Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A George Carlin Moment
I just finished watching George Carlin's latest show (?) "Life is worth living", and jeez, it's terrific. His barrage of ideas and framing of our lives seemed to spark a thought in my head, so here goes.

Two major genres of TV shows are filled with content that is opposite to their description. Reality-TV is full of completely artificial situations. In real life nobody is going to be trapped on a desert island with 11 committee-selected individuals with attitude problems, nobody has to eat worms and roaches and nobody has a team of talented homosexuals descend upon their houses to pick out new clothes for them. Reality TV is entirely fictional.

Most of the popular fictional drama shows, however are based on (and this came as quite a shock when I thought about it) REAL FACTS! The murderer is caught by using DNA evidence, the suspect tried by our real courts using real laws. The medical show has more real medical terminology in one hour than I'd hope to encounter in a year, and every week I learn about three new conditions I might have.

If I was actually George Carlin I could think of a witty retort with which to end this little observation, but I'm not and I can't.

Monday, November 07, 2005

I took a lot of pictures with our new camera, a Digital Rebel XT, over the weekend and the techniques I used got me thinking about the way the very definition of photography has changed...at least for me.

I've always been fascinated by cameras - a Canon EOS 100 was my first major purchase after I started working as a programmer. When I was 14 or 15 I used to get all the free brochures from our camera shop when we lived in Saudi Arabia and read them over and over again, comparing the features on each model. I also read a lot of photography books and I knew all the basics of apertures, film speed and shutter speed before I owned a camera.

The one thing I rarely did was actually take pictures. Film was expensive, developing even more so and there wasn't much scope for experimentation with weird pictures on a budget. So I just kept reading about it, about how to get the image you wanted directly onto the film with the right camera, lens, composition, settings and filters. There was some information about darkroom techniques: basic cropping and composition...changing the image after you'd taken it, but that seemed unlikely to be something I'd get into. Like most keen amateurs I'd be working hard to get good pictures straight onto the film and not worry about modification after the fact.

But the digital camera revolution changed things for me. I can remember the first time I used one. I was at a birthday party (Hi Anestis!) and a friend of his brought a small digital camera along. I was asked to take a couple of pictures, and I got such a rush when I snapped a picture, looked at the little screen...and there it was! No guessing, no hoping the light was right...it took the guesswork out of it, and best of all, every picture was FREE! You could take as many as you wanted, weird ones, stupid ones, or whatever and not feel $0.20 leave your pocket with every click.

I was very happy with this whole arrangement for many years, happily using fully automatic cameras that seemed to do the job of taking basic pictures of people, places and things. And all the pictures were well lit, cropped nicely, thanks to free software like Picasa (which I'm even using now to write this post!) As the mega-pixels increased I found that I didn't need to zoom in as far - I could just crop a generously wide image down to the interesting bit and still have enough detail to make it look good. The software made it easy to take a competently taken picture and make it look terrific. Final images that would have taken a lot of training and darkroom skills were a mouse-click away.

It seemed a shame all that stuff I'd learned about manual control of photography wasn't being used...but this weekend I found a good use for it! The Rebel XT has several manual modes and, while you can use it in "point 'n' shoot" mode you'd better stay in good light and not try anything too fancy. If you want to take pictures under a range of conditions though, you'll need to understand how a camera works, because the rules are the same as they were a hundred years ago. The XT will tell you if areas of the pictures are overexposed - they've gone "flat white", containing no information, and if you try to darken the image or process it in some way, that area of the picture will immediately reveal it was a bad source image. You need to make sure the source image is just right if you want to have the software produce a beautiful final image. I think that's a lovely synthesis of the skills I learned as a kid with his camera brochures and "How To Take Pictures" library book, and the adult I've become who loves what software (and some money!) lets us do.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

I had a really nice day today, waking up late after the lovely night out with Rob, Harper, his brother Daniel and sister Lisa. We went out for drinks, air hockey, music and pool. I found a South Park pinball table with a game ready to go, something I used to REALLY hope I'd found when I was a youngster with only one 10p piece to spend, and this machine was very good to me: I got a multiball and a replay on the very first ball. Second ball disappeared in mere seconds, and the third was so-so. I gave the replay to Lisa, to make up for playing air-hockey like a maniac :)

I had a little drive around Wilmington this afternoon, then drove down to the beach to take some pictures. You can see them at my Flickr account. I'd passed a restaurant called the Portland Grill earlier, on my way to the beach, that looked good so I returned there for an incredibly good meal: a "Shepherd's Pie of Duck", which used mashed vegetables instead of mashed potatoes, and duck instead of ground beef. I followed that with, rather unusual, roast antelope (it came from here) with veggies, sausage and sliced pear on a pumpkin compote. Sounds weird, I know, but it was unbelievably tasty. Some ice cream to finish and I was done. I'm flying back home tomorrow; it'll be good to be home, but I've really enjoyed my trip up here, especially glad to have met Robert and his family.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Wilmington, North Carolina
I'm visiting my friend Robert Lurie for the first time, on the occasion of the first public reading from his biography of Steve Kilbey, the lead singer of The Church. I've run Shadow Cabinet, a fan site for the band, since 1995 and been a fan for many more years. During all that time there hasn't been a single book about the band or its members, so fans who wanted to know the band better (whether the band wanted it or not!) had to rely on collections of interviews, such as the hundreds I collected for the Shadow Cabinet website.

But many of those interviews cover the same ground over and over again and leave one hoping for a more in-depth work. Then Robert Lurie comes along and just does it! The project was done for his Masters degree, and will also be sold to the public, with the possibility of more books to come. He interviewed Steve many, many times and let me be among the first to thank Steve for participating in a project that will make a lot of people very happy.

So I flew in to Wilmington last night and will spend this afternoon typing up some relevant items for Robert to look at. I love hotels with free wireless Internet access!