Friday, June 29, 2007

Happy iDay

Today is the day that Steve Jobs launches his latest revolutionary product – the iPhone – in the U.S. Tens of thousands of people are expected to line up at Apple Stores across the country today to get their hands on a piece of technological history and part with about 500 bucks.

I have no doubt that it will be revolutionary. Steve has a pretty good track record, having launched several revolutionary products in his time.

Steve and I go way back. More than 20 years, in fact. Well, actually, Steve wouldn’t know me from a bug on the sidewalk, but I’ve been greatly affected by three of his previous revolutions.

In 1984 I took a ten-week adult-ed course in computer programming. The instructor taught us to program in BASIC on an Apple IIe. Even then, Apple had the edge over its DOS-running counterparts in both the design of the machine and the simplicity of the Apple BASIC language. Little did I know about the next revolution that was launching even as I created and programmed a bunch of simple non-graphic computer games for my own amusement.

Exactly 20 years ago, I was a graphic designer with ten years of work experience in the advertising industry. Someone gave me a video about some new computer called the Macintosh and gushed about its ability to do in minutes what used to take hours in the studio. Something called a graphic computer interface made this possible. I watched the video and became fully convinced that the rules of graphic design were about to change. A lot. For the next four years, I made some strategic job changes just so I could work at places that used ever-better versions of Steve’s new revolution.

Between then and now I took note of what Steve did to revolutionize motion pictures. He did to animated films with Pixar what he had done for design and photography with the Mac. Completely changed the game. Which is what I’m sure he has in mind with his latest contraption. Oh yeah, there were those iMac and iPod things in there, too. Steve’s gadgets have opened new possibilities not only to the users of his machines, but altered the landscape to the extent that even his competitors had room to prosper.

I doubt that I'll ever have the worldwide impact that Steve has had with his ideas. But I do have ideas that can be nurtured. And who knows? Maybe with a little care and attention they may make their own impact in my own little corner of the world.

Plant photograph © 2007 James Jordan. Click on pictures to enlarge.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

What's the rush?

In the case of this tubular grass-like plant, the rush is called scouring rush; or as my siblings and I called it as kids, snake grass. We would pull the sections apart and marvel at the hollow straw-like structure. Other descriptive names of the plant include horsetail, toad pipe and horse willow. It’s found along the shores of ponds and in marshes. Sharp silica crystals within the plant give it its properties as a scouring agent. As an herbal medicine, it was used to treat bleeding, among other uses.

I took a few moments out of my daily morning rush a couple of weeks ago to photograph these rushes and stop the bleeding of energy caused by the many demands placed on me. The plants were located along the edges of an attractive pond located not too far from my home. I think it will be a place that I will return to often for follow-up treatments.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph copyright 2007 James Jordan.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Chatty blooms

There are 297 species of clematis in the world and I'll be hard pressed to identify the one that is currently growing up the side of my garage. Roger once told me that it seemed a bit strange to him that men attempt to impress women by giving them the sex organs of plants. And if you think about it that way, it does seem a little creepy.

You can blame it on the Persians, who ascribed meanings to various types of flowers. King Charles II brought the practice to Sweden in the 1600s and the practice eventually spread throughout Europe. In essence, various flowers and floral arrangements were used to convey coded messages, allowing people to express feelings that could not otherwise be put into words. You could, quite literally, say it with flowers.

Most of the nuances of the language of flowers has been lost over time, although roses still stand for love and the color indicates the "temperature" of that love. Red is intense and passionate, pink is for a budding love and yellow is for friendship. You just don't want to get a black rose - it means you've been dumped - or are dead. Here's a substantial flower dictionary, listing common flowers and their meanings, courtesty of Collier's Magazine, published in 1882.

By the way, the clematis stands for "poverty," which could explain something about the previous owner of my home, who planted the vines behind my garage. I think I'll take them down and plant a beech tree in their place.

