It’s spring and that means it’s crawfish season. Time to get a bunch of folks over and boil the little bastards alive.
Monthly Archives: March 2012
What I learned this week, March 30, 2012
In his defense of Obamacare, the Solicitor General quoted from the Preamble to the Constitution. I’m sorry, but I wasn’t immediately familiar with the exact wording of the Preamble – but I found this video that explains it all.
Abundance Is Our Future (and We All Know It)
A Museum on the Streets of Rome
The odd and amazing story of Sealand
Sealand is a small country located off the British coast on an abandoned WWII artillery platform in the North Sea.
Things I want to do in Dallas (coming up)
Candy and I have tickets to the SavorDallas Wine and Food Stroll tonight down in the Arts District. I bought them for her birthday.
The Deep Ellum Arts Festival is coming up April 6-8th. My favorite band, Brave Combo will be there. I’m trying to save enough cash to buy another sculpture by David Pound.
April 14th is Ciclovia de Dallas – where the Houston Street Viaduct will be closed to traffic and open only to bicycles. Looks like fun – another bridge party.
Free concerts in the Dallas Arts District. Unfortunately, these are on Thursdays and my writing group meets then – but I might be able to work something out.
Any other ideas? What am I missing?
For all of you Mad Men fans out there:
Seven Things I Wish I’d Have Known When I First Became A Photographer
- Care about what you are photographing
- Learn how to use your camera and stop changing systems
- It’s not the camera that makes the shot – it’s the photographer
- Find the light first, the background second and the subject third
- If you photograph people or make pictures professionally understand that being nice is better than being good
- The best photographs in the world happen when …. there is solid, real emotion and/or love
- Serious photography is about protecting memories, telling stories, keeping moments
Sorry, I’m sure this is more interesting to me than it is to you….
Down in the Dallas Farmer’s Market there are a couple of plant shops that specialize in bedding plants – annual color. The plants are laid out on the sidewalk in flats and make a beautiful, colorful, carpet.
People in the Farmer’s Market
A couple weeks back I spent some time on a nice day shooting some pictures in the Dallas Farmer’s Market with a friend. One subject that I didn’t get enough shots of (except for the fashion shoot next door) were the people down there. Tonight I was digging around in the photographs and found a few – thought I’d stick ’em up here.
Note the flower petals on the ground.
The Light First
In looking around this interwebs thing – looking at photographs trying to figure out what I’m doing wrong and what I can do better – I came across the bromide, “Find the light first, the background second, and the subject third.”
I thought and thought and it finally began to make sense. Find the light first.
The problem in that here in Texas, the light is either blinding nuclear-hot sunlight, or the pitch darkness of night. Either one – except for a few tiny minutes at sunrise and sunset. This time of year the sunsets aren’t very interesting because of the lack of (or complete coverage of) clouds. Still, maybe there is something.
I’m often driving to work at dawn. Going west, I saw a distant skyscraper illuminated by the orb just peeking over the horizon. It was lit like a fiery finger pointing skyward. Ordinarily, I never even notice this building, but today, it was all in alignment and the orange sunrise was bouncing off the glass just right…. I thought about that and realized that it was the equinox, so the sun would be rising exactly east-west. Though that would mean nothing downtown – I realized that the President George H. W. Bush Turnpike tollroad ran east-west as it crossed highway 75.
I had been walking under there a while back exploring a new trail that has been built under the highway. I was taken aback by how high the tollroad soars as it goes up and over. The High Five near where I work gets all the attention, but the George Bush interchange is as dramatic in a more stark and brutal way.
So that evening, a few minutes before sunset I loaded my camera and tripod up and drove to the Plano Parkway exit – right behind the big Fry’s Electronics store. There’s a parking lot there, under the tollroad, and I lugged my stuff a bit into a weedy field and set up directly under the roadway far overhead and pointed my camera due west, right into the setting sun.
