June 2012

Posted by Ellen

"I send you two pictures of Tahiti," writes my brother, Chuck-the-nuclear-astrophysicist. "Captain Cook was sent to Tahiti to observe the 1769 transit of Venus (Venus passing in front of the sun). He then had secret orders to search for Australia, which he found.  I saw the 2012 transit from Point Venus, a beautiful sandy beach on the northwest corner of the Island, where Captain Cook observed the 1769 transit.  It was a magical festival with lots of natives.  

"The surfing scene is from the north side of the island not far from Point Venus, while the other picture is from the opposite side of the island, on the south side of the Tahiti Iti peninsula, where the road ends."

Chuck spent a week in Tahiti, doing his scientific thing, and then he had to fly back home so he could get ready for a conference in Italy. It's a tough life, nuclear astrophysics, but somebody's got to do it.

Posted by Ellen

Fifty-four arched windows catch the morning sun in this old building on Arch Street.

Posted by Ellen

Ramon Toye, a 250-pound guard for the Southern Maine Raging Bulls football team, was out on the tarmac at the Portland airport this past weekend pulling really, really hard for about five or six seconds. Apparently, that's how long it takes a typical team of twenty-five determined individuals to pull a 127,520-pound cargo plane a distance of 12 feet, which is the timed challenge for this annual competition.

The Raging Bulls and a couple of dozen other teams--entrants included a bank, a church, a gym, the Scarborough Police Department, the Shipyard Brew Crew, and of course a chiropractic office--pull the plane as a fundraiser for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

In the fall, the Bulls play football in the AAA New England conference; last season they went 7-3, placing second behind Lowell in the Northern Division. The rest of the year they pull airplanes and participate in other community service activities.

Posted by Ellen

On a day in 2009 when Zeus and Aeolus and everybody else up there must have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed, Mitch Dobrowner photographed these clouds over Galatia, Kansas.

Posted by Ellen

In this map, each of the fifty states has been renamed for the country that matches it most closely in terms of overall economic activity; in other words, the country's gross national product is similar in size to the state's gross domestic product.

For example, if California were its own country, it would have the eighth largest economy in the world, comparable to that of Italy. And if Illinois were its own country--big, bustling, wealthy Illinois--its economy would be comparable in size to that of . . . Turkey? When did Turkey crash this party?

I'm pretty certain that the data shouldn't be used like this; there must be good econometric reasons why countries and states can't be compared so easily, on the basis of a single number. But hey. In 2007, a Norwegian software consultant named Carl Størmer posted a version of this map using older data, and I decided to update it--partly to see if the country-state similarities have changed (they really haven't), but mostly as an excuse to play with a really cool map.

I love seeing all those foreign countries mapped in all the wrong places, and all those American states mislabeled so ridiculously. I like seeing that I grew up in Denmark and recently moved from Ecuador to Indonesia. Who wouldn't like that?

Posted by Ellen

Curly needles? What's that about?

This is the only tree of its kind in the horticultural specimens area of Fairmount Park, and to the best of my recollection, it's the only one of its ilk I've ever noticed anywhere. The needles are long, curly, and soft. The tree is large, with an undistinguished, slightly disheveled, coniferous sort of habit.

The tree identification guides on the internet didn't work for me, so I'm turning to y'all: for all the tea in China, can you help me out on this?

Posted by Ellen

"Somewhere in Transylvania," according to the photographer, who offers up only two facts about himself by way of identification: he lives in the city of Arad in western Romania, and he likes Johnny Cash and Frank Sinatra.

Posted by Ellen

In 1920, this was Dead Man's Curve on the main highway connecting Washington and Baltimore. The small sign in the middle of the photo, just beyond the wooden guard rail, reads "Danger."

Route 1 was rerouted in the 1940s to avoid the danger.

Posted by Ellen

I don't know how the story began, but this young robin wound up on a neighbor's doorstep the other day. People put out a bowl of birdseed, which didn't seem to interest the bird; it just sat there all huddled on the steoop, occasionally squawking for its mother.

Mama robin was in fact close by, keeping a watch from a nearby tree. Baby and mother chattered frequently, and occasionally mom flew down with some food for the baby.

A second young robin about the same size as this one was also in the area, hopping about and flying at least a little. Perhaps this bird on the stoop had lost its mobility after a flying lesson gone awry or some other accident.

Even though mama bird had not abandoned her stricken young, the situation was dire. Alone on a city stoop, the baby was at the mercy of neighborhood dogs, cats, chilly night winds, and thunderstorms. And if it couldn't fly, it would never be able to take proper care of itself.

I don't know how the story ended, but the next day the stoop was empty.

Posted by Ellen

Southern Namibia, as seen from the Landsat 7 satellite orbiting 700 kilometers above the earth's surface.