Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Gagged by Patriot ActThe Hartford Courant ran an article by the director of the Portland, CT library, who received one of the national security letters seeking information. The letter carried with it a gag order, so that it took the ACLU getting involved before she could even mention the situation to anyone. While her case was high profile, many weren't:
Reportedly hundreds of thousands of security letters have been sent out. The recipients remain gagged and can never speak about their experience, under threat of a five-year prison sentence. They can never describe the scope and nature of the information they give to the FBI.How much has been passed on regarding how many? Who knows?
Monday, July 30, 2007
Ingmar Bergman DiesThe 89-year-old filmmaker just died. Although often associated with brooding black and white imagery, his first big recognition was with a comedy - Smiles of a Summer Night - and his film version of Mozart's The Magic Flute is marvelous and buoyant. Here's the AP story.
Revengeful ReparteeThe next time you are tempted to offer that devastating remark on a mailing list or news group, think twice. You, too, might be insulting someone willing to drive 1,800 miles to set fire to your trailer, as happened in this story.
Friday, July 27, 2007
Online Photography CollectionsI had caught misreading an article, thinking that a major museum in Cleveland was uploading its photography collection onto the web. But that got me wondering about what collections might be available for online views. I did some searching, and here are some suggestions:
- New York Public Library - The institution offers a number of online exhibitions.
- NOAA Photo Library - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has 10,000 environmental photos.
- George Eastman House - The foundation of teh photographic pioneer (Does the name Kodak ring a bell?) has a growing collection from its extensive holdings.
- Museum of Modern Art in New York - MoMA has online exhibitions and projects.
- US Geological Survey - Natural history and earth science images.
- Smithsonian Institution - Browse selected images, download screen resolution versions, and send e-cards.
- Library of Congress American Memory - Collections of teh LOC.
A Picture of Political Word InfluenceThis site has an interesting analysis of the purchase pattern of top moving political books. The influential books are those that connect distinct political philosophies - the ones read by people in both the "liberal" and "conservative" camps (though I think the break-out is pretty inaccurate when you actually talk to people). The site also has a white paper by the owner on the subject of book networks as well as some links to articles in the popular press.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Using Leading Lines in CompositionWhen you're trying to compose a photo, one of the classic techniques you can borrow from painting and drawing is leading lines. Edges in an image have the tendency to direct the eye. To use leading lines, you arrange things so that the edges all point the eye where you want it to go. Look at this photo, for example:
Notice how the lines appearing naturally in the portrait direct your eye to the model's face. In this case the lines came from her arms and jacket, but these just as easily could have been tree branches, a ribbon of road, or a fishing pole.
The real trick to making this work is to get a physical sense of the lines - the rhythm of what you see before your eyes. When I took this shot, during some test shooting we were doing, it was when she was putting her hair up. I didn't intellectually plan out the image. Instead, I do as I always do: keep my eyes open and try to feel for those fleeting moments when you understand that there is something worth shooting.
Dave? Goo Goo, Gah Gah, DaveStanford University researchers have written a program that "learns to decode sounds from different languages in the same way that a baby does helps to shed new light on how people learn to talk," according to Reuters. It supports the theory (which is different from coming close to proof) that babies listen to sounds and sort out how the language is put together.
"In the past, people have tried to argue it wasn't possible for any machine to learn these things, and so it had to be hard-wired (in humans)," [Stanford psychology professor James McClelland] said. "Those arguments, in my view, were not particularly well grounded."I want to know when they have the computer start talking, based on what it learned. Will the first word be programmama?
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
There Are Buildings You May Not Photograph - Just Don't Ask WhichAh, thank heavens for the Department of Homeland Security for keeping us safe. To prevent terrorists from getting information that could be used by terrorists. Of course you want to prohibit people from photographing critical buildings. But you don't want to tell them, because, well, then they might not take the pictures.
It might sound like something out of a Joseph Heller or Kurt Vonnegut novel, but it's actually happening in the US. According to this Washington Post column,Keith McCammon innocently enough took a picture of 3701 N. Fairfax Drive in Arlington, VA. How was he to know that the office building housed the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which does the DOD's high tech research? (They are the people who originally commissioned what would become the Internet, back in the late 1960s.)
You can find lots of public information indicating that the agency is there, but there's no sign on the outside. McCammon was asked for personal information, presumably so they could watch him in case he took a picture of another building that he shouldn't so they could catch him doing something that can't tell him not to do in advance because, well, he might not do it. Catch 22 - it's the best catch there is.
