Bounce Flash

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I recently got myself a new flash with my birthday money; a Nikon SB-400. It's not a very big or powerful flash unit, and it doesn't have a lot of the nice features and manual controls that the more expensive units have, but it does have the advantage of being very lightweight. The main reason I got it was to learn more about on-camera lighting, especially fill flash and bounce flash.

This image is an example of the latter. You tilt the camera head up, and instead of the light directly illuminating the subject, it bounces off a nearby surface, creating a more diffuse light. Here I've bounced it off a wall that's just out of frame, which also provides a nice directional light.

From a composition standpoint, this isn't a fantastic picture. There are a number of distracting elements in the background, especially the reflection in the window, though I bet most people wouldn't notice any of that. The reason I'm showing it, though, is that it makes a great example of how much difference lighting makes in photography. (And, of course, I'll take any excuse to show you how cute my kid is.)

I'm really excited about getting to learn this stuff. Hopefully, my photos will continue to get better.

Notes From a Sophomore Engineering Major

I mentioned that a couple of weekends ago, Juliette and I spent some time cleaning out our office closet. Archaeologists will tell you that one of the best ways to learn about a culture is to look through their garbage, and so it is with the pile of junk I unearthed from that closet.

One of the items I discovered was a partitioned notebook from my sophomore year of college, containing notes from several classes I took that year. I think it's pretty illustrative.

From my Electricity and Magnetism class:

ρ creates divergence in an E field.

spherical conductor w/ cavity outside sphere: looks like point chage.

charge in cavity induces a – charge along cavity walls which induces a + charge uniformly around outside of sphere.

From my Intro to Biology class:

Population Regulation

Density-Dependent Factors:

  • overcrowding
  • lack of resources
  • increased predation
  • disease
  • # offspring/female decreases since less females survive to breed.

From my Intro to Systems Engineering class:

II-order Systems:

I-order systems ( x′ + 1/τ x = f(t) ) have 1 descriptor (τ) & exponential behavior, step-response

II-order systems look like x′′ + a0x′ + a1x = f(t) but we can write them as x′′ + 2ζωx′ + ωnx = f(t)

2 descriptors: ζ and ωn

And, finally, from my 18th-Century Western Philosophy class:

My comment is not terribly pertinent to the discussion, but...


HA HA HA! Not THIS swan!

Are you saying it's a waste of horse not to eat old horses?

It's called schizophrenia.

You better not piss off the sun god.

Get your fuckin' hand off my mother-fuckin' taco!

That last sentence was on a page with what appears to be a shopping list for the communal bar my roommates and I kept stocked.

I guess the takeaway here is that it's a good thing I wasn't a philosophy major.

Curious and Excited

An excited participant in the 4th of July parade

This little guy was very excited to be part of the 4th of July parade in Del Mar. He was also very interested in my camera. Fortunately, I managed to avoid getting noseprints on my lens.

Double Rainbow

Have you seen the double rainbow video yet? It seems to be making the rounds; in the past few days I've seen it mentioned at least six or seven times on Twitter, Facebook, and various blogs. You've seen it, right?

OK, if you haven't seen it, take three and a half minutes and watch this:

If you're like, well, just about everybody, your immediate reaction is to laugh. The phrase "rainbow-gasm" might come to mind. You might idly wonder whether the guy is on drugs. And, yeah, it is funny, and I was thinking all the same things, but I'd like to take a second here and ask you a serious question.

Have you ever, in your entire life, been that happy about anything?

I have known some truly joyous moments. I remember the swell in my chest when I saw Juliette walking down the aisle toward me. And sometimes when I look at Jason, I'm so happy it feels like light is going to shoot out of my torso like a weird, Japanese-man version of a Care Bear Stare. For the life of me, though, I can't recall a time when I was so overwhelmed with excitement and beauty that I completely lost my shit. It strikes me as kind of sad.

For that matter, I don't think I've ever seen anyone I know be that happy, or even heard anyone talk about having been that happy. It's not even surprising to me, either. Being so thoroughly overjoyed and effusive just isn't socially normal. That's why it's funny. And even at that, we're only able to laugh at it because of the separation provided by the fact that it's a video. If you saw someone freak out like that in real life, you'd probably be uncomfortable. I know I would be.

Stop and think about that for a second. What does it say about our collective priorities and values that we'd feel weird about someone being really, really happy near us? Isn't that at least a little bit messed up?

I wish I were the kind of person who could get so worked up over a rainbow. I'd love to know what that feels like. I don't know if I ever will, but it seems like the kind of thing that might be worth working toward.


I got to work a little early Friday morning, so I decided to take the opportunity to experiment with abstract composition. This is a close-up of the outflow of a fountain in front of my office building.

Into the Sunset

Juliette, Jason and I spent the entire day at the beach with friends yesterday for the 4th. As we were leaving, the sun had just gotten low enough to light up the sky along the horizon. I didn't actually mean to get the surfer in this shot, but I think he adds a bit of drama.

Why Do I Do This?

You may not know this, but this week is Metablog Week. As the founder of Metablog Week, Schmutzie, puts it, "Metablogging happens when a blogger blogs about blogging on their weblog." As it happens, this event fell at a sort of serendipitous time for me, since I've been thinking a lot lately about why I write, and why in particular I write for this site. (In a box with a fox in socks.)

It turns out that I don't even remember why I started this blog in the first place. The story I've been telling myself is that it came out of my high school English teacher's parting suggestion that we keep a reading journal, but when I go back through my archives, it turns out that my first blog post (about which I am now truly and deeply embarrassed) predates my first review by over a year. Of course, I'd had a web site for almost five years by that point, but what was it that made me decide to dip my toe into the blogging pool on that spring day eight years ago? And with a trite political op-ed piece, no less? I don't know.

