06 October, 2015

down on the farm #2

The original Down on the Farm laid out the science behind organic farming, but this post is a much more frivolous endeavour documenting some of the exotic farm animals to be seen around my home town of Penrith.

I’ll start with what I consider to be by far the best photo I’ve taken this summer. I’d just returned from exploring the walk documented in Petteril Pathways and Bovine Boogie Woogie when I spotted the four longhorn cattle that I mentioned in Early One Morning in the distance, standing in the pond in the middle of the nature reserve. However, it took me several minutes to reach a position from where I could take a picture, and I expected them to have moved off before I got there. They didn’t. The ducks don’t seem to have minded the intrusion.

…you wouldn’t believe the strange-looking sheep I’ve seen in some of the fields.
If, after looking at the next photo, you remain unconvinced that the three animals really are sheep, check out the following one. They are clearly not a native breed, but they are sheep!

I’m not suggesting that horses are in any sense exotic, although they must have seemed so 5,000 years ago, especially when being ridden. However, there are a lot of horses in the fields near the nature reserve, and I often see an open-top carriage being pulled by four horses along the lane where the next photo was taken (by Paula). It is probably a carriage horse, and it clearly likes to have its muzzle stroked.

On the other side of town from the nature reserve, I came across another exotic breed of cattle. The next photo shows two calves, and the first thing to note is that they have much longer hair than most cows. The second photo also shows some adults—note the strange shape of the horns.

The next photo, taken by Paula, is a portrait of the bull in the previous picture. I for one would not like to be in the same field as this beast, even if I’d been told in advance that it was friendly. And in case you’re wondering, Paula was on the other side of a sturdy fence when she took the photo, although it probably wasn’t sturdy enough to deter a beast this powerful if it decided that it wanted to break through.

And now for something really exotic. The animals in the next photograph look like long-necked sheep. They are in a field almost completely enclosed by tangled and overgrown hedges, apart from one small gap through which the picture was taken. They are in fact South American alpacas.

Finally, every farm needs a cat to keep the resident rodent population under control, and here is the perfect candidate. I call it Puss-in-Boots.

01 October, 2015

photographic abstraction #16

In the last instalment in this series, I stated that “there will be fewer photos of stained walls” in future. However, I couldn’t resist including Winter Wonderland in the present collection, partly because it isn’t a typical wall affected by rust, moss or lichen but is in fact an example of a physical process known as efflorescence. This occurs when moisture in the brickwork or stonework makes its way to the surface, where it evaporates, leaving behind salts that had been dissolved in the water.

winter wonderland

Also in this collection is a picture that exploits a new motif: Blood, Sweat and Tears. Although I’ve written this before and been proved wrong, I defy anyone to identify what this is actually a photograph of.

blood, sweat and tears

Given the huge number of photos of oil/petrol stains that I’ve taken this summer, and the fact that I’ve devoted two posts exclusively to such pictures, you might think that I’d not be including any more in this series. However, Stained Glass is slightly different. First, it was taken in Hong Kong earlier this year; and, second, it includes other material (dead acacia leaves), which give a different feel to the image, whereas my usual oil-stain photographs contain no such extraneous material, apart from the occasional intrusion of a kerb or gutter, which I crop out wherever possible.

stained glass

All Fall Down also makes use of a new motif, albeit one that shouldn’t be difficult to identify. To me, the image suggests that everything is collapsing, so I had no hesitation in using the final line of the plague song that begins ‘ring a ring of roses’ as its title.

all fall down

As you have probably already noticed, I like to use recognizable phrases as picture titles. Blue Remembered Hills looks to me like a landscape picture, so I appropriated the title from a 1979 television play by the late dramatist Dennis Potter.

blue remembered hills

Finally, I don’t think I need to explain why I gave The Voice the title I did.

the voice

One change in this chapter that you might not have noticed is my decision to increase the number of images per post from five to six. This decision reflects the sheer number of abstract images that I’ve produced in the last few months—I’ve already finalized the lineup for the next two chapters.

previous posts in this series
Photographic Abstraction #13
Photographic Abstraction #14
Photographic Abstraction #15

29 September, 2015

the oh! zone

Amid the scandal that has erupted over Volkswagen following the discovery that it has been cheating on tests of emissions from its diesel cars in the United States, reporting has been misleading and/or inaccurate. For example, there has been confusion over the nature of the pollutants emitted by diesel engines, and over the emissions that are being tested for.

