Category errors

Yesterday my boss walked into the lunch room as I was looking at a container of cookies and asked me how I was doing.

I said, "Choosing a cookie," which I now realize was a description of what I was doing, not how.

Still, I don't feel that I answered incorrectly. If you're in a state of mind in which choosing a cookie is your main concern, you're doing pretty well.

Here's the truth, though: I wasn't choosing a cookie. I was staring at a jumbled pile of identical heart-shaped shortbread cookies, wondering what possible impact my choice could have on my life. With at least two dozen identical possibilities, the very notion of choice evaporates. In that situation, the only available choice is whether or not to select a cookie. Which I had already done. So I had been caught in a post-choice moment, what the academics like to call a liminal space.

What I should have said is, "Having chosen to eat a cookie but not yet taken one, I'm delaying the moment of action by pretending to have a further choice of which cookie to eat, when it's obvious that my final pick doesn't matter. I can only conclude that I'm looking at these cookies to develop a narrative about my life in which cookie selection becomes an existentially meaningful act. Within that narrative I'm rolling in novelistic detail, endlessly confirming my existence on the plain of the quasi-real, arguably the only place where humans truly exist. We rise, we revise, and fall back once more, but we fall into a richer and stranger world. So yeah, I'm doing great. Would you like a cookie?"

In the end I picked a cookie with white sugar sprinkles instead of pink, because that seemed a little more authentic.

Picture Radio

Picture Radio is a band. A music band! And like so many music bands these days, they occupy physical space and reflect frequencies of light - which makes them great subjects for photography. After a series of fairly standard band photos, we pulled out some ancient exercise bikes. It turns out that Picture Radio is not clear on stationary bicycling, but they're really good at being photographed.

And here a few that still need a quick cleanup to get rid of some streaks and blobs of light in the window. I sort of like the umbrella reflection, though. 

Technical gobbledygook: All images taken with the Fujifilm X100T at f4.0 1/250 ISO 200. Flash set up camera left with a deep umbrella (very visible in some of the photos) set at - well, I'm not sure, because at some point the connection between the wireless trigger became dicey and I couldn't set the power remotely. It's probably at 1/8 power? I started using the built-in 3-stop ND filter on the camera to control the exposure. All black and white images processed in Lightroom with a tweaked version of the VSCO Agfa Scala 200 preset and further fumbled with in Photoshop. Alcohol being consumed by subjects is Bacardi rum.


Bad dreams

A few nights ago I experienced a dream in which I was describing a recurring nightmare that consisted of me running through a house, opening door after door, each one promising to lead me outside but only opening onto another part of the house, another hallway, another stairwell, another landing or vestibule, each passageway shorter and smaller than the last, until I came to a door with a bright yellow doorjamb and daylight spilling in from outside, but as I pushed on it the door refused to open more than inch or two, and with that refusal a bolt of terror went through me and I woke up.

Some bad dreams dissolve within a few minutes, even if you're riding a wave of panic into consciousness, but this one left me with a sticky film of anxiety that I knew would be with me all day (I was right about that - it wasn't until six in the evening, as a cab took me down a rain-drenched Broad Street to a meeting of condominium board members, that I felt it finally lift). What I found odd was that the nightmare I was describing is not my actual recurring nightmare, which also takes place in an endless house but does not involve attempts at escape.

Instead I often find myself in a room somewhere around the attic, a room with a small door that leads to a small empty room, and as I open that door and inspect the emptiness a horror comes over me with such strength that my nightmare persists even after I awake, as if whatever was in that room has hitched a ride with me. Shadows throb, shapes shift and every object is infused with my terror, as if the dream has turned me inside out and I'm waking into my my own mind.

Anyway. Enjoy your day.

Seven Bird Facts

  1. Birds have hard pointy mouths. Scientists should have come up with a name for bird mouths months (or even years!) ago. The fact that they haven't is only one of the reasons I gave up on "science" as a teen.
  2. Bird hands are invisible (I guess) or covered up by that incredibly coarse bird fur. I never see birds bother to pick anything up, which leads me to think they're lazy, but they do put a lot of effort into flapping their arms. Maybe their hands are sort of stuck and they're trying to shake them loose?
  3. The popular theory that birds flap their arms to "fly" (move through the air) is obviously untrue. Try flapping your arms around and see how high you get. Real flight can only be achieved with engines (see planes for an example). Bird "flight" is an optical illusion caused by atmospheric refraction. I'll believe in bird flight when someone actually gets on a bird and rides around on one.
  4. The legs. What the hell is going on with those tiny legs and feet? It's called dignity, birds. Look it up.
  5. The class Birda (birds) is marked by its denizens' ability to produce the atmospheric refraction that sustains the illusion of flight (possibly through specialized glands).
  6. Ostriches and penguins (the so-called "flightless" birds) are not birds at all. The penguin is a kind of capybara with a pointy mouth adapted for spearing fish/fish biting. The ostrich is a normal capybara being attacked by giant worms.
  7. Birds are most closely related to vests. More distant relatives of the bird include paper towels, car manuals and Wikipedia.