End of End of World NewsThe print version of Weekly World News, an almost three decade mainstay of news about yetis, half animal babies, alien babies, aliens, dead aliens, dead celebrities, and celebrity meltdowns is coming to an end by September, according to Reuters. I know this is bitter news for aficionados and Men in Black, but the online version will continue. I think it's time to dust off the copies of Nostradamus predictions and see where this puts us.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Book Review: 40 Digital Photo Retouching Techniques with Photoshop ElementsI had received a review copy of 40 Digital Photo Retouching Techniques with Photoshop Elements (published by Young Jin) from the US distributor, O'Reilly Media. It's thin as such guides go - 208 pages - but if you haven't yet gone beyond taking a digital picture into actually manipulating images, this a good introduction.
It's based around Photoshop Elements - a "lite" version of Photoshop that I've mentioned before - and even comes with a trial version on an accompanying CD. This isn't a comprehensive title on the subject of digital retouching; you can literally read a number of books on the subject and still not know everything about it. But as a way of getting your feet wet, it's solid.
Instead of learning one general technique after another, the book guides you through, as the title says, 40 different things you might want to do, incorporating what you need to know for each one. It's actually not all retouching in the classic sense of fixing a visual problem, though there is plenty of that. You start with learning how to correct contrast, move into gaining control over the colors in a photo, then get to a chapter called Enhancing Portraits, with some tricks I haven't seen before, like adding eye shadow to the image of a woman who wasn't wearing makeup. The book finally moves into general editing, adding special effects, and even such topics as adding motion blur and making greeting cards and web banners.
Of course, you can't expect to have all the information you would get in a larger volume. For example, they show one technique for creating high contrast black and white images from color ones, but there are at least three ways I can think of to also create black and white results, but with even more control. However, for someone new to photo manipulation - or someone, like me, who knows a fair amount but is always looking for new things to learn - this is a good book, particularly at a U.S. list price of $16.99.
The New Censorship - the Information Age Meets OrwellI came across this World Editors Forum blog entry on Paul Moreira's book Les Nouvelles Censures (The New Censorship, I think) indirectly and finally tracked it down. It's worth a read and some thought. Here's the center of the issue:
Moreira’s thesis is based on this paradox: in a society seemingly – and really – more and more transparent, the forms of censorship and control of information are becoming increasingly subtle and mechanical. In an age in which raw censorship isn’t possible anymore (at least in most true democracies), more and more resources are being put into controlling not what the people hear and see, but how they think and react to it.It's not altogether a new observation - the book and documentary Toxic Sludge Is Good For You looks at the influence of PR on so-called news.
According to Moreira, the journey between (controversial) news material and its actual delivery to the public now typically transits through a “communication filter” – a public relations firm, spokesman, or communication consultants. These filters, commonly known in the US as spin doctors, proceed to a play game of chess with journalists and news media.
But look beyond the "spinning" of the news and you'll see that various interested parties are actually trying to redefine language - decidedly 1984 in flavor. When you control language, you control thought, and if you have enough success, it becomes virtually impossible for someone to oppose you, because you've made it virtually impossible for that person to even conceive of something different. In an age where catsup was supposed to be a vegetable (in the 1980s), the vice president isn't part of the executive branch of government (the current administration), and political parties hire consultants to try and use language to create impressions at contrast with reality, this is no longer a theoretical consideration.
Monday, July 23, 2007
An Evening of Harry PotterWe arrived at the World Eye bookstore in Greenfield, MA a couple of minutes past midnight - and, apparently, a long time after the crowds started appearing. This small storefront was packed with kids, teens, and adults that wanted first crack at Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Most people were in street clothes, though there was a percentage in costume, including a young bow running about in a cape, pointing a wooden stick with a small start at the top (free wands the shop gave away), and yelling, "Blam!" It was like a young Emeril Lagasse taking up fantasy fiction with a vengeance. He also had on his hand an animal puppet, temporarily liberated from a store rack, and would alternate between the percussive onomatopoeia and "Make way for the magic otter!" That was still normal compared to the man in a costume that included some sort of veil for his face and and a coarse broom head mounted bristle side up atop his cranium.
It took maybe half an hour to get through the line, give someone my daughter's name, and then find out that the bookstore was charging full list price - not even a few dollars off. To think we went there in sympathy for the plight of the small shop. Blam. The magic otter has struck again. Somehow I think it will be a long time before I shop there again.
In the meantime, with this update, I just read that the book sold 8.3 million copies in the first 24 hours of sale, or about twice the rate of the sixth. I wonder how many trees that translates into? And apparently some newspapers, trying to get a review into print, have hired speed readers. They should have called my daughter, who had it done before the end of Saturday.
BBC Cancels Photo ChallengeThe BBC has been dealing with a scandal about six shows that had staged phone-in calls and pretended that they came from regular people, not insiders. So the organization has decided to cancel all competitions that it was running. Unfortunately, that includes the annual photo challenge. Ah, well, maybe next year.