I set up for three exposures per shot on the tripod – then merged them with the HDR software. Since traffic was going by on each image and they would not match, the cars became ghosts in the final tonemapped images. Since a highway interchange isn’t very interesting by itself I played with the parameters until I came up with a hyperactive, over-saturated, surreal result.
Which is what I wanted. Find the light first.
So I have my light. And I even have a background. What I’m lacking is a subject. Pictures without anybody in them can be fun and pretty to look at but they aren’t good enough. They don’t tell a story. I need to figure out how to get people into these HDR composite images – I haven’t seen many people try that. I can’t figure out how to get something interesting – something that tells a story – how to get someone to stay perfectly still while I shoot the multiple exposures.
Something to think about and to work at.
Forgot the Card
The other day I had a little bit of time so I decided to head out with my camera and take some photographs. I made a little list of places to go – the rugby games near White Rock Lake, maybe a walk along the lake, a return to the Farmer’s Market, a stroll around Deep Ellum (I have some photographs from there, but wanted to supplement them before putting together an entry) and an arts and crafts market in Deep Ellum.
So I drove down to White Rock and discovered the Rugby games were delayed, so I wandered the streets down into Deep Ellum. I found a place to park, pulled my camera out, and walked to the market. I strolled the aisles, looking at the wares, and noticed there was a food truck set up.
It was a truck I’ve never tried before, Rock and Roll Tacos. I ordered some fish tacos and set about getting some pictures. I shot the truck, the market, some folks strolling around, and my food before I gobbled it down. I wasn’t really looking at my camera, simply pointing and shooting, having a fun time.
It seemed to be shooting too quickly so I checked the display. That’s when I realized that I had forgotten to put the memory card back in after sucking the old photographs off the night before. So I’m sorry – no pictures for you today. Well,….. the truck looked like a truck, the tacos looked like tacos, and the art market looked like an art market.
After a few seconds of frustration I felt better. It was a beautiful day, the fish tacos were good, and the art interesting. Without the camera I could simply look and enjoy.
Sometimes the world is better when not looked at through a viewfinder.
I always carry a notebook and a selection of fountain pens around with me. I would fill Moleskines up too fast, and could not afford them, so I carry Staples Bagasse composition books that I buy by the stack when they are on sale.
A writing teacher once said that ideas float around in the air like little feathers. If you don’t grab it and write it down right away, it will float away on the breeze. Somebody else will catch your idea. That makes sense – many times I’ve recognized something in print that had floated through my head untouched sometime in the recent past. My idea had escaped and been captured, pinned down on paper, by somebody else. He also said not to safe your ideas – don’t be cheap with them – but go ahead and use them as soon as you can. No matter how brilliant you think they are, there will be more to take their place – and these will be better.
So I work hard at grabbing whatever is at hand, usually my notebook, when the ideas come to me and scribble away. These can take a lot of forms – but today I’m talking about little scenes, what I call snippets. These are not fully formed stories or even coherent scenes, but little pieces of story, culled from experience, memory, and mysterious imagination – all mixed together.
These appear in my head, I write them down, and maybe I’ll use them in a story someday. But, for no reason at all, I think I’ll type a few of them down here.
Keep in mind these are completely raw first drafts – they should not be read by the public, not yet, but it is what it is.
Today, I have four. Two each started by two single objects – shopping carts and bamboo.
Men with a hacksaw
I am not generally afraid, even in the big city, and I have spent a lot of time running on the Crosstown Trail without any real fear. But there was that one day, cold and drizzly, with a thick fog rolling in, when I was out there by myself and I began to get a little worried. I came around that bend, you know where it is, where it runs through all that thick brush. It’s like a green tunnel and even though it’s in the middle of the city, it is so quiet and dark it feels like you are out in the middle of nowhere. That’s why I like it so much. But that day…
There were these two guys walking along. They were young and fit, muscular, and menacing. I immediately saw them, luckily before they saw me. They were walking off the trail and when I saw them they were looking into the woods and gesturing. They were looking intently, like they were seeking something or someone. But what really caught my eye is that one of them was carrying a hacksaw – a big, heavy one. It looked like an odd but effective weapon and I realized they were going after something they had spotted in the brush.
