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Monday, February 26, 2007
5:44 PM      

More Surprises From Blogger/Google
It's been a little while since I logged in to Blogger. Surprising to see the migration to the Google login. I wonder how significant the changes under the hood are. The surface only looks a little different. I've been using the Atomz search engine since the early days of this blog. I wonder if it makes sense to switch to the Google engine.


February is Award Shows Month
I've never seen the British Film Academy Awards before. I enjoyed seeing the Police do Roxanne at the beginning of the Grammys, but it hardly seemed a historic moment. I didn't watch the Golden Globes or the Independent Spirit awards. I'm sure I'm missing some shows, and you probably get my drift — there are an incredible number of award shows in February.

Aside from CNN's iffy promotion of their MLK papers programs, you'd hardly know that February is also Black History Month.

The Oscars show last night was nice. On The View this morning, the hens had a lot to say about the clothing, and nothing to say about Al Gore or global warming. There was no political edge in the air during last night's show. Gore was more entertaining than inspiring. Ellen De Generes' humor was light, and safe. She has a much better shot at hosting again than David Letterman or Jon Stewart.


Can photographers be plagiarists?
Slate has an interesting take on the question, which delves into the nature of reference and parody in art. The piece illuminates the slippery nature of the issue of plagiarism, placing it largely within the domain of the legal system.

That's an apt placement, when you consider the semiotic concept of intertextuality:

Theorists of intertextuality problematize the status of 'authorship' treating the writer of a text [or the artist who makes an image] as the orchestrator of what Roland Barthes refers to as the 'already-written' rather than its originator: A text [or image] is... a multidimensional space in which a variety of writings [or images], none of them original, blend and clash. The text [or image] is a tissue of quotations... the writer can only imitate a gesture that is always anterior, never original.
– Chandler, Semiotics: the Basics, pg 196

The frontiers of a book [or work of art] are never clear-cut... it is caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a network...
– Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, pg 23

Photographers and visual artists often speak of 'reading' an image, and even apply the term 'visual language' in analyzing works. This highlights how relevant intertextuality is to the issue, which in turn raises problems with the idea of authorship, and of plagiarism in art.

Students of art often hear that everything's already been done. Their task is simply to find their own truth and to express it with integrity. 'Originality,' personal vision, and style are framed in terms of the bodies of work the artist produces, more than the individual piece.


America the Brilliant
Sad to say, these clips are shot on the streets of my country. Hopefully, the film crew encountered people who actually knew what they were talking about, and edited those segments out. Unfortunately, it seems all too easy to find many who don't have much of a clue...


Subject: You just received a E-Greeting
Yeah, right! I've never received a legit e-greeting that didn't show the name of the sender. That's the second clue that suggests this message is a phishing expedition or an attempt to plant malware on my machine — the first is the crappy formatting and questionable language of the subject line. The message text opens as follows:

A Greeting Card is waiting for you at our virtual post office! You can pick up your postcard at the following web address...

The message continues with a link that appears believable, but the link becomes questionable when I hover my cursor over it. The tool-tip shows a completely different address, one which reveals a potentially malicious intent:

That IP address isn't likely to be one that belongs to, and the .exe probably means bad news for Windows users.

I imagine hundreds of people a day being suckered into clicking that link. It's anyone's guess how many of those machines are now relaying phishing messages just like the one that suckered their owners. Chances are, the first recipients contacted by the newly-commandeered machine are the people in that user's Outlook address book.

[ link | e-me ]

Wednesday, February 14, 2007
4:04 PM      

[click to visit larger view]

that I should discover this photo on Valentine's Day. You almost miss the winged beast, with her head in such proximity to that gargantuan club.

I've been visiting photoblogs from all over the world, and the work of Kwerfeldein Photography [Martin Gommel] in Germany is exceptional. While people figure into his work, he really shines with landscapes, and there are lots of them on his dynamic and polished photoblog.


A chicken/egg conundrum
Did all gerunds (a verb derived from a noun by adding 'ing' to the end, e.g. ski -> skiing) arise after the noun they are based upon, or could it go the other way around?

The verb that's got me thinking about this is petting. Did we start calling those lovable creatures pets, because we pet them — in which case the verb came first — or did we call them pets, and decide that 'petting' sounded better than 'stroking'?

Today, I was reading some security tips on the Facebook blog, when I noticed that they've created a gerund from the noun 'friend.' Soon friending may be in common usage.


Once again, I'm happy to have switched over to Firefox, though I was briefly annoyed. I walked back to my computer with a cup of tea in my hand, only to see a dialog box telling me that Firefox had crashed. $%^#&!, I thought, and filed a crash report. I'd had several tabs open at the time, and I wasn't completely sure I'd remember a couple of those URLs. Oh, well, I thought... Then It got interesting.