Friday, July 20, 2007
File Those PhotosEver look at your folders of photos and feel despair of getting them organized? Fear not - it's a heck of a lot easier and faster than you might think. First, you need software to really do this well. I use ACDSee Pro (though the regular version is quite capable if you aren't storing everything in the camera's native RAW file format - which, I'd argue, you should do because it's like having the original negative). Adobe Photoshop Elements has an organizer, if you've already got that software. For Mac users, consider something like Shoebox. The imperative thing is to have the ability to work on groups of photos at the same time.
Next, you want to come up with a naming scheme. This was a great tip that I got from nature photographer Ian Macdonald-Smith when I was writing something on this topic for Outdoor. Find something that triggers your memory for related groups of images, like a place and date. You might add the name of an event, like Aunt Sadie's Birthday Bash. The main thing is to replace the automatically generated file names with something that has meaning to you. Use the software's batch naming ability, so you might have the following files:
- Aunt Sadie's Birthday Bash, New Orleans, 2-25-97 001
Aunt Sadie's Birthday Bash, New Orleans, 2-25-97 002
Aunt Sadie's Birthday Bash, New Orleans, 2-25-97 003
Now you add keywords, photo captions, copyright information, and categories, which the program you've chosen stores in a database and, depending on the file format you choose, tucked inside the image itself. Choose the information for whole groups of photos at the same time and using batching to apply that data to all the photos at the same time.
That's going forward, but you can do the same thing with the images already sitting on your hard drive. When you have a few minutes, pick a group of old photos and apply these same techniques. You'll be getting caught up in no time.
Federal Government, Seizure of Property, and Parsing an Executive OrderOn Tuesday, George Bush signed an executive order that states
"all property and interests in property of the following persons, that are in the United States, that hereafter come within the United States, or that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of United States persons, are blocked and may not be transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise dealt in: any person determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense,It might seem fine to many because it refers to acts of violence, but look at the wording of B iii:
(i) to have committed, or to pose a significant risk of committing, an act or acts of violence that have the purpose or effect of:
(A) threatening the peace or stability of Iraq or the Government of Iraq; or
(B) undermining efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform in Iraq or to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people;
(ii) to have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, logistical, or technical support for, or goods or services in support of, such an act or acts of violence or any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order; or
(iii) to be owned or controlled by, or to have acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order.
"or to have acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order."Purported to act? Last time I checked, which was a few seconds ago, purported means "commonly put forth or accepted as true on inconclusive grounds." In other words, because someone said so. Who gets to say so? The administration. And indirectly as well as directly? How indirect can you get? It's like asking how high is up: it depends on how far you want it to go.
According to an Associated Press story:
White House press secretary Tony Snow said the order targets terrorist and insurgent groups, including those assisted by Syria and Iran, that are not covered by existing authorities.Yes, that's why it looks to freezing US assets for groups supposedly getting their money from Syria and Iran. It's a scary time in this country, when you consider exactly what such wording would allow an administration to do. And this is an administration that has proven itself willing and able to stretch the meaning of words into whatever they want.
"What this is really aimed at is insurgents and those who come across the border," Snow explained.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Jane Austen Makes the Publishing RoundsDavid Lassman, the director of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, set out to learn how the British publishing industry would react to the author. So he bundled up some introductory chapters of her books, changing some small details (names, basically), and sent them on, according to a Guardian article. Apparently only one person responded noting that it was actually Austen. ("I suggest you reach for your copy of Pride and Prejudice, which I'd guess lives in close proximity to your typewriter, and make sure that your opening pages don't too closely mimic that book's opening.") Most simply responded with form letters, though, when questioned, were saying, "Well, oh, of course we knew it was Austen, or something famous, or maybe like a movie we saw once. You know, with Emma Thompson and she plays that potential old maid? Did you see it?" OK, possibly not quite like that.
This sort of literary prank does happen now and again, and the media generally treat it as something that no one has ever before tried. I do wonder how often the editors actually recognize the text and don't bother to say, "Oh, look, you're taking the structure of X" because they're ticked that someone is trying to trick them. Then again, maybe the kids - as they're often the only ones who will live on the meager salaries - that are in acquisitions haven't read them.
Book Review: Closeup Shooting: A Guide to Closeup, Tabletop, and Macro PhotographyThis book is by Cyrill Harnischmacher, the author of Low Budget Shooting, which I recently reviewed. I was very impressed with that first title; this one, a bit less so. There is quite a bit of good information here, and certainly you could learn a lot about how to start experimenting with photographing all manner of things close up. But where Low Budget Shooting was really innovative in addressing a need that many photographers don't even think of having, Closeup Shooting looks at a topic well covered and doesn't breath the same refreshing air as Harnischmacher's first book.
