What Happens In Vegas

What Happens In Vegas

I mentioned yesterday how impressive the detail was in the Legoland Minitown displays. I also love the sense of humor you see from the designers. This image is from the pool scene at the Mirage, in Minitown's tiny Las Vegas. It's neat that the Lego architect here thought to include a bit of human connection in the scene, the exact kind of thing you might expect to see by a Las Vegas pool. And it's impressive that he or she was able to convey it with just a few Lego bricks. But the fact that the little Lego woman is grabbing the little Lego man's little Lego butt? That, my friends, is just wonderful.

Technical information: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 55-200mm VR DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Focal length 85mm, aperture f/5.6, shutter 1/125 sec, ISO 200. Post-processing in Aperture 3: curve to lower shadows, increase midtones, and hold highlights; slightly reduced overall saturation; reduced saturation and increased luminance in yellows; added slight vignette.

Thoughts for improvement: There's a "man" in the background that would be better if he were a bit more to the right. I also think a wider angle with more room to the right would be a bit more interesting.

First Collection

This was supposed to have been written a week ago but, as I say often enough that it's more or less become the blog's unofficial motto, better late than never.

The finale of our "Copy NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour" series is a very special episode all about collections. When I was just a wee lad, my grandmother told me that everyone should have some kind of collection. One of my cousins collected wind-up toys, for example, and another collected pins. Over the years I've collected a lot of things: pins, Matchbox cars, and Choose Your Own Adventure books when I was younger; comic books, coins, Marvel cards, and tabletop game miniatures when I was a teenager. These days my collections are mostly unattended and gathering dust, but thanks to my stepdad's adamant stand against my mom getting rid of my stuff, I still have all of them. Even my complete set of Secret Wars II comics.

I can tell how jealous you all are.

Actually, it turns out there is one collection from my youth that has been lost to the sands of time, and it was my first: baseball cards. I started collecting baseball cards in first grade, which was when baseball and the San Francisco Giants first came to my attention

The mid-80s were a heady time for a young Giants fan. Those were the days of Candy Maldonado, José Uribe, Robby Thompson, and Rick Reuschel. I remember sitting on the steps above the playground when I was in second grade, opening a pack of baseball cards with my friends and desperately wishing for a Chili Davis card. Unlike most of my friends, I also always chewed the gum, even though it both tasted gross and tended to break into little shards when you first bit into it.

The mid-80s are also about the last time I actually paid attention to sports until college. Certainly it was the last time until about a year or two ago that I actually knew the names of a significant number of players on any team. Not that knowing those names or caring about the Giants translated into, you know, watching the games or anything. No, I don't think I've ever heard of any fan as passionate as myself at seven years old who had less interest in the actual game.

How about you? Did you have to have every single Nancy Drew book? Or perhaps your thing was G. I. Joes? Leave a comment, tell me all about it.



We took Jason to Legoland for their "Brick-or-Treat" event this weekend. We actually ended up skipping the event due to an extremely long line, but Jason was totally wowed by the park. He liked the rides a lot, but I think his favorite thing was actually Minitown, which is full of intricate Lego dioramas of cities around America. I was also pretty impressed by the models--they really invite you to look closely, as there is a ton of detail that you'd miss on a casual look. I could have shot for hours just in that one part of the park.

Technical information: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 55-200mm VR DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Focal length 200mm, aperture f/5.6, shutter 1/125 sec, ISO 200. Post-processing in Aperture 3: curve to hold shadows and bring up midtones, added vignetting.

Thoughts for improvement: Would have been nice if there were a little Lego farmer feeding the little Lego cows, but I'm pretty happy with how this turned out.

Soccer Time

Soccer Time

We put Jason in a toddlers' soccer class over the summer and he hated it. He didn't want to run or even get out of our arms, and when it was his turn to kick the ball he'd almost invariably burst into tears. I don't know what's changed between now and then, though, because when he saw some of the other kids at Sunday's birthday party chasing the ball around, he couldn't get enough.

