Back from the Old World

By Phil Plait | May 17, 2011 7:41 am

Mrs. BA and I have spent the last week in Europe, on a Center for Inquiry-sponsored cruise with fellow critical thinkers. I’ll post more later, but yesterday we flew across 8 time zones, arriving home late last night. My body thinks it’s 2:00 in the morning yesterday, or perhaps tomorrow — I was calling the time zone confusion "yestermorrow" on the trip — and I’m a wee bit messed up. So instead of some big post about astronomy or Doctor Who or the latest attack on reality, here is a funny picture of a mail slot/intercom (I think) I saw in a narrow alleyway (as they all are) in Venice.

I think it’s a robot saying, "Meh." If you know what it actually is, please leave a comment. I’ll be sleeping until the day before yesterday.

[UPDATE: In the comments, people are asking about the odd lighting in the picture. I did not use a flash (which would have made the shadows distinct and sharp). The alley I was in – as are all of the Venetian alleys – is tall and narrow, with limited sunlight coming from above. We were not near a canal at the time. I can’t remember the precise conditions, but I suspect quite a bit of the light was coming from the alleyway surface itself, which is why it looks lit from below. In a sense, it is!]


Comments (34)

Links to this Post

  1. Rum and Reason » Buonanotte, Italia | Bad Astronomy | July 7, 2011
  1. Grand Lunar

    It’s an ancient member of the Cybermen!

  2. The hole below the modern intercom is where the old doorbell buzzer was located. It would have been a round brass half-dome, similar in size to the bell at a hotel check-in counter, with a little button in the middle. You still see them in many buildings there. This one has just been replaced with the updated buzzer and speaker.

    Either that or it’s a glory h…oops. This is a family blog.

  3. Something bothers me about that image. The lighting seems wrong. If you flip it round 180° then the lighting looks much more normal. However the writing is then upside down.

    What is this madness you have brought upon us?

  4. Kyle

    +1 Funny to Grand Lunar

  5. @Slugsie Haven’t you heard of the Coriolis Effect? It makes shadows go the opposite way in Europe.

  6. interskeptor

    @ slugsie: Hm, just guessing – the alleway is dark (roof? arc) and is lightened by the reflection from the ground outside the alleyway – so light comes from below…

  7. Colin Komar

    @slugsie: I must agree with interskeptor. The writing on the “eyebrows” has the proper orientation for reading, so the image is not upside down. It is a very funny looking “device” though!

  8. The Mad LOLScientist

    To me it looks scared, like “OH NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOES! THEY’RE GONNA STUFF MY MOUTH FULL OF PAPER ***AGAIN***??? =^..^=

  9. @Neal Edwards I live in the UK, so I’m used to the way that the Coriolis Effect changes shadows. I guess that because Phil took the picture with a USA spec camera it wasn’t able to compensate in the way that my Euro spec camera (and eyes) normally does.

    Thank goodness he didn’t take this pic in the southern hemisphere. The pic would then not only be subject to a different coriolis effect, but light spins the opposite way down holes there and we’d be in for a world of hurt then.

  10. Pepijn

    It’s in Venice, so the light from below may be reflected light off the water?

  11. Dr.Sid

    Might be light reflecting from glossy floor ..

  12. tmac57

    As far as the lighting goes,I am guessing that Phil was kneeling down to take the picture (shooting slightly upward),and using a flash,as the alleyway was dark.Either that,or the alley was filled with giant glow worms.

  13. Number 6

    Because this photo is from Venice, an ancient city, the face’s structure and design must be another sign of visitation by ancient astronauts — (“Klaatu barada nikto”)

    My source for this startling discovery:

  14. Marco DL

    @Pepijn: in Venice water doesn’t reflect light, it absorbs light. And that’s if you can call that “thing” water with all the industrial exhaust that have been pumped into the lagoon after the creation of Porto Marghera.

    It could however be the reflection on the white Pietra D’Istria (Istrian stone) that constitutes the majority of the walkways in Venice. That’s why I hope that Phil didn’t do the whole walk along the Zattere (the southern hem of the old city in Venice, on the opposite side of the channel from the Giudecca island) because it’s renowned that if you do that on a sunny day from the end of april to the end of September you risk being completely burned on the side that faces the channel and icied on the other :-)

  15. Dr.Sid

    Kneeling would hardly make the light coming from bellow of the viewpoint.

  16. alfaniner

    It’s a Mr. Machine!

  17. DrFlimmer

    Reminds me of a slit in a Roman church. The saga says that if you put in your hand and you have sinned, your hand will be cut off.
    So, probably this one bites your hand off 😀

  18. Whilst I can accept that something light/reflective below the pic could reflect a significant amount of light up, surely it can’t reflect up more light than is coming down to begin with? I would have thought that the reflected light would simply act to reduce the normal shadows below the objects. Unless of course the object is in complete shadow from above and the only significant thing illuminating it is the reflected light from below. But the quality of light just doesn’t look right for that, it doesn’t seem diffuse enough.

    There will likely be a simple explanation, but we won’t know the proper details until Phil wakes up last week.

  19. Calli Arcale

    What? You aren’t going to post about Dr Who? But I’m dying to hear what you thought of “The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon” and the revelation that the footage actually WAS doctored — or perhaps more accurately, Doctored.


  20. Someone needs to add robo-arms & legs to this guy & make a meme of him.
    Then send a GIF with transparency to Phil so he can use it…

  21. Slugsie:

    Whilst I can accept that something light/reflective below the pic could reflect a significant amount of light up, surely it can’t reflect up more light than is coming down to begin with? I would have thought that the reflected light would simply act to reduce the normal shadows below the objects.

    Obviously, you’ve never seen those fake “moon landing” pictures that NASA spent billions of dollars on, yet still messed up. 😉

    Actually, what happens when the object being photographed is in shadow, and the only source of light is reflected? (And the brightest thing around reflecting that light is below the object, such as the street itself.)

  22. Chad

    Ahhh, Venciea. Funny that is exactly what I thought of when I saw your picture (prior to reading post). All of the mailboxes are a piece of art like that, I remember that one vividly, in San Polo Dist. if I remember correctly – or maybe they are just similar. I trust that I cant trust myself.

  23. Acronym Jim

    Of course the light is coming from below. I would imagine the majority of the light in this volatile place comes from below, not above. I’m just surprised the camera didn’t melt.

    *Rereads post* Oh…Venice. Never mind.

  24. Robert S-R

    @Acronym Jim: Took me a sec. Nice one. : )

  25. How to spot a geek, Step No. 42: He visits one of the world’s most beautiful cities, and the photo he’s most excited about shows a mail slot.

  26. @Ken B – Ooooh, I’ve been quote mined! (YAY)


  27. Matiir

    Maybe not impressed but it does look shocked.

  28. Thopter

    It’s Bert! As in Bert & Ernie.

  29. Messier Tidy Upper

    … I’m a wee bit messed up.

    If you’re a wee bit messed up, BA, then I hate to think what that makes *me*! 😉

    Hope you had a fun and successful trip. :-)

    @23. Acronym Jim : LOL! Planet of (the Goddess of) Love versus the City of Love. Confusion understandable, sorta. 😉

    Think I vaguely recall Isaac Asimov (or was it Arthur C. Clarke or someone else?) writing a short story where similar confusion arose of aliens coming from “the watery place” – back in the days when a popular theory of Venus held that it had a planet-wide ocean.

  30. Percinho

    It’s quite obviously a robot Wallace from Wallace and Grommit.

  31. hugeholstein

    I took a picture of that exact same thing 3 years ago. Great minds think alike I guess.

  32. Lord Kap

    Definitely a mail slot/intercom. 😉

  33. Dren

    Ah, if I only knew about your visit here! I would’ve come to say Hi and how great fan I am (we are) of yours 😉


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