Thursday, March 20, 2008

On Jump-starting Creativity

Thanks to Brian Kerr for this link. Watch it.

Move from zero to one.

Don't just sit there.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Nick's first concert

Last night (March 15), my son Nick played his first public gig. He was the opening act in a show at the Neutral Zone's "Side B" venue. If you're not familiar with the Neutral Zone, it is a fantastic resource for teens in Ann Arbor. Quoting from their web site, "The Neutral Zone is a diverse, youth-driven teen center dedicated to promoting personal growth through artistic expression, community leadership and the exchange of ideas."

I'm not exactly sure what to call his music. It's definitely electronic, and mostly danceable with a heavy beat. On his computer, he has pre-created instruments and patterns for them to play. He can activate instruments using the computer keyboard, and can control volume and tone (and perhaps other parameters) using the knobs on his control box. Thus, it is very much a live performance, with him acting, in effect, as composer and conductor of a multi-instrument electronic orchestra.

I took advantage of the opportunity to photograph him and the surroundings. From approximately 100 shots, I selected about a dozen to share. You can watch the slide show, below, or you can click through to the set on Flickr if you want to see them larger.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Because I knew that the color of the lighting would be odd, and that the venue is fairly dark, I shot in "raw" mode. That way I had the greatest flexibility in adjusting color balance and a few extra bits to pump up the exposure if I needed it. I used my f/1.8 50mm lens exclusively because of the low lighting conditions.

I "processed" the pictures using a trial copy of Apple's Aperture program. I have to say, it's pretty slick. It let me work directly with the RAW files, exporting JPEG for Flickr. I'm sure it's got a lot of power that I haven't even touched yet, so more experimentation is in order.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

February challenge, retrospective

Overall, this was an interesting challenge. It was fun picking a color and then finding it throughout the week. As with any such challenge, some weeks worked better than others. Ironically, I think that the "white" week came out well, despite the fact that the white is all from snow, and that I did it at the last minute. Purple was the most fun, and the longest premeditated (and also the shortest week).

I've included a "slide show" of the month, including some alternative choices that didn't make it into the final cut.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.


Finishing the February Challenge: White

It was snowing. It was late at night. So, naturally, I took my camera and tripod and embarked on a photo expedition to the snow covered campus.

bicycle storage?

My color pick for the 5th week of February is the "non-color", white. To be honest, the choice was almost forced upon me when I realized on Friday that I hadn't done any of my week 5 photos, yet. Thank goodness for leap year, or I would have missed the week altogether!

Amy and I attended a funtastic concert by Bill Kirchen at the Ark, Friday night. I had intended to bring my camera, but forgot. Oh, well. When we came out after the concert, it was snowing, great huge flakes, coming down thickly. Oh! I wanted my camera. I figured, "Ok, we'll drive home, I'll grab the camera, and get back into town to take some neat shots of lights in the snow." Or something like that. Of course, by the time I got home, called the kids (who were on a trip with their grandparents), walked the dog, etc., etc., the snow had stopped.

But, I still needed my photos for the challenge. I loaded the camera, lenses, and tripod into the car and set out for campus. I started at the law quad, worked my way up to the "diag", to Ingalls Mall, and back by way of Hill Auditorium. With all that newly fallen snow, what color could I pick other than white?

When I saw the bike "storage" area by Mason Hall, with all the bikes in the snow, I knew I wanted a picture of it. It amazes me that these (expensive) bikes are just left out in the snow like this. I tried several different angles, and the one above was my favorite. Yes, it's a cliché but I like it.

blowing snowAs I was walking, it would snow a bit from time to time. It never got as thick as the earlier snowfall that had inspired me, but I did manage to capture the blowing snow in floodlights. You need to view that one large and on black. There's a lovely texture resulting from the long exposure and the moving flakes.

blowing snowThe last photo may be a bit of a cheat for a "February Challenge", but I've been wanting to do a snow blower picture all winter. The next day was lovely and sunny and there was 6 to 8 inches of new snow to move. There's nothing quite as white as freshly fallen snow. A fast shutter speed stopped the snow in mid-air.

One of the hardest parts of this week in the challenge was choosing only 3 from among my favorites. I included some others in the photo set on Flickr.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

February Challenge, Week 4: Green

Week 4 is dedicated to green. I got the idea from a friend's cubicle — she had tacked up fabric over the panels, put in some plants and a rug, resulting in a bamboo-like theme. I took a photo, but I ended up not using it.
Obviously, a green theme needs some plants, which I found "growing" in the lobby of my workplace. The red stem formed a focal point, and shallow depth of field gave me a nicely variegated green background.

why green?This green pillar stands in the middle of the cube farm in which I work. As you can see, the basic color theme is beige, but someone thought we needed a splash of color in the middle. Since we couldn't get rid of the column, they painted it this "lovely" olive green.

I wanted to accentuate the color contrast of the column with the rest of the office, so I found a vantage point where very few cubicle decorations were visible, and filled about 2/3 of the frame with the column. The highlight on the dark side added some depth, and I positioned myself to take advantage of it.

Starbux greenAnn Arbor has about 30 coffee shops (or so it seems). Until a few years ago, none of them were Starbucks, but they did move in, eventually. Apparently, the function of a coffee shop in a college town is to provide an alternative study location to the library. Personally, I'd prefer one that offered free wireless connections, but maybe the brand name attraction is just too strong to resist.


