Hole in the Clouds
Jul 4, 2013
It's not hard to remember the excitement of those days fifty or so years ago when the teacher would tell us to pick up our chairs and form a line at the classroom door. We would all carry our chairs down the hall from the classroom to the school's "all-purpose room," where we could sit facing a big black-and-white TV set at the front of the room to watch those guys at NASA choreograph a countdown and a liftoff and all the other amazements that were part of America's new space program.
Today, it's hard to figure out exactly what NASA is up to in outer space. There seem to still be astronauts, but it appears that we now rely on the Russians to do that whole countdown-liftoff thing. Americans mostly look at pictures from faraway cameras.
From Ted in Washington, D.C., comes this photo of a sign of the times for NASA and perhaps the grand American dream: a NASA message held in place by a bicycle chain and a couple of sacks of Quikrete. The NASA folks may not be zipping around in space these days as much as they used to, but their public website is freshly launched, or rather relaunched on a freshened, open-source, space-age sort of platform, saving us taxpayers millions in licensing and maintenance costs. For this, we can thank our Ted and his Inner File, the little company that could.
Do people still have hot dogs and watermelon for the Fourth? Hope so.
(h/t: Ted Stein)
Jul 5, 2013
We pensioners in the Alabama Retirement System, we own us some serious real estate: hotels, golf courses, the tallest skyscraper on the Gulf of Mexico (outside of Houston), and believe it or not, the biggest office building in New York City.
55 Water Street in lower Manhattan, the big, boxy building in the picture above, the one with black and white vertical stripes–that's my building, all 52 stories of it. I rent out its 3.6 million square feet of office space, but I let the peregrine falcons nest for free on a ledge above the 14th story, near the bottom of those vertical black stripes.
A falcon couple named Jack and Diane built a nest there in 1993 and over the years raised 19 chicks up there on the 14th floor. Jack was a local boy, born and raised on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge; Diane moved to New York as an adult, from Connecticut. Sadly, in 2001, she was found trying to live on the street in Manhattan, suffering from severe arthritis in one of her wings.
Peregrine falcons mate for life, but after Diane was placed in a raptor center, Jack found himself a spring chicken, so to speak, a much younger falconess from upstate named Jill. Annual nesting continued at 55 Water Street through July 2011, when that spring's four hatchlings–Jordan, Shattuck, Hope, and Austin–successfully fledged and the family took off for ?? They have not yet returned.
But as long as I have anything to do with this building, I say falcons can come and nest here whenever they want, stay as long as they want, and if any of the paying tenants complain, they can just take their business elsewhere.
Jul 7, 2013
In my humble opinion, in my humble backyard, even the hibiscus is not completely happy with life when the mercury hits 94 and the heat index is over 100.
You'd think something tropical and well-watered that only had to hold it together for a single day could bloom right through the scorching. And you'd be almost right. These flowers are still beyond awesome, at least a 20 on a scale of 1 to 10. But the heat's in charge these days, not the petals.
Air conditioning is my friend.
Jul 8, 2013
Philadelphia history is conveniently compressed: Benjamin Franklin flew a kite, then all those guys rang the liberty bell, and then Rocky Balboa ran up the steps of the art museum.
Today, Franklin is easier to find on an oatmeal box than on the city streets, and the liberty bell is cracked and silent. But Rocky? The fighter who never was, except, of course, in the movies? He's big and bronze and easy to find, right by the foot of the museum steps.
Tourists from all over the world seek him out daily, eager to pose for pictures with fists raised triumphantly, just like his. This group included my brother-in-law and his sons, visiting from Israel.
After their moment with the statue, the tourists run up the steps, just the way Sylvester Stallone did in the movies. But you may recall that when Rocky "really" was training for that first fight and running all over town, it was wintertime. He wore a hoodie and sweatpants, and we could see his breath.
This past Fourth of July weekend, the Rocky wannabes among the tourists–and they were legion, as always–were in shirtsleeves, if not shirtless. The sun was unforgiving, and the air was almost too thick and heavy to breathe.
But straight up the 72 steps everybody went, as their friends held up cellphones to record the moment. Entire tour buses emptied out to run up the steps. Children ran up with their grandparents. Dogs ran up with their people. Cyclists ran up with their bikes in their arms. Earbuds or no earbuds, everybody had "Gonna Fly Now" in their heads.
Search for "Rocky steps" on YouTube, and you'll find 86,500 results. Here's a nice short one in Spanish, viewed by more than a quarter of a million people.
