Categories
Insects Photography Places Plants

Easter photos

I spent several hours this afternoon at the Botanical Gardens, which is becoming my typical Easter activity. It was a really terrific day, still cold, but pleasant when wearing a jacket over a flannel shirt. It was sunny, but with clouds, which can make the best pictures. I went later, when most people have gone home.

I managed to catch my second bee picture of the year. What was cause for concern is he was the only bee I saw my entire trip.

Bumble Bee

I also decided to get a couple of landscape photos, show some of the architecture of the place. The first is one of the administration buildings–a lovely brick with classic lines. The second is Tower House, where the Garden’s founder, Shaw, used to live.

The maze in the foreground of the second picture is tall enough for most people not to be able to see over the top.

Brick Building

Tower House

The Garden was at the end of its spring blooming season, with crabapple and Kanzan cherry trees at peak.

Kansan cherry trees

I was surprised to see bluebells. That was the oddest thing about this season–very early spring flowers are still in bloom, though the late flowers, like tulips, are almost gone.

Bluebells

Unfortunately, due to the record breaking highs, followed immediately by several days of hard freeze, most of the garden’s fruit trees were loosing their buds. The latest report on the impact of this weather is that Missouri and Illinois have lost anywhere from 50% to close to 100% of this year’s crops for some varieties of fruit trees, winter wheat, early corn, and much of the wine grapes.

It’s been a devastating spring for this area.

fruit tree loosing most of its buds

I chatted with another photographer at the park, a gentleman from Michigan. He mentioned how the colds we were suffering don’t impact on their fruit trees and plants, primarily because the weather doesn’t fluctuate so much. The Great Lakes help maintain a consistent temperature in the surrounding areas: cold in winter, mild much of the rest of the year.

I’ve decided to make the “Lake trip” later this summer, because I’m not sure I can handle a Missouri August this year.

Japanese maple

No matter what the circumstances, the Gardens are, and remain, beautiful–thanks in part to the critters, including this handsome grackle. Still no picture of my fox, though. Someday.

grackle among tulips

The dogwoods in the rhodie garden were disappointing, another tree impacted by the weather. However, this lovely Dicentra spectablis was still in excellent form. This is a flower that needs a closer look, as it’s much more complex than would seem from a distance.

Bright pink flower

I actually managed to capture a picture of a raptor overhead. It’s not perfect, but you can see the details of its head and feathers. Lovely bird, death to the poor finches, though.

hawk overhead

My favorite shot from today (other than the building photos) is of this lovely tulip, still in excellent shape.

Tulip

Categories
Critters Photography

The Wasp

Paper wasps are quite common here in Missouri. Unlike other types of wasps, they’re not very aggressive, except around their nests. If you threaten a wasp’s nest, or agitate them in some way, they can sting and like other wasps, they can string repeatedly. Their stings are very painful (3 on the Schmidt Sting Pain index, or “Like spilling a beaker of Hydrochloric acid on a paper cut”), and if you’re allergic to stings, as I am, can be quite serious.

When the paper wasp started buzzing around behind the screens up in the corner of the french doors out to the deck, we didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t until we saw her starting her nest that we knew we had to get rid of it and quick. You can’t have a paper wasp nest next to a door; not if you want to use the door.

However, you can’t knock the nest down when they’re building it. The old, “Busy as a bee. Angry as a wasp” thing. The day before yesterday, when she took off to get more material, I quickly went out with the broom and knocked the nest down and as quickly ran back inside, shutting the door behind me. She returned with the material, long gray streamer behind her, and buzzed all over looking for the nest. For over an hour she flew around in front of the door and around the corner. Eventually she landed, and sat for a couple of hours where her nest was. When she made motions of starting to re-build, I pounded on the door to disturb her and eventually she took off.

Yesterday, she returned to the same corner and again, and sat there for a couple of hours. With today’s storm, she hasn’t been back.

When she was building her nest, I did grab a couple of careful photos using my telephoto lens. It wasn’t until I processed the photo today that I noticed her nest had one tiny egg in it.

wasp and nest

Categories
Web

Find your exit points

The first time I stayed in a hotel was when I was 12 and I and my brother met my father for holiday in Hawaii. We’d stayed in motels before–this was the era of the auto vacations–but never a multi-story hotel, where you accessed your room using an elevator.

When we got to our room, my Dad took us out into the hallway and pointed out the Exit sign. He told us that if a fire happened, we should not use the elevator. Instead, we should look for the Exit signs and follow them out of the building.

