talk was an interesting departure from the rest of that convention’s program, still he held the audience. I still hear his voice daily. I play a video game, Civilization that tracks humankind’s progress from the Stone Age to tomorrow. Every time a new technology is invented, Nimoy’s voice recites an appropriately famous quote. His spirit will be missed.

It’s Heady Stuff


She Man, Paul McCarthy, 2004

She Man, Paul McCarthy, 2004

A medical project whose goal will be to successfully transplant a human head will be launched later this year. Sergio Canavero of Turin, Italy, announced plans to form a surgical team to perform this transplant operation by 2017. Back in 2013, he gave the world its first heads up about his intentions. The placing of a head from one individual onto the body of another are called head transplants and not body transplants, primarily because of legacy naming conventions initiated in the 20th-century, when these types of transplant operations were first attempted on animals. All of those transplants failed due to immune rejection of the transplanted head by the host body. Transplant technology has significantly evolved since then, so immunological concerns are no longer deemed to be paramount. None of the 20th-century attempts ever tried to connect the transplanted head’s spinal cord to that of the host body’s, leaving those animals paralyzed from the neck down.

Canavero plans on connecting the severed spinal cords and expects the patient to gain full use of their new body. One highly experimental technique that he plans on using is to fuse the two spinal cords together using baths of polyethylene glycol, which has shown promise in aiding the fats in cell membranes to mesh together. After the two spinal cord ends have healed together, a yearlong process of physical therapy will retrain the neural pathways and teach the patient how to use their new body.

This is all very hard for me to get my head around. It seems like an idea more out of science fiction than medical science. In fact the original Star Trek TV series envisioned just such an operation in the episode, Spock’s Brain. In this episode Spock’s brain is stolen by pesky aliens and Doctor McCoy is tasked to reinstall it into Spock’s brainless body. It was one of the more mindless episodes of that TV series.

This type of transplant operation is envisioned to be performed for patients with bodies that are riddled with cancer or are suffering from a degenerative nerve and muscle disease. Typically, early adopters of such novel and radical medical procedures do not fare all that well, but volunteers are already lining up for the chance at a new body. As with any new medical procedure, ethical concerns are important to consider. This one is more fraught with danger than most. The opportunity for late-night talk show ridicule is a forgone certainty.

Science On Tap


NASA Galileo's Saturn Eclipse Mosaic

NASA Galileo’s Saturn Eclipse Mosaic

Tonight was another Science on Tap night and like the last one, it was another astronomy talk. The Schlafly Bottleworks hosts these monthly events in conjunction with Washington University. It makes for a nice combination of Schlafly beer and WashU brains. Joanie organized this outing for all of us and her college friend and my current colleague, Pat, made it four of us, along with Anne and I. The speaker was William B McKinnon. His talk was billed to be about our outer solar system.

This event will go on for some time, so, I won’t be able to post anything until much later, after it is over, but I’m sitting here two-hours before the event, just marking time. It is so popular an event that you have to get a seat that early. Did I mention that it is free? So, while I’m sitting here wanting to write, but not being able to write about Science on Tap, because it hasn’t happened yet, let’s change the subject.

Lake Superior or originally Lac Supérieur in French, meant not the best of the Great Lakes, as is so often claimed nowadays, but the uppermost of them. In the French or Spanish manner, lakes are referred to as Lake Something as opposed to the English manner, Something Lake. Lake Superior sounds more impressive than Superior Lake. In modern times, some people have adopted the affected Lake Something convention, because it sounds more cultured.

It’s a Small Solar System
it’s a small Solar System after all
it’s a small Solar System after all
it’s a small Solar System after all
it’s a small, small Solar System

While he was an excellent speaker, I found Bill McKinnon’s talk less than inspiring. I felt that he spent way too much time backfilling planetary astronomy’s ancient history, meanwhile scant attention was paid to what is currently going on. The New Horizons space probe is slated to make closest approach to Pluto this year on Bastille Day. This coincidental date is all that correlates most of McKinnon’s historical prologue to what is really going on now this year. I wanted to know what was happening next, not what has already occurred. I could have read all of what McKinnon said on Wiki. The contrast in quality Science on Tap talks couldn’t have been more stark, than between this talk and the previous Mars rovers Science on Tap.

