Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Waxing nostolgic about All Hallow's Eve

Four years ago I was in Beijing on Halloween. The Chinese don't celebrate it, but someone in our group heard about a party being thrown by Western ex-pats, so despite not having costumes we took a cab across town to check it out. And we got there just in time to see the police shutting it down.

So we took the cab back to our hotel and had a nice chat.

Can't say we didn't try.

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Pressed

This evening, on a friend's recommendation (as a possible better way to photoblog), I checked out Wordpress. I get to the home page and see it has "news" sections. I see the "headline" under "In Science" is "Burn Hollywood Burn," which I presume has something to do with the wildfires in Southern California.

Which it did. It claimed that God was angry at California and in His wrath was punishing us.

Okay. This is the internet, and every wackjob is entitled to spout off whatever fucked up world view allows him to feel better about his sad, little life.

How that falls under the category of "science" I'm not entirely sure.

The thing is: He cites Cleveland and Toledo as places where such "catastrophes" don't occur, and by inference as being more virtuous.

Seriously. Cleveland and Toledo.

Eh, I suppose those are cities that definitely need to keep the Big Guy on their side.

~

It seems that in writer's faith one of the commandments must be "Thou shall not spell check." ("Judgement"--what are we, in England?) Also forbidden: Being able to distinguish the contraction of "it is" from the possessive of it. ("Maybe its not terrorism...")

But spelling and grammar surely dwell in Beelzebub's domain...

~

I think I may have to pass on Wordpress. I mean, I should be happy that Blogger here (as well as Aminus3) allow me some place to post photos. And, of course, this opportunity to spout off these glib reactions to the world that allow me to feel better about my sad, little life.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Song lyrics du jour

Lyrics I heard today that inexplicably inspired me to post them here:

Thousands of people would die for a chance to be alone
And there's millions more who'd kill if they thought they'd make a friend
Oh, it's nonsense I know, but have to find out where they could be living
You never know, they could be living in sin
The could carrying shame
For a price find someone to carry the blame
Find out what makes your heart sing
Because I've found out already what makes my heart sing

From the last verse of "Southern Mark Smith (Big Return)"
by the Jazz Butcher

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Adventures in lunar photography

Back on August 29th I set up my camera on a tripod and pointed toward the almost-full moon in the eastern sky. Having gotten semi-comfortable with shooting the crescent moon back on the 17th, this became an experiment with taking shots of it with scattered clouds in the sky.

And now, for no discernibly good reason, I now reveal my results (and pretend I know what I'm talking about when it comes to photography even though everything refutes that).

Mostly I was seeing what I'd get by playing around with the lens aperture (how wide the lens opens--the bigger the number the smaller the opening) and with the exposure time (how long the lens is left open while taking the exposure).

All were taken with a 22mm focal length, with (I think) the ISO set at 100. (The ISO isn't stored in the file properties, alas.)

I started with lens aperture at F/7.1, a 1 sec exposure, and got:
Moon is bright (with a spiked corona), but with no surface detail, and the clouds are dim.

Then I opened up the aperture to F/5.6, keeping other settings the same, and got:
Moon is still a bright white circle, but the clouds are a bit more distinct.

Then I further opened the aperture to F/4, still 1 second (and same ISO), and compensated with a +0.7 overexposure, and got:
The moon's corona is smoothed, and the clouds are bit brighter.

And then I reduced the aperture down to F/6.3, no exposure compensation, but extended the exposure to 4 seconds (yes), and got:
And here the moon is really bright (so much so that it's not even a sphere), but on the clouds we can make out shadows.


So I pulled the focal length down to 10mm, knocked the aperture to F/3.2 and pulled the exposure back down to 1 second, and found that bringing in more of the clouds and making the prominence of the indistinct moon less important in the shot, and it didn't seem so bad:
No, it's not that good either...


In the end, what I learned is that getting a brightly lit object and dimly lit objects in the same night sky to show up with decent detail on both is way more difficult than it might seem.

And you've now learned... that I am not above hiding my moments of semi-ineptitude.

Mr. Mojo written













On the side of a gym parking lot in Hollywood is this portrait of Jim Morrison, with lyrics from the second stanza of "L.A. Woman" written in the upper left.

I see your hair is burning
Hills are fill'd w/ fire
If they say I never lov'd you
You know they are a liar

(That's how it appears on the wall.)


Despite being a Doors song I have liked for many years and where I have sung along with the words from memory, I was taken aback by seeing them up on a wall like that.