Monday, June 25, 2007


Maybe a little coaxing will have this black-eyed susan coming out of its shell soon.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Tiger lily ball

This is a tiger lily stalk in full bloom (well, almost), as viewed from directly above. The past weekend was cool, gray and damp. After the rains paused momentarily on Saturday, I looked for something to photograph among the flower beds around my home.

I glanced over the railing on my deck and saw this looking back at me. A simple, pleasant surprise. So I obliged and photographed it.

Sometimes we get too immersed in our busyness or overcome by gray days and overlook the small gifts that are all around us, just waiting for someone to notice.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The road

May your road be easy and your journey a joy. Have a great weekend.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The long and short of it

The fallen tree amid the bright spring flowers led a long and useful life as a member of the forest. The foreground flowers displayed their brilliant colors throughout the woods for a couple of weeks and then were gone.

Which is more valuable: A long, dependable, utilitarian existence or a brilliant but short life span?


Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Trusting eyes

I've played with making portraits in the past and had some success, but really want to get more into it this year. This little guy has beautiful eyes and I wanted to capture them. Actually, his mother captured the image on her point-and-shoot digital camera and I offered to do some post-processing (cropping, sharpening, selective saturation/desaturation, blemish removal and vignetting) to give it some professional polish.

This photo is cross-posted on Flickr and one commenter mentioned that his expression is one of trust. And I agree. Children tend to trust adults. They have to, since they cannot fend for themselves. For this little guy, like so many other children, his growing independence will one day intersect with the cumulative effect of having been disappointed by people numerous times, and that trust will eventually fade.

Maybe that's why people are drawn to portraits of children. They portray something that's been lost over the course of the years and it feels good to get it back, if only for a few moments.

Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Monkeying around in Racine

A public art event in Racine, Wisconsin features replicas of the nearby Wind Point Lighthouse. From that starting point, local artists are free to create to their hearts' content, which they have, and their works are on display throughout the downtown area. The event, called Lighten Up! runs through September 15, when dozens of decorated lighthouses will be sold in a benefit auction.

King Kong runs amok in this artist's rendition of the famous movies, with the Wind Point light standing in for the Empire State building. A little vignetting in post-processing and wide screen cropping helps establish the cinematic quality of the scene.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Blue hour

The time between daylight and darkness is called the blue hour. The day is settling into sleep; it's a time of stillness. It is said that the fragrance of flowers is strongest at this time of day. It's a great time to take pictures.

This is a 20-second exposure taken on the shore of Lake Michigan. It was just me, a trio of people who had arrived to see the end of the day and about a half-million small flies. Had I fired a flash while this picture was being exposed, hundreds of small points of light would have been visible from the reflection from the insects.

Not everything settles down in the blue hour.

More photos from the twilight zone.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Racing the clock

Depending on the species and brood number, the magicicada spends 13 or 17 years underground thriving on tree roots and slowly maturing in preparation for the whirlwind activity of its last 30 days of life.

At the beginning of that last month, cicadas emerge by the billions in a D-Day-like invasion, banking on their sheer numbers to overcome predators, which are many. In that time span, their mission is to emerge, shed their skin, take to the trees, find a mate and lay several hundred eggs each, then die.

Northern Illinois is somewhere in the middle of that last month right now. Some suburban neighborhoods are enduring the nonstop din of the cicadas' mating trill. And the insects are racing the clock before it resets for the year 2024.

Click on pictures to enlarge. Photographs © 2007 James Jordan.

Partying like it's 1990

A few billion 17-year cicadas are having a party in northern Illinois. The northwest suburbs of Chicago was not one of the party destinations, so I decided to find one and crash it. The cicadas are particularly thick in the western and northern suburbs so I headed for a forest preserve north of Des Plaines, hoping to find a few. The closer my wife and I got to the preserve, the more we were certain we had picked the right spot. We could hear the party in progress.

The din created by a couple million cicadas is incredible. It's deafening and it's incessant. And they were everywhere. In trees, bushes, grass and in the air. No trouble finding subjects to photograph. Just stand still and eventually one will land on you.

