Saturday, February 26, 2011

Allotment garden pilgrimage

Anne Geene published a wonderful photo book about her garden allotment. It is called "Allotment nr. 235, Encyclopedia of an allotment garden." It costs 29 euro for 190 pages, but it is worth every cent. I reminds me of my early youth, when I knew all the pictures of a picture book by heart. It's the same with this book.
This book contains artful photographs of all the species that live in this 245 square meter habitat (plants, trees, mosses, insects, bacteria, birds, dogs). All of these have been photographed and identified. There is even a tiny salamander! I thought these only lived in nature reserves.

But there are also photographs of the compost heap, dead leaves, colours, clouds, stars, airplanes overhead, water, ice, snow and rain.
And there are photographic maps of the horizontal and vertical areas, including the garden hedge and each individual garden tile and the earth underneath. A fascinating book that I'm jealous of ... I would like to make such a book myself. From the book description:

The "Encyclopedia of an allotment" is inspired by the language of science, but has no scientific pretensions. It contains very personal observations, that have been selected and recorded with scientific precision and attention to detail. The book aims to provide a complete visual representation of everything that grows, flowers, crawls, swims and flies, on and along allotment 235 of the garden  complex 'Our own plot" in Rotterdam-Overschie. But the objects that are recorded are not really the central theme - these are: the art of observation and the relationship between photography and science.

Today was a rainy day but I yearned to go outside. I could not decide on a place to go and then my wife suggested that I could go on a pilgrimage to this garden allotment. It was easy to find and the garden complex was open. It's a sympathetic place from 1937. A few flowering plants were for sale and old men were drinking coffee in the communal room.

pilgrimage to an allotment garden

Using the map in the book it was easy to find lot 235. Tucked away in a corner of the estate, inconspicuous. At first sight I did not recognize it. In the book it looks much larger and it looks quite isolated from any surroundings. The feeling was totally different from the book. Interesting ...

pilgrimage to an allotment garden

The photo book creates the sense of an enormous space by (I think):
  • using low viewpoints (child / dog / frog perspective),
  • focusing on details and borders,
  • showing the huge open sky.
The pilgrimage was definitely worth it. I hope the artist doesn't mind I've been doing some topographic research of my own.

Other Dutch artists have made photographic documents about garden allotments. Here are the pictures by Marrie Bot from Amsterdam in 1977. These focus on the inhabitants, not on natural history.
Interesting text on Flickr: Lenin didn't like gardening

Anne Geene - artist's website
Book description by editor - in Dutch
Book review - "scientist with camera" - in Dutch
Google maps - Bing maps

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


After I wrote my first blog-entry I did a Google search to see if anyone else had written about "taxonomies of invisibility". And I found this interesting page on the Bobulate blog about the "taxonomy of the invisible". This page is about the "tree of heaven" and other urban weeds. Something that I'm also very much interested in.


Look out of any New York window, and you’re likely to see one, but you’d be hard-pressed to identify it. The reason: ailanthus altissima, or the “tree of heaven,” made famous by Betty Smith’s 1943 book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, hasn’t technically been planted by anyone. And because its placement was unintentional, it isn’t counted in street-tree inventories. Still, it grows, and at a staggering rate of five feet per year and up to 49 feet tall. It’s these sorts of plants, and their smaller relatives, that we refer to as “weeds.”

I have never much noticed this species of tree, but will be looking out for it from now on. But I had already noticed its just as invasive "cousin". During a visit to London in 2010 I was amazed by the presence of the buddleja, the "butterfly bush". This "urban weed" grew  literally all over Hackney.
And I was surprised that it was allowed to spread so freely, seeing what enormous damage it was doing to streets and buildings.
The tree growing out of these walls must have been several years old, but no one had noticed them in time and no one had bothered to remove them. The erosion of these old (Victorian?) structures was a sad sight. But the vitality of the plant was admirable.

The damaging properties of this plant are mentioned on several botanical sites. If London is ever hit with a Ballardian catastrophe we can predict what plant will erase all traces of human civilization.

The worst invasive characteristics occur in disturbed sites, especially if the disturbance is continued or repeated. Typical areas invaded are quarries, urban wastelands, railways, gravel workings, and building sites. In the UK it has spread by wind borne seeds, following the low pressure drag created by trains, throughout the rail network past and present. Here the loose surfacings of stone and soil embankments form a happy substitute for native slopes and screes, and the thickets formed can encroach on safety zones and hamper access for maintenance etc.
Much damage is also caused to built structures in the railway environment, where any minute crack or softening of mortar, which can admit a seed, is as suitable for germination and growth as any fissure in a rock face. Deeply penetrating and thickening roots and woody stems soon force masonry apart to costly effect. It is, of course, a widely established plant also on waste ground and in many other disturbed habitats.

Strangely enough - here in the Netherlands the plant is also common, but it does not act so destructively. At least - I have not noticed it here yet.