Mostly, I was struck by the realization that I'd always overlooked the hideous grammar of "they are" (plural) with "a liar" (singular).

This reminded me how little grammar matters when sung stylishly and backed by guitar, keyboard, and drums.

(To see another shot of this, check out this post on the useless photo site.)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Relief in L.A.

The following piece is rated PG-13, in case you care about that crap.


Noticing things is not so much a gift or a curse for me, but something that tends to happen. At least when I'm paying attention.

[Ba-dump-chick!]

(Thank you. I do two shows on Sunday.)

I have been an avid reader of the print version of The Onion ever since it started to be published here in L.A. (or at least when I noticed it being available around town). I have also discerned that the content for most of it is the same in other cities where it's published, but that the layout and local listings are up to those running it in each town. More important, much of the advertising is local as well, which makes the ads representative not only of the Onion reader but of the Onion reader in that city.

For a period of four weeks (from the August 23-29 issue to the September 6-12 issue), in addition to the ads for eco-friendly products, for clubs and bars, for movies, etc. (which I imagine appear in every city's edition) I noticed a recurring ad. Ostensibly the appeal of it would be prurient, as it featured pictures of two young women, but after decades of watching TV and reading magazines and looking at billboards, that alone isn't worth noticing.

What intrigued me about this ad was that the girls weren't hawking beer or clothes or suggesting sex; the ad was for a website touting that these girls (and many others like them) were looking to "hook-up" with male readers of the publication who sought no-strings-attached sexual encounters. It made no pretense about being other than that.

Now, one can find plenty of ads in the back of other weekly publications for "massages" or "escorts" that are obviously code for... something else, and I imagine there are online posts soliciting such affairs, but those are not generally found in The Onion (I'm not sure if that's an editorial decision or merely that such services are already happy with advertising elsewhere). I took it as this ad figured it could get away with merely leaving out the paying-for-sex part and it would seem less sleazy. And apparently The Onion was fine with that as well.

However, that ad ran only for those four issues and then was discontinued. I interpret that as indicating that the site wasn't getting a return on its investment.

Something else that I notice is another set of ads that have been running virtually every week and continue now. There are multiple advertisers promoting the same product (usually about four ads per issue): medical marijuana.

The ads run from featuring a big pot leaf and touting the ease of qualifying to attempting to making it seem mainstream and suggesting it's good for relieving stress from "high pressure jobs like being a talent agent." (I've never had an agent, but I have to imagine that any agent who can't get his hands on pot without having to get it from a clinic is not an agent worth having.)

That latter angle, specifically mentioning being a agent, is clearly directed toward an L.A. audience, or what they perceive a stereotypical L.A. audience to be. And, alas, it probably works better than I'd care to admit in appealing to potential clients. (However, I suspect those clients have occupations that may not be as stressful as dealing with celebrity demands. Still, it surely relieves the stress their jobs to cause. Or so I'm led to believe, for the purposes of any law enforcement personnel who may read this.)

These suppliers of marijuana keep running ads. That's more than can be said of the hook-up website.

So, what conclusion are we to draw from this? For readers of The Onion in L.A., when it comes to paying for a little relief from the troubles of daily life they prefer dealing with cannabis rather than with the clitoris.

(What? Would it have been better had I gone with "pot over pussy"?)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Monday, October 15, 2007

Mixed up

Starting in the late '80s I made more than my share of mix tapes, both for my entertainment and (ostensibly) that of my friends. And when I used to make mix tapes, I made them by hooking two CD players up to a mixer and doing live cross-fades on the tracks as the tape recorded, which required me to practice the transitions, making notes of at what point in the track playing to trigger the next track on the other player, and of what adjustments to the level were necessary to keep the overall volume as close to consistent as possible. And if I screwed up anywhere during the 45 minutes of one side, I had to start over. (Sometimes I’d split it up to two or three separate sets per side to relieve some of the pressure of keeping the flow for the whole side.)

Oh yes, I took it way too seriously. If only I’d been learning how to use serious equipment, rather than the Radio Shack schlock I had, I probably could have gone into sound engineering. And I would almost certainly have come to despise making the mixes.

(A friend once advised: “Never turn your hobby into your career; eventually you’ll hate both.” Sage words.)

When I bought a computer in 2000, I got the best sound card available, because I figured I’d be using it for a lot of music-related activities. Technology was going to make simple what I used to have to plan out through a lot of manual effort. Software would allow me to set up the cross-fades on screen, and balance the levels, and burn the result to CDs (the format in which I’d been amassing my collection for 14 years at that point). Hell, I’d be knocking out these things every week, I thought.

