Posts Tagged ‘tool’

Monday Night

13 September 2010

Dear J-

Pro football is back in our lives tonight and the most interesting thing for me is always seeing what the little tweaks the team chemists have cooked up, and how successful they’ve been. The local Chargers unloaded Antonio Cromartie and LaDanian Tomlinson over the offseason and, to judge by what the Union-Tribune has had to say, good riddance.

It’s interesting, though, as that’s one media outlet that consistently talked up Tomlinson’s contributions both to the team and local charities as though he was some sort of modern saint dropped onto the earth and boy weren’t we lucky to have him, right? And Cromartie’s headline last preseason was about the new work ethic and preparations he was making after a disappointing season; there was a redemption story in the making. Well, all this at least until they were let go by the team and our blessed general manager proved what a mouthpiece the paper was for his propaganda.

I suppose I can’t be overly surprised by what a tool the newspaper has become (hey here’s a great idea: downtown football stadium, maybe on the waterfront we didn’t want the public to have access to anyway) but it all seems so provincial. I suppose we’ve gotten used to life in a kind of island down here in the bottom left corner of America, but we’re starting to get high on our own supply of smug; hopefully we wake up before we take the Chiefs less seriously.

Mike

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Tools of Exploration

15 December 2008

Dear J-

Is it strange that I should believe that the more obscure and hair-shirty the tool, the more creative the results?  At work I do many of my drafts in NotePad (honest, I’d use vim if it didn’t conflict with our strict no-outside-programs policy), this despite having a full-blown copy of Office XP available to me (though to be honest, I haven’t done much with Word since I managed to squeeze my hundred page thesis out of it ten years ago).  I had not one but two of the Nikon F5/Kodak digital hybrids, one permanently stuck at ISO 80, and both sharing the same somnolent battery (leave it in the camera for more than a day and I’d have to use the 9V trick to get it working again).  And, of course, there’s this which is usually composed (during the week) on an overgrown cell phone and keyboard.

I think it’s the idea that things can be used for purposes other than what’s intended, not that they should be, but that they can be.  A chance mention on Retrothing about how the old DMG-001 Game Boy has been re-programmed into an electronica music device, which sent me scurrying to learn more about LSDJ and Nanoloop, of course.

I suppose the key is to realize that it’s nice to have a second calling, but it’s not a magic bullet to unleash some hidden talent.  You know, a tool is only a tool, and has little to do with actual ability:  if you have it, you’d be able to work with anything, no matter how dextrous or sinister the tool.  It’s why I’m beginning to understand that the right tool for writing might not be something like a TRS-80 Model 100 or an eMate, but just something that does the job transparently and doesn’t require too much thinking about how to operate it.  Maybe something like a netbook, instant-on, wi-fi, decent battery life, and with a reasonable keyboard?

Mike

Shallow Field

16 August 2008

Dear J-

Saturdays seem to turn into photo days, for whatever reason, so let’s talk about f-stops, you and I.  F-stops follow the progression they do because they express the ratio of diameters; at f/1.0, the effective diameter of the lens matches the focal length.  Thus a 50mm f/1.0 (and they exist, at you-gotta-be-kidding-me prices) has a 50mm effective diameter.  At f/1.4, your diameter is 1/1.4-th of the focal length.  It makes more sense when you consider it this way:  since the area of the opening determines the gross amount of light transmitted through the lens (ideal lenses, here, and with modern multi-coatings, transmission ratios are pretty high); thus since area varies with the square of the diameter, it’s actually the square of the f-stop you’re interested in.

Hence, a f/1.0 lens transmits twice as much light as a f/1.4 lens, and thus you can derive the f-stop full stop scale (f/1.0, f/1.4, f/2.0, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22, f/32, f/64, f/128, etc.) by taking the square root of the 2^n sequence (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, etc.).  Consider it for a moment and it starts to make sense.  If you close down the aperture one full stop (f/1.4 to f/2.0, say), you have to double the shutter speed (1/30th at f/1.4 to 1/15th at f/2.0) to make an equivalent exposure — you show the film (or sensor) half the light, for twice as long.  All else being equal, why wouldn’t you keep the aperture as wide as possible?  Well, for one thing, lenses aren’t necessarily designed to be run wide-open, and often hit their optimum performance one or two stops down.  For another, aperture controls depth of field; low f-stops (big apertures) give shallow depth of field, which is useful for the Martha Stewart style of product photography, or if you’re trying to draw attention to one thing over another.

Isn’t it ironic, then, that in real life, opening yourself up to new experiences actually widens your depth of knowledge?  I’ve been reading about some guy out there who has some kind of beef with Democrats; he coauthored a book for the Swift Boat Veterans, blamed by some for torpedoing Kerry’s campaign in 2004 (someone please explain to me again how two draft dodgers came out looking more virtuous than a veteran, especially representing a party that prides itself on supporting the military), and he’s at it again with Obama fear-mongering.  Sadly, it’s not about the accuracy of the message, simple as it is in photography — if you’re using shallow depth of field techniques, make sure you focus on the right thing — but how repeatable the lie.

I remember from debate there were two sources you wanted to use for definitions, each useful to the affirmative (making a case for change) or negative (keeping the status quo) side.  And, depending on the side you had to argue, the standard reasons went like this:  affirmatives wanted to use a “common” dictionary like Merriam-Webster because it was the most reasonable to the greatest amount of people; negatives chose Black’s Law Dictionary because it was the most precisely focussed definition.  Neither was the best answer all the time, and you needed to carry around both, because you didn’t know what side you’d be asked to argue.  So it goes in life, so too in photography; develop your skills and make sure you use the right tools when needed.

Mike

Adequate Adjective

12 August 2008

Dear J-

Our eleventh grade English teacher was a big one for talking about things with specifics; one of her favorite tirades had to do with vague adjectives.  Nice.  Good.  Bad.  It’s less that they aren’t necessarily valid, it’s more that they’re not precise.  So, believe in this:  saying a lens has nice bokeh, which is a Japanese term dealing with how a lens draws out-of-focus highlights, has little relevance.  A lens might be nice and sharp, but the out-of-focus portions might be not to your tastes, so you end up not using that lens.

Let me elaborate:  bokeh is a subjective quality.  What I find pleasing in out-of-focus may not be to your tastes.  That’s fine.  But you must understand where I’m coming from; twenty-five years of wearing glasses has taught me a certain way of seeing the out-of-focus world.  Thus good bokeh, to me, naturally replicates that without calling attention to itself.  You might hear what they’ve said is “restless” bokeh — to me, that’s characterized by falsely hard details in the out-of-focus regions; that’s most apparent to me in looking at pictures taken with my Nikkor 50mm f/1.8.  On the other hand, funny things like flare — internal reflections or not — will reduce those hard edges; some of the pictures I’ve seen taken with remounted Vest Pocket Kodak lenses have a magical quality to them; that’s definitely a rainy-day project I want to pursue at some point.

I could make all kinds of words and justifications about the purchases I make in the pursuit of the perfect lens, but I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, and I’ll probably keep repeating it periodically; for me, since photography is about sharing a moment, the tool used is irrelevant so long as it doesn’t interfere with faithfully duplicating the memory you saw.  That said, I find myself, after having spent weeks now with the same lens, seeing the world as that lens sees it, framing my attention at the same distance.  It’ll be interesting to see if I can successfully switch lenses now, and what the learning curve will involve.

I admit that the first time I put a 35mm focal length lens on a 135 film SLR was quite a revelation; the field of view matched my natural attention nearly perfectly.

Mike