Musings on optics, physics, astronomy, technology and life

Blog housekeeping

My blog has a brand-new look! I was tired of the small type of the previous theme, and WordPress.com had seen fit to retire it anyway, so I shopped around for a fresher design. Please let me know what you think.

A couple of years ago, I said at the end of my OPN article on light pollution that I’d be blogging on that subject here. I’ll admit that I haven’t always done so, but I was heartened to read a couple of articles on the subject of dark skies this week, and I thought I’d pass them along to you.

Physics Central, a website run by the American Physical Society, posted an essay highlighting the push to create dark-sky reserves and to monitor the levels of sky brightness around observatories. The post includes a link to the trailer for the 2011 documentary The City Dark, which is absolutely required viewing if you have any interest at all in the subject (and for sharing at people who need to develop an interest!). The City Dark is now available on Netflix, so you no longer need to wait for a special film festival.

As a cover story in its Sunday magazine, the Washington Post covered the carnage caused by birds flying into brightly lit urban buildings — and the “Lights Out” groups who are trying to do something about it. The City Dark mentioned this as well, but this article brings the issue to people who would never go out of their way to watch a documentary about light pollution.

Let’s hope light pollution and the associated energy savings from proper lighting are finally getting into widespread public consciousness. Clear skies!

Hi, I’m Pat and I’m a social-media addict. I really enjoy Pinterest. If you haven’t already done so, please check out my “Science Photos and Images” board on that site:

http://www.pinterest.com/lilpatoodle/science-photos-and-images/

I add to the collection when I remember to do so (which isn’t every day … but I’m trying to get better at it). Of course, some of the images link back to my own writing, but others are just fascinating and beautiful in their own right.

Today I even added an image from the BICEP2 collaboration — you know, the so-called “smoking gun” of cosmological inflation theory. Polarization diagrams may not mean much to the average person, but that figure might be really famous someday. Heck, I even “pinned” the video showing Andrei Linde getting the news. It’s just so sweet.

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Please don’t be put off by the rather depressing title. I’ve just been thinking about the Crimea region of Ukraine recently, because … well, duh. And any mention of Crimea brings to mind a series of images.

Not images I took. Not images of people who are still alive.

You see, the Crimean War was the first war ever (kinda, sorta) photographed. Say “19th-century war photographs” to most people, and they will think of the American Civil War. The conflict in Crimea, however, predated the one on the U.S.; it ended five years before our Civil War began. And a Britishman named Roger Fenton (1819-1869) set out to immortalize his country’s fighting forces.

Photography back then wasn’t as simple as pushing a button and letting technology do the rest. Fenton made a type of picture called the calotype. The process involved making a wet-paper negative print and then contact-printing it onto another sheet of treated paper. Calotypes required really long exposure times, so Fenton had no chance to make “action shots,” and anyway the sensibility of the Victorian era would have rejected stark photographs of dead bodies, like those taken at Antietam and Gettysburg in the following decade. Fenton and his assistants had to cart along a whole wagon full of equipment (please click on that link — WordPress is giving me trouble with uploads).

Mostly Fenton took highly posed photographs of British officers, but he also captured some landscapes. One can only imagine how these images would have looked to people who had never seen the world like that before — indeed, who spent most or all of their lives within a hundred or so miles of their birthplace.

Fenton’s most famous image was dubbed “Valley of the Shadow of Death,” probably after that “shadow of Death” phrase in the famous Tennyson poem. It shows a landscape denuded of plants, with a depressed dirt road strewn with cannonballs. Some people say Fenton and his team faked the photo, because there’s another version of the photo without the cannonballs.

Which image came first? Does it matter? Should it matter? A writer and filmmaker named Errol Morris wrote a three-part meditation on that set of questions for the New York Times back in 2007, well before our 15oth-anniversary observances of the American Civil War — or our worrying about Ukraine and Russia.

Anyhow, whenever I hear about this current crisis, I can’t help visualizing these sepia-tone images of dry battlefields long past.

Question for my readers

I’ve got a few things to say in another post. First, though, I want to pick your brains.

Readers, do you like my blog layout? What do or don’t you like about it? WordPress has so many different themes. Originally I picked one that has an astronomical “look” right out of the box, so to speak. But I’m tired of the tiny type. I also realize that more people may be reading this blog on mobile devices, either on a mobile browser or on the WordPress app, which strips away the themes for readability.

So I’m throwing the question to you: How would you like my blog to look? What would make it more convenient for you?

photonicpat:

So, what do YOU all think about these five predictions? I think one will be spot-on, one will never happen, and the rest will be somewhere in between. But I’m not sure which is which….

Originally posted on Tech:

With the speed of innovation in the tech industry, we can’t know every piece of technology that will fill our everyday lives in five years, but we can predict what won’t last.

View original 891 more words

Happy New Year!

First of all, I would like to wish my friends and readers a very Happy New Year! I wish you inner peace, good health, much happiness, and at least enough prosperity to keep the metaphorical wolf away from the door.

I also wish you much light, especially in the darkness of the Northern Hemisphere. It’s easy to feel the “winter blahs” without actually connecting them to the shortened hours of daylight and the increased time spent indoors under artificial lighting. Here’s a New Year’s resolution you may not have thought of making: Get in touch with your circadian rhythm; make sure you get some natural light into your eyeballs during daytime hours, and sleep in a nice dark room (after you’ve done some stargazing, of course!).

Some six or seven weeks ago, I wrote a short Optics & Photonics News article about a small Norwegian town that, for its entire existence, has gone without direct sunlight for six months in every year, because it is located in a deep valley. That’s right — for six months, every day feels like a cloudy day, even if the sky is clear overhead. To brighten up the town square, the town of Rjukan installed a mirror array atop one of the nearby mountains, with solar-generated electricity running a computer system to move the mirrors to track the sun.

When I did the article, I must have gotten on Rjukan’s press mailing list. Just before the winter solstice, I got this notice:

52 days of winter sun in Rjukan.
Since the unveiling of the sun mirror 30th of October this year, the sun mirror has brought light and attention to Rjukan. For the first time the sun shines on the Christmas tree at the market square.

The square has become a meeting place for both young and old residents, as well as for tourists. Several shops and cafes have increased sales. Krossobanen, the cable car that still carries people up to the sun, drove filled carriages the first weekends after the sun mirror opening. It is not usual in November.

- People have been curious about the small town between Gaustatoppen and Hardangervidda ,” says tourist manager Karin Roe. We hope the curiosity takes over and that they visit us as well. – Because we have so much to offer to visitors, especially our exciting history now nominated for UNESCO World Heritage List, she concludes.

Mayor Steinar Bergsland has been busy on other areas after the opening. In late November he presented the news that Green Mountain Data Centre establishes in Rjukan. 2 weeks later the mayor and Rjukan population mobilized against plans to close down parts of the local hospital. However, he still has the great pleasure of the sun mirror.

 - The Sun mirror has become a natural part of life. Even when the clouds are low down the mountainside we are looking up at the sun mirror as we walk past the square, says the mayor who believe that citizens have been more proud of their city and what they have managed to achieve.

Here is a photo of the sun mirror shining down on the Christmas tree in Rjukan’s town square:

Photo credit: Terje Prestaarhus

Photo credit: Terje Prestaarhus

I think that’s a beautiful image, don’t you? I hope the people of Rjukan are having their happiest winter ever.

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