I spent about 45 minutes to an hour taking pictures. After getting back into my car and rolling up the windows, only then did I notice that my ears were ringing.

Click on pictures to enlarge. Photographs © 2007 James Jordan

Friday, June 15, 2007


Kids explore their world at full tilt, fully immersing themselves in the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures before them. Simply because just about everything is new to them. So much to learn, so little time.

Adults go through life with a been-there-done-that view of the world. I wish I could engage in some wide-eyed wonder more often. This weekend I think I will push open the screen door and try to look at the world with fresh eyes.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


Yes, this image is PhotoShopped, but not by much. I just cleaned up a few lines here and there. Nature is more random than what this image conveys. Or does it just look that way?

Randomness and unpredictability bothers humans a lot. In addressing the seeming randomness of the universe, we've created stories and superstitions and sciences in an attempt to make sense of that which makes no sense.

Randomness versus unpredictability is a key question in physics, mathamatics, biology and religion, and depending on where one falls in the continuum of thought, influences every other though moving forward.

Just some deep thoughts that sprung up because I wanted to see a rectangular tree. And to think that I just picked this photo at random today.

Or did I?

Click on pictures to enlarge. Photographs © 2007 James Jordan.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Why did the goose cross the road?

To annoy the suburban driver. The suburbs of Chicago is an interesting ecosystem. My wife and I grew up in a semi-rural area in central Michigan and moved to the suburbs 16 years ago. In our first year here, we saw more wildlife than in the previous 30 years living in the country.

Our yard has been host to deer, foxes, raccoons, opossums and ducks. Canada geese are year-round residents and up until a few years ago, were multiplying out of control, making a noisy mess of parks, ponds and golf courses. But the numbers have tapered off of late, almost unnoticed.

The reason? The rise of a predator that until now, did not exist in great numbers. So what species is thinning the goose population in the suburbs? No, it's not Toyotas, although they've done their fair share to cull the waterfowl. It's coyotes. They're finding abundant food in the way of goose eggs and young geese. This year I've seen a couple of coyotes crossing the road as I've passed through forest preserves on my way to work.

So this bird may have escaped getting his goose cooked by the Camry, but he still faces an ever-growing menace lurking ever closer.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Light and beauty

The planet Venus casts its reflected beam from far beyond the beam of light projected from the Wind Point Lighthouse north of Racine, Wisconsin.

Ancient civilizations were awed by Venus; the Babylonians called the planet "Ishtar" while the ancient Chinese called it "Tai-pe." Both names refer to beauty and light. Ancient peoples around the globe held similar concepts of earth’s sister planet, whose position in the sky was used to track seasons in time.

Click on pictures to enlarge. Top photograph © 2007 James Jordan. Inset photo © 1997 NASA.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

House guests

My wife and daughters have a hobby of painting decorative bird houses, which I’ve hung outside around the deck of our house. This year, a pair of tenants have decided to raise a family in one of the houses. This is a mama house wren looking out of her rental home – at least that’s the best identification we’ve been able to make, based on the birds’ appearance and warbling song, as well as their nesting habits.

We think they’re currently in the midst of raising a brood, since they both regularly leave the house and return with an insect in their beak, which is taken inside the home, whereupon the parent quickly leaves on another hunting expedition. Occasionally the mother stays in the house with her young while father forages. When he returns, he passes the insect to the mother’s beak, who then feeds a baby bird.

It’s good that some creatures have decided to bring forth a new generation near my home. The big 17-year cicada Brood XIII emergence has certainly been a dud in Chicago’s northwest suburbs. Other areas are thick with them, but I’m guessing that the heavy development out this way over the last two decades have pretty much destroyed the brood in this area, if indeed there ever were any out this way.

Click on pictures to enlarge. Photographs © 2007 James Jordan.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Days of Yore

These are the days that will someday be called "those days." Hoping you're seeding the future with good memories planted today. This weekend might be a real good place to start.

Have a good one!