A few things to say about Green Room, the movie that nearly made me throw up with tension and traumatized my spouse

Hello, I'm the official movie reviewer of Palinode's Palace. I am kept in a small hatch underneath the stables. Every so often someone walking by will describe the plot of a movie, and I write about the movie as if I've seen it. This is why the words Content Specialist appear on my business card.

Green Room, Jeremy Saulnier's latest nasty piece of work, features people getting stabbed in the head, assaulted and de-throated by dogs, slashed with machetes or kukris or whatever, blasted with fire extinguishers, pistoled, shotgunned, broke-limbed and so on. Every single character in Green Room ends up with unwanted new holes in their bodies before the film ends, and I can only assume that the many extras and walk-on parts were rounded up offscreen and dropped into a pit of hellfire.

Worse than the violence, though, is the tension, a dimly felt tug as the characters move into place that slowly ratchets up until everyone, including the viewer, suffers on a rack of Saulnier's unflinching design. The denouement, blessedly short and bleak, barely lets up the pressure before the screen cuts to black and the audience, which contained me and my spouse Elan, are allowed to snap back to the everyday world.

Elan nearly left halfway through. I nearly threw up at one point. We went to a book store and Elan squeezed or stroked everything in the gift section until she was able to calm down. 

Story Cubes #6: Six Cubes None the Richer

Nine cubes. Two stories. Easter weekend imminent.

Story #1

Once you were the apple of my eye (!), but it didn't take long for you to fall from grace like a wayward start (it's not your fault, really; I suffer from borderline personality disorder). You claim to have dealt squarely with me, but if we examine your behaviour more closely, it feels like you only let me into the tiniest part of your life. Is that square dealing, I ask? Granted, there's a lunatic with twitchy hands living in my mind. I'll have to weigh the pros and cons a bit more.

Story #2

Tom lived a carefully managed life and kept a quiet house, but by night he would sneak outside and stand in his backyard, watching carefully for the quiet shadows of the evening to coalesce into some form that would confirm the suspicions that plagued him during the day, the insistent sensation that he was fundamentally wrong, that his life had twisted in some direction that he couldn't understand at the time and was now wreathed around some other shape that he had never perceived, but there it was, invisible but shaping his soul. Maybe he had been too rigid? He felt like he was waiting for a sign, something from the heavens that would direct him, the reassurance that someone was keeping an eye on human affairs. Some day I'll figure it out, he thought.


Story Cubes #5

Two stories, backwards and forwards.

Story #1

"Wigwams may be cozier than high-rises," declared Darryl, "but they don't hold a patch on spending your nights in the crook of a tree." Nobody responded to this surprising piece of news, coming as it did in the middle of the quarterly sales meeting. "I've started hunting my own food as well," Daryl continued, "even though there's nothing in the city but squirrels and pets." Carl and Tania locked him in his office for the rest of the afternoon.

Daryl pulled out a piece of paper and did a few calculations on the back of a manila envelope. "S'pose I'll take a chance" he said to himself, and jumped out the window with a parachute made of twine and old dot matrix paper. "Huh," he said to himself as the parachute ripped itself to shreds and his body dropped twenty stories.

Story #2

No second story today! Why? Well, I was facing the prospect of a second story with some indifference, feeling almost adrift on a current of creative apathy. I calculated the odds of locking away my slight guilt over not writing a story, perhaps even drawing one back in the bow and putting the project out of its misery. Then I went for a walk in the park, passing by the G.D. Roberts building and ending up by the First Nations University. That was a surprisingly long walk, I reflected, and certainly not one I'd ever make in real life.

Story Cubes #4

Check out this here buh-zisness. I downloaded the Story Cubes app and now I'm free of the arduous tasks of holding, rolling and arranging dice with my filthy non-virtual hands. As always, I'm generating two stories: one reading the cubes from top left to bottom right, the other going from bottom right to top left.

Okay? Okay.

Story #1

Not many people know that stars are stuck to the vault of the night sky with quality glue, but every so often one comes loose and streaks down to the planet. Bees around the world are dispatched to the spot where where the star willl land (stars are full of pollen), navigating by the ever-brightening sky.

