Saturday, October 29, 2011

Mantid Head

Mantid Head by pdecell
Mantid Head, a photo by pdecell on Flickr.

Via Flickr:
Head of a female mantid. She was on my driveway so before I put her in some shrubs to lay her eggs I brought out my canon with my 100mm macro lens and my three extension tubes (66mm worth) to get this shot. Good thing my hands were steady since I only had 3-4mm DOF at best.

Here a link to the same mantid taken with my cell phone:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Reverse superposition

Reverse superposition by pdecell
Reverse superposition, a photo by pdecell on Flickr.
Via Flickr:
The principle of superposition is the common sense notion that in geological strata the oldest rocks are generally the lowest strata. Of course the way trees grow from the cambium out, in the bark the oldest layers are on the top.

Stained Glass Sumac

Stained glass sumac 2 by pdecell
Stained glass sumac 2, a photo by pdecell on Flickr.
Partially skeletonized sumac leaves. I think of all the fall leaf colors I like sumac the best. especially when light is transmitted through the leaf.

Via Flickr:
Edited in Picnik to get rid of the blue cast on the upper portion of the original.

Monday, October 17, 2011

I remember amber

I remember amber by pdecell
I remember amber, a photo by pdecell on Flickr.
I have this robot insect and a piece of amber. The rest is obvious. The amber by the way has the remains of termites embedded in it. The person who sold the piece to me said they were ants which I think would have been more exciting, perhaps because I know more about ants than termites. But it is still exciting to realize that complex social behaviors date to the Cretaceous period 145 million years ago.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Man in the tree

Man in the tree by pdecell
Man in the tree, a photo by pdecell on Flickr.


Ginkgo1 by pdecell
Ginkgo1, a photo by pdecell on Flickr.
These are leaves from a Ginkgo tree (Ginkgo biloba) on my campus. This plant is sometimes thought of as a living fossil since they belong to a very ancient group of plants, the phylum(divsion) Ginkgophytes. These plants go back to about 270 million years ago in the fossil record.

In fact this species was thought to be extinct. This site
has lots of good Ginkgo fossil pictures.

Ginkgo makes a great landscape tree especially in urban areas. But one thing I don't like about this tree is that it doesn't seem to get visited by many insects-makes sense since it is not native to this part of the world.

Consider though that I am an entomologist so I am always a bit disappointed when a plant doesn't have at least some insect visitors. Something is missing.

Why Ginkgo doesn't seem to get visited by insects isn't clear to me. Maybe the insects that had co-evolved with Ginkgo were wiped out when the species almost went extinct, or maybe it really does have some adaptation that deters insects. There are a few insects recorded in the United States as visitors, but the list is very short even when compared with other introduced species. See for example this list of tree pests from New York City where Ginkgos are commonly used:

Curiously insect resistance or maybe insect non interest seems to be characteristic of a related group of plants-the cycads which are also considered to be living fossils, though I have not looked at this issue closely.

Monday, October 10, 2011


mums by pdecell
mums, a photo by pdecell on Flickr.
This was a bad summer for my mums. The heat really stunted my plants but I did get some nice intense colors...just not very many flowers. I took this with my phone since yours truly left the house with camera but minus the SD memory card. Well as they say the best camera for the job is the one you have with you.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

The Next Best Thing

I needed a new phone. OK maybe wanted is more accurate but the fact is my trusty Droid Eris was showing her age. Many of the apps weren't able to be updated, the phone was choking trying to keep up with my contacts lists and the phone was slow- reliable but slow.

So I spent about 2 months looking at phones-Verizon phones that is since that is the network that our family uses (Sorry Sprint). So I was reading the reviews and also spending a number of Saturdays at the local Verizon store comparing phones-asking arcane questions and just in general driving the sales people crazy. I hung out on the forums reading about the joys of owning- or all too often it seems the frustrations of owning- this phone or that phone. And I began reading about upcoming phones. I gave up paying a lot of attention to that when I read one post in a prominent tech blog about a rumored phone for which the blog seemed to have all kinds of technical details. If the phone is rumored, I thought, why the heck are you publishing these specs? What is the point? Well it turns out lots of people seem to enjoy looking for the NEXT BIG THING in phones. That plus probably a bit of subtle information placement and misdirection by manufacturers to build up anticipation seems to drive most of the digital slathering one sees on phone related blogs.