Sources: - the-taxonomy-of-the-invisible - spike55151 - buddleja - buddleia
Decay of a city

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Complex systems illiteracy

Complex financial system

Complex weather system

I'm reading the financial papers to learn about the financial system. *

In his Yale lecture series about Financial Markets professor Robert Shiller states that we should do something about "financial illiteracy" and he sees this as one of the causes of the recent crisis. ** I agree with him. Financial illiteracy makes us powerless against the evil conspiracies of capital. ***

I feel very illiterate concerning the financial system. I can look at the graphs and numbers, but I don't see the causes and effects and I have no intuitive grasp of the dynamics of the system. I cannot draw conclusions and I can make no predictions.

For me the economy always was some king of "background noise" against which "real life" happened. The crisis put the economy in the foreground. Suddenly I saw that an elephant was standing in my living room, and this elephant had stood here for many years. But I had never noticed it.

The weather is also a kind of "background noise" against which "real life" happens. I was always more interested in the weather than in economics. I support the Cloud Appreciation Society and I know about wind patterns, storms and the "urban heat island". I have some understanding of non-linear equations, the butterfly effect, the Coriolis force and even Milankovitch cycles. But it is not enough.

I still feel illiterate concerning the weather system. I can look at lists of temperatures and the weather maps, but I don't see the causes and effects and I have no intuitive grasp of the dynamics of the system. I cannot draw conclusions and I can make no predictions.

Both systems shape our lives and can ruin us in an instant. Both systems can change history. What differences are there between these two systems with regard to these questions:
  • What influence do we humans have on these systems?
  • If we understand these systems better, does it give us more control over our lives?
I leave this as an exercise for the reader, because I don't have an answer. **** I have only two things to say:
  • The weather system is aesthetically more pleasing and satisfying.
  • Greed, fraud and corruption are no factors in the weather system.

* Don't laugh. I believe in reverse engineering and bottom up approaches. And there is a lot of doubt nowadays about top-down theoretical models. Both in economy and in string-theory.
** Or still ongoing crisis? That will get even worse?
*** I don't know if this is a silly joke or if I'm starting to believe this. - “There’s class warfare, all right,” Mr. Buffett said, “but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”
**** Not yet. But maybe I'll find a simplified explanation to adhere to. Where is Slavoj Zizek when you need him?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Moon maps

Yesterday we had a precious evening with clear skies and a beautiful (almost) full moon. I tried to photograph it but I couldn't figure out the right settings (zoom, aperture, shutter speed) to take pictures through my binoculars. My best result is much worse than what I could do with my previous pocket camera. So I hope to get better pictures in the future.

Because I could not take the easy route I was forced to take the classic route - by drawing what I saw through the binoculars. My cheap Minolta 10x50 is much better than any telescope Galileo ever had. But my eyes are probably worse and my drawing skills are abominable.

It is not easy. The bright moon is blindingly bright through binoculars. The eyes need time to adapt to the darkness so you can see the page and the pencil lines in the darkness. And drawing to scale - the first time in my life - is frustrating. But the results are encouraging. Using a moon map I can recognize most landmarks that I drew.

The minimum size that I can draw reliably seems is 110 km for Gassendi crater. I don't trust myself in naming Manilius crater correctly, that one is 39 km in diameter. From the lunar mare I missed Nubium, Procellarum and Vaporum. Now compare this with Galileo Galilei. His moon map looks like this:

Much better draughtsmanship - I guess anyone could draw better in these times before photography - and more detail.

But even this pales in comparison with the drawings that I found in a second hand book at the Rotterdam book market. The theories in this book are interesting, but are completely discredited by modern science - there are no volcanoes, no atmosphere, (almost) no water and no lifeforms on the moon. But the drawings are superb and I wonder how the author did it.

Plate IV    Lunar mountains drawn by the author direct from telescopic observation, Above: the lunar Altai, Below: the Leibnitz mountains near the South pole of the Moon, seen on the morning terminator at the gibbous phase, northern libration projecting the peaks on to the skyline. (Drawn 31 may, 1955, 20h. 10m. to 20h. 25m. G.M.T., from observation with a 6 1/2- inch reflector, powers x240 and x360).

V. A. Firsoff, Strange world of the moon, an enquiry into lunar physics, Published 1959 by Hutchinson in London
Interactive moon map
A wonderful article about Galileo's moon drawings
A very interesting article about early lunar maps - Galileo's was not the first map
Another article about early moon maps

Monday, February 14, 2011

Financial crisis fallout (2)

Searching for something else I came across this piece of trivia. Today the author and the people he thanks for their comments must think: ''bien étonné de se trouver ensemble". But one can hardly blame them. In 2002 Bernard Madoff still was a successful and respected investor.

The Structure of the U.S. Equity Markets
Marshall E. Blume
Comments and advice were received from Paul Bennett, Robert Eisenbeis, Dean Furbush, Adam Goldberg, Michael Goldstein, Richard J. Herring, Kenneth Kavajeca, Bernard Madoff, Peter Madoff, Tim McCormick, John Moran, Gus Sauter, Jeremy Siegel, James Shapiro, George Sofianos, and Hans Stoll. 
The author thanks them for their comments, many of which challenged his views.