In some cases, the technical information is limited without, so far as I noticed, an explanation. To say that extreme closeup photography is only possible with an SLR or DSLR is flat out wrong. Medium format and large format cameras are capable of as much and even more. (Perhaps the book's title should have been Small Format Closeup Shooting.) There are many examples of images, but relatively few show the set-up and lighting diagrams that help people understand how the techniques worked and to apply them in their own shooting.
Given the number of special considerations one could make, 121 pages simply aren't enough to offer comprehensive coverage - there are entire books written on nothing but close-up photography in nature. At $24.95, this certainly isn't a dud, and it contains a lot of useful information, some of which really is innovative (like building a glass box to do split surface/underwater shots, but I don't think it would be my first stop. I'd at least browse through some other titles and, if I wanted to do table-top, look at some of the excellent lighting books on product and table-top shooting. I'm going to see if I can get some review copies of other books in the area and, hopefully, find something that I could recommend more enthusiastically.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Alas, Poor Comma - I knew it, SamuelsonRobert Samuelson of Newsweek wrote an amusing piece about the slow decline of the comma. He seems to focus on some of the more obvious uses, such as setting off the introductory prepositional phrase. Personally, I would mourn the so-called Harvard comma - the last comma in a list of items that you use right before the word "and" - if I did not insist on including one at every occasion. I'm sure it drives copy editors made, but someone has to offer the literary world some tough love, determination, and an appreciation for clarity that I think the final comma provides.
Technique: Improvising SupportTo get a clear shot you need a steady camera. The best way of achieving that is to use a tripod. But there will be times when you didn't bring one with you, or where you need to move around too much to set up. Instead, look around for what might act as a substitute. Camera bags are great; put one on a rock or the back of a chair or even propped in an open car window and then put the camera on top. The bag acts like a cushion.
I've had great luck with walls, columns, and other vertical structures. I turn the camera on end to get a vertically-oriented shot and then hold the camera against the surface, keeping it steady. You can use a bundled up coat or sweater to act as a cushion, allowing you to set a camera on a rock, on the ground, or even against a hand railing.
Just look around and see what might be available. You'll find your shots look better, and you don't get tired from carrying yet another piece of equipment around with you.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
More Time for Public Comment on New York Photo RestrictionsI mentioned at the beginning of the month that New York City was considering imposing restrictions on taking photographs outdoors. According to today's New York Times, the city has extended the time for public comment until August 3, 2007. Here are the proposed rules, and here is the form to send a message to Katherine Oliver, commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre & Boadcasting.
Free Novel in Progress from Nobel LaureateElfriede Jelinek, Austrian feminist playwright and novelist, is experimenting with posting her new novel Neid - German for Envy - onto the web in parts as she completes them. Here's her web site - though the three chapters she has posted, as most of the site, are in German. If you'd like a sense of her writing, go to the site, look under the 2007 posts, and click on the Bambiland - Translated by Lilian Friedberg link.
Monday, July 16, 2007
The Megapixel MythIf you're like most people, when you compare digital cameras, your eye probably goes first to the megapixel count. It's understandable - the manufacturers and the press generally grasp this number close, waving it as though it proved something. And it does, in a limited way. The megapixel count tells you, more or less, how large an image you can print out at a 300dpi resolution and get really good detail. (It actually gets a bit more complex, as you can enlarge images, but let's not go there for now. I'll cover enlarging images - something easy to do - in some future post.)
You can work in two different directions. One is to check the pixel dimensions of the sensor. A camera like the Canon 10D (an "older" model, but one that I still use) might have 6.3 megapixels in a sensor that is 3088 pixels by 2056 pixels. Remember that we want 300 dots per inch for good print resolution. Divide 3088 by 300 and you get about 10.3 inches; divide 2056 by 300, and the result is about 6.9 inches. So you can figure that is the largest native print size.
The other direction is to take the actual print size you'll want - take 11x14 inches as an example. Multiple each side by 300 pixels per inch to get 3300 x 4200, or 13,860,000 pixels. That's close to 14 megapixels.
But the qualify of the image is affected by other factors, the largest being the quality of the lens and the software you use to fill in the image. Software? Yup, software. From an imaging standpoint, those sensors still have huge gaps between the pixels, and each pixel only sees one color, Something has to figure what goes between the pretty colored dots. Cameras can vary greatly in the quality of either the software or the lenses.
If you want to know how the actual images compare, you need help. Reviews can be good if the people writing them actually can tell the difference between one set of results and another. One good source for opinion is PC Magazine camera reviews, generally written by Daniel Grotta and Sally Wiener Grotta, two colleagues of mine who know a lot about the subject from all angles. Daniel also has his DigitalBenchmarks site, which has some free detailed recent reviews.
If you want to get more for your money, consider an older model camera. When new models come out, stores will be looking to clear their inventories. Getting last year's model is generally going to be safe and will give you plenty of power for what you need to do.