Well one of the Next Big Things was this Motorola phone called the Bionic and since it was coming out on September 8, I decided to wait and look at it when it came out. The other phones being considered were the HTC Thunderbolt, Motorola D3, Droid Incredible 2, Samsung Charge and of course the iPhone 4.  As you can guess I am not  a partisan of one operating system or another. But there are some things I wanted. First (or so I thought) was a physical keyboard. My Eris was lots of fun but typing on the little screen was not quite my idea of fun. I did it because I would rather text than talk any day.  I wanted a decent phone camera. I found with my previous phones that I really get a lot of use out of my cell phone's camera as an adjunct to my SLR or as in today when I went out with my SLR bereft of its SD card.

Cell phones represent engineering compromises and that is true for cell phone purchasers. So here is how the phones seemed to stack up. The iPhone? Real nice; in fact I bought one for my wife and I use Macs at work. But I found the display a bit too small for my taste. Plus and this may seem heresy, the display was a bit stark for my taste. Besides I like Android's flexibility. But it probably had the best camera of the bunch.  The Incredible 2 had a good camera, nice display, and I am used to HTC sense; same goes for the Thunderbolt which also runs on Verizon's fast LTE network and guess who still has an unlimited data plan. Next the D3. I really wanted to like the D3. I had never liked the other Droids with physical keyboards but the D3 has a wonderful keyboard. The D3 does not run on Verizon's fast network but that in itself was not a deal breaker since in Lawrence we don't have LTE let. But where I teach we are just inside the extended LTE range-that means maybe you can get it.  The D3's issue is the camera which renders shots way too blue. I know this is correctable to a degree but the images I saw often looked way too blue to be easily correctable. Now this brings me to the Samsung Charge and the Bionic-the most expensive phones of the lot. The Charge has a wonderfully detailed OLED display with great contrast-big screen the iPhone display on steroids. But-of course there is a but-I did not like the feel of the phone-it felt cheap and plasticy and I did not like the little physical keys at the bottom. Also the display struck me as being over saturated.  So that left the bionic. Expensive as is the Charge-really an unknown. Do I really want to get a phone that is just coming out. Hmmm and  $299 for a phone?

So I put it through its paces as best as I could. No physical keyboard-so I matched it up against the D3 and discovered that I could type faster on the Bionic's screen than I could on the D3's physical keyboard. The D3 was cheaper $199 as opposed to $299 but that camera really bugged me. The Bionic's display is a bit bigger and brighter and it runs on the LTE network so as Verizon extends service this way I will hopefully get some benefit. Plus bigger storage capacity gave the Bionic the edge.  What made me hesitate was the camera-color rendition seemed fine but it was obvious that the auto focus was sluggish and there didn't seem to be a way to turn it off.  But the display is stunning-excellent color fidelity without over saturation- to me a winner. The phone is big but it just felt solid and the screen is really responsive and the UI which is suspiciously like Motorola's stock android skin that must not be named-had lots of fun visuals that made HTC sense seem, well boring, even if the weather widget makes it rain and lightening in my Eris.

When I called the sales person over, I could hear that sigh of relief-no arcane questions-I'll take the Bionic and oh by the way do you have the Otterbox Defender? I am a firm believer in protecting my phones. What about accessories- a media dock or the Webtop adapter for your HD TV? Nope just the Otterbox, oh yes, and a car charger.  By the time I was done though I was almost $400 poorer and had joined the ranks of Early Adapters NOT  my usual position. I am technologically comfortable but normally wait a bit and let every one else have the ulcers of putting up with glitches in new devices. Remember antenna gate?

By the next day it became apparent that people had serious issues with the phone. The first issue was with the diplay-Motorola uses a pentile display which has an extra white pixel that makes the display brighter to the eye without using more power-at least that is my understanding of what this display does. I may enjoy technology and be trained as a scientist but an engineer I am not. I had heard about this controversy and had carefully compared the display to the competition and decided that the display is fine in a side by side comparisons. Not perfect but very nice. There is a sort of diagonal grid work what one commenter on the Android  forums called a half tone effect. Yup I saw it-but to me it was only obvious when I looked for it. Besides, in a perverse sense it actually made the display visually interesting. Last time I checked the world -you know that area outside the computer screen-is a many textured place. But to this day one month after the phone's introduction there are whole threads telling Motorola never to use a pentile display again!

