100mm f/2.8 macro

Thursday, December 24, 2009
I logged in to my Fidelity account the other day and was surprised to find that my stock options were actually worth some money! Since they expired in just a few months, I quickly cashed them out and (invested them in stable but high yielding mutual funds) (donated the proceeds to a charitable cause) pissed the money away on stuff that will support the Chinese economy.

I've wanted the 100mm f/2.8 macro lens for a while because I love taking pictures of bugs, and you need a good macro lens for pictures of bugs. Sadly I did not think of the fact that I'm ordering the lens in the middle of December when no bugs are out for the shooting.

I'll probably be uploading a bunch of photos over the next several days and weeks as I play with this. You'll be able to find them here.

Life, (Liberty?), and the Pursuit of Happiness

Wednesday, December 23, 2009
This post will make you wonder if I'm a tinfoil hat loon. I assure you I am not. Tinfoil doesn't have adequate reflection at the frequency the government is broadcasting subliminal messages into our brains.


In St. Louis a few months ago, we were driving home from a night of exploring the town, when we came upon a DUI checkpoint. The entire freeway was diverted down to two lanes, and officers would check out each driver - making sure their license and registration was in order, and doing a quick visual/sniff test to see if the driver had been drinking.

The person in front of us did not do so well. The officer appears to talk to him for about 20-30 seconds. The driver stepped out of the car, was patted down quickly, put into plastic handcuffs and led away. Another officer stepped into the car and drove it off to a waiting line of vehicles to be towed. Tow trucks were running back and forth, towing two cars at a time and still unable to keep up with the mass that were waiting. The entire process took maybe one minute, and seemed very efficient. TOO efficient.

I am all for removing drunk drivers off the road, and think in general the US' DUI laws are too lenient. However, DUI checkpoints aren't really targeting the offenders. Instead, it's law enforcement throwing out a net and seeing what they catch, while making law-abiding citizens go through a mandatory stop and questioning without any reasonable suspicion.

Stopped without reasonable suspicion? Isn't that against the Fourth Amendment? Supreme Court Justice Rehnquist doesn't think so, and the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in favor of legalizing them. Rehnquist's majority opinion held that the end justifies the means, the clear and explicit words of the Fourth Amendment, that the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, are swept aside because the ends justify obviating the Constitution. Can you image if the Supreme Court decided that guns posed such a danger that, well, despite the second amendment, guns needed to be outlawed?

Even worse, some of these "sobriety" checkpoints have become about revenue generation in addition to searching for DUI offenders. In Connecticut, cars with expired registrations are impounded immediately, which has left more than one parent with kids-in-tow stranded and searching for a way to get to their destination. Seatbelt and other safety tickets are handed out like candy.

Unfortunately our rights are slowly being stripped of us, and nobody seems to care. The ugly Patriot Act that was rushed through Congress with little opposition in the days after 9/11. In the following years, large portions of it were found unconstitutional, but unfortunately after innocent people were locked up because of it.

All of these things instill intimidation and fear in the population, which seems to be exactly what the government desires. I hope that some of us become aware of these slow but noticeable intrusions into our lives before we become a police state like the UK is rapidly becoming. Sadly though, I suspect we'll continue our decline.

I encourage all of you to remember your rights when stopped for any reason. One of the great things about this country is you don't have to answer any question the police ask you. If you are stopped, you can hand the officer your license and registration and sit silently while he peppers you with questions. You don't have to answer anything, no matter how harmless the question seems, and you can't be detained for not wanting to chit-chat with an officer. Specifically ask if you are being detained or if you are free to go, otherwise you are willingly sitting in the custody of the police. This video (for an immigration checkpoint) demonstrates your rights in action perfectly. If you have the time and confidence to do so, I encourage you to exercise these rights.

St. Louis - Day 3

Friday, November 13, 2009
Day three was a bit rainy and cool, but still filled with fun!

We started off with a visit to the St. Louis Art Museum. The museum features a wide-variety of art from all time periods (including some big names like Van Gogh, Monet, Picasso, etc), plus some other interesting items such as antique swords and guns.

There is also an interesting selection of items from some of the south Pacific islands. You know you are viewing something serious when they have descriptions like this:

"The men of this region kept a number of wooden figures in their sacred men's houses that they would use to call upon their ancestors for help in hunting animals or revenge killings. To entice an ancestral spirit to enter a figure, they would smear it with animal feces, pieces of human meat, and blood taken from a man's penis."

What a fun-loving bunch of people these guys must be! I can't wait to have my ancestor's spirit possess a doll by merely poking at my dong with a knife!

After checking out the art museum we hit up Pappy's Smokehouse for the best barbecue I've had in my life. I can't decide if the ribs or the brisket was my favorite, so get both.