Teenage Lit - and Product PlacementThere has been some interesting coverage of an upcoming teen title. According to a New York Times article (sorry, no free link):
Near the end of an early galley of "Cathy's Book: If Found Call (650) 266-8233," a young adult novel that will be published in September, the spunky eponymous heroine talks about wearing a "killer coat of Clinique #11 'Black Violet' lipstick." But in the final edition of the book, that reference has been changed to "a killer coat of Lipslicks in 'Daring.'"The article then explains that Lipslicks is made by Cover Girl - a Procter & Gamble brand - and that the company will promote the title on its Beinggirl.com site.
As it turns out, Lipslicks is a line of lip gloss made by Cover Girl, which has signed an unusual marketing partnership with Running Press, the unit of Perseus Books Group that is publishing the novel.
According to the article, what apparently happened was that Creative Artists Agency, representing at least one of the authors, went to P&G, which had already been in contact with CAA about other promotional deals. The book was already written, but the authors (both marketers that helped create the massive online PR campaign for the movie AI) and illustrators made changes here and there to satisfy the company.
Publisher Perseus Books Group was interviewed for the piece, and one quote in particular seem telling:
"What we are selling here to the customer or the reader is an experience that transcends the book itself," said David Steinberger, president and chief executive of Perseus, the publisher. "The relationships with Beinggirl.com and Cover Girl are enriching that experience."As the Times noted in an editorial from June 17, "When a publisher starts talking about a book as 'an experience that transcends the book itself,' you know that what matters isn't going to be the writing." That seems obvious. The authors may be telling themselves that the allowed the intrusions with integrity, but it's the sort of virtue that calls a prostitute a whore and someone who marries for money "upwardly mobile."
If there were no other problems (and I think there are actually business problems, as I mention in my BizBlast blog), there would still be the issue of the writing. When you write with an eye on the cash register, whether the payment is in money or in-kind services, you no longer pay attention to either the audience or - more importantly, I think - to your own aesthetic self. I don't knock amrketing writing. I do it myself at times, and it does pay well. But it's not what I want to say; it's about what the company wants to say. To the degree you open a narrative to the needs of a corporation, you become upwardly mobile - that is to say, you prostitute your talent and work.
Friday, July 13, 2007
Tips for Shooting EventsThere is a site called digital Photography School that posted a list of "21 Tips for Amateur Wedding Photographers." If you like photography, chances are that one day you'll be asked by someone to photograph their function, whether a wedding, b'nai mitzvah, birthday party, or some other occasion. Although this list is supposed to be geared for weddings, with few changes it covers any event. It's worth a read if you find yourself saying "Yes" and then thinking, "Oh, good lord, what have I just done?"
Merriam-Webster Rolls Out New WordsMerriam-Webster is ready to add about 100 new words to its eleventh edition Collegiate Dictionary. A number - like the Korean chaebol for a family-controlled large company, the filled Italian pasta agnolotti, India's Bollywood region, and the Latin-American soap operas called telenovelas - are American adoptions of foreign terms. But there are some unusual other ones:
- crunk - a style of Southern rap music featuring repetitive chants and rapid dance rhythms
- microgreen - a shoot of a standard salad plant (We used to call this a piece.)
- viewshed - the natural environment that is visible from one or more viewing points (What ever happened to the word view?)
- smackdown - the act of knocking down or bringing down an opponent (from professional wrestling, when defeating someone isn't enough).
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Using Words to Move Stock NumbersThose who would game the system to advance their own economic market interests have been hard at work on the Internet. Ever get spam touting stocks? Ever wonder if anyone would believe the hyperbolic emails? Apparently they do. According to the Washington Post, the SEC is accusing two Texas men of cheating investors in at least a baker's dozen small cap stocks of $4.6 million by infecting PCs with viruses and using them as sources of spam emails. People who took the bait drove up prices long enough to let the men sell their holdings.
And in Russia, News.com.au notes that hackers issues a false statement announcing the arrest of the CEO of one of the country's main oil producers. The CEO must have been happy on one hand about the inaccuracy, but unhappy that the stock price fell, albeit by less than 1 percent.
This isn't a new type of activity on the Internet. Stock chat rooms used to be one of the main stomping grounds of they who would induce changes in stock prices. It's fascinating how the mere act of telling people what they would like to hear causes them to take specific actions, like spending their money, even though the source of the advice is highly suspect. That shows the stories that have the most power are actually not the ones others tell us, but the ones we tell ourselves. It's not the words on the screen, but the words in the head that tell us what we'd like to believe - that up is down and that we can have something for nothing just by asking.
