Hagia Sophia, Istanbul Turkey

This is one of the most historic buildings in the world! I’ve always wanted to see it up close and now I have. It is a strange syncretism of Islam superimposed on top of Orthodox Christianity. Finished in 537 CE, it was the largest building in the world for a thousand years.  This Collection contains HDR and Fisheye photos.

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Turkey Panoramas

Recently back from a spectacular trip to Turkey. I have about 5000 photos to process and just got through the first batch (iPhone panoramas). Note that the linked images are large and you may have to expand them. Enjoy!

 

Not really a panorama, but fisheye view of Hagia Sophia!

All in the (Eagle) Family!

I rediscovered this photo from 2012 and wanted to share it!

Two teenage (juvenile) Bald Eagles

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…and their parents…

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Remind you of any human families you know?! (Click to Enlarge)

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Hammock Camping Improvements

I continue to improve my hammock camping experience. Last time out I was greeted by this little fellow in front of my campsite. (You can tell it’s a young gator by the yellow stripes.) Messing with the flashlight and phone camera did not seem to bother him. He stayed in the general area for a few minutes, let me take a few pictures and then slowly crawled away. (Click for larger image.)

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I did not spend much money ($118) on my starter hammock, but I’ve come to appreciate that it is a complete system for three season camping. I did not have to spend more money on separate components (i.e., net, fly, skins). Here is what it looks like when hung between two trees with the skins pulled to the center…

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This is the head-end. Note the extra green loop [mod #1]. I added this to let the fly relax and fall to the side when not needed. It turns out that having the fly connected normally is the best way to get the correct tension (after which I slacken it). Note also that the foot is slightly higher. This was counter-intuitive for me since I like my legs lower than my head. Basically this prevents you from sliding and getting all bunched up. It just works!

Next I turned to the bug netting. With no instructions and very little info online I had to improvise. The included cords had little slide-locks to help get the right tension. The problem was that once you got into the tent, the tension changed. So I replaced these with thin bungee cords [mod #2]…

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I also moved one of loops for the spreader bow (not shown). I suspect they had a quality control problem with the stitching. Here is a closeup of the head end…

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[Lt to Rt: fly, bungee, green loop (behind) and main hammock]

Next I fixed an obvious flaw—not being able to reach the foot-end zipper pull. I simply replaced the short inside tab with an 18 inch cord [mod #3]…

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Finally I turned to the free corners of the diamond-shaped fly. It suffered the same problem as the bug net, no good way to keep the proper tension once inside the hammock. Here’s where a bit of serendipity came in. I had purchased a set of tarp tie-downs as a source for the bungee material. They came with orange knobs on them for fast tying. This turned out to be a perfect fit for the fly [mod #4]…

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The ends can be staked down as is, or extended with the slide-lock cords and tied off to a tree or other object. This provides a nice taut fly that can recover from gusty winds. As an added benefit, when I need to fold the fly back the bungees can be hooked together on one side with minimal flapping. <smile> They also help keep the fly furled when not in use. I’m still working on the best way to do this…

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Here is the whole rig in action (click for large panorama)…

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Note that the foot is higher and the fly is furled but not relaxed. I’m still getting insect bites because parts of my body rub up against the fly as I toss and turn, and wherever bare skin lays against the hammock itself (the little devils bite right through the ripstop!). My biggest problem is getting the sleeping bag arranged under me. This is non-trivial when there is no solid surface to push off!

Finally a note about the overall design, on a clear night this hammock only needs two points of suspension. Using the fly brings that to four. One of the things I love about this type of tent is how simple it is to deploy and pack up!

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Two or Four Point Suspension

Here are a few examples from Amazon.com. The number of suspension points goes from six to eight and beyond. And that’s before you add the fly!

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Imagine putting these up in a rain storm with bugs biting!

Binge Watching Great Movies about Real Conspiracies that Affect Us All

I was on a short business trip recently and had a chance to view three new movies about real conspiracies that affect us all. This prompted me to go back and re-watch some documentaries from the recent past. Talk about dark night of the soul! Here are my brief reviews in no particular order…

spotlight-2015Spotlight

I was aware of the ongoing scandal of pedophile priests but I had no idea how extensive the cover-up had/has been. This movie is almost pitch-perfect as it depicts the true story of reporters following leads ever deeper into a black hole of institutionalized criminality.

 

The Big Shortthe-big-short

This is a great film in all respects. The protagonists are quirky and imperfect, but each has a moral compass and limits on what he will do to make a buck. The basic premise is that everyone from the Fed Chairman on down to the home loan sharks in Miami could not or would not see the reality that was right in front of them. The rogues gallery of financial malefactors is both comical and repellent (see next). The main characters all confront the truth in different ways. I was struck by how sad this film is in spite of the heroes’ success.

inside-job-2010Inside Job

This documentary from 2010 is the logical compliment to the Big Short. The best parts are when they catch actual high-placed financiers and government officials telling lies on camera (amazing really!). The end of the film documents something I’ve felt since that time… In terms of effect on real people, the crimes were/are monstrous, and yet only a handful of the actual criminals have been punished! Blame for that outcome lies squarely with President Obama, who hired many of the same players for his administration rather than prosecute them. I still can’t get my head around it. We may never recover!