When I re-launched Firefox, I got a dialog asking if I'd like to restore the previous session. I couldn't believe my eyes. I clicked 'yes,' and FF re-opened, tabs and all. Yeah, buddy! It's like command-z for crashes.

[ link | e-me ]

Friday, February 09, 2007
6:16 PM      

I've already written two segments of this post so far today, and I'm realizing that much of this post might be sub-titled 'Why I Can't Stand CNN (or Any of the Network News).' A few years back, they seemed like a real alternative to the rest. At the time, I didn't realize how complicit they were in selling the first Iraq war to the American public. Now, they're just watered-down drivel like most. Their music themes rival the sound tracks of Top Gun and 24. The graphics are completely over the top. Are they really the most trusted name in news? And even if they are, how much trust are they afforded? They certainly don't deserve much.


Save the Cheerleader...
Yeah, I'm hooked on the slowly uncoiling suspense of Heroes on NBC. It amazes me, the way the show is developing. As an added touch, it was fun to see George 'Sulu' Takei playing the part of Hiro's father, speaking the entire role in Japanese. Nice touch. The question is, did you catch the nod to his famous role? As he and Hiro's sister depart, the camera follows her around the back of the car...

Denise pointed out at the end of the last episode, that several episodes ago, Nathan Petrelli told his brother to forget about the cheerleader. Apparently, he has no idea that said cheerleader is his own daughter. Her adoptive daddy seems to think he's M.I.B., and Mr. Mind Meld's work seems a bit more disruptive than Tommy Lee Jones' neuralyzer. Another question: did mom's own hot little hands start the fire she thought killed her daughter?


Grammy & Art
Somebody from Entertainment Weekly was on CNN this morning, handicapping the Grammy Awards on Sunday. One of the American Idol winners is nominated for a New Artist award, and the prognosticator said that the thing that made her stand out from all the other Idol winners was sales. She also said that the Dixie Chicks might not win one of the awards they were nominated for, because they're hated for their politics in Nashville.

All the award shows have always had an aspect of marketing and promotion about them, but there was a time where artistic merit held a lot more sway, and they seemed much more divorced from politics. After all, the Grammy is called the Golden Gramophone, an allusion to the technical achievements of Edison and others at the beginning of recording, and it's given out by the Recording Academy, which I think was originally called the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences.

The GRAMMYs are the only peer-presented award to honor artistic achievement, technical proficiency and overall excellence in the recording industry, without regard to album sales or chart position.

– Official Grammy web site

I remember when Miles Davis won for Bitches' Brew. The first time I listened to it, I couldn't make sense out of what I was hearing, but I knew it was something extraordinary. There are no such innovators in the lineup of nominees this year. Instead, we have The Police getting back together — likely their only appearance together before they head off in separate directions once more.

I hope they fare better than Simon & Garfunkel on the 2003 Grammy show. Their performance of The Sound of Silence came off well, but when it came time for Dustin Hoffman — star of The Graduate, the film that put all three of them on the map — to introduce them, he couldn't get their names right.

As much as I love music, and perhaps because it's been such a big thing in my life, I haven't paid much attention to the Grammy Awards for some time. It always shocked me that the live performances are often loose, and for years the Grammy award show has been the one that has suffered the most glaring audio problems. I might TIVO the show, just to see the Police, but the rest? Ehhhh...

Truth is, I don't expect much from Sting and the boys, either.


Off Safari
I don't plan to use Safari much any more. When it first hit the scene, it was a breath of fresh air — it was much faster than IE, and had even better CSS support. As time has gone by, it's become a bit more unstable than its first releases, and Firefox has emerged as the new standard in W3C compliance. That and the web developer tools in Firefox are all nice touches, but the thing that broke it for me was Simpleviewer.

I've visited a lot of photographers' web sites over the last year or so, and a significant number of them present their images through older versions of Simpleviewer, which had a nasty code flaw: Under Safari, their sniffer script thinks that Flash is not installed, and redirects to a 'Get Flash' page. There's no way to get past the script to the content, so Safari users are locked out of those sites. I know people that have reinstalled Flash repeatedly, not understanding that Get Flash is a spurious error message.

When I hit one of those sites last night, I knew I had Flash 8 installed, switched over to Firefox, and had no problem viewing the site. What's more, I upgraded to FF2, which addressed the main quibble I had with earlier versions of Firefox: The default skin has been upgraded, and it no longer has that clunky, amateurish look.

I'm also very interested in some of the developer tools, which look as though my site-building process might be getting a little easier.