Great Photo Gallery ResourceIf you want to show your images online, Smugmug.com is a great tool. The investment can be relatively low, the tools are flexible in terms of layout, and it's run by a family that provides great customer service (e.g., tech support from those who know what they're doing). I've got my photo site on it and know some other photographers who do the same. You also don't need a lot of technical experience to create a custom look to your site.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Camera Phones Start Getting SeriousTechnology analyst firm Strategy Analytics is predicting that camera phones are going to become increasingly more serious devices as people come to expect at least 1 megapixel resolution as standard and vendors try to differentiate themselves with higher resolution, better optics. Starting next year, expect such features as zoom, flash, and autofocus to become the rage. So you can bet over the next few years that the camera phone will move from being a gimmick to a more serious tool. In fact, many people may abandon having both devices.
That raises the question, though, of how you take a good picture with your camera phone. How do you brace it, incorporate a viewfinder to get a steadier image,and get control over exposure and white balance? The features may be alluring, but getting a really good picture will still require technique. I think that will require a lot more experimentation. There are books devoted to making the best use of 35mm film SLRs, large format cameras, and digital SLRs, among others. Each device has specific handling requirements. Start looking for the camera phone books to hit the market some time soon.
Harry Potter NaysayersI've seen some stories recently about how the Harry Potter craze is dying out, book sales dropping, and all that. It's left me scratching my head, because so much of the analysis makes little sense. Of course sales of the previous books have to level out if not outright drop. There are only so many people in the world who would be likely to read the series. To expect something else is more than wrong-headed; it's borderline stupid. How many other writers have had net worth estimated at north of a billion? That the series has been a financial success is undoubted, and I don't see that the last volume will do any worse.
I wonder, though, how much of the criticism is based on jealousy of author J.K. Rowling. There has been too much sniping over the years from the literati disdaining the work and shaking its collective head at how anyone could actually enjoy the books.
Does Rowling have weaknesses as a writer? Absolutely. All writers do. Personally I think that she could have profited from better and possibly stronger editing, but writing isn't just about the words. Writing is a way to tell stories, and at that, Rowling excels like few others. There is tension, interesting twists, characters that seem real - there's story. Those who are looking for the tumble and weakness are being driven by jealousy and spite. Better they - and we all, in our own ways - spend less time using language to attach and more time taking care of our own business and doing the best we can.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Nudist Author to Bare All at SigningThe author of "Nudity & Christianity" is scheduled for a clothing-optional book signing in Vermont tonight. According to various accounting, including this one in the Rutland Herald, Jim Cunningham is inviting patrons to remove their clothing when they get inside The Tempest Book Shop in Waitsfield. Guess there will be little judging books by their covers - but where do you keep the pens for the actual signing?
Poor (or Cheap) Person's Image EditingPhotoshop is an amazing tool - and it's also an expensive one. I've often been asked what cheaper alternatives there are. Here are a few you might consider:
- Photoshop Elements This is technically the "lite" version of Photoshop, but don't let that fool you. Most anything you're likely to be doing in regular image editing is possible in Photoshop Elements, and Adobe often puts the newest features into this program before rolling them out in the flagship version. By itself it runs about $100 - not cheap, per se, but a bargain when compared to the multiple times more expensive Photoshop CS3.
- ACDSee ACD Systems (hence the name) has some great photo-related tools. The photo manager, whether regular (about $40) or pro version ($130), has basic editing tools built-in. You won't be able to retouch images the way you could with either of the Photoshop products, but you can crop, change size, adjust lighting levels, remove red eye, and do other tasks that might be all you need. Plus, you get a great image organizer. (Photoshop Elements also has image management, though personally I prefer ACDSee Pro).
- GIMP Feeling really broke? (Or really cheap?) GIMP is an open source application that doesn't cost anything if you download it. You won't get all of Photoshop's features. What you will get is quite a bit, though, and you can't beat the price. If you like a bit of hand holding (its lack being the one downfall of open source), then you should consider a book. GIMP 2 for Photographers includes GIMP 2 on a CD and will walk you through the installation and configuration before showing how to use the software. It's $30 list, but the Amazon link I provided shows it at just under $20.
- GIMPShop A writing colleague pointed this one out - a version of GIMP designed to work like Photoshop.
Monday, July 9, 2007
BBC Photographer of the Year ContestThe BBC has an annual contest for photography with no entry fee. There are specific themes and they're looking for things beyond the obvious. The first category competition is over, but the next - Hidden - has an entry date of July 22. You can enter up to three images per category. BBC staff pick a dozen images and then put them up to the Web for popular vote. The two most popular from each category go on to a final competition for a Nikon D40X, with an extra prize for the image that most catches their eyes. Details are here.
