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Who doesn’t like Top Ten lists? Admittedly, I couldn’t resist and here is a list of mine, however, it doesn’t contain ten elements. Instead, I have searched the archives for my favorite pictures from the last 12 month – because today it’s this blogs first birthday.


Morning Gymnastics

Two geese, Hometown.

Morning mist & our local pond: A perfect match.


Nestling

A small pine, Harz.

The mystical Harz mountains. One of my early pictures and, until today, probably the best conditions I have ever had in Harz.


Protected

Bee in action, Hometown.

Looking forward to the time of the year when nature is coming alive again.


The Dream

Toad on migration, Harz.

Also in the Harz mountains, in one of the most remote regions. I was quite excited when we saw a single toad on our hike. An hour later there were so many that it became difficult not to step onto one.


Prospects

Rofanspitze, Alps.

A perfect sunrise.


Delicate

Poppy flower, Hometown.

One of my goals for this year: Photographing more poppies!


Closing the Circle

Sunset ICM, Hometown.

Spirals in a sunset, warm and cold swirling around each other, as night greets day.


Duck

Duck, Hometown.

Not much else to say here.


Triplet

Three dead spruces, Harz.

It took longer than expected to find this composition of trees during the first snow of the winter.


Parabola

Birch tree catching light, Hometown.

A single birch tree catching the first rays of light in front of the dark forest.


Travellers

Geese, Hometown.

The geese at our local pond during autumn: Every morning flocks of birds start off into the unknown.


Group Picture

Birch trees, Solling.

This makes me wanna photograph more woodlands; unfortunately, fog is rather rare around here.


Rising Clouds

Woodlands, Harz.

Perfect conditions as far as photography during noon goes. Rising clouds and snowy spruces came together.


Companion

Sandpiper, Denmark.

Cuddly, fluffy, tiny.


Lines

Retreating waves, Denmark.

First and only time so far that I have photographed the ocean; looking forward to going there again.


Backlit

Common Blue, Bavaria.

There are many variations of this picture in my archives. This monochromatic one has become one of my favourites.


Aspirations

Three eucalyptus trees, Madeira.

Besides birches, I fell in love with eucalyptus trees: their red bark in contrast to the green leaves and the shape of their branches is wonderful.


Mountain Ranges

Rofan mountains, Alps.

The colors and mood of a sunrise in the mountains cannot be communicated with photos.


Delicate Connections

Water droplets on grass, Hometown.

Two single droplets of water and fine spider webs form an abstract imagery.


Approach

Soldier beetle, Hometown.

Patience, patience, patience. I am looking forward to the day where I can sit and wait in nature as long as I want, without obligations waiting around.


Ordered Chaos

Beech trees in fog, Hometown.

Our local woodlands in late Autumn. I had been waiting for fog for a long time and when it finally arrived, I spent a whole morning outside exploring new paths.


Simplicity

Blossoms of a cherry tree, Hometown.

One of the simplest shots one could make.


Fairytale

Woodlands ICM, Near Hometown.

One of the (very) few times we got snow this winter. We explored some woods close by for the first time as the morning sun unfolded.


The Conversation

4 geese, Hometown.

Four geese on a landing stage enjoying the first rays of warm light, chatting about the happenings of past week.


Cold White Christmas World

Winter, Harz.

Starry night, cold air.


Commander

Group of trees, Madeira.

It were definitely the harshest conditions I shot in this year: Rain pouring down, wind sweeping across the land.


Seagull Portray

Seagull, Madeira.

The palette of colors and ocean in the background is what makes me like this one.


Crooked Heart

Highland cattle, Hometown.

Finding piece in a single picture.


Falling Into Place

At a levada, Madeira.

25 springs are welling right next to this waterfall. A special place and, sadly, quite crowded because of it.


Reminiscence

Sunset, Brocken.

Compositionally quite boring; but a special one to me, because it was a delightful evening trip with my parents.