Since that one trip, I briefly pause at my door and locate the nearest exit before entering my room in hotels.

That trip was also the first time I flew on a plane. It was wonderful–scary and exciting. When the stewardess talked about what to do in case of an crash landing, I paid attention. To this day, I still pay attention–not because I don’t know what to do (butt, meet lips), but because it’s rude to ignore this poor soul who has to go through the motions. Shades of fatalism aside, I do check to see what is the closest exit when I find my seat. Old habits are hard to break.

My check for the exit bleeds over into my use of web services. No matter how clever a service, I never use it if it doesn’t have an exit strategy.

Recently, I took a closer look at the possibility of using Feedburner for serving up my feed. Now that I’ve moved my photos offsite to Amazon’s S3 service, the feeds are now the most massive bandwidth use. With my new austerity program of minimizing resource use, the use of Feedburner is attractive: let it serve up the feeds, with its much more efficient use of bandwidth.

My first thought, though, was: what’s the exit strategy? After all, it’s easy for me to redirect my feeds (all but the RSS 1.0) to Feedburner: I can adjust my .htaccess file to redirect traffic for all requests that don’t come from the Feedburner web bot. But what happens if I decide to bail on Feedburner?

This question was asked of the Feedburner staff last year, and the organization responded with an exit plan. It’s a month long process where you can redirect from Feedburner back to whatever feed URI you want. At the end of that time, all aggregators should have an updated feed URI–all without people having to manually edit feed subscriptions.

As such, I’m trying the service out, see how it goes. I know that if I decide I don’t like it, I can bail. If the worst case scenario happens, with Feedburner going belly up, then people know where to find my weblog and will have to manually edit their feeds. That’s also an exit, albeit more like jumping out a window than walking down stairs.

When I used Flickr, the API was what sold me on the service more than anything. When I decided to not use Flickr, the first thing I did was use an existing application to export a dump of all the original images, to ensure I had a copy of each. If I wanted to, I could also export the metadata and comments. I then ran an application to make an image capture of all the photos I had linked in my web pages, saving the photos locally still using the image names that Flickr generated.

I created a program that then converted all Flickr, as well as other photo URIs, to using one local URI: http://burningbird.net/photos/. This is redirected using the .htaccess to Amazon S3. If I decide to stop using Amazon the exit strategy is very simple: run an API call and pull down the images into one location; stop redirecting to that service and either host the images locally, or redirect to another storage service.

I use Bloglines, but I can easily export my subscriptions as OPML. Though it lacks much as a markup vocabulary, OPML is becoming ubiquitous as a way of managing feed subscriptions. I can then use this file to import subscriptions into Newsgator, or even a desktop hosted tool, like NetNewsWire.

I won’t use a hosted web service like Typepad or weblogs.com. It’s too easy for them to decide that you’re ‘violating’ terms of service, and next thing you know, all your weblog entries are gone. I saw this with wordpress.com in the recent events that caused so much discussion: in fact, I would strongly recommend against using wordpress.com because of this–the service is too easily influenced by public opinion.

I don’t use either my Yahoo or Gmail mail accounts. Regardless of whether I can get a copy of my email locally, if I decide to not use either account I have no way of ‘redirecting’ email addresses from either of these to the email address I want to use. (Or if there is a way, I’m not aware of it.) Getting a copy of my data is not an exit strategy–it’s an export strategy. An exit strategy is one where you can blow off the service and not suffer long-term consequences. A ‘bad’ email address is definitely a long-term consequence*.

Instead, I have a domain, burningbird.net, which I use for everything. I will always maintain this domain. My email address listed in the sidebar, will always be good.

There was a lot of discussion about Yahoo Pipes recently. Pipes is an interesting innovation, and excellent use of the Canvas object–my hat’s off to the creators for their UI design. However, the service has one major drawback: it’s a hosted solution. If you want to ‘export’ your Pipe, you can’t. There’s no way to generate, say a PHP application, from the Pipe, which creates the web service requests for you that can be run locally. No matter how good and interesting the service–there’s currently no exit strategy.

Anytime you find yourself saying, or even thinking, how ‘dependent’ you are on a service, you should immediately look for the exit strategy. If there isn’t one, decrease your dependency. The web is an ephemeral beast; the path of least resistance is 404, not 200. All pages will end someday. The same can be said for services.

Where are you vulnerable? What’s your exit strategy?

*An option for email is to use a local email address, and forward all email to Yahoo or GMail.