Barely Cold, Instant Pretext

...for crap. Spammers' command of the English language always impresses me. I wonder what the strange text strings at the bottom of these messages are for, and why they used my e-mail address, but some bizarre alias name in the To field. The only thing I can guess is that it helps them subvert some form of anti-spam measure.


Fat Actress?
As I started writing this, the autopsy wasn't even done yet. An army of cameras and reporters was camped in the parking lot of the coroner's office. Then, there was the press conference, where we heard it will be another three to five weeks before there is an official determination. It doesn't sound like a suicide by overdose, and she wasn't shot, stabbed, or beaten to death. The search for the cause from here on out will primarily involve microscopic pathogens or neurological causes.

The lawyers for Anna Nicole and her deceased husband are still at work on her $x-billion inheritance case, and two other legal teams are working on the tug-of-war over who gets to raise Anna's baby. Sheesh! What a mess!

Strange that just ten days ago, CNN did a story about Tyra Banks' reaction to the rags that have been running pieces about her weight, suggesting that she's too fat. A bubbly talking head said 'good for her!' The resounding tone of the piece was that Tyra does not have a weight problem... They segued into a piece on Anna Nicole Smith, and her battles with weight.

This was what the home page of the Trimspa web site looked like today:

The text at the bottom of the page reads as follows. There is a link to a separate page that has a small number of wishes from Trimspa customers.

Whippany, NJ, February 8, 2007 – Today, Anna Nicole Smith’s grief stricken and tumultuous personal life came to an end. Anna came to our Company as a customer, but she departs it as a friend. While life for Anna Nicole was not easy these past few months, she held dear her husband, Howard K. Stern, her daughter, Dannielynn Hope, her most cherished friends, beloved dogs, and finally, her work with TRIMSPA.

Anna knew both the joy of giving life, and the heartache of losing a child. We pray that she is granted the peace that eluded her more recent days on earth, and that she find comfort in the presence of her son, Daniel.

-- Alex Goen, CEO and Founder, TRIMSPA


And Legal Fights
As of January 20, James Brown's body still wasn't buried, and it was moved to some undisclosed (and hopefully climate-controlled) location. His family is fighting over his estate, and there's discussion of turning his Beech Island, SC home into a kind of Graceland that includes a mausoleum. When last seen, his body was still in the gold-plated bronze coffin used for his December 30 funeral in Augusta, GA.

To make matters more interesting, the woman whom Brown had married in 2001 is not his legal wife. In 2003, James found out that she had never annulled her marriage to another man. That was never handled, and she wasn't included in James' will. She's suing for half his estate [surprise!], but lawyers are saying that even if the court determined that she is his spouse, reversing an earlier ruling, she's entitled to no more than one third...

James may be resting in peace, but it seems no one in his closest circles are. Good thing he doesn't need that body any more. James had a will, but it seems there were a lot of loose ends. In an interview shortly before he died, Helmut Newton said he didn't want to waste time thinking [or talking] about his death. He said that either way, it would come too soon or too late. He and James Brown may have had that in common — James had shows scheduled through the holiday season and early this year — but I have the impression that there wasn't much confusion over where or how to bury Helmut.


Florida, the Most Trusted Name, and the Shrink
CNN must be loving the Sunshine State this week. We start the week with the strange, sordid, slightly kinky tale of the astronaut gone bonkers, and finish with the mysterious death of the 21st Century Marilyn Monroe. I was tempted to keep a count of the number of times the talking heads mentioned Nowak's wearing diapers during her 600 mile drive. Clearly, that was the media's obsession on day one. On day two, they started to bring in the psychological experts to speculate at more than arms' length on Lisa Nowak's mental state — had the pressure of being an astronaut driven her crazy?

The thing that amazes and somewhat disgusts me about the 24-hour news cycle, is that CNN et al break stories before they have any substantial information to convey. They manage to find numerous ways of saying 'we don't have any information for you' while still filling a 2-minute segment, and repeat those uninformed segments for hours. Worse, they tend to move on to the next hot story about the time that they get any substantial information on a particular story.

The other thing that bothers me about CNN is sloppiness. In a post-Super Bowl story, CNN reported about the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation taking issue with a stupid Snickers candy bar ad that ran during the broadcast. Aside from insipid questions from the talking head, which seemed to assert that the ad was just meant to be funny, the graphics person couldn't get the acronym right: the screen read 'GLADD' instead of 'GLAAD' throughout the segment.