Oscillations

Oscillations

One of the last exercises in an introductory course to programming I teach is to implement a straight-forward approach for modeling population growth over discrete time steps with a logistic growth function: The population x of a species at time t+1 is determined as x(t+1) = r * x(t) * (1-x(t)) where x(t) is the population at time t, and r is a fixed reproduction parameter. The choice of r influences the long term behaviour of the resulting time series – thus, the growth of the species population; for example, for r < 1, the series tends towards zero – the species goes extinct. However, for r > 3 the series oscillates – it exhibits a periodic behaviour (for some values of r the series even becomes seemingly random without a fixed period, see e.g. here). The length of the period depends upon r, but it never reaches an equilibrium; like a pendulum, swinging around its only stable position in the middle. Like life pulsating between non-steady positions, but never reaching a balanced state.

Oscillations are present constantly. The term (1-x(t)) models the environmental restrictions that prohibit unlimited growth. Restrictions which prevent us to come to a rest. The fantasy of a steady state is a futile one. There are times where a stable position seems in reach; until external restraints pull us back into another direction. At the moment, it’s the direction of work; and hence, photography and blog posts are somewhat neglected. Winter already fades again, making way for summer. Left are only some solitary pictures of oscillating camera movements and colorless nature.

That which remains.

That which remains.

She walks lightly, old man. She walks lightly upon the earth.

John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

From nothing, to being, to remembering, to being remembered, to nothing. Memories come, memories fade, become stories, get forgotten. Lost in a loosing universe; one of many. We only shape the being, we only choose the remembering.

Light snowfall decorates the pastures. Cold wind sweeps through my hair. Friends and family are with me, not only in my heart. I am as satisfied as one could be. But then, I notice it. A foreign species: standing still, patiently, waiting on the other side of the fence, observing me carefully; while the snowflakes settle in on the creatures head. I approach it slowly. My mother always taught me: If unsure what to do, just mimic your opposite – and so I do: carefully, I observe back. I fathom what happens within its mind: Are there thoughts about the landscape? The next meal? About the absurdity of our mutual and reciprocal study? Or is this creature not capable of such thoughts? Does it just dwell in this moment, right here? Enchanted by the simplicity of nature? Why does it seek our company? There are no answers, only silence. No one will know, and no one will remember. I cautiously moo to call the others – so that we can observe the pale-skinned creature together, as it is operating a small black box from time to time. Until it leaves again and we settle in for the night.

Falling Into Place

Falling Into Place

When does it all
fall into place?
Why does it feel
like it's a race?
The trail entrenched,
the water clear,
my body wrenched
by wicked fear.
The weight weighs down,
the lone souls drown –
no escape, just chains,
fate leaves the town.
Wrath claims the crown:
Where have I been?
What have I done? 
Escaped my sin, a lying grin
remains.

Jardim Botânico da Madeira

Jardim Botânico da Madeira

I have written about botanical gardens earlier. We visited another one, and what a treat it was: Plants, birds, blossoms, greens, oranges, and everything in between – the botanical garden in Funchal belongs to the main attractions of the town for a good reason; and who would have thought that pigeons are such a photogenic subject.

Cloudtrees

Cloudtrees

Madeira – the island of ever-changing weather: From storm to rain to sun to clouds to an ocean breeze, there was a bit of everything. On the island of eternal springtime, it felt like we witnessed at least three seasons in two weeks. But one constant remained: clouds and trees, intermingled on the rolling hills and steep faces of the mountains. Always waiting to be photographed, always changing shape and color. Madeira didn’t get spared by wildfires though; as in most European countries in the recent years, forest fires destroyed large areas in 2016 and the damages can be clearly seen along the southern coast.

The extent to which forests help to battle climate change seems still to be rather unclear: it’s not only about the amount of carbon they can capture, but also about the amount of clouds they produce which in turn reflect sun light. In any case, cutting down trees or setting fire is detrimental – nevertheless, both will happen in the years to come. Trees, clouds, and the sun, here all coming together during our hike on Pico Grande:

After naming this blog post I also discovered that cloud forest is a real term and about 1% of all forests are considered to be cloud forests.