Of course, other than the reviews, blogging was a pretty occasional thing for me until two summers ago, when my son was born. So maybe I should start there. That was obviously a momentous time for me, what with all the changes entailed in becoming a parent, and the desire to have a contemporaneous record of my life through that transition was definitely a big part of it. But, if I'm being honest with myself, how much had to do with wanting a journal and how much had to do with the fact that I'd been reading Dooce regularly?

See, I've always thought of myself as introverted and uncomfortable with attention, and that's certainly how most people think of me. The single most common reaction this blog has gotten from my family and friends has been surprise at how open I am here, and at how much goes on underneath my staid demeanor.

The truth is, I've always wanted to be famous, though it pains me to say it. Not the kind of shallow celebrity that our reality-TV-obsessed culture is so fascinated with these days, true, but I do have to admit that I've dreamed about getting the kind of respect and admiration that I have for a really good writer or artist. When I was young--the kind of kid who told his boss "I don't want to be in the newspapers; I want to be in the textbooks"--I probably wanted to be in the same pantheon as a Mark Twain or a Gabriel García Márquez. These days I'd settle for being a John Grogan.

(Man, that is so arrogant. "I'd settle for being a beloved international bestseller." Sometimes I strain even my own credulity.)

I tell myself that what I really want is not actually fame, but rather I want to have created something wonderful. My life having been so moved and influenced by great art and great writing, I want to try to give something like that experience to other people. And all that is true, but it's incomplete. I want to have done something great, but I want the recognition for it, too.

Which raises the question: if no one read this blog, would I still write it? It would be facile to point out that practically no one reads it now, so there's my answer, but at this point I'm still working toward the goal of a wider readership. What if I came to the point where I knew that would never happen? Would I still write? After all, I'm always telling people "I like having written but I hate writing."

I like to think I would. Since I started keeping to a schedule over the past few months, I've been finding that the more I write, the more I think of to write. Maybe it's still just the enthusiasm of a new project, the whole "I'm going to become a writer" thing. But more and more I'm finding that the words and topics are flowing more easily and it's harder not to write. There's just so much I want to say!

I don't know if I'll ever achieve any kind of fame, or whether any fame I do achieve will be lasting. I can't deny the desire, though, and maybe that means I'm coming at this writing thing from the wrong angle. I can't help feeling that I'm doing something good here, something meaningful, and maybe that's enough, even if nobody is reading it.


Couples, Families, and "Mad About You"

Yesterday, Marc Hirsch of NPR's pop culture blog, Monkey See, took the opportunity presented by the DVD release of Mad About You's fourth season to delve into his memories of what he called "the perfect relationship sitcom." It's a good article that I largely agree with, and well worth a read for fans of the show, but what really got me thinking was when he talked about season four's position as the tipping point of the show.

Hirsch writes:

that time long ago when I claimed Mad About You was perfect? Was Season 4. . . . The quality of the show would get wobbly in about a year; once baby Mabel became a concrete entity, rather than a vague idea that existed as a single possibility among many in some nebulous future, the tone turned brittle and, worse, the focus shifted exclusively and irrevocably from the couple to the child. In short, it became a different show.

It's that part about the focus shifting from the couple to the child that got me, because the thing is: that happens in real life, too.

Anyone who has kids (or who has close friends or relatives with kids) knows what I'm talking about. Before you have kids, your relationship is about yourself and your partner. You talk about each other, do things with each other, and basically spend all of your energy and attention on each other. But then the first kid shows up and things change. Maybe it happens right away or maybe it takes a few months, or even years, but one day it hits you that it's been a week since you talked to your spouse about something other than your child

Maybe you remember yourself saying, "That's not going to happen to us. We're going to make time for each other and remember to be a couple." And maybe you have made time for each other and you are still a couple, but even then you eventually realize that you have to make time for each other, and that you're now thinking of yourselves as still a couple. There's just no way around it; having kids changes your focus.

And what's really interesting to me is that Hirsch says--and I agree--that that change is one of the things that killed Mad About You. Because as much as that show was about bringing you into Paul and Jamie's marriage and (like any good story) making you identify with the characters and build a relationship with them, ultimately what that relationship was based on was your interaction with them as a couple, and not as parents. And where that puts you is a lot like the position your friends without kids stand once yours comes on the scene.

You know that one, too, if you have kids. You have all these great people in your life who matter to you, but suddenly your child arrives and things are different between you and them. Now you have to be home early for your child's bedtime, and you can't go out to places that are too loud or too quiet, or otherwise inappropriate for kids. Even when you get together at one of your homes, you just can't give your friend the undivided attention you used to--one way or another your kid is going to interrupt you. Probably a lot. Maybe you feel the strain in trying to keep up the relationship, and it makes you sad. Maybe you're too focused to notice. I guarantee the friend notices.

When you add it all up, maybe Mad About You turned out to be even more perfect a relationship show than Hirsch realized.

What Is It With This Kid and Hats?

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I think the two sentences I've said the most in the past six months have been "Don't drink it" and "It's not a hat." I don't know why Jason wants everything to be a hat, but he really, really does. Cups, baskets, boxes, blankets, my hands, clothes, shoes, bowls, plates (with or without food on them), toys--he ends up putting them all on his head, proudly declaring "Hat! Hat!"

He does like real hats, too. Though, getting him to wear just one at a time is sometimes tricky.

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