The star, whose name was Charles, landed among the pyramids, terrifying adults and delighting a tour bus full of seniors on a good old Baedeker tour. Still, they went up in flames, proving conclusively that terror and delight are equally bad choices as flame retardants.

Eventually the crater left by Charles filled with water. Local fish applied to live there, but their application was halted by urban development with plenty of mixed retail-office space zoning. Undaunted, the fish and the bees (remember them?) entered into a pollen trade agreement with Charles the Star, who found himself in the enviable position of being a primary resource with a formidably high surface temperature. Everyone was happy, except for the people who burned up. 

Story #2

Cities of towers will halt their expansion when the oceans rise and fish claim their birthright. Youthful fires fade with age and leave behind monuments as a cinder. Electric light bulbs buzz like bees and hold up their light against distant stars. 

Story Cubes #3

Story Cubes, artisanally rolled by me. Two stories, reading the cubes a) top left to bottom right, and b) bottom right to top left.

Story #1

One day, my head in the clouds, my head transported through clouds, I had the typical thing, an idea, about doing something completely new, crossing over into unexplored territory, a climb up on nothing more substantial than light. It would unlock everything, I thought, it would exalt me. But monstrous things lurk in the bright light of exaltation. Honestly the whole process felt like a letdown.

Story #2

Do not be sad, child, about the monster that stalks you, because it is only yourself. Look up and unlock the door: it's a bright and beautiful day outside, a day where rain clouds have just passed through and bent the medium of seeing for your pleasure. Not far from your house you will find a path over a bridge, a path that leads somewhere more brilliant and exalted than you can imagine.

Story Cube #2: Wraiths and regrets

Story Cubes rolled and arranged by Schmutzie. The first story follows the cubes from top left to bottom right; the second goes from bottom right to top left.

Story #1: Forwards

Purely by chance a loosed arrow sped upward, hitting a wraith who had been terrorizing a group of people in a wigwam. Unaware of the goings-on above and unable to hear the terrible cry of the wounded wraith, fish swam happily through the tannin-brown ripples of the stream, sunlight flashing off their backs and creating a scene worthy of a postcard. The people in the wigwam debated going outside and maybe taking a dip in the river, but no one could say for sure whether the wraith was dead or just angry about being hit by an arrow, so they stayed where they were and hoped vaguely for a world that did not include wraiths.

Story #2: Backwards

Perry sent a cheerful postcard to his family, a brief scrawl to reassure his mother and father that everything was just fine in his new home, and could all those fishy deeds and past arguments be set aside like so much water under the bridge? Come home, Perry could hear his parents imploring, sit with us and we'll work things out. But he could feel the spectre of old wounds and embedded fragments rising up in the skin, splinters that could emerge and cause fresh damage as easily as a randomly chosen word.

StoryCube #1: The Pointy Pimple

Story Cubes, rolled and arranged by Schmutzie, given coherence by me.

Once upon a time, the world gave birth to an extremely pointy pimple that people pronounced a “pyramid”. Parachutists popped off its peak, hoping to drift ever upward to reach the stars.

The moon slept through the parachutists' project, until one day, stung by a hapless bee that had flown too far from the hive, it woke like a frightened child with the spirit of a werewolf inside it.

“Magnet!” cried the moon, because its particles of ore were in sore need of orientation. “Any axis will do.”

“Pardon?” prompted a passing parachutist on her way to Proxima Centauri.

“I said - ah, never mind,” muttered the moon, plunging earthward in search of a good neodynium magnet. "Get it together, Loony," the moon murmured to itself as it dropped through the atmosphere and hit the ground, flattening the pyramid and pulping its parachutists.

"Well," opined the moon as it rested in the wreckage, "maybe we learned something about ourselves today." The parachutists, now putrescing parts of people, stayed silent.

Now let's do it backwards!

There's an attraction in contemplating the monster that dwells within, thought the bee, even if that monster could destroy you. Why look at me, with a stinger that would rip my guts out if I ever chose to use it. The drowsy moon rolled through the sky overhead, dreaming of stars, and dreaming of the space beyond, and the pale apes that had drifted down like spores so many millennia ago to build their pyramids and populate the Earth. Some of them had waved at the moon as they passed by, leaving her as alone as ever, but hardly lonely.


Chris Carter's Spec Scripts

To: Matthew Weiner
From: Chris Carter

Dear Matthew,

How are things? Congratulations on the success of Mad Men - I always you knew you'd make it big! I've enclosed a spec script with Don and Peggy and the gang - hopefully you enjoy it! If you do, give me a shout and I'll send you some more - plenty where that came from!