Monday, March 3, 2008

2008 Challenge, Week 4

Rackham Graduate School

All graduate students at the University of Michigan are officially enrolled in the Graduate School, no matter what department they may be working in. The building houses the offices of the graduate school as well as a large auditorium, which hosts various visiting speakers throughout the year. There are also nicely appointed study rooms.

Horace Rackham gave the money to build it, and specified that it must face the university library with no obstructions between the two. A nice pedestrian mall runs the several blocks between Rackham and the library.

I really wanted to take this shot in the light of the setting sun. Alas, I set out a few minutes too late. I did get a nice shot of the Ann Arbor Google office sign in the warm sunlight as I was on my way.

It was a cold evening (about 15F) so I didn't want to linger long. I found a position that silhouetted the building against the sky color, waited for a pedestrian to get out of the frame, and took a couple of shots.

Nite Flight - #176 - July 6, 2007I tried straightening the perspective convergence out, but the result looked really weird, so I left it alone. The wide angle and converging lines make the building loom majestically. It's really a more welcoming place than it appears in this bleak midwinter photograph. In the summer, for example, it serves as the backdrop for the Summer Festival's free "Top of the Park" concerts, with colored lights brightening its stone facade.


February Challenge, Week 3: Orange

colorful conduitFeb's third week started with spotting a reel of tri-colored conduit next to the street. Some outfit (I think AT&T) is pulling fiber along a number of main streets in town. With this photo, I could go with orange, green, or blue as my color of the week.

The next "color event" of the week came a few days later. I was walking to the parking lot after a long day at work. It was snowing. I came to a group of orange construction barrels, under an orange street light. The choice then became clear — my color for this week would be orange! I stopped, took off my backpack, pulled the camera out of the pack, and took several photos, trying to capture at least one of the blinking lights. As you can see (after the break) I succeeded.

Construction in February

Having chosen orange, I faced the challenge of finding another orange photo that did not involve construction. That very evening, the opportunity arose as I was preparing veggies for a "pot roast". My son's girlfriend is vegetarian. The first time she was at the house at dinner time, I didn't know this, and I had prepared a pot roast with a nice hunk of beef and lots of veggies. I ended up serving her bread and cheese (good bread and good cheese, but still...)

veggies to be pot-roastedThis time I roasted the beef separately from the veggies, so the omnivores can eat them together and the vegetarians can just skip the meat. I added finely chopped mushrooms for their flavor enhancing umami character. It came out pretty well. To my taste, not as good as veggies roasted with the beef, but still quite good. (Carrots, potatoes, parsnips, and onions can be seen here.)

As I was preparing the original conduit photo to upload to Flickr, I wanted to emphasize the orange conduit and de-emphasize the green and blue. So I bumped the saturation a little and then applied a "warming" filter to tone the blue and green down and to make the orange glow a little brighter.


Saturday, March 1, 2008

Gotta brag

I'm stoked!

I do the New York Times crossword online almost every evening. They have a feature where you can time yourself against other solvers. I'm usually in the top 10-20% on Monday (the easiest day) and I fall further back in the pack as the puzzles get harder throughout the week. Part of that is because significantly fewer people solve the Saturday puzzle than the Monday puzzle. At least, that's what I tell myself.

They have a standings list for "fastest" and for "first". "First" is the order in which you finished, regardless of when you started. I've made the top 10 list in "fastest" a few times, but I always fall off by the end of the day. I think I made the top 10 list in "first" once. Today, I had my best ever showing on both lists, solving the Sunday, March 2 puzzle (which is put online at 6PM on Saturday).

How well did I do? I placed 5th on "Fastest" at the moment I finished. Yes, I'll fall down in the list, but it still feels great. I placed 7th on the "First" list, and that ranking is mine to keep for the rest of the day. I've never done that well on either list before.

Before you click on "more", be aware that the rest of this posting contains spoilers for the puzzle (including the entire puzzle as a screenshot.)

How did I do so well? Well, part of the reason is that this is the weekend of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, so many of the really fast solvers are busy at the tournament instead of solving the puzzle online. The other part is that I just "clicked" with this puzzle. I was able to work it from top to bottom, switching back and forth between across and down answers, and hardly had to go back to fill in words I didn't get the first time through. I "got" the theme pretty quickly, and that helped me with those answers, too.

Here's the proof: Completed puzzle, showing my "fastest" time.

The theme was kinda cute: In each theme phrase, one letter is "moved forward" in the alphabet from a familiar phrase to create a "wacky" phrase, which is then clued. Most of the time it's the first letter of one of the words, but a few times it's another letter. There are an astounding 13 of them, and most of them are pretty good. Here they are:

1A KOOL BID (Offer for an R.J. Reynolds brand?) from KOOL-AID
29A DADDY SHACK (Papa pad?) from CADDY SHACK
38A GOOD FATS (Canola and sunflower oil?) from GOOD EATS
41A STAR HAZER (Best fraternity pledge tormentor?) from STAR GAZER
52A JV DRIPS (Not the most exciting school athletes) from IV DRIPS
56A LEG PARTY (Social gathering with the Rockettes?) from KEG PARTY
83A SPY BEANS (C.I.A. noggins?) from SPY BEAMS
85A POP RUIZ (Hit boxer John with a haymaker?) from POP QUIZ
93A SWISS MIST (Fog in Z├╝rich?) from SWISS MISS
96A MILK DVDS (How-to films for a dairy farm?) from MILK DUDS
104A LOX PROFILE (Side view of salmon?) from LOW PROFILE
126A COPY BOZ (Transcribe some Dickens?) from COPY BOY

Anyway, I just had to brag.