Hole in the Clouds

September 2011

102 Years of Youngs

Sep 2, 2011

Photographer Lewis Wickes Hine, when he stopped in Tifton, Georgia, in 1909 during his travels to document child labor in America, made the following notes about this picture:

Family working in the Tifton Cotton Mill. Mrs. A.J. Young works in mill and at home. Nell (oldest girl) alternates in mill with mother. Mammy (next girl) runs 2 sides. Mary (next) runs 1½ sides. Elic (oldest boy) works regularly. Eddie (next girl) helps in mill, sticks on bobbins. Four smallest children not working yet. The mother said she earns $4.50 a week and all the children earn $4.50 a week. Husband died and left her with 11 children. Two of them went off and got married. The family left the farm two years ago to work in the mill.

Researcher Joe Manning, who has been working for years now to discover what became of the children in Hine's photos, picks up the story:

 For more than four years, I tried to identify the mother and children in this family...giving up, starting again, giving up, etc. I posted the photo on my website, hoping that someone would see it and know who this family was. On January 24, 2011, almost exactly 102 years since the date of this photo (January 22), I received the following email: “The family of Mrs. A.J. Young of Tifton, Ga. is a picture of my grandmother and great-grandmother's family. My mother knows more information.” Several hours later, I talked to both the writer of the email, and her mother, got a few more facts (they didn’t know a lot), and spent the rest of the day searching census and death records on the Internet. After eight more months of research, and interviews with numerous descendants, I have assembled the incredible story of this family, and I am close to posting the entire story on my website. I was able to track down the story of the mother, every child in the photograph, the two children who had recently married and are not in the photo, and the husband/father who had died. Exactly three months after Hine encountered this family, Mrs. Young, in desperation, placed the seven youngest children in an orphanage, and within several years, most had been adopted and lost contact with one another. One hundred years later, the descendants now know what happened to all of them.

I promise to let y'all know as soon as Manning posts the details of the Young family saga. In the meantime, Happy Labor Day Weekend to one and all.

Young family   Georgia   cotton mill   $4.50 a week   Tifton   child labor   (Image credit: Lewis Hine, via Shorpy)  

Dark Shadow

Sep 3, 2011

On June 30, 2011, rhe cloud at the righthand side of the sky in this picture cast a big shadow over the West Arm of Grand Traverse Bay, near Traverse City, Michigan. That's because the sun had already set, and its last rays were hitting the cloud from a very low angle, well below the horizon.

The top of the shadow looks curved, I'm told, because of the extremely wide angle of vision here. It's a perspective thing–we think of the horizon line off in the distance as a straight line, but in a wide-angled scene like this we can see that it's actually a curved arc. For a few minutes, the shadow darkens a wedge of the celestial sphere; then this part of the world turns away and the scene is in serious earth shadow, not just cloud shadow, till morning.

landscape   sunset   Michigan   Grand Traverse Bay   cloud   Traverse City   shadow   (Image credit: Ken Scott)  

Date Conflict

Sep 6, 2011

Note to wedding planners: When choosing a date and venue, do take into account the possibility that the city's annual Naked Bicycle Ride will roll past your event just as guests are leaving the ceremony.

Actually, when this wedding let out late Sunday afternoon, the wedding party did have just enough time to hustle into the limo and peel away before hundreds of naked bikers swarmed the street in front of the church. The young man shown here who was dressed to join the bike ride was a few minutes early; he was waiting in Rittenhouse Square for his fellow riders to reach this part of the route.

By the time the main body of naked bikers showed up, the limo was gone, and the wedding guests in their finery were standing around in front of the church with cameras and cellphones trained on the dressed-down action in the street.

The two young women on bicycles near the left side of the picture were friends of the young man's who met up with him here by accident; like the wedding guests, they were not aware that the annual naked ride was about to descend on Rittenhouse Square. By the time the riders arrived, the women had made up their minds; they pulled off their shirts, stuffed them in their backpacks, and joined the parade.

wedding   streetscape   Philadelphia   Rittenhouse Square   Naked Bicycle Ride   church   (Image credit: Ted Stein)  


Sep 9, 2011

Way, way out in the country, a million miles away from city lights, on a clear night the sky is lit by stars, as we see above at left, in a photo taken in Glacier National Park in Montana. The few small clouds in this starlit sky show up as black blotches that block some of the stars; a completely cloudy night in remote parts of the world is a very, very dark night, too dark to photograph at all.

In the megalopolis, however, clouds actually light up the sky by reflecting urban light pollution to brighten the night dramatically; an overcast night in a big city like Berlin, shown above at right, can be up to ten times brighter than a clear night.

Germany   birdseye view   night   Berlin   sky   clouds   Montana   Glacier National Park   (Image credits: Ray Stinson [L] and Christopher Kyba [R via NASA])  

The Wayward Llama

Sep 12, 2011

Once upon a time, about ten days ago, the Carnes family of Cottondale, Alabama, noticed that a llama had taken up residence on a hillside way at the back of their property. It was skittish around people and ran off when they approached, but the next day it was there again.

Meanwhile, at the very same time and less than half a mile away, the Smith family, also of Cottondale, noticed that one of their llamas was missing, and that the chain-link fence around their pasture was damaged. The Smiths had bought three llamas, including a baby, its mother, and another female, just three days earlier, partly because they'd been told that the presence of llamas can discourage predators such as wildcats from attacking other livestock. It was the mother llama that had come up missing.

There had been reports of a cougar in the vicinity, and the Smiths, who raised horses, geese, and ducks, had recently lost a dog to wounds that the vet told them were probaby inflicted by a cougar.