Careful what you say in your reply - my correspondence is probably being monitored.




DON DRAPER stands in a random spot in his office. Maybe he's near his desk, or maybe the wet bar. Whatever you think works here. Generally I just point towards the set and tell the actors to go stand in the middle of the room and wait for the camera to start rolling. With a show like yours, though, I bet everyone is assigned a place to stand for maximum symbolism.

PEGGY OLSON enters. She looks really stressed. But ambitious. Her ambition makes her stressed and it's what gives her that stressful look? Hah, I just cracked her character.

Don, we have a problem with the Wasserman account.

There's always a problem with the Wasserman account.

He pours himself a drink. I guess he's standing by the wet bar then. Unless maybe he walks over to the wet bar from where he was standing in the first place? Anyway, it's a very manly drink-pouring session.

Is there a drink for me?

I don't want you ending up like me, Peggy.

He swigs his drink down and pours another. He raises the tumbler to his lips but appears to reconsider.

Or maybe - I secretly want you to be exactly like me.

He hands Peggy the drink.

You're so fake, Don. You're an alcoholic who hides his emotions behind booze and lies. You don yourself in drapes like a draper. A fake alcoholic draper.

She puts the drink down on his desk. Wait, are they at his desk? Okay, at some point he sat down behind his desk and she's standing in front of the desk. Yeah, that's the ticket. There's a chair for her but she's not sitting in it because she's so stressed and too ambitious to sit.

You know, Peggy, you may be blinded by ambition, but you see advertising gold glinting in the rushing stream of daily life. You're hard to peg down.

I'll tell you one thing, "I am not a crook."

I don't think that's a contemporary reference.

PETE CAMPBELL is over by the wet bar - no, he's right next to Peggy. He stands there like someone who impregnated Peggy once but doesn't know it.

Hey, I've been here all along. I resent you not noticing me and I'm trying to turn your conversation to my advantage.

Pete, you're like some kind of bell they ring at camp. A camp bell, if you will. Say it fast and you'll get what I mean.

This is the past.

Make a Photo The Palinode Way

Hey. Do you like workflow? Does the word 'workflow' sound sexy to you? Or does it sound sort of anatomical and squicky? Whichever way you lean, workflow seems to be the chosen term for photographers describing their process. Workflow captures everything from image preparation and capture to organization, post-processing and delivery to clients. Given the multitude of styles and tools available to photographers, the process is more or less unique to each person.

And hey, here's mine.

People seemed to like this photo, which showed up on this site (where no one saw it), Flickr (where a few people saw it) and Instagram (where a whole schwack of folks scrolled past it). It's an image of two women in conversation over lunch at a local Korean fusion restaurant. I make no claims about this photo's greatness, but I have a blog and my wife's out of town, so hello free time.

This may shock you: that scene presented above has been tampered with. It has been nudged about, visually massaged and, most damningly of all, Photoshopped. Let's take a look at how I went from my original shot to the one above.

Photographers tend to gravitate towards certain subject material. Some adore wildlife, which leads them off into the wilderness with foot-long lenses and camping gear. Others like natural landscapes or night skies. Some have a fascination with faces and end up doing portraits.

My primary photographic love is people: people in action or just sitting around, people striding down the street or holding hands or doing any one of the million startling and beautiful things people do. In a photograph, people become abstractions of shape and contrast, but they are shapes that form stories.

In this case I spotted two women talking over lunch, and I wanted to hold that action: one woman leaning in to listen as the other expounded. Given my position and the 35mm field of view of my lens, I knew that I wouldn't be able to isolate the subjects in the frame; there would have to be some context, mostly in the form of the man on the left. Fortunately, the rope partition perfectly set the two women off from the man but allowed me to capture three figures in the photo for an asymmetrical composition. If you can't do perfect symmetry in a photo, always go for threes or some other odd number.

When I'm out and about, I usually carry my Fujifilm X100T, which is either the greatest or the worst camera ever for street photography, depending on whom you ask. I like it because it's relatively small, relies on separate aperture and shutter controls for basic exposure controls instead of a PASM dial, and has a virtually silent leaf shutter (It's also a beautiful looking camera that assuages the disgusting hipster that dwells in the filthiest regions of my soul). I had the camera set to a 4.0 aperture and a minimum shutter speed of 1/60, which I knew would give me the right depth of field and motion capture for this scene. I've found that f4 is really the sweet spot for the X100T's lens, with just the right trade-off between depth of field and sharpness.