Figures of Imagination

Figures of Imagination

Heavy rain takes turns with strong gusts of wind. I protect the camera, quickly wipe the lens, take a single shot, repeat. From time to time the sun brightens the clouds directly above. And then again, everything is covered in thick fog and sight decreases to only a few metres. Tourists stop in the car park, wait for a few minutes, and leave again. I am lucky that my significant other patiently waits in the car while I battle the weather. There is little chance to check how the photos look – since my camera isn’t weather sealed, I am more concerned about protecting it. The trees around me dance in the wind, characters of long forgotten legends, rooted deep, and yet it seems as they are moving with every step I take: From the lonesome warrior, to the sheltered child, to the ancient sage.

The Inevitability of Triviality

The Inevitability of Triviality

Triviale Maschinen haben nur einen Zustand: Sie liefern auf denselben Input immer den gleichen Output.

Heinz von Förster

The quote could be vaguely transcribed as ‘Trivial machines have a single state: Given the same input, they always produce the same output.’ In contrast, for non-trivial systems the output not only depends on the input but additionally on an inner, possibly unknown, state of the system. This inner state evolves with every given input and, thus, the same input can lead to different output. In other words: the output may seem random to an observer as it also relies on the complete history of inputs processed by the system, reflected by its internal state.

Using this bipolar framework to describe actual systems can be challenging: When I type 2+2 in my calculator it will always yield 4. It’s apparently trivial – until the environment acts upon it and the batteries run out, the circuit board becomes corrupt, or the display breaks. If my bike would always give the same output when I start pedaling, I would be much more satisfied and my local bike shop would go out of business. If computers really were trivial, a whole lot of IT assistants could look for a new job right now. Systems decay over time, they are error prone, they are subjected to the very same universe we are.

Another approach might be to not consider it as a binary decision, but a continuous scale of triviality where systems are ranked based on their robustness. In a probabilistic sense, the calculator is rather trivial as it gives the predicted output in a quantifiably large majority of cases. In contrast, living systems are on the other end of the scale and highly non-trivial since they exhibit wildly different behaviour in seemingly similar situations.

However, when system are ranked on such a scale of non-triviality, problems arise: How should I work on this very laptop when I assume that it could fail me anytime? If I would admit its non-triviality, I couldn’t work in the first place because it could give any output, independent from the keys I am pressing. This example seems a little daft, but when transferring it to human interactions, the exact same applies: How should I communicate with my colleague about work issues when assuming that the output will be determined by a non-trivial living system? How should I forward instructions if the output is uncertain anyway? How could I coherently speak with my partner about serious topics when my input has potentially little effect on the output?

We constantly trivialize the non-triviality around us. We do so because it is necessary. When I am typing in my calculator I expect a correct result. When I am asking a question to a friend, I expect to get an answer. Not because the answering system is trivial, but because I have to assume it is in order to ask the question in the first place. We trivialize machines, we trivialize humans, the reactions of strangers, friends, and partners. And if the output is unexpected, we don’t blame our foolish assumption of triviality, but we blame the system itself. And the scale isn’t really one that describes the non-triviality of systems, but rather a scale of how much an observer trivializes systems.

Where does this lead? Potentially nowhere; there might be other, potentially more useful, distinctions to draw. But when drawing this distinction, I am wondering in which cases it might be wise to begin to acknowledge the non-triviality of systems.

Photo Post: Plateaus

Photo Post: Plateaus

Above the small village of Ribeiro Frio, known for the breeding of trouts, a plateau promises a view towards Madeiras seconds highest peak: Pico Arieiro. The hike follows a narrow path along Levada do Furado. Mist rises from the valley deep below and the sun has brief appearances below the dense canopy of leaves. After following the Levada for a while an arduous ascent begins. We pass a hidden spring, wriggle through low-hanging branches, and cross small meadows with flocks of kinglets. In the end we reach the aspired plateau, but the reward remains absent: Instead of the expected peaks of the central mountain range, we can only see clouds of rain.