When they covered the story of Lisa Nowak, announcers had a habit of dropping the word 'attempted' when referring to the charges brought against her. I guess it sounds sexier to say she's facing murder charges, even if it doesn't tell the whole story. They could afford the milliseconds it takes to say that extra word, and I really think they massaged the language to hype the drama. The other annoying thing about the coverage, is that CNN seems to simply parrot the claims of the prosecution. A hunting knife is a potentially deadly weapon, but a BB-gun? At least Toobin had the sense to say that the charge of attempted murder seemed to be a failed negotiation on the part of the prosecution to keep Nowak locked up.

CNN's point of view on the whole story seems to rely heavily upon (and tacitly reinforce) two tropes: 'The Right Stuff' and 'One Bad Apple.' No one at CNN will enquire into whether the Astronaut as Super Hero might be mythology, proposing instead that this sad public debacle was simply the product of a breakdown in NASA's near-perfect mental health screening...

A BBC News story suggests instead that astronauts are in fact human, and that NASA's real specialty is in keeping bad behavior out of the spotlight. Much of that story is a condensation of an entry called 'Crashing to Earth' on the blog of Dr. Pat Santy. Her most intriguing assertion:

Why bother to go to the trouble of choosing "the right stuff" in the first place when the superstar culture of the astronauts only encourages the worst sort of narcissism and sociopathy? Even if an astronaut didn't have an iota of such psychopathology before they their selection as an astronaut, they are at extremely high risk in the toxic NASA culture of developing it.

If you read The Right Stuff, or even saw the movie, you'd know that Tom Wolfe exposes some of this myth-making, and reveals some of the bad behavior. It's interesting that the phrase 'The Right Stuff' does not elicit any of those negative connotations.

Santy's suggestion has the ring of truth, but I don't think she'll be my go-to person for a psychological take on current events. She distills some Bush haters down to the following:

The psychology of some of the Bush Haters is pretty cut and dried. They hate Bush because he stands between them and the implementation of their collectivist "utopian" vision. I have no time to waste on them, except to note that their intentions are deliberately and decidedly malevolent toward this country. They want it to fail at anything and everything it does and they openly cheer for the barbarians at the gate.

Through her entire assessment, it seems she's unwilling to say explicitly that she's a Bush supporter. As for the rest of the Bush haters, she seems to corral them into a broad category of people who are using displacement to cope with threats (like terrorism) that they can't do anything about. But, hey, it's a blog — no one expects her to be rigorous.


An Unscientific Survey
On February 2, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued what it called 'a comprehensive and rigorous picture of the global present state of knowledge of climate change [i.e. global warming].' This is some pretty heavy stuff, worthy of substantial coverage by the media.

I happened to have ABC's AM news show on, and wondered why their weather guy was giving his report from Paris. He blathered on about the gardens and the Peace monument behind him, and in the space of about 15 minutes, he gave two standard weather reports, never mentioning that he was in Paris to cover this story.

Next up on ABC was a minutes-long segment on a fake 'bridezilla' segment that is posted on YouTube. It's a successful publicity stunt by several aspiring actresses and a filmmaker. For some reason, the filmmaker didn't appear on air, though he at least got a mention. I flipped over to BBC news, when I saw that Laura Bush was going to be the next guest — she was there to promote people wearing red to raise awareness of heart disease. I don't know when ABC finally covered the IPCC story. I have the impression that it was a very light piece, considering the hard news guy they'd sent to cover it.

On BBC, I saw at least three different segments in 15 minutes, including an in-studio interview with an IPCC spokesman, and a field report from Beijing on China's reliance on old-style dirty coal for home heating.

I'd call that anecdotal evidence of a very different set of priorities driving what each of these news organizations deems as news-worthy.


Windows Vista
finally shipped. Bill Gates was on CNN and even on The Daily Show. He's clearly no Steve Jobs, who is said to exude a 'reality distortion field.' When Gates talks, he barely seems excited. His smiles seem rehearsed.

And now, this OS release. Bill almost winced when the interviewer suggested that Vista looks a lot like OS X and asked whether they were going after a particular look... Gates went on to say that there were places where Vista was ahead, saying something about it being easier to burn a DVD, browse photos, integrate with the living room TV, and institute parental controls. These seem like mild enhancements, not innovations. Interestingly, he said absolutely nothing about enhanced security.

I think it's particularly telling, that the segment began with an accounting of how many $billions were spent and how many millions of lines of code were written. Less than a week later, a report ran about how Vista's voice recognition could be exploited to breach its security. While plausible, I doubt that anyone will ever capitalize on this particular hole. I just wonder how long it will be before we hear the first reports of worms and viruses successfully targeting Vista. Apple's ad about the warning dialogs in Vista is pretty funny.

