15 October 2017

The romantic past of telephony, revisited

I was fortunate to find myself in New York on the weekend of Open House New York, an annual opportunity to visit architecturally interesting sites that aren't always open to the public. I made a point of getting to the lobby of the AT&T Long Distance Building near Canal Street, to see the magnificent Art Deco renderings of golden-stranded Long Lines connecting far-flung continents and converging on the very building where I stood. Worldwide communication isn't the exotic (or expensive!) thing it was then, and is generally assumed rather than celebrated, but it was a treat to look back to a day when it evoked wonder and mythology and when switching centers were miraculous!

31 July 2017

Variable Dancer

I'm fortunate to live in an area where there are frequent bird and nature walks available. I often attend, and enjoy being able to benefit from the guidance of others with more spotting and identification expertise than I have. Yesterday's targets were dragonflies and damselflies, and I saw something land on the ground in front of me. It looked rather drab to my naked eye, but not so with a magnified view:

I thought the bright purple body was striking. Also, I was delighted to learn that this particular damselfly is known as a Variable Dancer. I wouldn't class myself as being even as good as Variable in that particular category. It could make for a fine album title, though.

08 July 2017

I hope this isn't a thing

So, I was entering household items into a shopping list on my iPhone, and one of them was toilet paper. After I entered this item's first word, one of the successors offered on the autocompletion bar was "selfie". I wouldn't have suspected that the resulting phrase would rank as highly popular, but I've been surprised before. I haven't asked Google in order to find out or to see what it might offer. Some things are better left unknown or unseen.

20 April 2017

Bad Feather Day?

So, I took this picture of a common Song Sparrow the other day. When I uploaded and viewed it, I was... surprised. They're not supposed to have crests on the tops of their heads; a rare crested form would be newsworthy. What happened to cause that peak with the sharp vertical boundary? I first wondered whether there was a bug in jpeg encoding, but the raw image looked the same. The best interpretations I've received so far conclude that there was a wind blowing from the right (which is quite possible) and that it's pushing feathers upwards towards the middle of the head. Seems plausible (and also consistent with the fact that the back of the head seems to have been uncovered as if in an anatomy lesson), but I find it striking that the feather edge would line up as straight as it does. Always new things to see!

17 April 2017

Intercontinental smash and grab

A couple of weeks ago, one of my credit card numbers was compromised. This is all too routine these days, and the credit card company detected and removed the suspicious transactions quickly. What I found notable, however, was the fact that multiple charges were attempted in different currencies in rapid succession – an Australian on-line merchant, German Amazon, and so on, alongside fast food vendors in New York, and that at least some of them hit almost simultaneously. As I spoke on an incoming call from the card vendor’s fraud department, I could see successive charge notifications overwriting one another on my cellphone’s display. I’d think that the fact of closely-spaced transaction attempts across numerous countries would be likely to raise risk flags – even though less definitively today than when cards were ordinarily presented across counters by hand – but perhaps fraudsters may still find that a dispersed attack improves the expected value that’s obtainable in the narrowing time window before countermeasures can respond. I don’t know if and where there may be variable delays for transactions to propagate through different payment systems, but maybe this is also a factor.

15 January 2017

A rare example of bad electoral transparency

Observed at the Museum of the City of New York: a Tammany Hall era ballot receptacle of clear glass. Makes ballot stuffing visible, but also makes it easy to see the differently-colored ballot stubs and distinguish them when inserted!

01 January 2017

I'm glad I don't believe in omens

I'm glad I don't believe in omens, and hope today that this disbelief will be justified. (Hey, Enlightenment, I like you.) This morning, I took a New Year's Day walk down some icy refuge trails, and went to see if I could find the Eastern Screech Owl that I'd seen several times in late 2016, always in the same hole at a bend in a tree:

As I approached the site, I ran into a couple also out for walking, exchanged observations about trail conditions, and guided them to the tree nearby in hopes that we'd all spot the owl. It looked promising to naked eyes in the distance, with a patch of similar color visible in the hole, so I mounted a telephoto lens on my camera to confirm and hopefully share the sighting. Well, er, not exactly:

Same hole, same perspective, but a distinctly non-owlish squirrel instead. Has a bird of wisdom been displaced by a rodent for 2017? More news if it happens...