DC Cherry Blossoms 2014

I might have gone a bit overboard using this fisheye lens with the cherry blossoms over the weekend. The blooms were lovely and it was a nice, warm day — though the DC crowds were thicker than I’ve ever seen them, both at the Tidal Basin and at the Washington Monument grove.

Cherry Blossoms
Cherry Blossoms
Cherry Blossoms
Cherry Blossoms

Also notable was this sighting of a bit of cherry tree sap leaking from one of the boughs:

Cherry Tree Sap

…and a black ant crawling over buds sprouting from a cherry tree’s roots:

Ant on Root Cherry Buds

More photos from this year’s cherry blossoms in the full Flickr photoset: DC Cherry Blossoms 2014 — part of an unbroken series of DC cherry blossom photosets I’ve had going for a decade now.

Fisheye

I recently purchased a used SEL16f28 wide angle lens and VCLECF1 fisheye converter for the Sony NEX3 from Eric Cheng, and gave the combo a try around church and DC last Sunday.

First Baptist DC Fisheye
First Baptist DC Fisheye
White House in Fisheye 3:2

I’ve found the lens combo is also good for macro shots, as evidenced by these pictures of cherry blossoms and cats. (The cats were, of course, the first test subjects for the lenses.) The fisheye isn’t perfect; I’m noticing some blurry distortion and light contrast flare around the vignetted edges — but for my amateur-level needs it’s not too much of a problem.

Martha Cat through Fisheye Lens Amelia Cat through Fisheye Lens
Fisheye Cherry Blossoms

I also discovered that the camera has a 3:2 aspect ratio setting (all this time I’ve had it at 16:9, unaware the widescreen-like format was missing a lot of vertical visual detail). This, plus the panoramic lens angle, makes the combo much better for non-telescopic astrophotography, and should also be nice for cherry blossom season this week. (Although I’ll still want to keep the standard 18-55mm kit lens on hand at all times for when I need optical zoom, and when the novelty of fisheye fades.)

Some Notable Video Art

Tokyo Reverse, a backwards video of a man walking backwards through Tokyo so he appears to be walking forward while the world around him moves in reverse. This preview shows just five minutes of excerpts; the whole piece is 9 hours long. By Simon Bouisson.

“Box,” by Bot and Dolly, explores human interactions with technology through a skillfully choreographed interplay of computer-generated videos projection-mapped onto screens mounted on articulated robot arms.

In Kiyoshi Awazu’s “Burning Piano” (2008), pianist Yosuke Yamashita plays a piano set on fire until he can play no more.

Popularized in part by viral spread and a few days pinned to the top of a 4chan image board, WendyVainity’s “meow! sad toy cats.wmv” is an unsettling surrealist video consisting of computer-generated cats moving to a melodic synthesized voice.

WendyVainity has produced a substantial portfolio of computer-generated video art very much worth viewing in full over several days.

PicPedant Coverage

PicPedant (previously) now has over 11,000 followers, and the last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of interesting media exposure. In addition to the first interviews with ExposedDC and Buzzfeed, I had an interview on NPR’s TLDR podcast with Alex Goldman, alongside Adrienne LaFrance:

And shortly afterward I appeared on BBC World to do a 5 minute segment on debunking fake photos. I wore a Thinkgeek 8-bit necktie, which host Jon Sopel seemed to like.

I have MetaFilter to thank for catalyzing all this media exposure (also see MetaTalk). In addition, I’ve also had interviews with Craig Silverman at Poynter and Malcolm Coles at the Daily Mirror.

Coverage has also extended to Petapixel, MediaBistro, Imaging Resource, and even ABS-CBN News back in the Philippines. I also spoke with Glenn Fleishman for an upcoming article in The Economist. Other articles have surfaced elsewhere, mostly drawing from existing interviews and tweets.

The interviews and media exposure have died down now, but the pedantry continues. I’m still wondering where else I can take this. (I’ve registered PicPedant.com and pointed it at a placeholder but haven’t had time to do much beyond that so far.)

Recent Reading

Our theme today is Dubious Medicine.

The Vitamin Myth: Why We Think We Need Vitamins. I grew up in a rather Vitamin C-affirmative household, and it’s only just recently that I learned how much if it was from the influence of Linus Pauling and his strong — if unscientific — advocacy for Vitamin C megadosing.

Multivitamin researchers say “case is closed” after studies find no health benefits. I’ve heard of doctors prescribing low-sodium V8 instead of vitamins for people with certain diseases because vitamins can stress the liver. Confession: I still take a gummy vitamin every morning but it’s mainly because I got diagnosed with a Vitamin D deficiency over the winter.

Whole Foods: America’s Temple of Pseudoscience. I occasionally go to Whole Foods for organic meat and vegetables but still shake my head when I walk by the aisles with homeopathic and naturopathic remedies. Same deal at Trader Joe’s and Mom’s Organic Market.

Seeing Even More Quackery in Your Facebook Feed? Natural News Is to Blame.

The media diet: Why the wellness beat has become an unappetizing blend of sensational headlines, mixed messages and unhealthy reporting.

Caturday!

Seriously, these cats.

Martha and Amelia
Amelia Cat Martha Cat
Martha Martha
Amelia Amelia

Great Falls

Some photos from Great Falls Park (the Virginia side) where we stopped for a quick hike while it was nice out last Sunday. (We had previously visited Great Falls in 2006, seeing it from Olmsted Island on the Maryland side.)

Great Falls Park (VA) Great Falls Park Flood Records Great Falls Park (VA)

We also hiked a bit up the Patowmack Canal Trail, but it was rather muddy and we didn’t get too far.

Great Falls Park: Patowmack Canal Trail
Great Falls Park: Patowmack Canal Trail

From one of the overlooks we also saw kayakers going over the falls in the near-freezing water, and I got some fuzzy slow-motion video:

More photos here.

PicPedant

There’s a certain class of Twitter users who post nothing but pictures, calling themselves names like “HistoryPics”, “EarthPix”, “SpacePorn”, and such. They’ve been popping up a lot lately, posting photos (and Photoshops), minimally captioned and rarely attributed, duplicating each other to extend coverage, or spawning copycats. The pics tend to go viral, then the accounts collect thousands and millions of retweets and followers, and they leverage the traffic to sell spammy promo tweets and affiliate ad links.

This annoyed me, so I started @PicPedant on a lark. Late on a Friday afternoon, PicPedant replied to pic accounts with cursory corrections, attributions, and links to original photographers and artists. It took little more than simple reverse image searches and a little extra hunting, harking back to my days debunking Filipino urban legends with my old site “Pula.ph.”

Two days later PicPedant had over a thousand followers. Now, a week later, it’s at two thousand and still growing, with messages of encouragement and gratitude from journalists, photographers, developers, designers, educators, and even people who work at Twitter. It’s nowhere near the hundreds of thousands that the other picspam accounts have, but does reflect a vein of passion on the internet for deeper engagement with scientific and historical imagery than the insipid, decontextualized captions churned out by the picspammers.

ExposedDC interviewed me about it, and Tom Phillips of Buzzfeed has highlighted some good debunks. (Tom was doing similar debunk articles before me, and also ran pedantry hub Is Twitter Wrong?, which in hindsight was a definite influence.)

Now I can’t stop. What have I gotten myself into?

Frosty

Cold snaps and polar vortices have been dropping temperatures down to single digits (ºF) lately, forming these lovely sheens of frost on the car windshield; it almost seems a shame to have to scrape them off.

Ice crystals on car windshield

(And at least once the frost was on the inside.)