Tulip

The small town of Silvan is 40km east of Melbourne, in the Yarra Ranges. Every year, in September and October, it is the home of the Tesselaar Tulip Festival.

(Sony A200, ISO 100, f/5.6, 40mm [60mm equiv.], 1/250s)

I visited the festival in October of 2009, on a cloudy and drizzly day that made the colours of the tulips stand out even more.

Snæfellsjökull

In Sneffels Jokulis craterem, quem delibat umbra Scartaris, Julii intra kalendas descende, audax viator, et terrestre centrum attinges; quod feci. Arne Saknussemm

Descend, bold traveller, into the crater of the jökull of Snæfell, which the shadow of Scartaris touches before the Kalends of July, and you will attain the centre of the earth. I did it. Arne Saknussemm

The Snæfellsjökull mountain, on the western tip of the Snæfellsness peninsula in Iceland, is the start of the journey to the centre of the Earth in Jules Verne’s book. It is, as many mountains in Iceland, a volcano; it is believed to have last erupted around 1,800 years ago.

(Sony A65, ISO 100, f/9, 30mm [45mm equiv.], 1/80s)

This photo, taken in October of 2013, shows the mountain as seen from the village of Hellnar, looking more or less northwest – that is Hellnar Church in the foreground.

Cat Café, Melbourne

I spent a long weekend in Melbourne a while back, and one of the things I had to do there was to visit the Cat Café that had recently opened.

(Sony A65, ISO 1600, f/22, 35mm [52mm equiv.], 1/25s)

This is Jasper, one of the several cats living at the Café. I had a great time there; they had many cats with very different personalities, and many environments where they can play or relax. This photo was taken in June of 2015, but the Cat Café Melbourne is still open, at a different location now but still in the centre of Melbourne. Worth a visit.

Sunset at the Washington Monument

I was lucky to get this very interesting cloud formation at sunset when I was at the National Mall during my only visit to Washington DC.

(Sony A65, ISO 100, f/8, 17mm [25mm equiv.], 1/400s)

This photo was taken in October of 2015. I was in DC for just a weekend, and I spent most of the time at the Mall, going from museum to museum. I really need to go back some time.

Kolgrafarfjörður

Kolgrafarfjörður is a fjord on the northern coast of the Snæfellsnes peninsula, on Iceland’s west coast. The whole peninsula is an amazingly beautiful place, with landscapes that change dramatically on every turn of the road.


(Sony A65, ISO 100, f/13, 18mm [27mm equiv.], 1/125s)

This photo was taken from the side of the road, from the aptly named Kolgrafarfjörður Viewpoint, looking south towards the centre of the peninsula. It was late autumn (October of 2013) and the weather was cold but snow wasn’t yet quite reaching the lower levels, and all roads were open.

Lone tree

Flinders Island is the largest of a set of islands that sit between mainland Australia and Tasmania, in the Bass Strait. As one might expect, not many people live there – the island has a small airport, two towns and many, many sheep. Also native fauna: kangaroos, wallabies, wombats are very easy to find, to the point that driving at night is a bit of a risk.


(Sony A65, ISO 100, f/8.0, 26mm [39mm equiv.], 1/320s)

This lone tree is on the west coast of the island, overlooking Fotheringate Bay with the Strzelecki mountains in the background. It’s a very windy location most of the year, and in the particular day I was there (in May of 2016) it was dangerously so.

Water lily

The Adelaide Botanic Gardens are right by the city centre – in fact, the city centre is completely enclosed by parks.


(ISO 400, f/9.0, 60mm, 1/200 sec) (click for full-size view)

I took this photo in May of 2014, the only time I visited Adelaide (and then only for a weekend). I thought it was a lovely city, and the Botanic Gardens are a great place to spend an autumn afternoon.

Red Rock Canyon

Red Rock Canyon is just outside Las Vegas, in the Nevada desert. As you can see in the photo, the origin of the name is very clear: the rocks are red.


(ISO 100, f/10.0, 18mm, 1/250 sec) (click for full-size view)

There is a visitors centre nearby, and a scenic loop road you can drive on – which is good, because the Nevada desert can be a very hot place and this is a very large area. There are multiple walking trails, too, but this photo was taken in July of 2009, in the middle of summer, so I didn’t really walk around all that much.

Photography

Over the last few years – since the last time I wrote here – I’ve been dedicating more time to photography. It’s been a hobby of mine for quite a while, and I’ve been putting a bit more effort into improving at it recently, including both thinking more about the photos I take and spending time to post-process them.

Then, in the last few months I started going over my collection of photos from the last ten years or so and picking up “the good ones” to work on. I ended up with a small selection of photos that I really like; some of them are particularly beautiful, some are technically good or difficult, some simply have emotional value.

I wanted to share these photos – make them visible to more people – but I don’t really want to simply put them into Instagram or Facebook. So, I’ll put them here, maybe one every week or so, in a random order (thanks to random.org) and let’s see if anyone sees them.

This is the first one. You can zoom and navigate on it using your mouse or fingers (depending on which screen you’re using).

(Sony A65, ISO 100, f/5.0, 50mm [75mm equiv.], 1/125s)

I took this one at the Floriade, in Canberra, in September of 2015. It was a cloudy day, so not the best light to photograph flowers, but this one came out pretty good. I just wish the bee were looking towards the camera.