Soul Food Supper


Cotton Pickers, Thomas Hart Benton, 1945

Cotton Pickers, Thomas Hart Benton, 1945

The American regionalist Thomas Hart Benton painted Cotton Pickers based on notes of a trip he made to Georgia in the late 1920s. He depicted the dignity of the cotton pickers in the face of backbreaking labor and intense summer heat, rendering the dry fields and the working bodies in a sinuous, curvilinear style. For his time, Benton held progressive views on race, social relations and politics and he believed ardently that African-American history was central to the understanding of American culture. Cotton sharecropping, a system of tenant farming that developed after the Civil War, allowed landowners to rent land to poor farmers in return for a share of the crops. Because sharecropping kept agricultural laborers impoverished, it became a symbol of a racially and economically unjust system. Cotton cultivation became one of Benton’s most important subjects, especially as the rapid industrialization of the nation during World War II changed the American landscape.

Anne and I went to the annual soul food supper at the high school tonight. This event is held every February, in honor of Black History Month. This year is the 15th anniversary dinner. We’ve been going to this event ever since Dan and Dave went to school there. Tonight’s menu included: fried chicken, black-eyed peas, collard greens, mashed potatoes, candied yams, corn bread, mac & cheese, ham & beans and rounding it all out, sweet potato pie. It was all good and everyone there knew Anne’s name.

It would be as dishonest as padding the word count of a blog post and about as useful as a 401(k) for a dog, to spook chickens to lay square eggs. Any big-headed baby, who is bound for college-scholarship gravy knows that.

Leadership


Mosaic Fragment with Leopard, Byzantine, northern Syria, 450/500

Mosaic Fragment with Leopard, Byzantine, northern Syria, 450/500

The powerful figure of a striding leopard fills this fragment of a floor stone in mortar mosaic. It is said to come from what is now modern Homs, Syria. Images of hunting or striding figures on the prowl were popular in this region as decoration for civic buildings, as well as for wealthy homes. Interest in hunting scenes in mid-fifth-century Syria was sparked by art influences from the nearby Persian Empire.

Before Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, he didn’t first form a focus group, take a poll or hold an offsite to discuss his decision. He just did it. He overthrew the Roman Republic and installed himself as dictator. Later he paid the ultimate price for his actions, “Et tu, Brute?”, but his kind went on to rule Rome for hundreds of years afterwards. Now, I would not advocate or even condone such a threat to American democracy, but still like most Americans I daily subject myself to someone else’s dictatorial whims, when I go to work. In the workplace the boss dictates and unless you are self-employed, you obey, such is the lot of a modern wage slave. In his think piece, Slaves or wage slaves – Incentives, rewards, bonuses and bonding experiences – Roman slave owners were the first management theorists, Jerry Toner wrote for Aeon comparing and contrasting the ancient Roman master / slave relationship with today’s manager / worker.

Grille Work


1908 Buick Model 10

1908 Buick Model 10

I’ve added a new link. My brother Chris has created a website that he will be using to sell his photographs from. It is Chris Axe Photography. Check it out!

In other family news, Dave is in Baltimore this weekend. He is attending a conference there through mid-week and then he’ll drop down to Washington DC for the remainder of the week. Coincidently, today I booked flights and a hotel for Washington too. Anne and I will be headed there for spring break next month. Think cherry blossoms and hopefully warmer and fairer weather then we’ve seen this winter. Cross your fingers. I know that mine are. I also planned out the rest of my vacations for the year. We’ll of course do the cabin thing this summer. Jay and Carl will be celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary and Anne and I be celebrating our 35th. Hopefully, we can get all of the kids there too. About the time that I have to return to Saint Louis, Anne will begin her solo MUP bicycle ride. She has always wanted to do a solo ride and this summer she’ll get her chance. I’ll drop her and her bike off at St. Ignace on my way south. The MUP is a very well supported ride, so she should have lots of fun. At the end of the summer, I’ll return to Michigan to retrieve my wife. Finally, in the fall, I would like to do a reprise of last year’s tour of California, including LA and Monterey for sure and maybe we can squeeze in one more attraction, we’ll see. It’s all a lot to ask for and I’ll be stretching my vacation days to the limit, but it should be a lot of fun.