Recent news reports suggest that few people are running out to buy Vista and install it on their existing machines. OS upgrades can be painful on any platform, and I think a collective memory of negative experiences upgrading Windows before means that there isn't likely to be a big wave of upgrading. Instead, it seems people held off on buying new machines until they could get them with Vista pre-installed. In the last week or so, there's been something like a 200% jump in PC sales. The question: is that a spike, a surge, or an escalation? In other words, how long will Vista be a boost to PC sales?

There is an infrastructure question about Vista's release that may also be salient: what is Vista's potential as an application development platform? Microsoft released the ASX streaming format a few years ago, never bothering to create a Mac-compatible client for it. More recently, they dropped development and support for Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer on Mac.

I still come across the occasional web site that has features that don't work with Mac at all, or only support IE or Netscape. Do you suppose there might be some developer hooks in Vista that will eventually emerge as web-based services available only to Windows users? Time will tell.

[ link | e-me ]

Tuesday, December 26, 2006
10:16 PM      

From: don
Subject: Re: another one gone
Date: December 26, 2006 2:53:21 PM EST

R.I.P. James Brown 12-26-tuesday....

Bretheren Africanites:

Rings of reaction spread from the center of the pond of loss...A true, rare original is gone. Who knew that Seminole Indian blood understood the atmospheric speaker pressure of the fender bass pickup? Or that jailbird car thief gypsies understand how fuck humping can fit into a 45 rpm disc mix? This is the surprise of the diminutive but nuclear African Picasso we came to know as JB.

He made the squarest white missionary swivel. Have you ever gone into a studio and TRIED to make the new, the remarkable, the special, the HISTORIC? Just try it, and cry with embarassment. Now, JB was visiting from another plantation...- he captured the sound of energetic excitement - pure and simple - the throbbing pulse of the act of creation attached to a full moon smile. Pond life does it, the Queen and the pope have variations on it, and JB made it possible for all of us to GET DOWN in public, let loose, feel the thrill...... to have fun with a capital k on the end.

All of us are copying him, this refreshing son of a brothel queen. He liberated me. There aren't many artists who can remove all at once and bring us stripped down, down to the cave again, to the swamp where we all came from, to the fundamental joy of IT. The next great Picasso of R&B will be.......?

obit thoughts submitted by Don

[ link | e-me ]

Monday, December 25, 2006
1:09 PM      

Were you dreaming
of a white Christmas? In Denver, I'm guessing the snow's a little stale, but still pretty. The gray light around here suggests that it may be a wet Christmas later on.

It's odd to see pictures on CNN of people in China celebrating Christmas with inflatable US flag-themed bats and hammers. Seems they have Christmas and New Year's all jumbled together. In Australia, it's little fake trees on the beach. Somebody should have gone and found a Caribbean Christmas tree — stories-tall relatives of the Yucca which are said to bloom only rarely, trimmed with colorful glass bottles.

Christmas signals the beginning of the last week of the year. In that week, we remember those who've passed away in the year we're leaving behind. This morning, a friend wrote ‘Well its a Brown Christmas... I'm thinking up an obit for Mr. Dynamite, he meant alot to me as he did to twenty, no forty, no 300 million others. I read his autobio recently. To me he is a Picasso, a world heavyweight.’

That's the first I'd heard that James Brown had died. Yes, he was a heavyweight, ‘the hardest-working man in show business,’ and the source of so many memories. Without James, Eddie Murphy wouldn't have had source material for one of the funniest bits he ever did on Saturday Night Live [Hot Tub!], or a number of bits that he did on stand-up gigs around the world. And, Funk music would not have had an anchor.

There's no official cause of death yet, but James had been hospitalized with pneumonia. It's fitting that his life would end with his lungs giving out. He had bookings through the holiday season this year — his lungs may have failed him, but his heart and drive never gave out.

In the 80's a bunch of friends were making up lists, and the question put to a bunch of us was to name the five or so people who had the biggest impact on popular music. James was at the top of my list. Many of the people in that group strongly disagreed. It was one of those times where it was clear that music might be universal, but music forms are distinctly cultural. Still, I'd bet that several of those people would, by now, acknowledge that James was an important part of popular music, and popular culture.

I don't remember any questions about James Brown on Jeopardy, but somewhat strangely, I found out that two other musical heroes (hear-oh's) of mine died this year through questions on that show.

One was Wilson Pickett, who I actually got to meet in a recording studio and sing backing vocals for. One of the funniest things he talked about that day, was being on the set of Blues Brothers with James Brown and John Landis. The point Wilson was making, was that nobody tells James Brown how to perform. The song ‘Funky Broadway’ often comes to mind when I go into Manhattan. I can't even imagine how many thousands, if not millions, of times bands have covered ‘Midnight Hour.’

