A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘obscura

[OBSCURA] For #blackouttuesday

h/t to Twitter’s Jay Pitter for the original image, here.

For #blackouttuesday

Written by Randy McDonald

June 2, 2020 at 5:45 pm

[OBSCURA] Canada 2019 federal elections result map, from Wikipedia

Written by Randy McDonald

October 22, 2019 at 1:30 pm

[OBSCURA] “The Story Behind That ‘Future That Liberals Want’ Photo”

In a great Wired article, Charley Locke describes how a photo taken on the New York City subway system by Instagram user subwaycreatures ended up going hilariously viral.

Samuel Themer never planned to be a symbol of everything that’s right or wrong with America. He just wanted to go to work. But when he hopped on the subway to head into Manhattan on February 19, the Queens resident was in full drag—he performs as Gilda Wabbit. He also ended up sitting next to a woman in a niqab, a fact he initially didn’t even notice. “I was just sitting on the train, existing,” he says. “It didn’t seem out of the ordinary that a woman in full modesty garb would sit next to me.”

Someone on that W car with them, though, thought otherwise. Boubah Barry, a Guinean immigrant and real estate student, wanted to document what he saw as a testament to tolerance, so he took a photo of the pair and posted it to Instagram. “It’s diversity,” says Barry, who says he doesn’t identify as liberal or conservative but does oppose President Trump’s refugee ban. “They sit next to each other, and no one cares.”

But someone did care. After the post was shared by Instagram account subwaycreatures, the photo drifted across the internet until /pol/ News Network attached it to a tweet on Wednesday with the message “This is the future that liberals want.”

/pol/ News Network, which also recently declared Get Out to be anti-white propaganda, probably intended the post to be a warning about the impending liberal dystopia. But as soon as actual liberals saw it, they flipped the message on its head—and began touting the message as exactly the future they wanted. They filled /pol/ News Network’s mentions with messages endorsing the photo and adding their own visions of a bright future. By Thursday, it was a full-blown meme. Soon images of a future filled with interspecies companionship, gay space communism, and Garfield flooded onto social media.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 6, 2017 at 8:00 am

[BLOG] Seven links on the TRAPPIST-1 system

News of the remarkable density of planets, including potentially Earth-like planets, in the system of nearby ultra-cool dwarf TRAPPIST-1 spread across the blogosphere. This NASA JPL illustration comparing the TRAPPIST-1 worlds with the four rocky worlds of our own solar system, underlining the potential similarity of some worlds to the worlds we know like Venus and Mars and even Earth, went viral.

Supernova Condensate provided a good outline of this system in the post “A tiny red sun with a sky full of planets!”.

One interesting thing is that TRAPPIST-1 is tiny. Really tiny! It’s a class M8V ultracool red dwarf, which really is about as small as a star can get while still being a star. Much smaller and it wouldn’t be able to even fuse hydrogen. I’ve put it side by side with a few other familiar celestial objects in this image. As you can see, it’s a little bigger than Jupiter. It’s actually roughly the same size as HD189733b, a much studied hot jupiter, and noticeably smaller than Proxima, our friendly neighbourhood red dwarf. Lalande 21185 is on the larger end of the scale of red dwarfs, and is also one of the few you can actually see in the night sky (though you’ll need a dark sky to find it).

Ultracool red dwarfs really are tiny, but they’re also extremely long lived. Quietly burning stellar embers which exemplify the old saying that slow and steady wins the race. Because these little stars don’t burn their fuel too quickly, and because they’re low enough in mass to be fully convective, they can burn for trillions of years. Long after the Sun exhausts the fuel in its core, flares into a red giant and then cools silently in the darkness, TRAPPIST-1 will still be burning, providing warmth for it’s little planetary entourage.

Not much warmth, mind you. TRAPPIST-1’s handful of planets are huddling around their parent star as if it were campfire on a cold night. The entire star system would fit inside Mercury’s orbit and still have cavernous amounts of room to spare. So close are those planets, that they have years which pass by in mere Earth days. The shortest has a year which is just 1.5 Earth days long. The longest year length in the system is still less than a month.

aureliaOf course, I say Earth days, because these planets don’t have days as such. They’re so close to their parent star that they’re certain to be tidally locked. The gravitational forces are sufficiently different that they cannot rotate at all. One side constantly faces the tiny red sun in the sky, and the other side constantly faces outwards towards the cold night. It’s quite likely that the night sides of these planets may be frozen in a permanent winter night, never gaining enough warmth to thaw. Half a planet of permanent Antarctica.

Supernova Condensate was kind enough to produce an illuminating graphic, hosted at “Model Planets”, comparing the TRAPPIST-1 system to (among others) the Earth-Moon system and to Jupiter and its moons. The TRAPPIST-1 system is tiny.

The Planetary Society Blog’s Franck Marchis wrote a nice essay outlining what is and is not known, perhaps most importantly pointing out that while several of the TRAPPIST-1 worlds are in roughly the right position in their solar system to support life, we do not actually know if they do support life. Further research is called for, clearly.

Centauri Dreams’ “Seven Planets Around TRAPPIST-1” has great discussion in the comments, concentrating on the potential for life on these worlds and on the possibility of actually travelling to the TRAPPIST-1 solar system. The later post “Further Thoughts on TRAPPIST-1” notes that these worlds, which presumably migrated inwards from the outer fringes of their solar system, might well have arrived with substantial stocks of volatiles like water. If this survived the radiation of their young and active sun, they could be watery worlds.