The crazy part, of course, is that Rocky isn't real. People all over the world say his story in the movie is inspirational, proving somehow that even a nobody, just another bum from the neighborhood, can beat the best.
"I will do the stairs on my 50. birthday, december 2013," wrote one of the inspired people. "From germany just for one day. It's crazy, but it's a dream since 30 years. In all of us there is a rocky...."
At the top of the steps, some people feel ready to take on the world. Some of them propose marriage. Some of them go on into the museum, eventually. All of them turn around at the top and look out over the city, just like Rocky, and raise their arms high and then . . . probably they start thinking about cheesesteaks.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Jul 9, 2013
The story is that Sam here, a Boy Scout with Troop 97 in Portland, Maine, caught a heck of a lot of fish last week when his troop paddled the Allagash River up in northern Maine. He released most of them back to the wild, but this little trout had dinner written all over him.
(Image credit: Susan Wiggin)
Jul 10, 2013
Corner store in Beijing, China.
(Image credit: Trey Ratcliff via Stuck in Customs)
Jul 11, 2013
(Image credit: Hank Stein)
Jul 12, 2013
All we know about this photo is that it was apparently taken in Calaveras County, California, about a hundred years ago. Looks like the boys in the band were family men.
Calaveras County is a famous place in the gold-mining country of the Sierra foothills, settled in a hurry by forty-niners and immortalized (sort of) by Mark Twain in his story about competitive frog-jumping.
Calaveras is Spanish for skulls.
(Image credit: NDLXS via Shorpy)
Jul 13, 2013
Years of drought have drastically lowered the water level of Lake Abbe, along the border between Djibouti and Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa. Vast stretches of what used to be lake bottom are now exposed, including clusters of limestone formations like these, many of which are chimneys venting sulfuric steam.
The chimneys formed when the vents were underwater; heat from the steam caused minerals to precipitate out of the lake water and build up around the rims of the vents.
Lake Abbe is a salt lake, the lowest point of a desert drainage system that has nowhere to drain. It's full of steam and sulfur because it's probably the birthplace of a new ocean, a triple junction of spreading faults where three tectonic plates are being pulled relentlessly apart from one another. Two of the faults are already so deep that they are full of ocean water: the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. The third fault stretches south from Lake Abbe through eastern Africa as a chain of lakes and deep depressions: the East African Rift.
Along these faults, tectonic plates are pulling apart from one another at rates approaching an inch a year, thinning out the earth's crust in the region, and generating much volcanic activity and gaseous emissions. The geologic evidence strongly supports the likelihood that someday the land around Lake Abbe will be thousands of feet underwater, near the middle of a big blue sea.
But it will take a while. Rifting began here about 60 million years ago. At current rates of divergence, the new basin is spreading roughly 10 miles every million years. In another 100 million years, we'll have an ocean about a thousand miles across.
The drought may (or may not) be over by then.
Horn of Africa
Jul 15, 2013
Looking out over Philadelphia through the window of a restaurant on the 37th floor of 2 Liberty Place, a downtown skyscraper.
Jul 16, 2013
Above, circus clowns in their workclothes execute a wardrobe repair. Below, Allen, in workclothes from his wrestling days, hems his uniform pants.
(Image credits: top, Mary Jo; bottom, JJ Stein)
Jul 17, 2013
House on Cypress Street near Broad in downtown Philly.
Jul 18, 2013
This week in Brooklyn. Could be Philly.
New York City
(h/t: JJ Stein)
(Image credit: Brendan McDermid for Reuters)
Jul 19, 2013
The top of One Liberty Place, way above the setting sun, as viewed from about 500 feet up in Two Liberty Place, a block away.
The spire of One Liberty Place is said to top out 945 feet above the ground.
One Liberty Place
Jul 20, 2013
The Chinese term for what's going on here gets translated as sand-washing, but the operation is really more like sand-blasting. Every summer, just before the rainy season, specialized gates in a dam holding back the Yellow River are opened wide, and the river bursts through under such high pressure that the sand and silt in the river water scour the river bottom for the next 800 km.
The nozzles will be left open for about three weeks, till the water level in the Xiaolangdi Reservoir is low enough to accommodate summer rain and the riverbed downstream has been blasted deep and clean. In its lower reaches, the Yellow River meanders slowly and is prone to silt buildup and flooding. In recent years, sand-washing has been undertaken at least once and usually twice a year.