The Smiths feared the llama may have been another cougar victim. A mother llama would not normally abandon her young, they believed. And llamas almost always prefer to hang with their herd; they rarely venture far on their own.

The Smiths asked their neighbors, but nobody had seen anything. The Smiths did not know the Carneses, and apparently the Smith neighbors were not in close contact with people who were in contact with the Carneses, who were also making inquiries.

The Carneses checked with the sheriff's office, but there were no missing-llama reports. They finally called up the Tuscaloosa News, which sent out a photographer and ran a feature story about a mysterious wayward llama. If nobody claimed it, the Carneses told the newspaper reporter, they'd eventually try to catch it and turn it over to the Humane Society, which ran a sanctuary ranch for wayward llamas in Oliver Springs, Tennessee. But so far, the animal had run away whenever they came near.

The Smiths did not subscribe to the Tuscaloosa News, but they had friends who did, and soon enough the two families were able to put the two stories together. They speculated that maybe the cougar or some other terrifying creature had in fact put in an appearance, jumping the fence into the pasture and frightening the llamas. Llamas often freeze when frightened. But maybe a mother llama would behave more protectively, perhaps attempting to chase the intruder even after it left the pasture. And then, because she was so new to the neighborhood, she got lost and could not figure out her way back home.

The Smiths schemed to get her back. They'd bring her baby and some corral panels over to the Carne place and use the baby as a lure to arrange her capture.

At this point, oddly, the newspaper dropped the story. Did the plan work? Or is the llama still on the loose? We just don't know.

Perhaps it's worth noting that this is an old-media story. The Smiths and Carneses didn't tweet about the llama; they weren't brought together by Facebook status updates. But the Tuscaloosa News is letting us down here. We can only hope that now that the weekend is over and the football game is won, the journalists can get back to work and dig up the rest of the story.

Alabama   countryside   Cottondale   llama   (Image credit: Michelle Carter for the Tuscaloosa News)  

The Wave

Sep 16, 2011



(Image removed at the request of the photographer, Cris Benton)


This view of Drake's Beach at Point Reyes National Seashore in California is another example of kite photography, one of the oldest applications of the photo arts.

During the American Civil War, kites and balloons were used to hoist cameras, and sometimes also cameramen, for spying expeditions. Kite photography was also used to survey the damage after San Francisco's 1906 earthquake and fire. 

Planes and satellites, of course, have relegated kite photography to niche status. On the other hand, modern digital cameras and wireless control technology have become so lightweight and inexpensive that it's a readily accessible niche.

beach   birdseye view   California   aerial   kite photography   Point Reyes  

High Tech Moments #1

Sep 22, 2011

Say you're riding a bicycle and you want to shoot flame out behind you because, you know. This bike built by Eric Baar of Colorado Springs has a built-in push-button flamethrower.

What looks like a stainless steel water bottle at the bottom of the frame is actually a stainless steel water bottle adapted to serve as the fuel tank. The fuel is racing-car gasoline. Mounted on the fender at the back is a nightlight that's been adapted to serve as a spark igniter.

Why would you want a flamethrower on a bicycle? Baar built this thing to attract attention at a custom-bike show. Your mileage may vary.

bicycle   Eric Baar   flamethrower  

High Tech Moments #2

Sep 23, 2011

"When I graduated from high school in 1974," wrote the gentleman pictured here, "I used a graduation award to buy a $395 (Canadian) Hewlett Packard HP-35 calculator. My mom had to order it from the Vancouver HP office (their pocket calculators - a new line of not-quite-consumer products from a company that had specialized in electrical measuring instruments and desktop electronic calculators for engineers - were not then available in Canadian stores). The first HP programmable had been available for a year or two, but for the impossible price of $795. With the HP-35, I could do trig, logarithms and powers, and my pocket slide-rule was put on the shelf forever. Yes, the family crowded around."

These were the calculators that you could turn upside down to spell cute things with the glowing red numbers. Today's smart phones won't let you turn the answer upside down, but everything else a $395 calculator did in 1974 can be done today with a free app on a cell phone. And $395 Canadian in 1974, I'm told, would be equivalent to something like $1700 today.

However, the real thing is: for a young man just finishing high school in 1974, what made all the difference socially was not the HP-35 but the facial hair, and this kid could grow him some sideburns.

HP-35   1974   calculator   sideburns   (Image credit: Canada via Shorpy)  

Live Fire

Sep 26, 2011

The USS Ingraham tests its weapons during a recent live fire exercise at sea. Very soon, the 'ham will leave its home port of Everett, Washington, for a six-month deployment in the Pacific; the crew of about 200 enlisted men and women and a dozen or so officers includes Ensign Allen, aka Sparky, the ship's new electrical engineering officer.

Navy   Allen   USS Ingraham   ship   guns  

Fires Down Under

Sep 29, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, when the International Space Center was looping around the southern part of the globe, heading toward Antarctica from Australia, astronauts used the little digital camera on board to snap this picture.

The fires were intentionally set by farmers clearing fields or pastures to make way for spring growth. The green horizon is the Aurora Australis, bright pulses of electromagnetic energy released when solar pulses are deflected toward the earth's southern magnetic pole. Green is the most common color of auroras, produced when solar energy disrupts the normal spinning of oxygen molecules in the upper atmosphere; auroras can also be red, pink, or orange, depending on the atmospheric gases involved.

The space station itself is visible across the top of this photo and in the lower right corner.


birdseye view   astronaut photography   Australia   Aurora Australis