CitizenFourcitizenfour

Arch criminal or whistleblowing hero there is no doubt that Edward Snowden changed everything. In light of what has happened since released NSA secrets have mostly supported his whistleblower status. Watch it and make up your own mind.

 

united-states-of-secretsUnited States of Secrets

This PBS Frontline Series from 2014 is the logical companion to CitizenFour. Bulk Data Collection is now the norm, the FISA Court is nothing but a rubber-stamp and the Fourth Amendment is nowhere to be seen when it comes to electronic communication. I also recommend reading The Shadow Factory by James Bamford, where it becomes clear that with a little intelligence sharing between agencies and good police work we might have disrupted the 911 plot. Instead we let fear run away with us and gave our government free rein and an unlimited budget to spy on us. The dust-up over iPhone encryption is just the latest chapter.

merchants_of_doubtMerchants of Doubt

Also from 2014, this documentary reveals the techniques used to manipulate us by sowing fear, uncertainty and doubt. Hosted by a magician who is a self-described “honest liar”, the film shows how real lies are told and re-told on a massive scale. I was surprised that most of the techniques used today were all worked out by the Tobacco Industry decades ago! The art of telling a little lie to sell a big lie using deception, obfuscation & misdirection. The successful feint of big tobacco to get us focused on flame-retardant upholstery rather than the cigarette that actually caused the fire was a genius move. On the hopeful side, several past and current heroes are profiled including Stanton Glantz and James Hansen.

taxi_to_the_dark_sideTaxi to the Dark Side

I’m embarrassed to admit that I had forgotten most of the events covered by this 2007 documentary of our acts of brutality at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. The “Taxi” of the title belonged to an innocent Afghani man who was picked up by the US and died a few days later during interrogation. The basic point is that these atrocities where not the result of “a few bad apples” but rather a normalized fact accepted by the chain of command. See it! I can’t do it justice in words. The interviews with Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney are especially chilling.

the-fog-of-war The Fog of War

I was eligible for the draft near the end of the Vietnam War. (I “lost” the lottery.) I remember hearing Robert McNamara on TV explaining our intricate plans to “win” the war and prevent the dominos from falling. His regret and contrition are obvious in the film, but what is more important are his observations about the limits of power and intellect. Regrettably the lessons he had to teach were lost on the Bush Administration and a new generation has been forced to give up their lives in political wars.

DOM = Deception, Obfuscation & Misdirection

crying-girl

Most are familiar with the concept of FUD—short for Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt. It summarizes a strategy often used in marketing and political propaganda. Its effects are perniciousdivisive and lead to exploitation. Examples abound in this political season…

Fear is a strong motivator!

To resist FUD one must understand how it is practiced. I would like to propose a companion acronym DOM—short for Deception, Obfuscation & Misdirection. (I further suggest it be pronounced “doom” for the gravity it deserves.)

Deception is just a polite way to say “Lie.” We all make statements that aren’t true. This is unintended, we are not trying to deceive. We self-correct and accept corrections from others. Lying implies knowledge of the truth and an intention to conceal it. liar-jon-kylAn infamous example was a statement made on the floor of the US Senate by Jon Kyl during a budget showdown where he stated that abortion “is well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.” This figure wasn’t just a little bit off, it was the exact opposite of the truth (3%). The next day his office released a terse retraction, “his remark was not intended to be a factual statement.” What then was his intention?! There are two possibilities, he was either aware of the truth and lied, or he didn’t care what the true figure was and just pulled it out of his ass! In short he is either a liar or a bullshitter, conduct unbecoming a US senator. (No longer in the Senate, Jon Kyl is—you guessed it—a lobbyist!) See the slim volume On Bullshit by Harry Frankfurt for more on lies vs BS.

Obfuscation seeks to obscure the truth. I can think of no better definition than that given by George Orwell…

George_OrwellThe great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.

[Politics and the English Language, 1946]

His reworked passage from Ecclesiastes could be found in any modern academic paper, government document or business report!

Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

Misdirection takes attention away from what is important. It is characteristic of magicians and spin doctors. Magicians entertain us. Spin leads us around by the nose. A common form of misdirection is substituting anecdote for data. The “vaccine controversy” provides many examples of children “damaged” by vaccines therefore “vaccines are dangerous” and should be avoided. Population-based data simply do not support this! In fact, the risk to unvaccinated children is very real! The media amplify this misdirection through laziness and the desire to be “fair and balanced”.  This leads to a perpetual false equivalency between anecdote and proven facts. The legacy of Andrew Wakefield (who helped launch the anti-vaxxer movement with fraudulent research) lives on even though his articles have been expunged from the medical literature and he has lost his license to practice medicine. As a professional he is totally disgraced yet he maintains his expert status in the eyes of true believers.