I felt my heart skip and a knot pop into my belly and I immediately jumped off of the trail and slid down into this little ditch where they could not see me. Before I left the condo I had decided to leave my phone to charge and so I didn’t have it with me. I hugged the damp, cold earth on the side of the ditch, hoping the two men didn’t see where I was hiding.
I could hear them talking excitedly, but the fog damped the sound and I couldn’t understand. Then, I heard the sawing. It was loud and hollow sounding and my heart kept beating faster and faster. I didn’t hear any screams, so their victim must be dead already. My mind raced with horror as the awful sound kept going. There would be a pause every now and then, and I could hear the men babbling, then it would start back up.
I was about to go crazy with panic when the sawing finally stopped. But then, to my horror, I could hear the footsteps of the men as they walked off and I realized they were going down the trail right towards the spot where I was hidden. When they reached my location, they could look down into the ditch right at me.
As they approached I gathered my feet underneath myself and tried to brace my crouch. My only hope of escape if they saw me was to spring up onto the trail and bolt away as fast as I could. I am a strong runner and hopefully, with the element of surprise, I could escape.
The second I completed my preparations, they were upon me. Now that they were closer, I could understand what they were saying and as I tensed, I heard.
“Oh, these are just perfect.”
“Yes, we can coat them with urethane, not the glossy stuff, it’ll look cheap.”
“And they’ll support the shelves and will have just the look we want.”
I looked up and there the two were. One still had his saw and the other was carrying a load of bamboo under his arms. I remembered, there was a grove of bamboo around the corner… they were cutting bamboo for bookshelves.
There was a loud clatter as the bamboo hit the concrete trail. They had seen me. I was covered with mud and loose leaves from my slide down and must had scared the two men to death to find me crouched in the ditch like that.
There was nothing for me to do but to go on with my plan. I sprung out, stumbled a bit, then picked up speed. I could hear one man screaming as I ran as fast as I could. I looked over my shoulder and saw the other one sprinting to the blue-lighted emergency phone a few feet back down the trail. Why hadn’t I thought about that.
I doubled my speed. Now, instead of racing the two men with the saw, I was trying to get out of there before the cops arrived. I didn’t want to have to explain all that.
There is a grove of bamboo off to the side, across a narrow grassy lot, on Peter Scranton’s drive to work. He looked at that bamboo twice a day, about three hundred days a year for fifteen years. “That’s what, about nine thousand times,” Pete said to himself.
Pete had read a book about gardening and the author strongly discouraged planting bamboo because of its unstoppable fecundity and tendency to spread. Once it was in the ground, it was impossible to stop.
The stand that Pete saw would advance a little across the vacant lot, but then retreat. Pete would see bright yellow shoots sprout up with amazing speed. These would always disappear in a few days. Someone unseen was hacking the vegetation back.
One day his car blew a head gasket in a cold rain – rapidly clattering to a steaming stop. He was so discouraged he found himself abandoning the useless old wreck and striding across the little vacant lot. When he reached the familiar stand of bamboo he pushed the strong but yielding stalks apart and buried himself.
He watched his car being towed away and his wife and coworkers walking along the road as he peered out of the thick bamboo. After a day, nobody came by any more, though he saw someone he didn’t know stop and nail a poster with a photograph printed on it on a nearby wooden power pole. He supposed it was a picture of himself, though he didn’t recognize it.
When he was thirsty he found he could bent the bamboo stalks and get a little water to run into his mouth. After the first day he was hungry, but after three days the hunger left him. He watched the new shoots come up in the lot and when the workmen came to cut them back they spotted him lurching around back in the grove, making the bamboo sway, even though there was no breeze.
