Category Archives: art/photography


Here’s what happens to an ant’s abdomen when it eats green sugar solution:

close-up photo: ant with translucent green abdomen eating green sugar solution

 It’s one of a set of photos I came across today. The others are well worth seeing and are in this Mail Online article. (Lest you judge me, I should point out that I arrived on the photos via my Tweeted Times page, not via anything to do with the Daily Mail.)

There’s nothing  particularly special about the ants: according to the article they’re just ones that were in the back garden of the photographer, Dr Mohamed Babu, whose wife noticed that one that had been drinking milk had a white abdomen.

The article is quite  interesting (and all three photos stunning), though I did find it amusing that rather than just calling him by his name the Mail felt obliged to call Dr Babu “father of three Mohamed Babu” and “the 53-year-old”. They also call him “Scientist Dr Babu”, but infuriatingly they don’t say what kind of scientist. Particle physicist? Cosmologist? Seismologist? Entomologist? Ants are less central to some of those disciplines than to others . . .

And presumably his age and number of children have some bearing on ant photography or they wouldn’t have mentioned them, but I still haven’t quite cracked that one.

“Greatest Hits of the Second Viennese School”

Recently I came across this. It’s . . . Well, what it says. A spoof advert for atonal music. Much of the humour comes from picking out entirely the wrong feature of a musical passage for comment—e.g. commenting on the tunefulness of a passage which consists entirely of harmony and orchestral colour, or the tenderness of . . . Watch it and see.

As a violinist, I particularly like “the virtuoso violin writing of Alban’s Violin Concerto In case you don’t know, the concerto starts with the soloist playing the four open strings. (By the way, you can see someone performing the concerto here. Oddly, the vibrato in the audio seems not to match his hand movements in the video.)

Actually the video is rather unfair to Schoenberg. And I quite like atonal music. So, here to redress the balance is a more serious one: an interview with Schoenberg about his paintings and his music, recorded in 1949.

Follow the “related video” links for more material, both serious and otherwise.

Diagram Prize update

A few posts ago, I wrote about the Diagram Prize, awarded for “the book carrying the oddest title of the year”. There was a shortlist of six titles, and members of the public were invited to vote on which should win.

Book cover showing a crocheted hyperbolic plane

Winner of the 2009 Diagram Prize

The 2009 winner has now been announced on The Bookseller‘s website, and is Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes by Dr Daina Taimina.

If you read the article, be sure to scroll down to the comments—the first is from Dr Taimina herself and gives her response to winning.

Another crocheted hyperbolic plane

If you want to know more about the the book and its author, visit her blog at You can also follow her on Twitter at @DainaTaimina.

Further update: When I wrote that, Daina Taimina had only just started her blog. Now that it’s been going a little longer, it’s showing signs of becoming a fascinating blog about art and mathematics, with a strong personal slant too. I do urge you to visit it.

Images © Daina Taimina and used with permission.

Night-time snow photos

One disturbing symptom of global warming, to those of us above a certain age, is that what I think of as proper winters have become rare in Britain. So rare, in fact, that we’ve had to wait about thirty years for a proper snowfall. As I recall, there was a string of mild winters in the mid to late eighties . . . which gradually became perceived as normal winters . . .

. . . And now, suddenly, it’s quite comforting (unless out in it) to have a normal winter for once. Finally! Except everyone is acting as though it’s never happened before.

I had forgotten a few things about these winters. For example, the noise that the snow makes when it decides it’s time to slide off the roof. But also—if I ever noticed it in the first place—the effect on the light outside.

Close to midnight, several nights running, I was struck by how remarkably light it was outside even with a cloudy sky. Almost as if the sun hadn’t quite finished going down and it were still dusk. I could see things quite clearly which normally would be in darkness. And the clouds in the sky seemed more visible than usual, too.

On reflection, this isn’t too surprising, for the simple reason that snow is white and therefore reflects a lot of light. Several things can happen:

  • Buildings and other surroundings that would normally just be illuminated by the sky will be illuminated by the ground as well, as the “snowlight” reflects onto them.
  • The “snowlight” can reflect back up onto the underside of the clouds.
  • Streetlights, which in places like Manchester already provide significant amounts of light pollution, will also be reflected off the snow onto the underside of the clouds, illuminating the sky a lot more than it usually would.

So I wondered: Is there enough light for my phone camera to manage to take a reasonable photo? I don’t have any way to control how long an exposure it uses, but on the other hand I do have a mini-tripod attachment for it and it does do OK at dusk . . . I expect the result will be quite grainy, but that might suit the kind of photo I’m taking, so let’s have a go . . .

Well, judge for yourself. The original photos I took did rather support my theory about the street lights, by having a very yellow underside to some of the clouds. The effect was a bit horrible. I converted them to black and white. Here’s my favourite of the resulting pictures:

Night-time snow landscape

Snow at night

That’s actually a detail of this larger photo:

Before cropping

Here’s a different cropped detail of the same photo. Though the tower crane, to the right of the house, is perhaps a bit of a blemish, I was surprised how clearly it shows up considering the graininess of the image.

Different detail

And here, for reference, is one of the colour photos, showing the yellow light pollution in all its “glory”:

Why I used black and white. Light pollution.

The photos are all taken on a SonyEricsson C905 camera phone, set to 3Mp resolution.

Protected: Manchester photos

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below: