Mac Boy

Mac Boy

I was looking at the charger for my iPhone the other day and thought to myself, "If I drew some eyes on this, it would be kind of cute." This is the result.

By the way, I realized yesterday that one of the things I really appreciate when I read other photographers' blogs or check out their Flickr streams is when they include information about how they made the shot. So from here on out I'm going to try to include both technical information about the shot and some thoughts on how I could make it better. The latter is hard sometimes, especially if I'm really happy with how things turned out, but realistically there's always room for improvement.

Technical information: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, aperture f/10, shutter 0.4s (1/2.5), ISO 200. SB-400 flash at camera left, shot through a homemade diffuser (tupperware and kleenex) at TTL with -2 stops flash compensation. Handheld flashlight at camera right and slightly behind the subject, shining on the keyboard. Crop, curves, overlay, dodging applied in Photoshop CS5.

Thoughts for improvement: Use a white backdrop to provide a brighter background and isolate the subjects more. Three-point lighting (key, fill, background) with better modifiers would help immensely.

My Latest at Life As A Human: Pen Pals

"Pen Pals":

My first (and only) pen pal was a girl named Madeleine. Madeleine lived in England, and was about ten years old; the same as me. She had a tendency to dot her i's with hearts and closed every letter with lots of x's and o's. Girls were still something of a mystery at the time — as they remain, I suppose — so I was never quite sure how to interpret those symbolic hugs and kisses, nor the "Sorry So Sloppy" she appended after her signature. Her handwriting was perfectly legible, after all.

Interpreting Inception

Inception has been out for a while now, so I imagine that most people who care have either already seen it or have otherwise been made aware of what happens in it. What's more, my interpretation of the film seems to be the standard one, so I doubt I'm putting anything new out there. Even so, I don't want to be the one to ruin it for anyone, so please be advised: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS. If you haven't seen the movie yet and you think you might, STOP READING NOW.


OK, then.

It's the last shot that makes you have to rethink the movie. Until the last ten seconds of Inception, you are basically watching a heist movie. Granted, it's an awesomely executed heist movie with a setting and concept that provide a unique twist on the genre, but at root, it's still a heist movie. And then you get to that last shot. Director Christopher Nolan leaves us with the image of Cobb's top, still spinning on the tabletop where he has forgotten it. The top starts to wobble, perhaps starts to right itself, but before you know whether or not it falls for good there's a hard cut to black.

It was a genius move on Nolan's part, ending the film that way. And what it does is invite you to revisit what you think you knew about what was going on the whole time. We know that Cobb's top is his totem, and that it will only behave like a normal toy and fall over in the real world--in a dream, it will continue to spin forever. Clearly, this final image is meant to get us asking whether or not Cobb is still dreaming in the end.

So, let's assume that he is still dreaming. What then? What can we notice about the previous two hours that might shed some light on things?

The first thing that I thought of is the scene where Cobb is in Mombasa, running away from Cobalt Engineering's hitmen. "Huh," I thought to myself, "It's kind of interesting that they were shooting at him. The only other times we saw anyone shooting at people was in Fischer's mind, where his subconscious projections were militarized due to his anti-extraction training. I wonder if there's any parity there." I reasoned that if Cobb is still asleep at the end of the movie, then he's asleep for the whole movie, so perhaps those hitmen were actually someone's subconscious projections.

That seems a little far-fetched, though. Let's try a different tack: what about the plot structure? As anyone who made it through high school English should be able to tell you, a plot generally consists of exposition, rising action, a climactic moment or scene, falling action, and a conclusion. Obviously there's some variation between different works and authors, but that's the general pattern.

If we look at the plot structure of Inception, then, it's very interesting that the climactic moment of the film is not the point at which the inception job succeeds. No, in fact, by the time we see Fischer enter the strongroom in the Alpine fortress and talk to his dad, the climax has already occurred. The true climax of the film happens one layer down from that, when Cobb realizes that he has to let Mal go.

What this suggests is that the inception referred to by the movie's title is not Fischer's decision to break apart his father's empire, but rather Cobb's decision to finally forgive himself for his wife's death.

This interpretation makes a lot of sense when you consider that Nolan has already shown himself to be the sort of director that is willing to employ an unreliable perspective in his films. Take Memento, for example: by telling the story in reverse, the audience remains as clueless of Leonard's real story as he himself is. Or look at The Prestige, which itself follows the very same pattern of misdirection as the magic tricks it describes--the pledge, the turn, the prestige. In Inception, we're told that the subject can't have any inkling of what's really going on, and that he needs to feel that he's come up with the idea on his own. What better way to hide it from Cobb that he's being worked on than to hide it from the audience?

Given that Ariadne is the only one to accompany Cobb into the lowest level, it would appear that she and Miles are the two who are working on Cobb. If we make that assumption, it makes certain other details become clearer. For example, the given explanation of Ariadne's motivation for drilling into Cobb's past and his issues--that she's concerned with the effect it will have on the job at hand--never quite rings true. On the other hand, if what she's really after is getting Cobb to get over his dead wife, it makes a lot more sense. It would also explain why she's so good at manipulating dream spaces from the start--she's not actually new at it.

But what about the top, you ask? We've seen Cobb spin that top several times to make sure it would fall over, and it did. Ah, but both Cobb and Arthur said that it was imperative that each person's totem was only known to himself, the implication being that if anyone else knew how it worked, they could fool you into believing that the dream is reality. And yet, despite that little gem of knowledge having been given to us, it's never actually used--we never see anyone actually dupe one of the extractors by faking his totem. Anton Chekhov once famously said, "If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there." The fact that we never see a totem being faked could be an example of sloppy writing, but it's also possible that it's a particularly deep example of Chekhov's gun.

There are more clues--for example, Ariadne's name, or the hidden meaning in the film's soundtrack (Google them for more info)--but those aren't ones that occurred to me as I was coming up with this theory. Having heard them now, though, it all does seem to point to Ariadne and Miles planting a seed in Cobb's mind.

The one thing that is still niggling in the back of my mind, though, is the possibility that there's an even higher level of deception at work here. Could it be that, in fact, the movie's real "inception" is something within us, the audience? Could Christopher Nolan be playing extractor to our target, trying to plant an idea within our minds?

Nah, that'd just be paranoid. Maybe.

Dan the Guitar

Dan the Guitar

One of the things I found when I was cleaning out our office closet was an old book of check duplicates from early college. It was mostly normal stuff: phone bill and credit card payments, a few class fees, one for Girl Scout cookies, and a couple to a friend of mine, presumably to cover gambling debts. (He kept those checks pinned to his bulletin board for years. I'm relatively certain he never actually cashed them.)

The one that caught my eye was a check for $310.48 to Jim's Music, a music store that used to be located in Irvine, not far from Juliette's freshman-year dorm. It's dated January 18, 1998, which initially threw me for a loop because Juliette didn't start at UCI until the fall of that year. Looking at the adjacent checks, I can see that I must have written the wrong year, which I tend to do for the first few months of each year.

That check was written for my first electric guitar, a Danelectro 56-U2. I went into the store looking for a cheap guitar, in large part because one of my roommates had a guitar and I both envied him and wanted to jam. (The fact that I couldn't really play didn't stop me. I still can't.) The salesman showed me this wine red, plastic-bodied guitar, telling me about the history of the company and their signature "lipstick" pick-ups. I ended up walking out with the guitar, a silver strap, a cable, and a "Tube Screamer" effects pedal.

It's funny, I remember that guitar being pretty cheap, but $300 when I was a sophomore in college would have been a significant chunk of my savings--about 10% of what I earned the previous summer. Still, from what I can tell, it may have actually gained value--the site I linked above has them listed at $395. I don't imagine I'll ever actually sell it, though, despite the fact that, as you can see, it spends more time collecting dust than getting played these days.

It's Good to Know Your Limitations

The other day, my brother said to me, "Man, is there anything you're not good at when you put your mind to it?" When I gave him a short list of things I'm not good at, he responded, "I have a feeling you aren't actually putting your mind to some of the things on that list."

The thing is, I think it's important to understand your own limitations. I used to say that it was my goal to be good at everything, but while I do still love to learn and acquire new skills, there are some things that are beyond me, and very likely always will be. And that's OK. In fact, better than just being OK, it's both liberating and grounding.

Herewith, a non-exhaustive list of things I have thus far failed to become good at, despite having made a real effort to do so:

  • Acting
  • Waiting tables (really, anything involving customer service)
  • Answering questions like a normal person
  • Basketball
  • Being pleasant first thing in the morning
  • Grilling a steak to medium-rare (except by accident or miracle)
  • Remembering the times and dates of most of the day-to-day events of my life, and the order in which they occurred
  • Letting go of the past
  • Not procrastinating
  • Styling my hair
  • Being consistently funny or witty
  • Remembering things that people tell me (except for pointless trivia)
  • Being charismatic
  • Accepting compliments gracefully

Fun In the Sun

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Jason's fascination with sunglasses continues. He borrowed these ones from a friend while we were out at a concert in the park. It was a little difficult to convince him to give them back when it was time to go home.

My Wife Is So Awesome

"Well, I should let you get to work."

"First I have to decide what to write about."

"You really don't know?"

"I have no idea."

"You should write about me and how awesome I am."

"OK. Um, do you think that would have broad appeal?"

"Of course! What kind of a question is that?"

"A stupid one, I guess."

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

To make this image, I cut open a yellow peach and removed the pit, then cut off most of the back to make it thin enough for light to get through it. I used a Nikon SB-400 flash with a home-made (tupperware) diffuser, placed underneath the peach pointed toward the camera. I also did a fair amount of post-processing: crop, rotation, color, curves, and sharpening. Turned out pretty neat, if I do say so myself. Even better, it gave me more ideas for the future.

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