Then, there's Billy Preston, who was known to many as ‘the fifth Beatle.’ On his album I Wrote a Simple Song, he thanks John Lennon for his support. I played the song Outta Space until the vinyl turned gray. I always thought he deserved more fame and success than he seemed to achieve. A lot of musicians don't seem to know ‘Will it Go 'Round in Circles,’ but it's one of Billy's best, and I think it'll go 'round for many more years to come.

[ link | e-me ]

Thursday, December 21, 2006
3:55 PM      

A strange synchronicity
happened yesterday. It was the 50th anniversary of the end of the Montgomery bus boycott, a watershed moment for the Civil Rights movement. It was also day 3 on the job for the new Defense Secretary, and the first day of his first surprise visit to Iraq. And it's a few short weeks since the infamous Michael Richards blow-up.

CNN ran a lot of material about the Montgomery boycott, looping it with trailers for a special on Racism in America and all the other news of the day. At some point I saw some footage of Secretary Casey stepping off the C-130 cargo plane and onto the tarmac in Iraq. There was a wide shot of the plane showing the hatch that Casey would step through, along with a section of the fuselage.

That shot piqued my sense of irony. Painted in huge letters on the side of the plane, as clear as day, were the words Spirit of Strom Thurmond.


... for Photoshop geeks, at least. I read the new Sybex book Skin by Lee Varis from cover to cover in record time last week. It covers a wide range of subjects related to photographing people — including lighting, getting skin color and tone right, why digital cameras tend to redden skin tone, retouching, soft proofing, and printing. It is great to see all of the info together in a well-written, concise tome, which is based on practical experience.

Some will take issue with some of Varis' advice, especially the assertion that there's no advantage to working in 16-bit. His suggestion that Adobe RGB is sufficient and that ProPhoto RGB is overkill might be a little easier to swallow, though I know there are a number of people teaching students that ProPhoto is the future.

Thumbing through the book in the store, the thing that hooked me was a technique for making blotchy skin look more even. I didn't realize how thorough the treatment of lighting was, until I got the book home. Nearly half the book came off as a kind of bonus, since I bought it purely on the basis of its coverage of retouching.

This is an intermediate to advanced book. It will be a lot easier to grok with, if you have experience with layers, blending modes, and masks in photoshop. As far as the lighting stuff goes, it's a good idea to have some prior exposure to studio lighting and using a light meter. But maybe this is a self-regulating matter — I don't think the average beginner is going to be interested in the subject — it's the kind of thing that you get interested in, after you've wrestled with this stuff for a while.

[ link | e-me ]

Friday, December 01, 2006
8:05 AM      

Today is World AIDS day. According to the UNAIDS Annual Report, around 40 million people are living with HIV throughout the world, and about 4.3 million people were newly infected with HIV in 2006 alone.

[ link | e-me ]

Thursday, November 09, 2006
5:13 PM      

I just heard that Ed Bradley died of Leukemia today. He was only 65. He did some great work on 60 Minutes.


The end of October
brings two fun events: the Halloween parade and the Marathon. I shot both. Click the pics to see a gallery for each.


But Wait, There's More...
Waking up yesterday was a little bit like waking on Christmas morning when I was a kid. The radio crackled with the news that the Dems had taken the House, as expected. Like a basketball circling the rim, it seemed they were poised to take the Senate, too, but we'd have to wait and see if the ball would drop in.

Then, came the surprise afternoon visitor: Rummy had finally stepped down. My first thought was that Bush could not have had him step down any time in the last six weeks, because it would have looked like the White House had been swayed by pressure. We may come to miss the old buzzard's surrealist poetry, but I doubt much else.

Equally exciting is the prospect that Pataki is finally leaving the Governorship of New York. I have a good feeling about Elliott Spitzer. I think he comes from the right background, though I wonder about his ability to alter the momentum of some of the massive projects Pataki & Co have already put in place.

The elephant in the room has been dealt with. Now, let's hope that the new ‘guys’ (were any women elected in all this?) don't turn out to be jackasses. Pelosi and company seem to be striking an appropriate tone so far.

I'm listened to George Allen concede Virginia as I typed this. He started by thanking God for his wife Susan, and made reference to the Bible in his speech. While he acknowledged that the outcome of a recount would probably not produce different results, he couched his decision not to ask for a recount in terms of doing the right thing: living a purpose-driven life, avoiding further rancor, and dragging the process out until December.

Allen spoke metaphorically of a deep-rooted tree that grows back after it's been damaged:

Sometimes winds, political or otherwise, can blow the leaves off branches or even break limbs. but a deep-rooted tree will stand, stay standing; it'll re grow in the next season. In this season, the people of Virginia — who I always call the owners of the government — they have spoken. And I respect their decision.