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 55-200mm VR DX lens, in aperture priority exposure mode, center-weighted average metering. Focal length 200mm, aperture f/5.6, shutter 1/125 sec, ISO 200. Post-processing in Aperture 3: Auto WB adjustment, picked from a white part of the design on his shirt; curve to reduce exposure, bring up blacks, and add contrast.

Thoughts for improvement: I like the way the grass looks with the narrow depth of field, but this would probably have been better at f/8 or maybe even f/11. I was shooting wide open mainly to keep a fast shutter speed and avoid motion blur, but here I managed to miss the focus just a bit--you can see that the front of the ball is soft, and due to his stance, his right leg is a bit further away from the camera than his left, and is therefore also slightly out of focus. Stopping down to f/8 would have given me a lot more leeway with focus depth and probably still would have had shallow enough depth of field to separate him from the background.

First Celebrity Crush

Are you ready for some more "Copy NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour"? Well, I'm not. I don't think I could be less ready, and it's all because of today's topic: my first celebrity crush.

Here's the thing: I don't know if I've ever actually had a celebrity crush. I've always loved movies, TV, music, and books, but I've never been all that interested in the people that make them.

Take my favorite TV show from when I was a kid, Star Trek: The Next Generation. I loved that show for its entire run, and watched almost every episode many times. (The one exception was the second-season premiere, "The Child," which my grandmother forgot to tape for us. When I finally did see it, I was glad to see I hadn't missed much.) But as much as I immersed myself in the lore of the show--I even won a few local Trek trivia contests--I don't think I was ever interested in going to a convention or meeting any of the actors. It wasn't the actors I cared about, it was the characters and the stories.

As I got older, I did eventually gain some interest in actors, musicians, and writers, but only insofar as reading or seeing interviews with them gave me insight into their craft. I still don't particularly care about their personal lives.

So I never really found myself with any celebrity obsessions as a kid. Oh, sure, there were actresses that I thought were pretty. In middle school, for example, I remember thinking that Tiffani-Amber Thiessen and Jennie Garth were pretty hot. But while I was attracted to them, in some ways it was almost an academic thing, kind of like the way I appreciate, say, Christina Hendricks these days. I liked to see them when they were on shows I was already watching, but I didn't go out of my way to see them in other things. I certainly never had any posters of them on my walls. (The only posters I had were a Trek poster and a couple of comic book posters.)

The closest thing I can think of to a celebrity crush I had was actually not all that similar, and, actually, it's considerably more embarassing. I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer when I was in first or second grade, and for a little while afterwards I had a fascination with Becky Thatcher, Tom's love interest. I had a pretty active imagination as a child, so I tended to tell a lot of stories and play make-believe often. I had a number of imaginary friends that went along with my games, after reading Tom Sawyer, Becky Thatcher got added to that group as my imaginary girlfriend. I have no idea how long that lasted--probably no more than a few weeks or a couple of months, tops.

I don't know if I find the idea of a six-year-old with an imaginary girlfriend to be cute or sad, but there it is. My first celebrity crush was a fictional character from a book written over a hundred years before my birth.

Your turn!

My Latest at Life As A Human: Old Books

"Old Books: Don't Judge a Book By Its Megabytes":

The first time I ever had a writing piece published was in my senior year of high school when an essay I wrote for my English class made it into the local paper. My teacher had assigned us to answer the question, “Will computers ever replace books?” Being the book-lover that I am, I said no.

I Fell Down

I Fell Down

Jason likes to run but he has a tendency to trip over his own feet, so we've tried to get him to run only when he's on a soft surface, like grass. He forgets a lot, though, so we still have a fair number of scrapes and bruises to kiss. Fortunately, the only times he fell down at his friend's birthday party on Sunday, he was on some nice, springy grass. He was up chasing after a soccer ball just a few seconds after this photo.