Update: A few days after I posted the above I read that “The Quack is Back!” with a new “documentary” to premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival! Follow the links, they summarize the sad news much better than I can.

Update2: Hours after I posted the update, the film was pulled from the schedule. Better late than never!

In 2008 the CIA declassified their Simple Sabotage Field Manual. The section on Interference with Organizations illustrates obfuscation and misdirection techniques, many of which have become permanent fixtures in our politics and workplaces. How many have you experienced? How many have you used?!

 

Dark Mornings Return – Stop DST!

fuel_pricesDaylight Saving Time is one of many anachronisms of modern life. Very similar to the nine-tenths of a penny added to gasoline prices in the US…

It turns out that the two have much in common. Both date back to the early 1900’s. Both were supposed to be temporary. Both have strong commercial constituancies that have helped them survive long after any societal benefit has waned (if there ever was one!).

This article in The Atlantic today is a good summary…

Daylight Saving Time is Wasteful, Unnecessary, And Even Dangerous!

As is the stopdst.com website and #StopDST hashtag.

Santa Fe River Afternoon

I was itching to go kayaking somewhere new, so I headed over to the Santa Fe River. There was a little park and boat launch near the highway 47 bridge. While getting ready to go I spotted what looked like green leaves stuck on the sides of two trees. They turned out to be Luna Moths, which I think were newly emerged. Beautiful! [Gallery]

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I proceeded to peddle upstream against the current, which was pretty brisk at times. The shoreline got progressively more rocky with exposed limestone until I reached an actual rapids. It was all I could do to move against it. Once I passed it I stopped for a rest and then started my lazy float back downstream.

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I stopped frequently to take pictures and explore a bit. The south side is conservation land and the north side is undeveloped. There were LOTS of cypress knees!

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There is no one big obvious spring as far as I could tell, but several under and around the river. The possible exception was a small stream that formed a long skinny island not far from the bridge. The water there was much clearer (and warmer). I could not paddle beyond fallen trees on both ends so I walked a trail along side for a hundred yards or so. It was a beautiful place!

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In addition to the yellow asters shown above there were Spider Lilies starting to bloom and lots of Rain Lilies on the forest floor. This last was new to me. I’m used to seeing them along the roadside after it rains.

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Here’s part of the low-res map I used (upstream is down). The distance from the put-in to the “kink” near the bottom is about two miles. That’s where the rapids are (I think).

santa-fe-river-map

Song of the Broad-Winged Tree Cricket

One of the most relaxing sounds I’ve ever heard occurs late at night in the spring and summer, usually after the frogs settle down. After wondering about it for twenty years I finally know who’s singing… Broad-Winged Tree Crickets! [Oecanthus latipennis]

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Photo Credit: ifas.ufl.edu

Take a listen to this iPhone recording. They sing one continuous note for several seconds. Individuals enter and leave the chorus at random intervals and slightly different frequencies. This is apparently due to slight variations in temperature. The effect is very soothing!

This recording was made in the early morning hours after a rainstorm. About half way through you can hear a freight train whistle in the distance.

Experience with a Hammock Tent

hammock-tent-inside

I went out last night to get some experience pitching and sleeping in my new hammock tent. It came with no instructions and there is only limited info available online. I’m getting better using a bit more tension and added a small relieving line to the fly so it can hang along the side (keeping the netting clear for viewing the trees and stars!). In future I’ll keep it rolled so it stays off the ground. I paddled in the dark to a place I’d picked out. Once you find two trees the rest is pretty easy. In fact, it’s trip-over-a-log easy compared with a surface tent! Plus everything is dry!

hammock-tent-pano

I brought a small towel to wipe my feet before swinging them inside. I like the little pouch on the outside for a water bottle and miscellaneous small stuff. There is also a small pocket in the netting overhead that works well for phone and glasses. One cool thing about all/most of these tents is the way they pack up, basically two narrow funnel-shaped sleeves (called “snake skins”) that pull to the center. Take down is as easy as setting up.

hammock-tent-covered

The diamond-shaped fly has “wings” that tie out sideways. I think this will work well, but you have to stoop to enter/exit. Having recently pitched a conventional tent in driving rain (i.e., everything wet), it strikes me that the above arrangement is far superior. When you hang it and pull back the skins the fly is on top and drapes over the inner tent keeping it mostly dry. That’s the theory anyway!

Update: I slept under the fly during a vigorous rain storm and it was amazing! Not one drop of water got through to me!! It was the driest tent I’ve ever experienced. The only caveat is the rain that night was mostly straight down. It would be a bit more vulnerable with a significant crosswind.