My Latest at Life As A Human: The Short, Short, Short Skirt

"The Short, Short, Short Skirt":

One of the neighborhood councils here in San Diego has been putting on free outdoor concerts this summer, and my wife and I have found them to be a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. We were at one of those concerts this weekend, having a picnic supper with some friends and their kids while we listened to the music, when out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a girl walking by in a ridiculously short skirt.



Would m'sieur care for an aperitif?

Technical information: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens at 55mm, in manual exposure mode. Aperture f/16, shutter 1/2 sec, ISO 200. Lit with an SB-400 from the right and above, set to 1/8 power and shot through a home-made diffuser. White paper taped to a cookie sheet placed to the left for a reflector. Background is lit with a flashlight, shining through a pilsner glass and the bottom of a brandy snifter. I used Aperture 3 for RAW conversion and to clone out a speck of dust on the sensor, otherwise this is straight out of the camera.

Thoughts for improvement: Because I don't have a proper lightstand, I ended up holding the flash and diffuser with one hand while I triggered the shutter with the other. This meant that I had to hold the flash really close to the diffuser, which created a hot spot instead of evenly lighting the diffuser. You can see that in the catchlights on the glasses. I could get around this by either getting a proper lighting setup or by using the shutter release timer, freeing up both hands for the flash and diffuser. I think I might also like to try using a wider aperture--leaving the back two glasses out of focus might give more of a feeling of depth to the picture.

Good Morning, Jason

I've grown to really dislike weekday mornings. I know, most people don't exactly look forward to weekday mornings, and before Jason was born I still didn't like them. It's become a whole different thing lately, though.

Generally speaking, I wake up when Jason wakes up. Sometimes--most Saturday mornings, for example--Juliette gets up and I can go back to sleep. And there are also the rare days when Jason wakes up in a good mood, so the first sound I hear is him playing in his crib. Most of my mornings, though, start with the sound of Jason whining or crying.

This morning, I rolled out of bed within a few seconds of hearing him stir, but I had to take a moment outside his door to prepare myself for what I knew was coming. By then, he was already calling for Juliette. "Mommy!" he whined repeatedly. "Mommy mommy!"

I pushed the door open, ready with a smile and a gentle voice. "Good morning, buddy!"

"No Daddy!" he shouted. "Go away!"

"I know, buddy, but Mommy's in the bathroom getting ready for work right now, so it has to just be you and me. Is that OK?"

"No! Want Mommy!"

"Do you want to go in the living room?"

"No, want Mommy in the living room!"

"Do you want some breakfast?"



"No Daddy, no!"

"Come on, let's go in the living room," I said, finally, lifting him, his sippy cup, and his stuffed orca out of the crib. He screamed all the way down the hall, screamed when I put him down, screamed when he ran back toward the bedroom, screamed when he found the gate at the mouth of the hallway closed. Then he just stood there and screamed.

I set about making his breakfast. Fruit and some apple bread that he and Juliette had made together a couple of days ago. He kept screaming after I set it on the dining table in front of his chair.

Eventually, Juliette came out, and he calmed down pretty quickly, sitting in her lap while he ate. After that he was fine until it was time to take him to day care, when he broke down again. By then, Juliette had been gone for almost half an hour, so I had nothing left but to carry him out to the car, strap him into his car seat, and start driving. He quieted almost as soon as I turned the key in the ignition.

Somewhere between home and day care, Jason's attitude toward me shifts. I don't know why, but at home he tells me to go away, sometimes even pushing me if I don't comply. As soon as we get to day care, though, he becomes clingy, needing me to carry him. He becomes desperate when I start showing signs that I have to leave, and when I finally pry him off me and pass him to one of his teachers, he cries.

It's about the only time he consistently wants me.

The thing is, though, he loves day care. He loves the other kids, loves his teachers, and really loves the school director. He loves singing with them, doing art projects, reading books, and playing outside. He loves pretty much everything about it. It's just that he has trouble transitioning from one thing to the next--if we left it up to him, there'd never be a next thing.

So, my weekday mornings start with Jason crying, progress through him rejecting me, follow to me making him cry broken-heartedly, and end with me at work. It shouldn't be surprising that it's not my favorite part of the week.

I know this is a phase and that it will someday pass. That doesn't make it easy, but it might just be the only thing getting me through these mornings.



No deep story behind this one; I just felt like playing with lighting and close-up shots. This one had the added benefit of getting me to practice some of my old bartending tricks--in order to get the color change from the bottom to the top of the liquor, I layered blue curacao on top of Chambord. There's green apple schnapps on the bottom, too, but by the time I got this shot set up, the Chambord had completely diffused down into it and I had to settle for only two layers.

It's actually kind of a good thing that I had this idea, because it got me to clean out my liquor cabinet a bit. The apple schnapps actually had several dead ants floating in it. Shows how often I use apple schnapps.