Our bellies full of meaty goodness, we wandered back west to check out the Cathedral Basilica. It was pretty over-the-top like these cathedrals tend to be. I wish I could have jammed on the pipe organ.

The trip concluded with seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform downtown. I'm not a huge Bruce Springsteen fan, but it was still a great show, with Bruce bringing people on stage to dance, a little kid to sing, taking audience requests, etc. I'm glad I caught it!

The rest of the photos can be found here.

St. Louis - Day 2

Sunday, November 1, 2009
We started off Day 2 in St. Louis by driving into Illinois to see the Cahokia Mounds, which are some piles of dirt that were made about a millennium ago. The natives back then had an abundant crop of Caterpillar tractors and bulldozers and since the market for them was nil (diesel gas had not been invented yet), they decided to build random piles of dirt with them.

I took a few photos of the area, but it's really hard to take interesting photos of piles of dirt, so I passed on posting them. However, I did see this little guy cruising around:

Oh, here's a photo from the top of the tallest (100 ft) mound, with St. Louis in the background.

The evening was spent at the City Museum. I cannot put into words how amazing this place is, although the Wikipedia article on it may be useful. Basically, imagine an abandoned warehouse that an eccentric guy started stashing crap in. Pipe organs, skateboard ramps, vintage pinball machines, you name it. Then paint everything bizarre colors. Install some slides that go down several floors. That just gets the tip of the iceberg of the City Museum. If you ever go to St. Louis, it is a MUST see. I cannot emphasize this enough! I mean, they have a ball pit for ADULTS for hell's sake!

The rest of the photos can be found here.

How Pathetique

Last night I caught a Utah Symphony performance of the Tchaikovsky Sixth Symphony, known as the "Pathetique".

The symphony is one of his most popular and is performed quite regularly - probably every 2-3 years at the minimum. One would think I would have seen it several times by now. However, this was actually the first time I've seen it live. There is an odd story behind this though.

I've had other opportunities to see it in the past, but for some reason, I have always had an odd nagging feeling that I would die shortly after hearing it live. Where this came from I have no clue - I don't remember dreaming of it, and I don't know of anybody who has died after hearing it, and I'm not superstitious in any way. But still, it was an odd nagging feeling.

Yesterday I sucked it up and caught it. And you know what? The drive home was uneventful. Midnight passed without incident. And I'm sitting here typing now.

I guess Tchaikovsky is safe after all.

St. Louis - Day 1

Friday, October 30, 2009
My friend Patrick wanted to go to St. Louis to catch Bruce Springsteen in concert. I had never been to St. Louis, so I agreed to tag along.

After a quick two hour flight, we landed on a slightly rainy Friday afternoon. We started off by wandering an older part of town known as "The Loop".

After a quick dinner of some incredible Syrian cuisine (including the best falafel I've ever had) at Ranoush, we wandered over to Powell Hall to catch a St. Louis Symphony performance. The concert included Ives' The Unanswered Question and Barber's Adagio for Strings, which were oddly played without pause between the two. I guess that's how he answered Ives' question.

After the Ives was a world premiere of a piece called Freedom's Plow by composer Rollo Dilworth. It was written for large orchestra, chorus and gospel choir, and was quite enjoyable. Probably the most memorable premiere I've ever heard. Sadly I think it would be lost on most Utah audiences - most people here think of the Mo-Tab when they hear "gospel choir".

The concert ended with Sir Michael Tippet's A Child of Our Time which is an interesting work for large orchestra and chorus. It's about the events that instigated The Night of Broken Glass during World War II. It's not performed very often (this was only the second time the SLSO had played it - the previous performance almost 40 years earlier), and I don't believe it's ever been performed in Utah. While it's a bit long and drags in a few places, I still find it a very rewarding listen and was glad to have caught it.

Powell Hall is a nice concert hall - much more old-fashioned feeling than Abravanel Hall.

The inside of the hall was neat too. Unfortunately I only got one shot before some lady notified me that I couldn't take any photography while there were people on stage (even the people removing the chairs), and that I'd be booted out as soon as the stage was clear anyway. She seemed pretty smug with herself and her "authority" - the type of person who would love to be Hall Monitor back in junior high school.

Despite it being cold and windy, we wandered around a bit more in the theater district to see what was going on. There were some neat churches which I really needed a tripod and a wider lens to photograph. I would go through and fix the barrel distortion but I don't really care right now.

Finally we made our way down to the famous Gateway Arch. I REALLY needed a tripod and a wider lens here - I really underestimated the size of this arch. I was expecting it to be fairly boring, but I was really overwhelmed with the whole thing. It's much larger than you would expect, and the reflective material on the outside really gives it some interesting colors.