The Bible teaches us that there's a time and place for everything and today I've called and congratulated Jim Webb and his team for their victory. They have the prevailing winds...

Political winds = blowhards? Broken limbs sounds like broken arms or legs. There's a piece of this that even seems to connect back to Bush's Katrina disaster, and Allen's own hot air moment.

The speculation is that Allen was mostly alluding to his own run to regain a Senate seat in the future, but there's a chance he was also talking about the conservative movement, which seems to have taken it pretty hard on the chin in this election. Considering how vigorously conservative pundits are already denying that voters signaled their displeasure with social conservatism, perhaps they protest too loudly.

Impressive — I heard that the voter turnout on Tuesday may well be the highest since 1984. Independents turned out in record numbers.

CNN's coverage of Jim Webb's speech this afternoon picked up on Webb after he'd started speaking and cut away before he was done. That's very different from the way Allen's event was covered.

Britney... OK, I don't think she had to wait until after the mid-term elections to file for divorce, unless her publicist was worried that the story would get lost in the run-up to election day. A few months ago, she was indirectly involved in a political skirmish set in an art gallery. An artist had contrived a pro-life statement by sculpting a life-sized Britney on all fours delivering a child on a bearskin rug. To top-off the context, a pro-life group had been invited to leaflet gallery visitors for the opening. If she was aligned with the artist, maybe yesterday was a bad day for her, too.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006
3:59 PM      

It makes sense
that prime (or fixed focal-length) lenses would be sharper than zoom lenses. The zoom action varies the relationship between lens elements throughout its range of focal lengths, meaning that their configuration is likely to be less than optimal most of the time.

I've been thinking about getting a prime lens that would be great for certain kinds of portraits, and I'd been leaning toward an 85mm, but I started to read bad things about the bokeh on the 85mm. So, I went for the only lens that Cartier-Bresson used — a 50mm. It's the lens that came with my first 35mm SLR back in high school, too, so it's a lens that holds a certain nostalgia. Of course, with my dx sensor, it's effectively a 75mm, but I digress.

Reviews offered some useful guidance for my purchase decision: The ƒ1.4 lens has more distortion than the ƒ1.8, and the 1.8 is nearly 1/3 the price. For about 150 bucks, I walked out of the store with the 50mm lens, a UV filter, and a collapsible rubber hood. It's one of the cheapest camera-related purchases I can make and it stands to help me make some substantially better images (it's easy to spend more than that on a bag, which has no direct effect on the quality of your images).

The 50mm is that cheap, because it's made in China, and the lens barrel is plastic. I'm told the glass is the same as it's been since the introduction of the lens, and it's reassuring to see a metal bayonet plate on the back of the lens.

The lens is at least 1/2 pound lighter than my 28-105. That means less camera shake in hand-held shots, and a little less pull on the shoulder, but it's all about the glass, and the proof of the pudding is in the two sets of photos. These are un-resized direct samples from two raw captures — no sharpening and no adjustments were applied. I just pulled these rectangles from areas of the two images.

The eyes look so different in the two shots, that I thought maybe I didn't have the same point of focus, so I looked at the couch and the hair. The difference there is just as striking. It's less obvious in these samples, but it seems that the color rendition is also nicer with the 50.

There's no doubt that zoom lenses are extremely effective for some shooting situations, especially those were walking back and forth to compose is not an option. But a prime lens affords a more detailed image in any setting that is practical. I'm using the word detail, rather than sharpness to emphasize that we're talking about a quality of the image that cannot be added after the fact by digital ‘sharpening.’ Sharpening works by making edges more apparent, which gives the impression of sharpness. It does not add detail, and it can't make something that's out of focus appear to be in focus.

Last night , I took my light, fast (2-1/2 stops faster) lens and a flash with me to the Halloween parade. It was definitely fun. The surprising thing was how much that 75mm (effective) focal length behaved like a telephoto. I often had to back up, but the light weight and mostly one-handed operation of my camera made up for it. It has me thinking that maybe I want a wide-angle prime lens, too...

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Sunday, October 29, 2006
12:48 PM      

Why is this song
running through my head? Van Halen's Jump has been playing on the radio in my head for the last couple of days. I've never liked that song.


And Now, Ming

A while ago, I wrote about ‘Taz’ (below) joining us. About 6 weeks after she got here, we got her sister Ming. It took a while for Ming to come out of her shell, but she's definitely coming into her own. It's amazing and entertaining to watch them play, fight, and groom each other. Happily, neither of them seems to mind a camera.