In the five years that followed, I made three compilation discs. Two of those were projects I did for my dragon boat team, as thank you gifts for the teams that hosted us at out-of-town tournaments, which weren’t even all that representative of my music tastes (but representing the team as a whole).

So really, one disc.

Making something easier through technology appears to be the kiss of death for me.

Okay, I need to clarify the terminology here: I’m talking about a compilation of songs where I plan it out, and cross-fade the tracks, and design a cover, and burn a bunch of copies with the express purpose of giving them to pretty much anyone I know (or meet) who I think may listen to it. I’m not talking about a disc where some of the mp3’s on the computer are selected (by me or by software) and converted back to the CD format for my personal enjoyment; it’s not that I haven’t burned more than just the one CD over the years. I’m alluding to something that turns into a serious project, done to shove my music tastes (or a portion thereof) down the throats of people silly enough to listen. That’s what I figured I’d do more of after getting the computer.

Turns out I got off on the difficulty of it, or something. Perhaps the acquisition of a home computer skewed some kind of cosmic balance, and that stripped the inspiration from the process.

Perhaps I came to realize that it was a lot of work to put into something that wasn’t going to further a career, and more than that, no one would listen to a new disc every week even if I could somehow find the time to achieve that kind of schedule.

[Does this piece have a hook? Certainly not. Are you still expecting that by this point?]

My friends already have their tastes when it comes to this stuff. By and large, the extent to which they enjoyed the disc revolved around whether I included tracks (or at least artists) they already liked (or were similar to songs/artists they already liked). I don’t begrudge them that; everyone does. It wasn’t like I was doing serious promotion of the tracks in question; they meant something to me, for whatever reason they did at the time I was assembling them, but I got nothing out of it other than whatever pleasure I could delude myself into believing there was from a job well done (whether it was appreciated by the listeners as much as I hoped or not).

Perhaps I grasped that it takes something of an arrogant prick to make such demands on the time of others with such ostensibly altruistic gestures, and I didn’t need to be that guy any more. These people either liked me, or "got" me, or they didn’t, whether they liked the disc or not. It was mostly me camouflaging a juvenile need (Look at me! Look at how cool my tastes are! Think well of me! Justify my pitiful little existence!) with a project that, at best, others would take as such: Oh hey, cool; something to listen to.

Perhaps I succumbed to the laziness that was inevitable. Technology does allow me to just get a bunch of random songs to listen to, without me having to go to the arduous process of overanalyzing them, reviewing how well the transitions between them flow (so one song is followed by another to achieve the proper effect, be it smooth or jarring), spending all that time putting the human element into the equation when it isn’t necessary. It may be appreciated, on some level, by some of the listeners, sure, but this is the time of the iPod; as long as Mozart isn’t followed by Motorhead (not that I'd have a problem with that, personally; I find classical and metal have something of a corresponding vibe in these transitions, but I concede such things are not for everyone)—on the off-chance that one has both Wolfgang and Lemmy in one’s iTunes—and it’s songs one associates in some way (probably in some banal fashion, like chronologically—e.g., songs from the 80s—or by genre—classic rock, hip hop, polka, etc.—then that’s good enough to be a playlist.

I can't get behind that, myself, but that’s part of why I don’t have an iPod yet; if I'm bothering with putting effort into organizing the music, I will turn it into a project. That’s not admirable, by the way; it borders on the pathological, but I gotta be me. However, if I don’t devote any effort to organizing it, I have no problem with just letting the musical chips fall where they may.

Unwittingly, I anticipated the future regarding what was to come regarding what people would consider important when it comes to music, and it was everyone carrying around their music in smaller and smaller devices. It didn’t matter whether they wanted or needed it; they could have it, and that proved sufficient rationale. What they wouldn’t need was someone else's music, cross-faded so there was no pause between songs. There’s no cover or liner notes with mp3 files on a hard drive; there’s just the tracks.

I suppose there's no way this can’t seem like a lamentation, but I had long abandoned what is ostensibly lamented here by the time the silhouetted figures with the white headphones gyrating to U2's "Vertigo" changed the landscape. It was only to me that it ever held any significance, but in years past there was at least that hint of cachet to handing someone a CD one had spent time working on, whether they listened to it or not; now it was just something that the CDDB couldn’t identify when they tried to rip the tracks (on the off-chance they did so). It’s not so much that the world passed me by—I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself to have been on the same path as the world prior to all this—but that what I prized (more in theory than in practice, admittedly) moved farther away from what the world valued.