They had to cut most of the grove down to flush him out. They took Pete away for observation.
Within a season, the bamboo had grown back. You couldn’t tell that anything had happened there.
Next… Shopping Carts
Carts in the Pond
Sometimes, when the weather was warm, he liked to sit beside this little pond in a park near his house. The bank all around the pond was steep but there was a spot where a tree had died and left a flat area ringed by a rock wall that was a particularly comfortable place to sit.
He was sitting there looking across the pond where a sidewalk ran when he spotted a couple of teenagers pushing a shopping cart. There was a grocery store a block away and he could see a single shopping bag in the center of the cart. When they reached the middle of the part of the sidewalk that ran along the pond, one kid reached into the cart and pulled out the bag. The other simply turned the metal cart and pushed it down the steep bank where it hit the water and with a soft hiss, quickly sank beneath the surface. Once it was gone the two kids kept walking, now carrying the bag in their hands. It didn’t look very big.
He was upset at this. He knew the grocery store was losing money and would soon close. The neighborhood would be hurt by the lack of shopping and the image of the big empty box on the corner, the vacant parking lot. Those carts were expensive and those kids were one reason nothing good ever lasted any more.
He thought about yelling something, but they were too far away. He couldn’t even chase them. By the time he rounded the pond they would be long gone. They were too far away for him to even recognize who they were – if he saw them again, he wouldn’t even know it.
So he sat there for a little longer and then walked home. He never went back to the pond again, preferring to stay home and watch television.
Racing With the Wind
Roger and Annette had to rush to the van from the basketball court. Annette ran with her oldest daughter’s hand in her own while Roger carried their young son, barely more than a toddler, in his arms. A huge black angry cloud was building rapidly to the west and the boiling thunderstorm was beginning to kick up a cold fast wind.
As they piled into the van the humid heat of the Texas summer was shoved aside by a blast of cold storm outflow air. The second they settled in, locking the toddler into his car seat and making sure the girl had her belt fastened the wind rose to a howling gale. Dust and leaves rose in a shooting cloud and the van rocked from the power of the wind.
To watch their daughter’s game they had had to park across the street in the lot of a small shopping center. It was anchored by a big hardware store and the wind suddenly began grabbing the hundred shopping carts piled out front and sent them shooting across the lot like rockets, right toward Roger and Annette’s van.
They flew in a wheeled phalanx, upright and racing, some swerving a bit due to a wonky wheel, but most moving with amazing speed. Roger and Annette could do nothing but watch them come. Most were driving in rumbling mass to the south of the van, where they watched them pass, hit the curb, and then tumble out into the street.
A few veered to the left and came close to the van, but thanks to a lucky act of providence, none actually hit them, although some only missed by inches. Roger, Annette, and their daughter sat there helpless, and felt a great relief when the sudden windstorm died down and was replaced by fat, pelting rain. They felt very lucky they had not been hit, though it only would have been a little dent at the worst.
The toddler, of course, thought the whole thing was a blast and laughed as hard as he could as he watched the shopping carts fly by.
A Little Bike Ride
I’m finally feeling back to my normal mediocre self and Texas is having its handful of decent weather days so I’d like to get some bike riding in. It’s tough during the week because I’m so tired when I get home from work that, even though I might have a few minutes of sunlight, all I can think of is to fall into bed and decompress, even if I don’t fall completely asleep.
Well, in this modern age, you have to try and do double duty in everything. There is no time left – it feels as if it has all been used up. Not only do you have to be doing something all the time, you have to be doing two things if you don’t want to fall further behind. In that spirit, we were out of milk. So I decided to ride my bicycle to the Target Superstore and buy a gallon plus a few other sundries that we were in need of.