The cultural implication of these discoveries, meanwhile, has also come up. Jonathan Edelstein has written in “We Just Got Our ’30s Sci-Fi Plots Back” about how TRAPPIST-1, by providing so many potentially habitable planets so close to each other, would be an ideal setting for an early spacefaring civilization, and for imaginings of said. If a sister world is scarcely further than the moon, why not head there? Savage Minds, meanwhile, in “The Resonance of Earth, Other Worlds, and Exoplanets”, hosts a discussion between Michael P. Oman-Reagan and Lisa Messeri talking about the cultural significance of these and other discoveries, particularly exploring how they create points of perceived similarity used as markers of cultural import.

[OBSCURA] André Masson, Pedestal Table in the Studio

Facebook’s Simon tagged me with André Masson, and I picked his Pedestal Table in the Studio. This work of his speaks to me, what can I say?

If you want to take part in this ongoing Facebook event, just like this post.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 18, 2017 at 10:30 am

[OBSCURA] Yves Klein, “Monochrome bleu sans titre (IKB 81)”

For his birthday, Facebook’s Fabrice issued his readers a familiar challenge: “L’idée est simple et belle : occuper l’espace de Facebook avec de l’art et briser la monotonie de l’actualité politique, des selfies et du food porn.

Celui ou celle qui “aime/Like” ce statut se verra attribuer un artiste et publiera, s’il/elle le souhaite, une de ses œuvres accompagnée de ce texte sur son mur.”

I liked his post, and I was given Yves Klein. I picked his 1957 canvas Monochrome bleu sans titre (IKB 81). Blue is my favourite colour, and so was Klein’s–he even invented a shade of blue all his own, the ultramarine-dominated International Klein Blue. That this blue directly inspired Derek Jarman’s Blue is an added plus.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 12, 2017 at 6:00 pm

[OBSCURA] Pablo Picasso, Guernica

The idea is to occupy Facebook with art. Whoever “likes” this post will be given an artist and invited to post a piece by that artist with this text. I was given Pablo Picasso by Facebook’s Barrett, and I picked Picasso’s famous 1937 canvas Guernica.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 11, 2017 at 9:00 am

[OBSCURA] Charles Rennie Macintosh, “A Southern Port”

The idea is to occupy Facebook with art. Whoever “likes” this post will be given an artist and invited to post a piece by that artist with this text. I was given Charles Rennie Macintosh by Facebook’s Suzanne.

I picked his painting 1925-1926 “A Southern Port”, drawn from his late in life visit to the Rousillon port of Port-Vendres.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 10, 2017 at 9:30 am

[OBSCURA] Alex Colville, “To Prince Edward Island”

I was given a challenge by Facebook’s Paul: “The idea is to occupy Facebook with art, breaking up all the political posts. Whoever ‘likes’ this post will be given an artist and has to post a piece by that artist, along with this text.” He gave me Alex Colville, and for me, after a certain amount of consideration, there was only one artist I could pick.

Alex Colville’s “To Prince Edward Island” is my favourite work by the man. I was so pleased to see it in the AGO’s 2014 Alex Colville exhibit–I even have a picture of me before it. What is the central figure looking at, and how did the ferry to the mainland (from the mainland?) get to be so exciting?

Your turn.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 6, 2017 at 8:00 am

[OBSCURA] On the Burhan Ozbilici photo of Mevlut Mert Altintas

I was not the only person on my Facebook friends list stunned by the above photo, taken in Ankara by Associated Press photographer Burhan Ozbilici in the seconds after the assassination of Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov. Ozbilici’s photo–he took multiple photos, but this is the most famous one–of the killer, Mevlut Mert Altintas, caught in his delivery of his manifesto with gun raised, is striking. It might even be iconic.

One early reaction of the media, as seen at Slate and Petapixel and Mashable, was to congratulate Ozbilici on his nerve, on his ability to take these photos while he was justified in fearing for his life. The Los Angeles Times carried an interview with interview with Ozbilici, explaining what he was thinking at the moment he took this and the other photographs.

I was, of course, fearful and knew of the danger if the gunman turned toward me. But I advanced a little and photographed the man as he hectored his desperate, captive audience.

This is what I was thinking: “I’m here. Even if I get hit and injured, or killed, I’m a journalist. I have to do my work. I could run away without making any photos…. But I wouldn’t have a proper answer if people later ask me: ‘Why didn’t you take pictures?’ ”

I even thought about friends and colleagues who have died while taking photographs in conflict zones over the years.

As my mind raced, I saw that the man was agitated — and yet, he was, strangely, in control of himself. He shouted at everyone to stand back. Security guards ordered us to vacate the hall and we left.

I myself am impressed by his skill. Ozbilici deserves something.

I was also wondering what Susan Sontag, writer and commentator on all things including philosophy, would think of this. As noted at Brainpickings, Sontag’s writing was astonishingly prescient, noting the ability of the photograph to fix an audience’s understanding of what happened with an event. What would she have thought about this photo, memorializing this moment and this event for all time, shared instantaneously across the Internet?

I was also reminded of an article I read in 2012, by sociologist Zeynep Tufekci, noting how images of atrocity can be fixed and preserved and used to actively maintain memory and a desire for vengeance for far longer than we think. What will this photo be taken to signify in the longer haul, I wonder and fear?

Written by Randy McDonald

December 24, 2016 at 4:30 pm