New Magazine Title Muscles InWhen I first heard about Mob Candy, it sounded like a joke - the title calls itself "The Underworld Magazine of Mafia Politics, Pleasures and Power," according to a story in the Staten Island Advance:
The first issue features articles on Don Carlo Gambino's legacy; 50 years of mob "rats;" the FBI vs. Italian Americans, and a profile of Christian (Chris Paciello) Ludwigsen of Eltingville, a mobbed-up former Miami nightclub owner who once dated pop star Madonna and was the getaway driver in a 1993 Richmond Valley home-invasion murder.And the magazine's home? Staten Island. What, New Jersey and Las Vegas don't hold the fascination they once did? Local models, scantily clad, provide the "candy." How will the public react? Here's the opinion of its vice president of advertising and sales:
"Most of the responses we've had have been very positive. People tell me 'I can't wait until it comes out,'" Ms. DiPietro said during a phone interview at the periodical's first public event -- a children's fund-raiser in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.Yes, we really suggest that you give to this fund raiser - we'd hate to see something happen to your reading habits. It's supposedly a collaboration between a manufacturer/distributor of steel framing (who happens to be a former publisher of porn mags) and a clothing designer. Wonder if he does anything in cement overcoats...
Friday, July 6, 2007
Former Roswell PR Officer Says Aliens RealThis seems like something you'd see in an X Files rerun, but there is a story on Australia's News.com outlet that Walter Haut, who was the PR person at Roswell back in 1947 and the one who issued the press releases, including the one about it all being weather balloons, signed an affidavit only to be opened after his death. In it he claims that he saw both an egg-shaped alien space craft and the bodies of extraterrestrials with short bodies and big heads. I guess the truth was in there.
Another Digital Photo Basic: White BalanceIf you've ever noticed how your home's lighting can seem positively amber when you've just come in from outdoors, then you have a grasp of why white balance is important in digital photography.
All light is made of many different colors and it falls in a spectrum from deep blues to reds. (Think of a rainbow.) Often, there's a bias toward one color or another. For example, candlelight is yellow compared to tungston bulbs, which lean far more toward the warm (or red/yellow) end than sunlight. Light on a cloudy day is bluer than what you get in direct sun.
As the quality of the light changes, so does the appearance of colors, much as your clothing will look different when you are under some sort of colored light. White balance is the digital equivalent of indoor versus outdoor film. If you want a realistic representation of colors under different lighting conditions, then you need to take into account how the tint of the lighting affects what you see.
So you need to set the white balance of your camera to match the prevaling conditions. There is an automatic setting, but that can get confused by light reflected by colored surfaces, or it may be that you want to deliberately set the white balance to get a warmer or cooler sense to the image. Some cameras will let you take a reading from a white surface and then adjust the color perception so that the object actually comes out white, and not an amber or bluish color.
You will need to reconsider the white balance every time the light changes. That could mean moving indoors from outdoors, or visa versa, or even moving into a shaded area outside when you were in full sunlight. Just remember - if something goes wrong, this is a setting that you can adjust if you set your camera to save RAW images, and not JPEGs.
Thursday, July 5, 2007
Crimes and Non-PunishmentI heard a snippet of a speech George Bush gave about the Scooter (what an embarrassing nickname to cleave to) Libby sentence. The reason he gave for commuting the sentence was because the 30 month period was "too harsh." But is commutation an all or nothing process? Couldn't the president have cut it back to what he thought was not harsh, especially as I suspect the Libby defense fund will probably pay the $250,000 fine and that although he can't practice law (until Bush presumably pardons him on leaving office), he could certainly work as a lobbyist or in some other managerial position where the premium is on government connections? The process of redefining language that Orwell mentioned in 1984 is, and was even then, a daily practice. Blink and you can forget that someone is trying to hoodwink you.
Easiest Improvement for Digital PhotosThere is a big flaw the way most people use their digital cameras - and an easy fix. When you see people using a digital camera, notice that they often hold them away from their faces and watch the LCD screen on the back for the shot they want. They moment they do, they inject tiny motions and shaking that they don't even notice. But look at those pictures in a larger size and everything will look fuzzy, because they ended up burring the results by those small movements.
The fix is to always look through the viewfinder, and not at the screen. You can then hold the camera up to your face and brace it underneath, resulting in better focus and sharper pictures. An added benefit is that you can leave the screen off, except to preview what you just did, and that saves battery life.
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
Technique: Shooting FireworksOn the Fourth of July, fireworks are in order. With an easy technique, you can get professional-looking shots of the bursts. You'll need a tripod, camera that allows manual adjustments, and a cable release (to avoid jarring the camera). This will work with either film or digital cameras:
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
Deconstructing Google's Choking on Anti-Sicko Campaign InvitationYesterday I apparently joined many other bloggers in examining a blog entry from "Google's Health Advertising Team." It seems that the collective heat was a bit much for Google management, which had the blogger fall on her sword, saying that the opinion was hers and not Google's. Well, at least that's the simple explanation. Let's do some deconstruction:
Well, I've learned a few things since I posted on Friday. For one thing, even though this is a new blog, we have readers! That's a good thing.No, you had one person post a note about the entry in a spot or two that get tremendous traffic and activity.