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, in manual exposure mode, center-weighted average metering. Aperture f/4, shutter 1/125 sec, ISO 200. Post-processing in Aperture 3: straightened horizon; auto WB, picked from the white of his eye, strong curve to bring down the exposure, bring up black point, and add contrast, mild dodge over his eyes.

Thoughts for improvement: A lot of the shots I got in the later part of the party were overexposed, which I did on purpose to try to get some more pop. Unfortunately, I overdid it a bit, which did some weird things to the color when I brought the exposure back down in post-processing. You can see a red tint to his hair that isn't really there, and the grass is a bit electric. I do like the texture of the grass, though, both the in-focus and bokeh, and I like the look on his face. Compositionally, the only thing I'd change is to not have the gazebo right behind his head.

First Favorite Movie

The "Copying NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour" series rolls on here at Sakeriver with our next entry: my first favorite movie.

I have no idea what the first movie I ever saw was. I mean, I can barely remember which movie was Jason's first and he's only seen about ten of them, so the odds of me remembering which of the hundreds (or possibly thousands) of movies I've seen over the past thirty-one years was my first are slimmer than a runway couture model. Most likely it was one of the Disney animated features; who knows?

Most of my earliest movie memories are tied to a place. I remember lying on my stomach on the living room floor at my dad's condo watching Ghostbusters for the first time. (I also remember him having to stop the movie after the scene where the terror dog breaks out of the statue, because I was so scared.) Or watching The Neverending Story with my brother and cousins on the little TV in my grandparents' bedroom. And while I don't remember actually watching it, I remember talking to my dad about Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory by the dining table of his first house, before he moved into the condo.

None of those could really be called my favorite, though. Well, possibly The Neverending Story, but that movie didn't hit theaters until 1984 and I probably didn't see it until a year or two after that, after it had come out on video. And by that time I'd definitely already seen what is probably my first favorite: Star Wars.

The funny thing about Star Wars, though, is that I'm way too young to have gotten caught up in the buzz on my own. I was born two years after the original release, and I was 1 and 4 when Empire and Jedi came out, respectively. Yet despite the fact that there's no way I saw any of them in the theater, I was obsessed with them from a very young age. I had Star Wars sheets on my bed, I had all manner of action figures and toys (though I recall losing the wings to my T.I.E. fighter pretty quickly), and I'm pretty sure I dressed up as Han Solo for Halloween when I was in kindergarten. Even when I was playing with non-Star Wars toys, I still found a way to turn them into stuff from the movies--the most common thing I built out of Legos were lightsabers and X-wings. I even remember desperately wanting the C-3PO breakfast cereal, which didn't turn out to be nearly as exciting as I thought it would. How could I have even known about these movies, being that young? I guess I can thank my sci-fi-fan mom for that.

And there we are. My first favorite, one of my all-time most-watched, and still an integral part of my movie library today: Star Wars. Your turn!

No Wonder Jason Didn't Like the Air Show

No Wonder Jason Didn't Like the Air Show

Saturday morning, Jason was very excited to go to the air show. We had told him all about it the night before, and that evening and the next morning he kept repeating "Airplane show! Airplane show!" Still, we weren't sure how he'd react to the loud noises, especially since we weren't sure we'd be able to get him to keep his hearing protection earmuffs on. But when we got there he was enthralled by the initial aerobatic displays and, contrary to what I had expected, it was actually hard to get him to take the earmuffs off.

Unfortunately, things changed once the jets came out, and even more during the MAGTF combat simulation. Every time a plane roared by or one of the explosives went off, he grabbed frantically for whichever of us was holding him, burying his head into our chests. Juliette and I tried to reassure him that everything was OK, that it was just a loud noise and wouldn't hurt him, but it became obvious pretty quickly that he wasn't having a good time at all, so we left.

Of course, as soon as he woke up from his (extremely short) nap, he asked to go back to the "airplane show." So at least he doesn't seem to have been scarred by the experience. We'll try again in a few years.