I took four or five shots to make sure I got what I wanted. I knew I needed the women with their faces visible, their eyes open and their features expressive but also flattering. Lots of street photographs play up the grotesque, but I like to portray people in the best possible light (unless they're jerks).

Anwyway, once I got home that evening, I imported the photo into Adobe Lightroom as a RAW file, which is essentially an 'uncooked' photo; RAW files contain the information captured on the sensor and can be thought of as the digital equivalent of a film negative (indeed, Adobe's version of the RAW format is .DNG, which stands for "digital negative").

As you can see, the RAW is reasonable but underwhelming.

The horizon is tilted, the subjects are a little washed out by contrast, the exteriors are completely blown. The first thing I did was straighten it up with the Auto upright correction tool. Sometimes this works beautifully, sometimes it's a complete shit show and you have to tweak perspective manually. Depending on distortions introduced by your lens, this can be finicky work. The 23mm 2.0 lens fixed to the camera does show distortion in certain situations, but in this case it wasn't an issue.

All straightened up! The next thing is to consider the role of colour in the photo. To wit: does it add to the story or distract from it? In this case, I didn't feel that it added anything. The photo would be a lot more compelling if the shapes and lines were emphasized - the angles of people's backs, the three horizontals and the srong verticals of the ropes dropping from the top of the frame and being picked up again in the reflection on the table.

I have a number of black and white presets that I use from various sources, but in this case I avoided presets (programmed settings) and went with the Monochrome + Yellow Filter Fujifilm camera profile. The result is a crisp and slightly contrasty look that I enjoy. Sometimes I tweak the profile controls further, but in this case I mostly liked what I saw.

Then I did what most photographers probably do but won't admit to: I went to the Basic adjustment panel and hit Auto Tone. This lets Lightroom do a series of basic exposure and tone controls. It's often a good starting point for adjusting a photo and can sometimes bring out aspects of the image you hadn't thought about beforehand.

In this case, Auto Tone did much of what I wanted: brought out some of the fine detail, toned down the contrast a bit and generally balanced the exposure to reduce the problems of dealing with backlit subjects.

After a bit of mucking around, I wasn't quite satisfied with the empty space around the bottom of the photo, so I added a -.5 exposure gradient to darken the area a bit and keep the eye on the main subject. I like to keep most of my adjustments small and subtle where possible.

I continued to make small adjustments here and there to minimize the empty space and elements around the edges of the frame (particularly the light fixtures), but eventually I decided to crop in a little bit. Cropping is a last resort for me, but if it serves the photo better, then so be it.

Perhaps you prefer the extra space along the top and right areas, but photos on the Internet are usually seen as a thumbnail first. If the composition isn't immediately strong, no one is going to pause and take a closer look.

One thing I didn't do in Lightroom is sharpen the image, which really surprised me when I was preparing this post. I apply some sharpening to every image I process, but this is one of the rare photos that doesn't benefit much from sharpening. If I were to process this for print, then I'd definitely sharpen it up. Strange things happen when an image hits paper.

There were a few more adjustments to make to the image, but they couldn't be done in Lightroom. This was a job for Photoshop.

If you look closely at the photo, you'll see some unnecessary elements: signs, lampposts and so on. It's the ugly random crap that your eye snags on. For example a parking sign just below this woman's chin:

Yeah, that's gotta go.

What the hell? Stupid content-aware fill.

Turns out the solution was more content-aware fill! That tool is the solution to, the cause of and solution to all of my problems.

I won't go through the rest of the Photoshop process in numbing detail (mostly because I'm awful at Photoshop and I don't want to show just how bad I am), but a bit of careful selection, Content-aware fill, cloning and blurring removed the signs and the lamp posts.


Every Day I'm Concertgoing #60

Last night I went to the CJTR Radiothon wrap-up party. I left before the night was through - who can keep up with community radio supporters when their blood rises and the moon creeps up in their eyes? - but managed to capture the Bystanders and the Ben Templeton Trio. The Royal Red Brigade played as well, but I'm old and stuffy and the methamphetamine was wearing off, so home I went.

Concerts are so blue and red. It's like you're stuck in a musical paddywagon with beer and hickory sticks.

And here's a gallery with extra photos thrown in to enhance your photo-looking-at experience.

Photos taken with my Fujifilm X100T and tweaked in Lightroom. With a couple of exceptions I used the Classic Chrome profile to mute the reds and bring out some fine detail. What's that you say? A camera profile doesn't affect detail rendering on images in Lightroom? Yeah, so what.