Scary things

[this is a somewhat long post that’s not really about cats]

In the spirit of Halloween (if somewhat late)… a few weeks ago I listened to an interview with Neil Gaiman where he was asked what’s the thing or event that had scared him the most, ever. His answer had to do with reading one of his stories in public; if I were asked that, until very recently what follows is the story I would tell.

My wife and I have a cat. It is a somewhat large cat. Not fat; large, as in a large breed. We got him from a shelter as a kitten, so as far as we know he’s not a pure breed anything, but he has many of the features of a breed called Norwegian Forest Cat – like long tufts of hair in his ears and extending down between his toes, which are both adaptations to snowy climates (sadly, our cat has never seen snow). And the size, of course; Norwegian Forest Cats are some of the largest domestic cats around. You may be wondering, well, how large can this cat be? And I’ll tell you: when I’m sitting on a chair, if the cat stands up on his hind legs and stretches one of his front legs up, he can almost reach my shoulders.

Which brings me to the story I was going to tell. You see, cats can move around very, very quietly. Let me tell you, when you’re home alone, in a very silent house, concentrating on something on your computer, and all of a sudden someone taps you on the shoulder from behind… yeah, quite scary.

These days, though, what scares me a bit is Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. But this is not entirely Amazon’s fault; it is a bit because of Netflix, a bit because of Taylor Swift, and a lot because of Benjamin Crowell.

You may not have heard of Benjamin Crowell. He is a physics teacher in California, but also a sci-fi writer. One of his short stories, “A Hole in the Ether”, appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine in 2013. That story is set in a not-too-distant future – 60 years ahead or so – where copyright is very, very important. All devices verify and enforce that any content being seen or heard has been properly licensed; any unlicensed content is reported to the authorities, and penalties are kind of harsh. There’s no such thing as “public domain” or “fair use”; there’s no such thing as “buying” content, either: all content is streamed, even books. And you can’t even turn back the pages without paying for a repeat “performance” – can’t let people stream the same content twice, now can you? Of course, you can only stream content that is available for streaming, and since books are seen as “long-form entertainment” with limited replayability (reading a book takes several hours, few people reread books) media companies are not that interested in that market; most books that are not tied in to recent movies or that are not otherwise famous are not often available (the story revolves around an old phone – from the 2020s – that is left as inheritance when someone dies and that contains an archive of thousands of public-domain books, obviously not licensed and therefore illegal to read; the story doesn’t really end well).

Sounds awful, doesn’t it? So, that’s what Kindle Unlimited reminded me of. Not much – just a bit. Kindle Unlimited lets you read books without buying them, in a subscription model that looks very much like what we’ve had for music for a while now – Spotify, Pandora, Google Music, all do this kind of thing. And they all have this inherent flaw that, well, you can only stream what you’re allowed to. What’s there today may not be there tomorrow, as Taylor Swift so aptly reminded all of us last week. But what got me thinking a bit about this even before that was Netflix, where I had “Battlestar Galactica” (the new version) in my queue for a while, and it was suddenly gone as if it had never existed – the contract expired on Oct 1st so the show is gone. Sure, it’s not like I don’t have enough stuff in my queue, but still, what’s next? Do I have to rush and finish all seasons of “The West Wing” quickly? I learned recently that Ken Burns’ documentaries were almost dropped last July as well, and I haven’t even started with “The Civil War” yet; do I need to find a quiet corner and some 12 spare hours as soon as possible? There is a constant “flow” of content that goes away from Netflix at seemingly arbitrary times.

(I later found out that there are sites where you can see what content will expire soon; as of today, I have 5 days to finally watch “Donnie Darko” before it expires, but “The West Wing” seems safe)

Of course, you can still buy music any time. And DVDs, as long they’re not from Disney. And books, on paper and on bits, DRM notwithstanding. But, you see, I can very easily see a path from the world of today to the world of “A Hole in the Ether”, and widespread DRM, widespread streaming and Kindle Unlimited are all steps along that path. I think Kindle Unlimited scares me more than the others because I have more of an emotional attachment to books than to music or film (and, still, I have embraced ebooks entirely very quickly; that may have been foolish).

A counterpoint one could easily make is that we have always had public libraries, and Kindle Unlimited looks quite a bit like a paid library for ebooks (and most public libraries loan out ebooks these days, even). But the thing is, public libraries buy books, and once they have them no publisher is going to pull a book from circulation; and, really, public libraries are not in it for the money, they don’t care that some of their books are not all that popular (that said, I think ebook loans from public libraries probably suffer from the same contractual problems that Kindle Unlimited does). I also happen to think that if public libraries did not exist yet, establishing them nowadays would be nearly impossible, but that’s another story.

Just to make it clear: I don’t think Kindle Unlimited is a bad thing or evil, and I love music subscription services. I think widespread DRM is much worse, and definitely evil; I think content that you buy but that can be taken away from you afterwards is an even worse evil and another step in that bad path; I think abuses of the copyright system are evil; I think geographical restrictions on content are evil. And I would love to live in a world in which all kinds of content were available at all times – a world in which Netflix (or whoever, I’m not picky) were allowed to stream anything ever made would be fantastic. But I’m scared of a world in which the only way to access content is to get it on demand from a limited repertoire and in which “owning” books, music or films is not something one can do – and I see us as a society taking more and more steps in that direction.

And that is scary.