That’s doing double duty. Shopping and exercise. It isn’t very far – about a mile, plus no real traffic – I can ride the new trail down to the park and then cut over on a little-used feeder road. Then across the back mall parking lot. Our neighborhood strip of big boxes sits where a big ‘ol traditional mall used to squat. For years it was declining, used more as a foul-weather walking route for elderly folks than as a place to fleece excited shoppers. At any rate, they bulldozed it, leaving the anchor tenants on the end and filling in with a row of familiar warehouse-style establishments. The food court was replaced by a line of fast-food slinging eateries strung along the main road like a string of pearls before swing.
But behind this capitalist extravaganza the huge old mall back parking lot remains empty and immense, used only to give motorcycle lessons on weekend mornings – two-wheeled newbies slowly winding between long groupings of red plastic cones. Today, though, it was deserted except for some guy out in the middle changing his oil, an occasional truck coming in to pull and replace a smelly dumpster, and one pair of isolated cars – probably teenagers hooking up. It’s easy for me to cross this vast desert of asphalt – the only thing to look out for are a few drainage grates with long, wheel grabbing slots, always facing the wrong way – parallel to the direction I’m riding.
There is nothing as stupid looking and pitiful as an old fat man riding a bicycle. I feel so idiotic and silly, but I have had a lifetime of experience ignoring my ridiculousness, so I pedal on.
I had a surprisingly difficult time getting there. It’s a bit of an uphill slog coming up from the creek and then, crossing the lot, I ran into a strong headwind. Off to the west was a black roll of approaching storm cloud and the humid south wind was spinning into the complex, feeding the tempest. Still, I caught my breath, downshifted a cog, and kept on going.
Locking my bike and backpack to a steel bench out in front (the nice thing about having a fifteen year old piece of crap bike is that I don’t need the highest security lock) I went in to get my gallon of milk and other stuff. I noticed that once I stopped pedaling and started walking around the cool store, my shirt became spotted in sweat. I looked extra stupid amongst other, car borne shoppers. The Next time, wear a dark t-shirt – mental note.
So I stuffed my gallon of milk into the backpack (it fit easier than I expected) and headed home. I guess I underestimated the wind, because I was able to get almost all the way back without even turning a pedal – propelled by the brisk breeze at my back.
Buoyed by my success, I made a list of close in destinations I could ride my bike to. Along this route, there is the big box variety/grocery store, two hardware stores, a couple of Pho places, tons of fast food, an office supply store, and a haircut place. The other way is the big Vietnamese shopping center – and I can get there without leaving the trail. If I want to go a little farther, I can cut through an industrial area and get to the DART rail station, library, and a whole complex of diverse ethic eateries.
Jeez – if the weather was nicer for more of the year I could get rid of the car.
I’m still pretty stupid looking, though.
What I learned this week, March 23, 2012
I love the idea of local folks still doing this sort of thing. I remember when I was a little kid I’d visit the newspaper office in the tiny town out in the wheat fields where my family was from. He set the paper in linotype and I loved watching the lead letter slugs being made. I remember being amazed at how hot the slugs were when he could pick them up (his hands were so callused).
A really interesting article from the New York Times on how reading fiction can improve our minds.
Brain scans are revealing what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description, an evocative metaphor or an emotional exchange between characters. Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life.
I found these passages particularly provocative:
The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated.
Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto (and a published novelist), has proposed that reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that “runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.” Fiction — with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions — offers an especially rich replica. Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.
The novel, of course, is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters.
I have always wondered if reading is a waste of time.
I don’t know if I agree with the guy’s riding style – and it’s really just a long commercial for a brand of bike tire – but man, what a cool video!
It’s the battery, stupid: The looming 4G smartphone crisis
As more power, faster processor, fancier features are added to smartphones, the battery life becomes less and less. This is the one problem that will limit the post-laptop technological revolution. If your battery doesn’t work, your phone (or tablet) is useless.
The trouble with batteries, as everyone who makes phones will tell you, is that they don’t follow Moore’s Law. Batteries are an ancient technology that depend on chemistry that scientists have already pretty much optimized.