I have not been able to confirm this, but it has been reported that the pollutants being tested for were NOx, an umbrella term for the three oxides of nitrogen, nitrous oxide, nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide. Nitrogen is a fairly inert gas, which explains why it makes up almost 80 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere. And there are only two natural ways in which it can combine with oxygen to produce NOx or nitrate ions: during electric storms and by nitrogen-fixing bacteria on the roots of leguminous plants.

But there is a problem. The sparks that ignite the fuel/air mixture in a petrol engine create an electric storm in miniature, which leads to the conversion of some nitrogen to NOx. However, diesel engines do not have spark plugs, so I cannot see how oxides of nitrogen can be produced in such an environment.

Of course, I may be wrong, and diesel engines do produce NOx, but there has been no discussion of the nature of these pollutants in the mainstream media. Although nitrous oxide is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, the real danger from these gases occurs in locations with copious amounts of sunshine and a lot of cars. The oxides of nitrogen and unburnt hydrocarbons are converted by ultraviolet radiation to peroxyacyl nitrates (PANs), which are severe eye and respiratory irritants and key ingredients in photochemical smog. This is a different kind of smog to that for which London was once famous, and unsurprisingly the type location is Los Angeles.

Four days ago, I came across an article on the BBC News website by the corporation’s environment correspondent Matt McGrath under the title ‘Concern over hidden diesel pollutant’. I thought that this article might be discussing PANs, but it turned out to be full of vagueness and inaccuracy, not the kind of thing I’d expect from a science journalist. Here is one particularly egregious piece of nonsense:
Researchers found that long-chain hydrocarbons are significantly under-reported in car manufacturer’s [sic] data.
These hydrocarbons are a key component of two of the worst air pollutants, ozone and particulate matter.
Oh really! The last time I checked, ozone was a form of molecular oxygen formed by three atoms instead of the two in the gas we breathe to stay alive. It is possible that long-chain hydrocarbons perform some kind of catalytic function in the production of ozone, but but this is not what the quoted statement is suggesting. They are not ‘a key component’. Ozone contains neither carbon nor hydrogen, even in trace amounts.

The mistake is made again, in different words, later in the article:
But diesel also contains more complex, long-chain hydrocarbons, whose role in air pollution has been little understood until now.
They can form dangerous air pollutants, especially ozone and particulate matter, which are emitted into the air as unburned fuel or diesel vapour.
This re-statement of the error is made worse by the grammatical chaos of the second sentence. Leaving aside the annoying journalistic habit of making each sentence a new paragraph, the real problem in that second sentence is the relative clause. It is probably intended to qualify ‘dangerous air pollutants’, but I’ve reached this conclusion only because the statement would be untrue if the relative clause was intended to qualify ‘ozone and particulate matter’, which I have every right to expect it to do given its position in the sentence. And to cap it all off there is the pleonasm: is there really a difference between ‘unburned fuel’ and ‘diesel vapour’?

Of course, long-chain hydrocarbons are the main constituents of particulate matter. By the way, I do wonder how well the average person understands this phrase. Perhaps ‘soot’ could be used instead. At least it would help people to form a concrete image of the problem, which in turn might encourage more people to give up their cars. These are—regardless of their manufacturer or of the possible ubiquity of fiddled tests—the real problem.

26 September, 2015

memory games #2

In Memory Games, posted earlier this month, I suggested a way to alleviate the tedium of commuting to work in trains so crowded that it is impossible to use a smartphone. Here’s another. This time, the objective is to produce the longest possible ‘story’ using only three-letter words. As the name implies, you have to commit the expanding story to memory.

Unlike in the earlier game, you are allowed to use words more than once. A dictionary is likely to be of little use, even if you could access one. This is what I came up with before I decided to stop and write it down:
His wig did not fit, was far too big and now hid one eye, but the old man did see his son hit the fat dog and run off via the red tin hut and the big oak. Why did the boy hit the dog? For fun, you may say, but yes his act was bad.

Yet the wee boy was not the one who hit the cat. The rat was the one who hit the cat, who ate the hot eel pie. The dog did not eat the pie, and the rat got the bag out for the cat.