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 55-200mm VR DX lens, in aperture priority exposure mode, center-weighted average metering. Focal length 200mm, aperture f/8, shutter 1/800, ISO 200. Post-processing in Aperture 3: Curves for highlight recovery and contrast, Increase Contrast brush over the flames, burned the bottom left corner of the flames and smoke.

Thoughts for improvement: Well, you certainly get an impression of action and drama with this shot, but I think there should be something more going on around the flames besides some trucks just sitting on the runway. Plus, the trucks are a little dark--I probably should have slowed down the shutter a bit.

First Book

Next up in my "Copying NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour" series: my first "adult" book. And by that I don't mean a book featuring throbbing loins, but rather a book that was written for adults rather than children. The folks over at PCHH further constrained it by limiting it to books you chose to read on your own, rather than one that was assigned to you by a teacher or parent.

This is a particularly difficult one for me, because I started reading so early. My mom tells me that I had figured out the early literacy books by age 2, and I remember reading Mr. Men books to my grandmother when I was 3. The earliest "chapter books" I can recall reading are probably The Hobbit and The Neverending Story, each of which I read around age 7. Those are the first two that spring to mind when I think of my earliest books, especially since I've continued to re-read and enjoy them into the present day. Still, most book lists put those two squarely in the "juvenile fantasy" category, so I suppose they don't count.

I know I was reading some highly age-inappropriate stuff while I was still in elementary school. I read Stephen Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever and Mordant's Need series in third or fourth grade, and I'm pretty sure that I had gone through the first three of Jean Auel's Earth's Children books before I finished fifth grade. I know I didn't understand everything the first time I read any of those books--most of the heavy stuff in Thomas Covenant was beyond me, for example, and I read it as a more-or-less straightforward adventure--but I did get some of it. I even remember getting in a little bit of trouble at my afterschool day care once for showing one of the other kids a passage from a sex scene from The Mirror of Her Dreams. Though, looking back on it, not nearly as much trouble as I'd expect a kid to get in these days, not to mention the parent for letting the kid bring a book like that to school.

Lest you think I was only reading dark and smutty stuff as a child, I should point out that I also read a lot of children's and young adult stuff as well. I already mentioned The Hobbit and The Neverending Story; the Hardy Boys, Choose Your Own Adventure, and Encyclopedia Brown were also staples of my pre-middle-school reading, as were the works of Lynn Reid Banks, Susan Cooper, L. Frank Baum, E. B. White, and Beverly Cleary. So I did read a lot of stuff aimed at the age I actually was, just interspersed with more mature novels.

But what was my first real grown-up novel? The honest answer is that I don't really know for sure. I've just read too many books in my life to know. I've been reading upwards of twenty books a year for my entire adult life, which seems a lot compared to most people I know but is still less than half what I read when I was in school.

If I had to take a guess, though, I'd probably go with The Lord of the Rings. I know I was pretty young when I first pulled my mom's old paperback editions off the shelf--definitely under ten. Young enough that the way they looked and felt made an impression. I can still recall quite clearly the slightly yellowing pages and the age-softened edges of the covers. I particularly liked the bold lines of the maps at the front of the books.

The odd thing is that due to the Ralph Bakshi and Rankin-Bass films, I already knew the story pretty well before I ever opened those paperbacks. In fact, several parts that didn't appear in those movies--Tom Bombadil, the Paths of the Dead, and the scouring of the Shire, for example--got almost entirely skipped in my first few read-throughs; I don't think I really read, paid attention to, and retained the whole story until I was in high school.

So, there's my answer. It may not be my actual first, but J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings was definitely an early pick of mine, and an early favorite. And it remains the series I've read the most times, in no small part due to the fact that I was young the first time I read it.

OK, your turn: what was your first grown-up book? Fiction or non-fiction, anything counts as long as you picked it yourself.