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens at 55mm, in manual exposure mode. Aperture 5.6, shutter 1/2 sec, ISO 200. The glass is lit with a Nikon SB-400 from camera right and above, set to 1/128 power. I taped a white piece of printer paper to a box for a fill card on the left and hand-held a red Netflix envelope under the flash for additional, warmer fill on the right. The background is lit with a flashlight, which is shining onto a wall through a wine glass and a pilsner glass. I used a cordial glass instead of a wine glass for two reasons: first so that I could have it be completely framed by the light on the wall without getting too close to the wall, and second so that I could use less liquor. By getting close up, I was still able to give the illusion of a full-sized glass.

I'd also like to take just a moment here to feel good about myself, as apart from the normal RAW conversion process (which includes some sharpening), this image hasn't been manipulated at all. It's straight out of the camera.

Thoughts for improvement: I was constrained here largely by the need to balance the flash with the background light. If I could get a brighter background light, the layers would be more noticeable in the liquor and I could also get more definition in the glass. It would also be good to get some better fill cards, as you can actually see the Netflix lettering in the glass if you look closely. I also should have done a better job cleaning the glass, as there are a few streaks near the rim.

Nobody Leaves This Place Without Singing the Blues

This afternoon, I found myself listening to last weekend's episode of Sound Opinions. The episode was all about the history of the famous Chicago blues record label, Chess Records--the label which made blues men like Muddy Waters and Little Walter into the legends that they became. (And which was, in turn, made into the legendary studio it became by guys like Muddy and Little Walter.) It was a real trip down memory lane for me, because I listened to a lot of blues in high school.

A lot of my musical taste back then was deliberately anti-mainstream, so something offbeat and historic like blues was right up my alley. The first blues album I owned was The Blues Brothers' Briefcase Full of Blues--not the most authentic of beginnings, to be sure, but it hit the right notes for me. And, actually, thinking back on it, not only is Dan Aykroyd a surprisingly good blues harmonica player, but their backing band had the likes of Steve Cropper and Donald "Duck" Dunn, two key figures in the lineup of Booker T. and the M.G.'s.

It didn't take long after that first album for my blues library to expand. My listening habits and my interest in learning to play blues harmonic caught the attention of my 10th-grade history teacher and my stepdad, both big blues buffs. Within a few months I had added B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Junior Wells, Big Joe Turner, and the Butterfield Blues Band to my collection. I learned about the differences between the different regions and periods in blues history, enjoying both the electric Chicago style and the earthier sound of Delta blues. I even started sitting in on some jam sessions with that teacher and some other students, me on the harmonica, others on guitar, bass, or piano. It was great fun.

You'd think that, given how dominant the blues were in my musical life at the time, I'd still be listening now, but somewhere along the way I fell out of the habit. I started listening to more esoteric forms of rock, electronic music, jazz, classical--I guess blues just fell by the wayside.

Listening to that podcast today, I realized that I miss those old albums of mine. It's such a vibrant, expressive genre of music, with so much life in it. It's exactly the kind of thing that I'm always complaining about being absent from so much contemporary music--a lot of which is either materialistic and shallow or lost in ironic distance. With the blues, you can't help but feel the energy and passion behind the simple chord progressions and raw vocals.

I've lost most of the blues CDs I used to listen to and I no longer have a tapedeck or record player, so if I'm going to pick up the blues again, I'll have to make almost an entirely new start. That means a not-insignificant expense of both time and money, but I think it'd be worth it.

I Only Have Eyes For You

I Only Have Eyes For You

On Sunday we met up with some friends this weekend to see another free outdoor concert and, as usual, I took a bunch of pictures of the crowd. I was experimenting with manual exposure, trying to get a feel for it. Many of the shots I got were too dark or way too bright, but the ones that worked out seemed to get much better tone than when I use an automatic exposure mode.

In this one, I liked the way that the woman is looking at her boyfriend, and how he seems to be leaning slightly away from her. I also liked the way the way the sun highlighted her face and hair, and how you can see his reflection in her sunglasses.

Technical information: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 55-200mm f/4-5.6 DX VR lens. Aperture f/5.6, shutter 1/400 sec, ISO 200. White balance correction, B&W conversion, curves, sharpening, dodging and burning applied in Aperture 3.

Thoughts for improvement: It's hard to plan candid shots, exactly. The main thing, I think, is to just have the camera close to hand and preset as much as possible for the correct exposure. The composition could also probably be better, but as grab shots go, this doesn't seem so bad.

Where Did the Magic Go?

No, no, I'm not talking about me and Juliette. We're doing just great. No, the question in the title has to do with my career.

The HR manager at my office brought her son in with her on Friday. That's not a particularly unusual situation--lots of my coworkers bring in their kids for a few hours at a time when other childcare is scarce. What made this time different was that the day before, this mom had stopped by my friend T's desk and asked if he wouldn't mind showing her son around the lab or something. Her son, she explained, is fascinated with science and technology, and wants to be an engineer when he grows up. T, being the nice guy that he is, said it would be no problem.