Not so good is that some readers thought the opinion I expressed about the movie Sicko was actually Google's opinion. It's easy to understand why it might have seemed that way, because after all, this is a corporate blog. So that was my mistake -- I understand why it caused some confusion.A nice try, but corporations don't work this way. This wasn't one person's sole idea. At best, it was representative of an atmosphere in corporate marketing. Of course the company wants to make money - that's why it exists. And if you're in the business of selling ad space, one type of logical customer is a company in an industry taking a beating of bad publicity.
But the more important point, since I doubt that too many people care about my personal opinion, is that advertising is an effective medium for handling challenges that a company or industry might have.In other words, her previous entry was correct in the first case. If healthcare is getting slammed, it can buy ads and pretend that the issues the movie raises don't exist.
You could even argue that it's especially appropriate for a public policy issue like healthcare.Because they get really affected by public opinion and they've got gobs of money - and there is that movie that's out. Maybe you've heard of it.
Whether the healthcare industry wants to rebut charges in Mr. Moore's movie, or whether Mr. Moore wants to challenge the healthcare industry,...Google is happy to sell ads to anyone.
...advertising is a very democratic and effective way to participate in a public dialogue.If you can afford it - like healthcare.
That is Google's opinion, and it's unrelated to whether we support, oppose or (more likely) don't have an official position on an issue.Because we want to take whatever money comes out way, unfettered by personal opinion.
That's the real point I was trying to make,...That is, we want to sell you an ad.
...which was less clear because I offered my personal criticism of the movie.And if I hadn't, you still would have known what I meant, but no one could have pointed out that our main principle is that contained in our bank accounts. Because if I had really been that out of line with company policy, my backside would be leaving divots from here to San Diego.
I think we all got the point the first time around.
Book Review: Low Budget ShootingWhen I requested a review copy of Low Budget Shooting: Do It Yourself Solutions to Professional Photo Gear by German photographer and designer Cyrill Harnischmacher, I was hoping to see something useful. I was first taken aback by the thinness of the volume - 72 pages with a hardback cover and paper thickness that only seemed to emphasize the lack of wider content. And yet when I flipped through, I realized that the $19.95 price was something a photographer could recoup multiple times in a single project. Just learning to create a custom soft box out of maybe $10 or $20 worth of material - without needing much in the way of skills or tools - is a money saver. You can learn to pretty easily make reflectors of all sizes, diffusers for a hand-held flash unit, even a table with continuous background for shooting products. There seems to be a bias toward table-top and close-up work, but the techniques he suggests are actually a jumping-off point. For example, you could adapt the soft box construction to a studio flash, or even series of flashes, or create large area reflectors using thin PVC pipes instead of fiberglass tubing. If you have the slightest inclination toward do-it-yourself projects, then this will give you great suggestions for building and improvising a lot of your own equipment without going broke in the process.
Monday, July 2, 2007
Google Ready to Help Corporations Battle Negative PressThanks to a Slashdot.org reader for noticing this blog entry from "Google's Health Advertising Team." It discusses the Michael Moore movie Sicko as an entry into discussing how to use Google to counter the force of negative public attention:
We can place text ads, video ads, and rich media ads in paid search results or in relevant websites within our ever-expanding content network. Whatever the problem, Google can act as a platform for educating the public and promoting your message. We help you connect your company’s assets while helping users find the information they seek.In other words, we can help you try to keep people from noticing what it is that you're doing wrong. Personally I'd say that for a company to try to pretend that it's not doing something wrong is an evil act. Google's corporate code of conduct says that its "informal corporate motto is 'Don't be evil.'" But they never said anything about advertising it.
New York Mulls Public Photography RestrictionsThe New York Times had a disturbing article:
Some tourists, amateur photographers, even would-be filmmakers hoping to make it big on YouTube could soon be forced to obtain a city permit and $1 million in liability insurance before taking pictures or filming on city property, including sidewalks.If the city goes with the new rules, it would require two people using a camera in a single location - meaning a 100 foot radius from where someone starts - for longer than 30 minutes to have a permit and the hefty liability policy. The same would go for 5 or more people using a tripod in a public location - including sidewalks - for longer than 10 minutes, including set-up time. The film office is saying that it wouldn't include amateur filmmakers or photographers, but the proposed rules apparently don't read that way, at least to the New York ACLU. Even if the film office supposedly didn't intend to restrict amateur use, the police could esaily go by the letter of the law. Apparently no one attended the public meeting about the rules. I'd also wonder whether the permit would be for a single location, meaning that if you were going to be multiple places, you'd have to get a permit for each.