Source : Brookings-Wharton Papers on Financial Services 2002 (2002) 35-59, E-ISSN: 1533-4430 Print ISSN: 1098-3651 - Found through: Project MUSE®

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Snow pattern puzzle

snow pattern mystery

Why does snow behave in two mutually exclusive ways?

Pictures 1-4 - top row:
Here the snow mimics the pattern of the underlying surface.

Pictures 5-8 - bottom row:
Here the snow inverts the pattern of the underlying surface.

I have only vague ideas what might cause this:
- the hollows in the underground conduct heat differently than the tiles and protect the snow from melting,
- the hollows in the underground cause eddies in the air-stream and this accumulates more snow.

Marcel Minnaert does not mention this phenomenon (I think), but I will have to search his books again.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Darkness falls

On 7-2-2011, the first day of his trial under Dutch anti-hate speech laws, Dutch politician Geert Wilders spoke about the freedom of speech and its enemies. It was an impressive piece of rhetoric, whatever you think of its contents. But I was very much distracted while listening to this speech. The following statement was repeated several times:
  • Throughout Europe the lights are going out.
  •     Or in different translations: 
  •     In the whole of Europe the lights are being extinguished.
  •     Darkness falls over Europe.
Geert Wilders was talking about the lights of Western freedom and civilization. But I kept thinking about a wonderful conceptual artwork by Jason Dodge called:
  •  Darkness Falls on Beroldingerstrasse 7, 79224 Umkirch (2006)
The artwork consists of a collection of light bulbs, candles, matches and anything that makes light. This collection has  been removed from a house in a German village and has been placed in the gallery. The house is left in darkness.

Ironically enough, Geert Wilders is poised against this kind of conceptual art. In his ideology this is an elitist "left wing pastime" and a waste of public money.

It is interesting that many websites speak of  "a house in a German forest". A look at Bing maps shows that the house is not situated in a forest at all:

These sites have mis-interpreted the statement "at the edge of the German Black Forest" which is something totally different. The Witte de With site (my favorite gallery in Rotterdam) has it almost right.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Receipt numerology

This blog's mission is to pay attention to overlooked phenomena. For example: parking spaces or lampposts. But today I will focus on the receipt. That piece of paper you throw away routinely.

These are constant:

  • Store: 46 - they have 62 stores in The Netherlands
  • Cash register: 60 - I didn't count the cash registers in the store
  • Person number: 241307 - they have 11.000 employees now, did 200.000 people ever work at V&D? probably some different coding is used
  • Date: 05/02/11
These are variable:
  • Time: 13:35 - 13:40
  • Receipt number: 4984 - 4989 - one customer per minute? - this store or all stores? V&D claim to serve 1.500.000 customers each week
  • Big barcode number - transaction number? what coding is involved?
  • 592053896189263656284778
  • 592553896189263191284778
I see no trivial relationship between the data on the receipt and the barcode number and I don't have enough data (yet) for reverse engineering. Maybe 0-5 has something to do with receipt number? And there is some symmetry in 656-191.

I cannot I find a standard coding for this 24-digit number on the Internet. There is no simple modulo-11 check involved:
  • Barcode A = 2* 3* 23* 337* 12730699182670271713
  • Barcode B = 2* 7972667* 37161585714621167
  • Barcode A mod 11 = 3
  • Barcode B mod 11 = 0
More complex than I expected. I will have to collect more receipts.

See also:
Wikipedia - Receipt
Wikipedia - Barcode
Wikipedia - European Article Number

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Encountering yourself

meeting yourself
meeting yourself

An unsettling experience.

Sometimes, during a walk you take a picture of the view. Then, some time later, you unexpectedly walk into the picture that you made some time ago. Then there is only one thing that you can do to restore symmetry.  You must take a picture of the place from where you took the first picture, the place where you stood a short while ago. Now you've connected past and present and you have linked coordinates in space and time.

It only works if the experience is unplanned and genuinely unexpected.

Suppose ... if you were more sensitive and aware ... could you have seen the ghostly shape of your future self from the first set of coordinates? Or a transparent mirage of your past presence from the second set of coordinates? Could the camera catch these images, even though you don't see it yourself?

But maybe it's better to *not* see your double (Carlos Castaneda's - Don Juan's Teachings - Tales of power):

I'm going to begin telling you about the "double" or the "Other." The double is the sorcerer himself developed through his dreaming . The double is an act of power to a sorcerer. The double is the self; that explanation should suffice.

A sorcerer can double up, that's all one can say. No sorcerer knows where his Other is. A sorcerer has no notion that he is in two places at once. To be aware of that would be the equivalent of facing his double, and the sorcerer that finds himself face to face with himself is a dead sorcerer. That is the rule. That is the way power has set things up. No one knows why.

See also:
Wikipedia - The double

The picture on the left was taken during a nice walk along "Het Stichtse Lijntje" and you can download the guide for free.