night

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For Milan's second annual LED Festival, Chiara Lampugnani dreamed up some night-flying butterflies that flit up Canonica and Paolo Sarpi streets.

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As the year turns, the astronauts in the International Space Station have been steadily circling the globe about 400 miles above us. A couple of nights ago, when they were flying over the ocean near North Korea, they picked up their little Nikon digital camera and pointed it westward, toward the Asian mainland. That's Beijing in the upper left, Tianjin in the lower right, glowing out into space.

This is what new years will be looking like for a long time to come.

Meanwhile, may 2011 bring health and glowing good cheer to you and yours. This past year wasn't all that great; there is plenty of room for improvement. 

Good mornings, y'all.

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Sam Javanrouh's caption for his nighttime skyline shot was indeed a reference to election results--but not to the mid-term elections at the center of the media universe here in the U.S.

Javanrouh was unhappy about last week's mayoral election in Canada's largest city, Toronto, where a "right-wing intolerant redneck" named Rob Ford trounced former deputy premier of Ontario George Smitherman. Ford ran openly homophobic ads against Smitherman, who is openly gay. He also promised to cut taxes and stop spending and etc.

The CN tower is dark in this photo, not its usually well-lit self, but that's just a coincidence, not an example of early budget-slashing. Must be Obama's fault.

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Carol and Sandy Fuchs spent a week in  northern Sweden recently, including New Year's at the Ice Hotel near Kiruna, about 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The sun never rose above the horizon the whole time they were up there, though the dark of night faded into a sort of twilight for a few hours in the middle of each day.

They tried dogsledding and snowmobiling and visited with reindeer herders. The town of Kiruna is a thriving iron-mining center, where the hundred-year-old mine is nowhere near played out; it is currently expanding closer and closer to the town, which is gradually being relocated to escape the blasting and other mine activity.

The basic structure of the Ice Hotel is made of snow; in November each year, snowguns spray artifical snow over arched metal forms, which are removed after a couple of days, leaving igloo-like tunnels. Interior walls are made of two-ton ice blocks cut from the Torne River and returned to the river when the place starts to melt in April or May. The ice is cut in March and stored for the next winter's construction.

Beds are platforms of ice and snow covered with reindeer hides. Guests sleep in sleeping bags. There are ice sculptures and specially carved ice chairs and tables in the rooms, but according to Carol guests don't usually spend much time lolling about in chairs made of ice. Although she slept well, she reports that Sandy hardly slept at all; he was worried that if he relaxed and closed his eyes, he'd freeze to death and never wake up. The room temperature was about minus 5 Celsius, or 23 degrees Fahrenheit.

The hotel has an ice bar, where drinks are served in glasses made of ice. There's also a restaurant, which serves hot food on regular dishes, in front of a blazing fire.

I'm thinking that part of the rationale for a winter vacation in Arctic Sweden is that it must feel pretty good when you leave; wherever you spend the rest of your winter, even if it's in what you normally consider a fairly wintry sort of place, must seem bright and sunny and maybe even toasty by comparison.

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All five Stein boys touched down in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, a few days ago and claimed the beachhead for the Crimson Tide. That's not very hard to do in Tuscaloosa.

The occasion was the premier social event of the year, on New Year's Day, the wedding of Neely Sims and Damon Ray.

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Skiing in the dark in Japan.

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On a clear night, Chicagoland looks pretty spectacular from the air.

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The flatiron building in Toronto is obviously getting out-muscled at night by the glass behemoths behind it. But in an urban setting of this ilk, the drama is all in the juxtaposition.

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Photographer Trey Ratcliff is known for his high-dynamic-range techniques, which pump up the drama in his pictures, producing weirdly wonderful, or just plain weird, results.

The idea is that when shooting a scene that is partly bright and partly shadowed, a camera can properly expose the picture to show color and detail in the bright areas or in the dark areas, but not both at the same time. Ratcliff shoots the same scene over and over with different exposure settings; he then uses fancy software to blend together parts of the image from all the different shots.

Our eyes naturally have a much wider dynamic range than any camera, so in theory Ratcliff's pictures should be more natural-looking than regular photos. In practice, they look less natural--often interesting, sometimes beautiful, but almost always somehow artificial and extreme. I have mixed feelings about his work; here, for example, the sky looks spooky or fake to me, but overall, it's really, really pretty.

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"The Storybook Wolf," by Spanish photographer Josi Luis Rodriguez, won National Geographic's 2009 prize for wildlife photography. To get the shot, Rodriguez rigged up a motion sensor that tripped the shutter of his camera, which used an infrared sensor for night vision.

I know this wolf. He eats grandmothers and little pigs and little Russian boys, and I'm sure he's very hungry now.