October 27, 2006 2:03:08 PM EDT
I got an e-mail from The Container Store, featuring stocking-stuffer specials.

I thought stocking stuffers were the last thing people bought during the holidaze. Today, I replied to an e-vite and got an ad featuring holiday specials.

And I thought it was a drag when Christmas marketing started before the Macy's parade on Thanksgiving. Now, we're getting e-mail before Halloween.

Speaking of Halloween, I've seen two articles this season bemoaning how all the women's halloween costumes in places like Target, K-Mart and Wal-Mart (ostensibly family-friendly places where a mom can take her two young girls to get some simple mouse ears) are selling nothing but sexy/naughty costumes for women. In the 10/16/06 New York Times, Allison Glock asks ‘where did all the ghosts, hobos and vampires go?’

In Barnes & Noble on Union Square yesterday, I overheard three guys discussing halloween costumes. ‘You could be a vampire,’ one of them said... another elaborated ‘you could be a goth vampire... with fangs’ ... yada yada. And I thought vampires were the inspiration of the goth fetish. Goth vampire sounds redundant, and besides how could you tell the goth vampire from the regular one?

Back to Allison's question -- I guess (at least in the minds of the big box stores) the vampires are all goth guys.


I got itchy trigger finger about a week ago.
I had TiVo'd a show on Comedy Central because it ran an amazing commercial, and I had wanted to grab a couple of frames before I deleted it. Oops... gone, and I haven't seen it since.

I had thought it was just off the wall, until Denise chimed in with this spot-on observation: The white girl uses her brains to overcome the sexually predatory, bionically enhanced (and probably much less intelligent) black girl.

The ad is for Amp'd, which ran another racially stereotypical ad that raised eyebrows earlier this year:

...a [white] guy standing on a bus is playing with some device, when he commands two guys in the back to start fighting; they comply. He then tells some guy with a boombox to crank up some old funk tune; up comes the beat. Then he turns to a black woman and commands, "You, shake your junk". She gets up, grabs the pole that's conveniently right there, and turns the bus into a stripper's workout room, shaking her prodigious junk for all it's worth (and I'll argue that only until pornified rap videos became commonplace did a whole lot of people know this colloquial meaning of "junk").

It's hard to isolate the more troubling part of this brief scene: is it that a white man can command a black woman to "shake your junk" as though neither of them had ever left the strip club (or worse, the plantation), or that she does it without complaint? At least she keeps her clothes on. Then again, this is a 30-second ad for a mass-market product....

– Mark Reynolds: Modern Day Hottietots

Ads can't debunk any of the stereotypes they employs, because that would take up too much the marketing bandwidth. An acquaintance of mine used to talk about ‘vampire video—’ advertising that captured the viewer's attention but didn't drive home product recognition. So, ads have to rely on stereotypes and archetypes that are intrinsically accepted at face value — ideas that have a certain truthiness (thanks, Stephen). And while a commercial can't waste message debunking stereotypes, they often blithely reinforce marginal ones.

When we look at commercials as a collection of symbols, the black woman tends to read as all black women, while a white guy will typically be read as all guys. [Notice that the quote I pulled from Mr. Reynolds' article even glosses over the race of the guys, but the woman is explicitly called out as being black.]

Advertisers have the sole agenda of selling product. If they're willing to program kids to pester their parents for things [see The Corporation], they're not likely to have much conscience about reinforcing racism. Making it seem funny or edgy just makes it go down easier... And besides, if Too Live Crew can do it, so can Amp'd, right?

Which brings me to this:

Why Don't Blacks Support Republicans?
Because when their campaigns are desperate they always go back to the well of racism. The Republican party is running in Tennessee on a platform of the big black buck coming for the white women.

That's something of a turn-off to black voters.

– Olliver Wills

This one is quite crafty, as Josh Marshall points out:

But then you see that one 'man on the street interview' isn't quite like the rest. It's almost like those old Sesame Street segments, one of these things is not like the other.

It's the one spot with the platinum blonde with no visible clothes on, vamping "I met Harold at the Playboy Party."

What policy issue is she talking about? It's not connected to anything. It's just, 'I'm a loose white woman. I hooked up with Harold at the Playboy mansion. And I can't wait for him to do me again.'

Talking Points Memo 10/24

See for yourself...

An insidious aspect of this kind of advertising, is that it leaves a lot of margin for deniability, much as in the recent case of Dick Cheney's insistence that he simply meant dunking ‘detainees’ (we can't call them prisoners, after all) in water – and not the technique known as ‘waterboarding’ (aka simulated drowning) – when he said some interrogation methods are a ‘no-brainer.’ He left it to his mouthpieces to handle the rest of the dissembling.

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