So this is the first cost of being an early adapter. Not that there are issues and bugs- there are. The cost is that people get obsessed with what they see as imperfections in a device that really represents design compromises required to get a working phone.  And well if you don't see what 's wrong with the display you must be a dolt. The next big issue is audio-some users began to report a high pitched whine that at least by some reports was quite loud when the user did certain things with their phone. Nope my phone was and is fine, makes sounds at all the appropriate spots though after a couple of days reading the discussions about this issue I began to get paranoid at every stray sound-maybe my phone has caught the whine because some arcane grounding issue or interference from flying saucers or electric eels. Or maybe my hearing is just bad so I even tested my hearing threshold- just under 13,000 Hertz- above which any sounds get lost in my own rarefied high frequency tinnitus.  Some discussants even insisted that all Bionics had this issue those few of us who claimed not to have this whine were deluded and just not listening. One forum participant polled readers if they did or did not have this whine and 95% said yes and 5% including poor deluded me said no. Now personally I think some phones did and do have a serious audio issue-but I think that that 95% represents a load of self selection. If the problem were really widespread then the issue would be a big one mentioned in the Verizon reviews of this phone. It is not. So either Verizon is pulling negative comments off their site or the audio issues are much less ubiquitous than one might think by reading some forums.

Is the Bionic perfect?  Certainly not. First in my mind is the camera-or to be more precise the user interface Motorola provides. I have less control over the camera settings than I have with my Droid Eris. Now that said, since I am a photographer I know that stock settings are not the way to go and if you must you figure out a way of working around the limitations of your equipment. Besides specialize in macro shots which require lots of patience so I am predisposed to put up with cameras that aren't ideal. So I took the settings I had and experimented. Then bough several third party camera apps from the market and worked the camera with those and showed along with a few other people that the camera is fine (for a small camera) and that with a little work you can get some nice creative shots.  The sensor is small-representing another compromise the engineers had to make. This is not a point and shoot let along a single lens reflex-but since I always have my phone with me I can get some really spontaneous shots-again working the limitations of the camera.

Of course there are software issues. One that had me tearing my hair out was that one of my camera apps was supposed to save pictures to the phone's external SD memory card. And the software indeed saves the photos to a camera folder inside a folder called like mnt/SDcard/dcim/ . Sounds promising right? And it even matches the instructions given by the camera app manufacturer. Well it became clear that the app was saving photos to the phones internal memory. Fortunately it is easy to move files to the external memory but it is an extra step. So I wrote the app developer who merely repeated the instructions in the documentation which I had already tried.  So back to the forums where I found a post discussing the fact that the Bionic calls the external SD card - mnt/SDcard-ext/. Ha ha so back to the software which fortunately allows me to save an alternate storage spot, I found the right file in the external SD card and everything is fine. Apparently Motorola's naming convention relates to the type of memory Android uses-SD memory and so there is SD memory wired into the machine as while as the removable SD card. Problem solved, but of course it doesn't satisfy some people who scream at Motorola that they need to fix this. Maybe they do I don't know. Or maybe app developers need to be aware of these issues because other phone builders seem to adopting different names for internal vs external memory.

Other issues keep cropping up to such as how come my social networks stopped syncing with the phone the other day (solved) or how come I cannot share photos from my gallery directly to my Flickr account (not solved but there is a work around) but I get a little emotional reward when I figure something out or am surprised over some image that reminds me that its not really what our technology can do which is important but what we do with our technology. I suppose it is just a phone-but it is really more than that that. After all a recent article (  suggests that Apple products can incite almost a religious experience.

Agave Now I am NOT suggesting that our technology can replace religion but these new phones are very physical-think about  touch screens and the feeling of pinching in and pinching out to contract or expand an image. Typing directly on the screen or doodling with our fingers on the screen gives a physicality to using these devices that was missing before with keyboards and even mice. These devices (phone is so 20th century) be they iPhones or iPADS or Bionics or the NEXT BEST THING allow us to do so much so easily that for some of us it is easy to get overly caught up in debates about the merits of our respective phones or magnify what really are relatively minor flaws that hopefully will be fixed in the next update. I like to see these devices as tools for good but it seems that there is a danger that they will trap us into a desire for technological perfection where we forget that these devices are tools represent different sorts of compromises and thus keep searching for that NEXT BEST THING.

Oh and my old Droid Eris? She sits by my computer in case she is needed as a phone or an extra Wi-Fi device. Call me anthropomorphic but the Eris is still useful like a hand tool superseded by a newer electric tool only this is the 21 first century where the pace of obsolescence is such that today's NEXT BEST THING becomes just another old thing to be thrown away. 

Friday, October 07, 2011

New iMac

New iMac by pdecell
New iMac, a photo by pdecell on Flickr.

New iMac

Thursday, October 06, 2011


Impatiens by pdecell
Impatiens, a photo by pdecell on Flickr.

This image was taken using Camera FX zoom on the Bionic in macro mode.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Stars down low

Stars Down Low

Today the cloudless sky,
was an eye spilling forth.
yellow flowers,
stars on the down low.

Stars down low