Very interesting article. I wonder if we will see a bifurcation in the phone market, with folks carrying both an old-technology phone for voice and text only (I only have to charge my crappy work Blackberry in my car during my commute) and another smart phone or tablet or in-between form factor (and leave this turned off most of the time) for all the other goodies.
The only way to play guitar
NEWSPAPERS AMERICA’S FASTEST SHRINKING INDUSTRY
“But we make the best buggy-whips in the world!”
Another dinosaur. We subscribe to the newspaper on the weekends so that I can access its digital content.
19 Signs That America Has Become A Crazy Control Freak Nation Where Almost Everything Is Illegal
#1 One California town is actually considering making it illegal to smoke in your own backyard.
#2 In Louisiana, a church was recently ordered to stop giving out water because it did not have a permit to do so.
#3 In the United States it is illegal to operate a train that does not have an “F” painted on the front. Apparently without that “F” we all might not know where the front of the train is.
#4 In many U.S. states is it now illegal to collect rain that falls from the sky on to your own property.
#5 In America today it is illegal to milk your cow and sell the milk to your neighbor. If you do this, there is a good chance that federal agents will raid your home at the crack of dawn.
#6 In Washington D.C. it is illegal not to recycle cat litter.
#7 It is illegal to give a tour of the monuments in Washington D.C. without a license.
#8 In the United States it is illegal to sell natural cures for cancer – even if they work.
#9 In the state of Massachusetts it is illegal to deface a milk carton.
#10 In the state of Alabama, bear wrestling is completely illegal.
#11 In Fairbanks, Alaska it is illegal to give alcoholic beverages to a moose.
#12 In Lake Elmo, Minnesota it is illegal to sell pumpkins or Christmas trees that are grown outside city limits.
#13 There is a federal law that makes it illegal to be “annoying” on the Internet.
#14 If you register with a false name on MySpace or Facebook you could potentially “spend five years in federal prison“.
#15 In Hazelwood, Missouri it is illegal for little girls to sell girl scout cookies in the front yards of their own homes.
#16 All over the United States lemonade stands run by children are being shut down because they do not have the proper permits.
#17 In Florida, it is illegal to bring a plastic butter knife to school.
#18 In San Juan Capistrano, California it is illegal to hold a home Bible study without a “conditional use permit“.
#19 In the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania it is illegal to make even a single dollar from a blog unless you buy a $300 business license.
On our visit to Lafayette we could not help but notice the beauty of all the azaleas blooming across south Louisiana. No matter how humble your little cottage might be, you can have all the color you want exploding outside.
I stepped out of a little restaurant and walked around back to take this picture. As I was raising the camera a couple of guys tumbled out of the business next door. They looked a little mixed between confused and upset and one said, “Is there anything I can do to help you?” – and not in a tone of voice that implied he really wanted to help me with anything.
“Nope, I’m just taking pictures of the flowers.”
“He’s just taking pictures of the flowers,” the guy said to his buddy, in a disgusted tone, and they went back inside without another glance at me.
Azaleas don’t do very well in Dallas, where I live. The soil is not acidic enough – right under the surface is a thick layer of limestone (caliche) that keeps the soil basic. A lot of people do plant them and fight the acidity. Some pour swimming pool acid (hydrochloric) into a trench before planting – the best thing is to dig a big hole and fill it with peat moss. Still, no matter what you do, eventually the caliche will infiltrate the soil and your flowering bushes are toast.
East Texas has beautiful azeleas. I remember, years ago, doing a bicycle ride along the Azalea Trail in Tyler. It was gorgeous. Maybe a road trip this spring would be an idea.
Dallas is right on the edge between two areas of vegetation. To the east, it’s all piney woods, dogwood, and azaleas. To the west – mequite and prickly pear.
None of it is like what I saw in South Louisiana, though. The things seemed to grow like weeds.