Golden Man

Hot on the heels of the weekend's yellow beer encounter, a man bathed in golden light or possibly made of pure gold, a golden golem inscribed into life by the municipal works department, showed up outside our window last night to clean the bugs from the streetlamp.

Presumably the helmet covers up the animating mark on his forehead.

One more instance of gold this week and I'm going to take it as a sign. Like I'll be hit in the head with a gold brick or something.

Helpful resources:

What are sodium vapor lamps anyway?

What are golems and (unrelated) why did I want to make of my own back in 2005?

Yellow beer

I no longer drink beer (pretty much), so I'm not sure when they added lemon yellow to the beer hue roster. Back when I drank beer by the bucketful, we were satisfied with pale yellow, light gold, reddish amber, toffee brown, burnt caramel and an inky, violet-black stout that tasted of grapefruit and the intolerable weight of history. We didn't go for this liquid sun nonsense.

"How did we get to this point in our collective culture that we're drinking golden beer on a Friday afternoon?"

I miss beer sometimes.

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. 

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.

Regards,

CC

INT - STERLING PRICE - DAY

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.

PEGGY
Don, we have a problem with the Wasserman account.

DON
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.

PEGGY
Is there a drink for me?

DON
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.

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

He hands Peggy the drink.

PEGGY
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.

DON
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.

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

DON
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.

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

DON
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.

PETE
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.

Shaboomz!

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.