Now, however, I have found some use in the software. (I’m not entirely sure why iTunes would have CD burning capabilities, as that’s going back in my direction rather than toward the portable mp3 device Apple got rich from, but perhaps it’s merely to act as a reminder of how archaic one is by bothering with CDs.) I can create a random “smart” playlist of as many songs will fit on a 70 MB CD-R in 128kb mp3 format (around 200), then burn all of them on a single disc and play that in the CD Walkman (Sony once ruled this world) for weeks before listening to all of them, and without having put more than maybe ten minutes of effort into it.

That’s all I wanted: to not have to decide what I wanted to hear, unless I was really going to decide seriously, as an artistic statement.

Not that the mix tapes ever really were art, but I fancy the notion they were.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Love is all your phone needs

An advert I heard on the radio included a woman's voice, representing a customer for a new cell phone, exclaiming something about getting a phone that could hold her "entire music library" at a great price. I chuckled silently to myself.

While it's fine that there are cell phones that double as mp3 players, and the capacity of the hard drives in these phones is increasing in capacity, I think they're only up to 4 gigs. The ads tout them as being for "music lovers."

With players that aren't also phones, they've only recently come out with an iPod that could fit my entire library (approximately 20,000 songs), so such a phone could not even pretend to accommodate about 5% of my library. While 5% would certainly be plenty to listen to while out and about, that's not really the sort of claim that sounds impressive in a commercial. However, I am the sort of person who is more than content to have a cell phone that focuses on making and receiving calls and having a separate means of listening to whatever portion of my collection I happen to be able to carry with me; these phones are not meant for me nor marketed toward me.

If you want such a phone/mp3 player, there's nothing wrong with getting one. However, I would argue that if every song you love enough to own fits on a 4 gig drive, you don't really love music. You may love those songs and love having a phone on which to carry them with you, but the overall art form of music you merely like.

The ad was directed toward you.

~

It's tricky to convey a sense of you-are-deluding-yourself-but-you-have-every-right-to-delude-yourself without seeming like an elitist asshole.

Perhaps I'm deluding myself that I'm not, in actuality, an elitist asshole (which I do have the right to be, but such is not my aspiration).

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Four minutes

Proof of the earth rotating can be seen at this post on the photo site.

Words keep flowing

Across the Universe came out a couple weeks ago (to mixed but generally unimpressive reviews--which is to say I saw three reviews and two weren't good but the other one was more forgiving). I did not see it, nor do I have any intention of seeing it, despite being a fan of the Beatles' music. Perhaps I have no such intention because I am a fan of their music.

However, it did give me reason to ruminate on how I came to know the Fab Four.

[Yes, yes, Doug. That's what your readers are clamoring to know!]

I don't have much in the way of specific recollection regarding first hearing a Beatles' song, but being born the year after Sgt. Pepper's came out, and growing up in the '70s, I'm reasonably certain I must have heard something on the radio while Mom drove around (although I remember more hearing the likes of the Carpenters). Dad thought them dirty hippies, so there was no chance of hearing them in the house.

So we'll jump to 7th grade, where my earliest specific memory regarding them takes place.

At the time my mother had re-married a younger man and relocated us to southern Orange County (which at the time wasn't as upscale as recent reality TV would have one think, although it was not shabby). The middle school I attended devoted one period to four different areas; a quarter of the year was spent in home ec (it was acceptable at the time to call it that), a quarter of the year in wood shop, a quarter of the year in something else I don't remember, and a quarter of the year in music appreciation. I imagine we did some cooking in the first one. I made a pathetic little letter "D" in the second one. As noted, I do not recall any specifics about the third. But in the fourth class we were introduced to John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

It was 1980, and probably before John was killed (or else we would have focused on that, I'm sure). The teacher was a man, probably in his 30s, so it was likely he grew up with them. Now, remember that the time he had us was only a quarter of the school year, so probably around five or six weeks tops. And we spent at least half of that time on just the Beatles. I am not kidding.

We breezed through Mozart and Beethoven and the like. Okay, I figure we must have covered them, but I don't remember exactly what we did before the Beatles. That was what the teacher wanted to impart to us, and obviously in that endeavor he was successful, at least with me.