Here I tried to shoot a 1/3 sec exposure by hand. The number one rule of photography is to never try to shoot a 1/3 second exposure by hand.

This is the bridge that links St. Louis in Missouri with East St. Louis in Illinois. I actually liked my underexposed shot more than my properly exposed one, so you get this.

The rest of the photos from this day can be found here.

You Capture - Still Life

Sunday, October 18, 2009
This week's I Should be Folding Laundry challenge was Still Life. I've always struggled with still life photography - for one thing, there are so many cliche still life photos. The bowl of fruit. The candle and the stack of books. Etc. Secondly, the lighting can become very complex, and I don't consider myself well-versed in lighting at all. I don't really have much lighting to work with either.

That said, in typical Bizarre Dave fashion, I came up with something. I don't know what to call it. "One Hell of a Party"? "Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll"?

Lighting was tough. I wanted it to feel kind of dirty, but at the same time you had to be able to identify the subject matter. The clear bottle (and the reflections from it) posed additional problems. Eventually I settled on a 10" exposure, with an overhead light turned on for half of the exposure and an LED flashlight providing some eerie blue tint from the side which I don't think I like now that I look at it closer.

I also wanted to add a pack of cigarettes to it, but I didn't want to spend the money on something that I don't support. The cocaine will have to suffice.

You Capture - Red

Sunday, October 11, 2009
This week's I Should Be Folding Laundry challenge is Red!

I came up with my idea driving home from my parents' place this evening. I've photographed brake lights on cars as they were driving, but I've never gotten up close to them. I was quite happy with what I saw!

I think this is one of my favorite photos I've ever taken. I may try to take it again to get it framed slightly better, but the illumination coming from the light element is just rad.

I also stopped to take a photo of Goomba's leash. I was trying to figure out why I liked this photo, because it appears to be in clear violation of the Rule of Thirds. But in reality, it isn't. The true subject of the photo are the lines of the wound-up leash - the metal clip in the center just happens to be there

You Capture - Happiness

Monday, September 28, 2009
This week's I Should Be Folding Laundry challenge is Happiness!

Most of you know that music makes me very happy. So much that I decided to take pictures of a few of my favorite pages of music to share!

Wait, am I violating some copyright with this?

Unfortunately I was too lazy to set up or wait for proper lighting, so these are taken at ISO800 or higher. That translates to fuzzyness when zooming in, so I'll be surprised if anybody can identify these pieces. But if you can - you are rad.


Sunday, September 20, 2009
I've been wanting to try lightning photography for quite a while. Tonight would have been the perfect opportunity thanks to a spectacular lightning storm over the valley. Unfortunately I was driving when the storm hit and by the time I got home it had mostly passed.

I did manage to get one shot of a strike about 15 miles away. Next time I will be better prepared! And I think I have a better idea what to do next time - don't shoot so wide, use a better lens (not the cheap 18-55mm I used this time), etc.

You Capture - Up Close

Saturday, September 19, 2009
My friend Erin showed me this neat blog called I Should Be Folding Laundry. In it are weekly photo challenges to try to get you to find new and different ways to take photos. It's a fun game, and I hope it makes me get out the camera a bit more.

This week's challenge is to get up close and photograph things ... well, up close. I know I'm supposed to be taking new photos, but this challenge reminded me of some photos I took a few months ago and promptly forgot about. I actually liked them quite a bit, but I never did anything with them - I didn't even bother putting them online. So this week's challenge made me put these up for all to see, for better or for worse.

One of Goomba's squeeky balls.

The innards of a paper shredder.

Shredded paper. The poor focus was accidental, but I think I actually prefer it - it makes the photo seem old. Or maybe I'm looking for excuses for my own screw-up.

Turning in the Man Card

Monday, September 7, 2009
About eight years ago, I was in the Silver Smith casino in Wendover, and a song came on the overhead muzak that I totally dug. It was very slow with dense jazz chords and a female singer. I had heard it once or twice before but never knew who it was. Unfortunately over the din of the casino (slot machines actually dispensed coins back then!), I could not make out any lyrics, so I was unable to figure out what the song was.

I've thought about this song quite often over the last eight years, wondering if I would ever figure out what it was. I had plugged in a few phrases I thought I had thought were in the lyrics, but never had any luck finding it. I was doomed to be haunted for the rest of my life by it.

This evening I ended up at Lagoon, and was surprised to hear the song playing on their muzak! Thanks to the power of the iPhone and Shazam, I was able to find out what it was immediately! And you know what? I was so utterly humiliated by what it was that I could feel my testicles shriveling up into nothing. I now have to turn in my Man Card for even liking a song by this artist. It's so bad that I am refusing to admit what it was.