The photo above shows the sand-washing last week; recent rains had stirred up the sediment in the water, turning it all yellow. The photo below shows the beginning of last summer's sand-washing operation, which took place after a dry spell during which the sediment had precipitated out of the water column and settled to the bottom of the reservoir.
(h/t: Cathy Goldwater)
Jul 21, 2013
We know four small facts about the life of this boy, David Leung.
1. He was born in 1893 in San Francisco.
2. In 1911, he was photographed by eccentric New England art photographer F. Holland Day; like millions of American children of that era, young David wore a sailor suit for his portrait, but unlike all the millions of others, he actually smiled for the camera.
3. When he registered for the draft in World War I, David listed his residence as Manchester, New Hampshire, and wrote that he was of Mongolian descent.
4. In 1920, census-takers found David Leung living in Boston and working as a restaurant manager.
The photographer, F. Holland Day, was probably the leading American photographer of the early twentieth century and the first to pursue photography as an artistic endeavor. He was also fascinated by the immigrants then flooding American cities and spent much of his time with immigrant children, photographing them but also reading to them and tutoring them. He mentored a number of children in Boston, notably a Lebanese boy named Kahlil Gibran.
David G. Leung
(Image credit: Fred Holland Day via Shorpy)
Jul 22, 2013
Photographer Abelardo Morell describes how he created these Venetian scenes:
I made my first picture using camera obscura techniques in my darkened living room in 1991. In setting up a room to make this kind of photograph, I cover all windows with black plastic in order to achieve total darkness. Then, I cut a small hole in the material I use to cover the windows. This opening allows an inverted image of the view outside to flood onto the back walls of the room. Typically then I focused my large-format camera on the incoming image on the wall then make a camera exposure on film. In the beginning, exposures took from five to ten hours.
Over time, this project has taken me from my living room to all sorts of interiors around the world. One of the satisfactions I get from making this imagery comes from my seeing the weird and yet natural marriage of the inside and outside.
A few years ago, in order to push the visual potential of this process, I began to use color film and positioned a lens over the hole in the window plastic in order to add to the overall sharpness and brightness of the incoming image. Now, I often use a prism to make the projection come in right side up. I have also been able to shorten my exposures considerably thanks to digital technology, which in turn makes it possible to capture more momentary light. I love the increased sense of reality that the outdoor has in these new works .The marriage of the outside and the inside is now made up of more equal partners.
Morell photographed Venice in 2006. The top picture is of Santa Maria della Salute in a living room. The lower picture shows Piazzetta St. Marks prismatically inverted in an office.
(h/t: Sandra Horowitz)
(Image credit: Abelardo Morell)
Jul 23, 2013
Jul 25, 2013
Roman mosaic floors (plus one freize), mainly from Pompeii.
This image is a reproduction of one page from Heinrich Dolmetsch's compilation of craftsmanship and design in ancient and modern civilizations, first published in 1887. There is more.
(Image credit: Heinrich Dolmetsch,
Jul 26, 2013
On New Year's Day of 2014, the islands of Mayotte, population 194,000, in the Indian Ocean channel between Madagascar and Mozambique, will become the newest official Outlying Region of the European Union. Already, the currency here is the euro.
Most islands in the archipelago that includes Mayotte are part of the independent Union of Comoros. But in 2009, the voters of Mayotte chose overwhelmingly to affiliate with France, as its 101st département, instead of with Comoros. French citizens need no visas to vacation in Mayotte, and many of them do just that, notably for the diving in the island's lagoon and coral reef.
Tourism seems to be the major industry; per capita GDP in Mayotte is about $6,500–ten times that of Comoros, though only about one-fifth that of mainland France.
Most of the population is Muslim. Seen here is the mosque in the town of Kani Kéli.
French Overseas Department
(Image credit: Fabrice Blocteur)
Jul 27, 2013
A woman and her dog, by Gordon Parks. New York, May 1943.
(Image credit: Gordon Parks via Shorpy)
Jul 28, 2013
One year ago today, Bonnie and John, aka JJ, were married in Seattle. After the ceremony, we all enjoyed the toasts.
Now that the clutches of time have put in a claim on the newlyweds, we would like to mark the anniversary with words that are sweet yet also a little bit edgy; nothing appropriate comes to mind, but surely it was all said back then during those toasts.
Jul 29, 2013
As leafy as the trees may be, when the summer sun takes aim at bricks and concrete, the light will find a way.
Jul 30, 2013
Taekwon-Do tournament in Havana, Cuba.
(Image credit: Peter Sills)