Friday morning rolled around as it always does, and when T showed up to the office he brought with him an assortment of odds and ends that he'd brought from home. It turned out that rather than just show the kid what we do, T stayed up late rigging up some simple but cool electricity demonstrations. When the boy got there, T showed him how to make an electromagnet out of a battery and a coil of wire, then proceeded to make a simple DC motor out of a battery, a small screw, a short length of wire, and a small permanent magnet. And if that weren't enough, T's pièce de résistance was a working speaker, made out of a Dixie cup, a length of thread, a magnet, and a coil of wire--he demonstrated how it worked by plugging it into the headphone jack of his computer.

Watching the two of them, I couldn't tell who was enjoying it more, T or the kid. As you might expect, the kid watched raptly and was quite impressed, but what I really noticed was the sheer joy in T's voice as he explained it all.

I used to get excited like that about things like electricity. When I was in the 8th grade, my friend Lee and I built a working telegraph out of some spare parts from our science class, for no other reason than that we thought it would be cool. And it was. Later on, in high school, Lee and I taught ourselves how to solder, and tinkered with basic circuits just for fun. The summer before our senior year we taught ourselves how to program, and stayed up late into the night just talking about code.

Where did all that passion go? I mean, I still have a lot of passion, but none of it seems to be left for my chosen field: engineering. I'm grateful to have a steady job and I like the people I work with. I try to do well in my work, and I'd even say I succeed. But somehow it's just not exciting or even particularly interesting anymore.

When I stop and think about it, though, perhaps it's just that the shine has worn off the job and not the field as a whole. Maybe I've just channeled those same impulses in a different direction. After all, tinkering with photos isn't really so different from tinkering with circuits, when you get right down to it.

I'll say this, too: watching T show off his little homemade creations to that boy really makes me look forward to when I can share that kind of thing with Jason. I just hope that by the time he's old enough to understand it, he's still interested enough in me to listen.

Swing, Baby!

Swing, Baby!

We went to another birthday party for one of Jason's friends this weekend. Parks make good venues for kids' parties, in part because they're less crowded than a house when you have a lot of guests, but also because there's a built-in activity for the kids. As you can see, Jason enjoyed himself.

Technical information: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens in aperture-priority exposure mode. Aperture f/8, shutter 1/640 sec, ISO 200. White balance correction and curves applied in Aperture 3.

Thoughts for improvement: This shot was taken right near mid-day, so the light was very harsh. If this had been a professional portrait shoot, I'd have preferred it to be earlier in the day or to have had an assistant holding up a screen to help diffuse the light. Some fill light, either on-axis or from camera left, would probably also have helped. This particular frame worked out well enough with the exposure, but since I was in aperture priority mode, a lot of the others from the party were blurry due to slow shutter speed--in the future I'm going to have to either set my auto ISO configuration better or learn how to expose manually.

The UPS Store

The UPS Store

This building is on the corner down the street from my office, and I drive past it every day as I go to and from work. I've been waiting months for some decent clouds to show up at the right time of day so I could take a picture of it.

Technical information: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, aperture f/11, shutter 1/500 sec, ISO 200. Lens correction for barrel distortion, curves, dodging and burning applied in Photoshop CS5.

Thoughts for improvement: The big mass of clouds at the right could have a bit more texture. It would also be good to try shooting around sunset, when the light is warmer.

"I Have Fungus Growing In My Lungs"

The gym is a fairly solitary place for me. There are always lots of other people around, and most of them seem to know each other and spend a lot of time chatting in the locker room or while taking turns on the weight machines. I, on the other hand, rarely talk to anybody, so I'm mostly left with my own thoughts.

This morning, my thoughts were mostly gripes. I had just finished my daily 500-meter swim--not a long distance for a real swimmer, but it wipes me out--and I was melodramatically questioning whether I had enough strength left in my arms to lift them to wash my hair. I was also thinking about how my rubber flip-flops had rubbed off a bit of skin on my big toe and how annoying that was, feeling sorry for myself that my new diet has meant that I haven't had a satisfying lunch all week, and obsessing about that expensive camera that I may never be able to afford. And, just to round it out, I remembered how annoyed I was that my self-winding watch stops in the middle of every night, and how much it bugs me that I get so much static I get when I try to use an FM transmitter with my iPod in the car.

So there I was, griping, griping, griping to myself, and I was just headed into the shower when I overheard two of the locker room attendants talking to each other. "I have fungus growing in my lungs," one of them said. "I'm going to die. I smoked so much, I guarantee in a year I'll be dead." He looked like he was in his mid-twenties.

Now, I don't know what the real story here is. Maybe the guy was just being a hypochondriac. Maybe he wasn't talking about himself at all, and was retelling a story about something he heard someone else said. I didn't ask--it felt rude enough that I had eavesdropped in the first place.

Afterwards, as I was getting dressed, I noticed that I had left my street shoes at home, and I would have to wear my ugly, uncomfortable gym shoes to work. But it just didn't seem important enough to care about right then.