The Amazing Major 7th Chord

Wednesday, August 26, 2009
The last few months of my life have been a lot of ups and downs. In attempting to write some music lately, I've found myself drawn to Major 7th chords, particularly in their root position. I know most of you reading this have no clue about the technical details of music, so I will try to leave the technical terminology out of it and say my shit in laymen's terms as much as possible.

However, there are two technical terms you need to know: "major" and "minor".

Although they have a strict technical definition, the nature of major chords make them sound happy. They should put pleasing thoughts into your head.

If you count the number of keys on the piano (including the black ones!), there will be four keys between the bottom note and the middle note, and three keys between the middle note and top note.

On the other hand, minor chords sound sad. By changing just one note in a major chord just very slightly, your happy thoughts have turned into depressing thoughts. Minor chords have three keys between the bottom note and the middle note, and four keys between the middle note and top note.

A Major 7th occurs when you stack a minor chord on top of a major chord! Because you have a mix of both major and minor chords, it can create a mood of confusion or mixed feelings.

The ear tends to hear the higher notes in a chord more prominently than the lower notes. Based on this, you can illustrate various emotions by stacking chords accordingly. For example, in the song "You Look So Fine" by Garbage, an E minor chord (sad!) turns into a hint of happiness by adding a C-natural to the bottom of the E-minor chord. This changes the E-minor chord into a C-major 7th - the top three notes are still in E-minor (and the most noticeable to the ear), but the bottom three are in C-major (which, remember, sounds happy!).

(Click here for a soundclip.)

Unfortunately for the listener, the song eventually returns to E-minor, not leaving you any happiness as the album comes to a close.

Similarly, the song Dogs by Pink Floyd opens with a series of Major 7ths. This time however, an extra note is occasionally added to the bottom, giving us a major chord in the middle, surrounded on top and on bottom by minor chords!

(Click here for a soundclip.)

This sound is very well-suited for the song. Although the dog itself can be represented happily with the major chord in the middle, there really is no happiness to be found in this lifestyle, and the surrounding minor chords emphasize this.

I'm not entirely sure what the point of this post was, but I feel it describes me well right now. Take from it what you may.

Barbeque with friends

Monday, August 17, 2009
It's been a while since I've roasted anything over a campfire. Thanks to my friends for a lovely evening up Big Cottonwood Canyon.

Get Funky

Sunday, August 2, 2009
It seems that every couple of years I get into a funk that takes me a while to snap out of. It always seems to be a combination of things that just add up - frustrations at work, not being happy with current living arrangements, the girl you like not liking you back, unexpected large expenses, projects that seem to drag on forever without accomplishing anything, maybe even just getting tired of the same routine every day.

Inevitably I just end up miserable for a few months and snap out of it without really ever doing anything to combat it.

Do any of you ever get in these funks? What do you do about them?

Losing my religion

Monday, July 27, 2009
This post is particularly odd to write. I feel an odd mix of emotions - joy, relief, nervousness, maybe even a tiny bit of guilt. Some of you will be happy for me, some of you will be sad for me. Who knows, maybe some of you won't ever speak to me again. But here it is, like a turd on a table.

So I was born Mormon, just like a good portion of you reading this.

Throughout my life, I had various levels of interest in being religious. I was quite adamant about it through my youth. I attended church somewhat regularly through my teen years, although I wasn't as into it as I was in the prior years.

When I moved out on my own, I started attending the local church to start meeting people. I went along with the religion thing, but I wasn't really convinced of the truth of it. I did this for several years. During this time, I went through several relationships, most of which failed for religious reasons ... either I wasn't religious enough, or I was too religious. Basically I was a fence sitter.

Finally around age 25, I felt I needed to make a decision and choose a side of the fence. I read a lot. I talked to a lot of people. I prayed a lot. I finally decided that Mormonism (and religion in general) wasn't for me. I stopped going to church and never really looked back, and I felt fine about it. I never officially resigned from the church because I felt it didn't matter - I'm just a name on a list somewhere of no significance.

That all changed last year with the Prop 8 debacle. The leadership of the church had taken vaguely neutral stances (at a political level) in the past, but this one was very polarizing. It was at this point that I realized I no longer wanted to be associated with an organization that espoused these views. I felt dirty that I was even listed among them.

I sat for a few months thinking it over, but my feelings of disgust never subsided. It was time to formally resign. I filled out a generic resignation letter and sent it in. They processed it quickly and without any harassment to reconsider.

So as of June 15, 2009, I am no longer Mormon. I feel relief to no longer be associated with an organization that I feel openly persecutes, and uses questionable rationale to justify themselves.