Tuesday, August 23, 2011

More commercial landscapes

Stumbling randomly onto real estate landscapes and edible landscapes I have become sensitized to commercial use of landscape motifs and their (not so) hidden meanings. Two recent finds:

When shopping at the C1000 supermarket you can save for a 10 euro Happy Fuel Card from Total. Notice the beautiful shopping cart in the standard Dutch landscape. I need not explain the irony using pure nature (without highways and modern technology) to market car fuel. This is pure, brutal marketing, but relatively honest.

Le Couvent des Minimes is a brand of "natural" cosmetics. According to the brochure it is based on recipes of Franciscan Sisters who have a long tradition (since 1862) of care and wellness using natural plants.
Some of the ingredients are: rose oil, grapeseed oil, mimosa, chamomile, rosemary, verbena, calendula, marsmallow, mint, lemon, sage, nettle, bur, lavender and violet. Indeed a nice collection of medieval medicinal plants. 1% of sales is donated to charitable works in India.
  • A quick search on the internet shows that this place is now a Hotel and Spa where a room costs 300 to 500 euros. The Franciscan Sisters (Francis of Paola not Francis of Assisi) have been expelled long ago, during the French revolution.

A well spun marketing story!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Strange kitchen moon

City dwellers are disconnected from the sky. High building hide it. Streetlamps obscure it through glare and light pollution. Then there is the Dutch weather with cloudy and rainy skies - especially this summer. It is difficult to get a feeling for the night sky.

Through time - and without any conscious effort - I have observed the cycles of the moon. Like a modern Stonehenge my house has a relationship with the celestial objects. The full moon invites me to my balcony and hides itself behind the trees of my back lawn.
moon study
Time lapse recording of the moon from my balcony.
The waxing crescent moon is - barely - visible from my kitchen window. It sets behind the trees of the provincial road. It is often accompanied by Venus.
It is pleasurable to view this moon through binoculars - even if no astronomical details are visible. The moonlight has to pass through two panes of glass at an acute angle and it  gets reflected multiple times.
 Marcel Minnaert has written about this effect. He describes the normal case - with window glass - and also a more mysterious case - directly in the sky:

26. Multiple images, produced by windowpanes in transmitted light.
In the evening look in an oblique direction through a good window of a tram, bus or car towards a lantern in the distance, or at the moon. You will see several images at approximately equal intervals, the first one clear and the next weaker and weaker. The more one looks through the glass at an oblique angle, the greater the distance between the images and lower the difference in brightness relative to each other.
It is clear that such phenomena arise from repeated reflections from the front and back of the glass. The phenomenon is actually very similar to that of the doubly reflected images in a pane of glass. And we have again the same reason to assume that the front and rear of the glass pane are not parallel.
If the window pane were perfectly parallel, the clearest picture would always appear at the side that is furthest removed from our eye, irrespective of whether we look through the window in the direction O or O '.
Observation shows however, that the clearest image is always located on the same side (always left or always right from the observer), as long as the observer looks through the same point of the windowpane. And in the same windowpane one can find areas where the clearest image is the rightmost and other where the brightest picture is on the left. In the first case We hit a wedge-shaped area where the thickest side is pointed towards our eye (O) in the second case, the thickest points away from our eye (O').
The mysterious case described by Marcel Minnaert has no artificial reflecting medium between the moon and the observer. The optical effect is caused by the atmosphere:
35. Distortions of the rising and setting Sun and Moon
The cause of this optical distortion is simply the ordinary mirage, and we distinguish between the "inferior" (meaning lower), "superior" (meaning higher) mirage. [...] The same kind of atmospheric distortions as of the sun can also be observed for the moon, and they can be seen very clearly in it's narrow crescent.
But there have even been observations of double moon crescents without obvious refracting layers in between. Maybe an observational error? Or an unexplained phenomenon? William R. Corliss has this observation in his wonderful collection of anomalies:
I came out of the house about 6:25 AM to perform a task and, being an amateur astronomer, I looked up at the sky to see what was visible. I noticed the crescent of the waning moon appeared as a double crescent. My eyes kept trying to resolve it into a single image, but it wouldn't resolve. I then looked at several other light sources (radio tower, porch light, & street light) and determined that my vision was probably fine, as these objects appeared as single images. Looking back at the moon, it still appeared as a double image. [...]
Marcel Minnaert - De natuurkunde van 't vrije veld. Deel I (1937)
Mirage of astronomical objects
Double Image Of Cresent Moon - William R. Corliss

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The meaning of annotations

I borrowed "Myth and meaning" by Claude Lévi-Strauss from the Rotterdam library. I was pleasantly surprised by the - for me unreadable - notes in Arabic.

claude levi strauss - annotated

I was even more pleasantly surprised when I found the following passage in the book - because that is exactly what these annotations seem to be doing. And they contrast with the passage below, because they show that  "translation in in a different language" and "what the dictionary gives you" really does help to uncover the meaning:
"There is something very curious in semantics, that the word ‘meaning’ is probably, in the whole language, the word the meaning of which is the most difficult to find. What does ‘to mean’ mean? It seems to me that the only answer we can give is that ‘to mean’ means the ability of any kind of data to be translated in a different language. I do not mean a different language like French or German, but different words on a different level. After all, this translation is what a dictionary is expected to give you—the meaning of the word in different words, which on a slightly different level are isomorphic to the word or expression you are trying to understand."
Claude Levi-Strauss - Myth and meaning

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Nature near home

I love the book NATURE NEAR HOME AND OTHER PAPERS by John Burroughs (1918). It is a great instruction book for observing your daily surroundings. I cannot improve upon the text of John Burroughs. I interlace and illustrate it with a few pictures of "my own birds" that "I see with fondness and sympathy".
In the bird-world size matters very much. The seagull is more agile than the seagull, but he keeps a careful distance.
  After long experience I am convinced that the best place to study nature is at one's own home, on the farm, in the mountains, on the plains, by the sea, no matter where that may be.
The bigger seagull chases away the smaller one.
One has it all about him then. The seasons bring to his door the great revolving cycle of wild life, floral and faunal, and he need miss no part of the show. At home one should see and hear with more fondness and sympathy. Nature should touch him a little more closely there than anywhere else. He is better attuned to it than to strange scenes. The birds about his own door are his birds, the flowers in his own fields and wood are his, the rainbow springs its magic arch across his valley, even the everlasting stars to which one lifts his eye, night after night, and year after year, from his own doorstep, have something private and personal about them.
But the quick and intelligent magpies are able to steal from the big and menacing seagull.
The clouds and the sunsets one sees in strange lands move one the more they are like the clouds and sunsets one has become familiar with at home.
The duck and seagull are approximately equal in size and "respect". Now the magpies keep their distance.
The wild creatures about you become known to you as they cannot be known to a passer-by. The traveler sees little of Nature that is revealed to the home- stayer. You will find she has made her home where you have made yours, and intimacy with her there becomes easy.
Each species has had it's bite of bread.
Familiarity with things about one should not dull the edge of curiosity or interest. The walk you take to-day through the fields and woods, or along the river-bank, is the walk you should take to-morrow, and next day, and next. What you miss once, you will hit upon next time. The happenings are at intervals and are irregular. The play of Nature has no fixed programme. If she is not at home to-day, or is in a non-committal mood, call to-morrow, or next week.
The duck stays around to fish in the rain puddles. I've often seen them doing this after the rain but I don't know what they look for. Earthworms?
John Burroughs - Wikipedia
Nature near home and other papers - Librivox and Gutenberg