Antique shop, Door County, Wisconsin. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Haunted rail

Forrest is a rather non-remarkable town located on the prairie of north central Illinois. Forrest is located on a railroad line most noted for tragedy. On the night of August 10, 1887, an excursion train on the Toledo, Peoria & Western Railroad encountered a burning bridge about seven miles east of town. Unable to stop in time, the train collapsed the burning structure, plunging into the ravine and destroying two engines and many of the 20 wooden passenger cars.

Harper’s Weekly published a gripping account of the wreck and reported 600 passengers on the train bound from Peoria to Niagara Falls. Reports vary on the number of those killed in the accident. A nearby historical marker states that 85 people perished in the wreck, the worst in U.S. history.

Today the railroad history of the town is commemorated in a small park off U.S. Highway 24 and Illinois Highway 47 and within a stone's throw of the ill-fated railway. This photo was taken to capture the essence of those railroading days gone by.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Earth, sky, sun and space. Layer upon layer of firmaments. Us in the lowest layer. Looking out. Looking up. Wondering.

What we know about the firmaments is based alone upon what we can see and measure, with calculations involving really big numbers connecting the two. If you're into brain-stretching reading, the NY Times published a story today that says if we're right about what we think we know about the universe, then that knowledge will someday disappear and knowing that, casts some doubt about what we don't know that we don't know today.

I told you it was deep.

Photo collage: sunset at South Haven, Michigan combined with starry sky, Door County, Wisconsin. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Monday, June 04, 2007


This is what happens when two rapidly moving air masses of different temperatures collide. A wedge of warm moist air is plowing into a cool, dry air mass, throwing it high in the air. The cool air, being heavier than the warm air, is fighting to find its way back down to earth. The resulting turbulence wrings the water out of the warm air mass and creates a squall line of rain and gusty winds.

While photographing this approaching storm, I found myself standing at the point of collision. I had just taken the series of photos that became the storm panorama from two posts ago when the air temperature suddenly changed and a heavy wind kicked up, throwing me a bit off-balance.

I began to collapse my tripod to get into the car when I looked behind me and saw this scene. The line of the clouds converged on the vanishing point formed by the lines of the road and creating a sort of mirror shape of the grassy embankment. I quickly set up for one last shot. The camera was still set for a long exposure from the previous series, so the wind-whipped grass became rendered as a blur, adding still more drama to the scene. I made it back into the car just as large heavy raindrops began to fall.

Nature is big and powerful and occasionally I like to be reminded of that fact.

Exposure: One second at f22 with a circular polarizer, ISO 100 film. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

After the storm

I've heard it said that there are three types of people in the world: Those who have just come out of a storm, those who are in the middle of a storm and those who are heading toward a storm. Storms are a part of life, but those who have weathered one know the feeling of peace when the storm has passed.

This photo was taken in the aftermath of the storm from my last post. The clouds had passed and the setting sun painted them with fiery colors. The rising full moon was a bonus.

And He arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. Mark 4:39.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Storm panorama

Storms moved across our area last Friday, and, late in the day, my wife and I decided to drive out to meet one as it approached our home in Elgin, Illinois. We headed for an ominous looking ring of clouds while simultaneously searching for a suitable spot to set up. We eventually came to the corner of a corn field, and, seeing that the storm was moving pretty quickly, we stopped there.

I normally jump out of the car and begin to shoot holding the camera by hand, but I set up on a tripod, wanting to use some long exposures in the hopes of catching a lightning bolt or two on film. I took a number of shots, but never timed it quite right for the lightning. I then took a series of shots from right to left of the approaching storm as large raindrops started falling around me. The camera and tripod was quickly stashed in the car as the rains came full force. Those photos were stitched together in PhotoShop to create the panoramic view of menace.

I've captured a number of stormy panoramas in the past couple years. You can see other storms near Elgin, Indianapolis, Phoenix, and Racine .

Be sure to click image to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Friday, June 01, 2007

I can see clearly now

Taken after a storm moved over the lighthouse at Wind Point, north of Racine, Wisconsin.

Hope the clouds in your life break up and provide smooth sailing this weekend. Have a good one.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.