When I say we covered the Beatles, I don't mean we merely listened to their records. We did that, sure, but we also learned the mythology of the lads from Liverpool. We played the records backwards…

When I say we covered the Beatles, I don't mean we merely listened to their records. We did that, sure, but we also learned the mythology of the lads from Liverpool. We learned the clues that supposedly indicated that Paul had died and been replaced with a double. We played the records backwards to hear the hidden messages in support of that theory.

I am serious. The teacher put the stylus on a record and used his hand to rotate "Strawberry Fields Forever" in the direction counter to the way it would normally go. And this was 1980, so it's not like the turntable was built to do that.

(For the record, if one is so inclined, one can make a portion where when played backwards it sounds like John says "I buried Paul.")

Paul's out of step on the Abbey Road album cover. "I Am the Walrus" is supposedly about him, with the walrus representing death. I won't go on.

In retrospect, I am kind of amazed he was able to get away with this. We were only 12, after all. Impressionable. I can only imagine the PTA would have balked at it had they known.

I'm not suggesting I was transformed into a Beatles fan after that. That wouldn't really occur for years after that. After all, I was only 12, and didn't really know what I was going to like.

The thing about that: Of all I remember learning in middle school (and I assume I learned at least a few things), that is what made the biggest impression. I'm not saying it shaped me, per se, but 27 years later I still recall that without having to look it up. It's not like it really helps me in my daily life. No one calls upon me to know this.

(Granted, most of what I learned in school—at any level—is not what I am generally called upon to know on a daily basis.)

To a great extent, I must declare that to be some of the most effective teaching I ever got. One can only wonder how much of physics or trigonometry I might recall if those teachers played records backwards.

Koo-koo-ka-choo.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Hiro

The towers in downtown Los Angeles that used to be the Arco Plaza back when the Atlantic-Richfield Company was the name on the building are now the City National Plaza.

Regardless of the name, the erstwhile Arco Plaza is what was used by the producers of Heroes as the location for "Kirby Plaza" (a fictional New York place where the climax of the first season transpires). There's a distinct large sculpture in the middle of the open area between the towers (called "Double Staircase") that immediately identifies the actual location as downtown L.A. rather than N.Y.C. to anyone familiar with it. (The California state flag is kind of a giveaway in the shot below.)


In seven and a half years of walking past it, I had never taken any pictures of it. Obviously I've photographed a number of downtown locales over the years, but not there. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it seemed too obvious.

(While I do not consider myself to be in any way groundbreaking in my photography, nor am I above shooting sites that have been done by others before (as this clearly has), but what inspires me is finding some different angle (either literally or figuratively).)

Back in June, just after the first season of Heroes concluded, on my walk back from lunch my path took me right next to the art piece, and the mid-afternoon sun reflected off the north tower on to the piece at an angle opposite that of the actual sun. And as we've seen in the past, that sort of thing intrigues me, so I snapped a few pics. They turned out semi-okay. (Two of which are included here. "Semi-okay.")


As I continued back to the office it occurred to me that the shots could be "marketed" as being the actual site where Hiro ran his katana through Sylar (not that the "running through" was actual, of course) to fans of the program. However, that would tacitly be could be construed as trying to pass myself off as a geek, and that I dare not do.

(And of course, the inspiration sat idle for months, until the fall season debuted. Very un-geek-like.)

~

It's not that I consider "geek" to be a shameful designation. Quite the contrary: I would not wish to denigrate the term by even implicitly identifying myself as such. While I have certain traits that are associated with geeks (working with computers, having read comic books, watching a show like Heroes, for instance), I do not consider the level of voluntary involvement with these things to be sufficient to qualify for geek-ness (geekitude? geekosity?). I am too much of a dilettante in these areas to warrant such a designation; it would not be fair to the true geeks.

I am completely sincere when I seek to protect the integrity of the term "geek" by not assigning it to myself. Frankly, were I a geek I would undoubtedly make a lot more in my field of employment than I do; I'd actually like computers rather than merely put up with them for my job. I would do infinitely better at Trivial Pursuit. I would not find the message boards on the Battlestar Galactica website to be confusing. I would fit in.

It's not that I completely fail to fit in, on some levels; I can identify that the music the cantina band plays changed from the original 1977 release of Star Wars to the 1997 re-release, but I can't tell you what the names of the band members were. Ultimately, however, it comes down to this: True geeks would see through me if I purported myself as one of them.

It's not that membership was sought back when the "club" started but those who consider themselves part of it do not allow just anyone in the circle. There is no faking it; either you have the tendencies and knowledge and desires to be a geek or you don't.

And I don't. (I just play one on TV.)

Monday, October 01, 2007