Monday, June 09, 2014

Show a Little Love for the Henry Vilas Zoo and Vote Early and Vote Often

Madison's Orange Tree Imports is entered in a national window display contest to win $1,000 for the Henry Vilas Zoo. It's not often that you get to vote multiple times for a good cause, but this is one of them. Multiple votes are encouraged; vote as many times as you can between now and June 16. Go to the link and vote for Entry #14, the one with the carousel (no registration required, just click the button):
Share with your friends and encourage anyone who loves the zoo to vote. (I have a kind of personal investment in the outcome, since I shot the video and the contest entry photo.)

Friday, May 16, 2014

"Our Nixon" -- Like "Mad Men" Set in the White House

John Ehrlichman of Watergate fame was an avid Super 8 home movie maker, as were colleagues and former ad men H. R. Haldeman and Dwight Chapin. They filmed not only at home but also at work. Their footage was confiscated by the FBI during Watergate and remained in government custody until accessed by filmmaker Penny Lane.

The result is the amazing documentary, "Our Nixon," a unique work of cinema verite that uses the Super 8 clips as "B Roll" footage for voiceovers ranging from Nixon talking on the White House tapes to recorded interviews with the principals, alternating with ABC News clips that document the early years of the Nixon administration and then Watergate as it unfolded. For anyone who lived through those years, it's an amazing time machine.

As in the TV drama Mad Men, much of the evocative power comes from the throwaway background details. There are also surreal juxtapositions such as Haldeman's camera wandering outside an Oval Office window to follow a squirrel on the White House grounds while the audio features Nixon at his most paranoid on the White House tapes.

For us it was a special treat because we watched it on Netflix not long after finishing Season 6 of Mad Men, which ends about the time Our Nixon starts. Watching it was like like viewing another season of Mad Men in an alternate universe, one in which ad man Don Draper ends up in ad man H. R. Haldeman's job as White House chief of staff and completes his story arc of self-destruction in Watergate.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Dave Leeper running for State Treasurer by embracing "Fighting Bob" and Wisconsin's progressive tradition

Awhile back I took some photos of my friend Dave Leeper, who is running for State Treasurer as a Democrat. One of the photos was taken by the statue of Robert M. La Follette in the Capitol's East Wing, which seemed a fitting location for Dave's populist campaign to revive the moribund constitutional office.

Not all Wisconsin politicians embrace La Follette. As John Nichols notes in an article about Dave's campaign, Scott Walker is fond of noting in his fund-raising jaunts around the country that he deliberately broke with Wisconsin tradition and moved his inauguration away from the East Wing site of the bust.
“We started out by moving the swearing in ceremony from the East Wing, where there is a bust of Robert M. La Follette, who is an icon to some in the state of Wisconsin (as) one of the leaders of the so-called ‘progressive' movement,” the governor told the Arizonans.
"So-called" progressive movement? Nichols goes on to contrast Dave's position:
As he bids for state treasurer this year, with an innovative campaign on behalf of the creation of a state bank, former Green County District Attorney David Leeper stands at La Follette’s side. Literally.

On his campaign website, there’s a picture of Leeper next to the La Follette bust in the Capitol.

Leeper, the son of former state Rep. Midge Miller, another Wisconsin progressive icon, makes no secret of his respect for the La Follette legacy. Or for his interest in renewing the state’s position as the country’s laboratory of democracy.
Dave has some really interesting ideas about public banking and how the treasurer's office can be used to benefit the people of Wisconsin. Check out his website.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Koch brothers making the big mistake their daddy always warned them against

There's a reason that few people ever heard of the father of the Koch brothers, even though he was a cofounder of the John Birch Society. He knew how to play the stealth game. He always warned his sons Charles and David that they shouldn't publicly mix their business interests and their political agenda. It was too obvious, and it was likely to provoke a backlash that could only harm their business interests. The family's energy interests thrived on backroom deals with government agencies and regulators, but it would be vulnerable to a backlash if those interests became public knowledge and an angry public turned against them.

It seems that the older they get, David (age 74) and Charles (age 78) are becoming more reckless, throwing the family rule book out the window along with common sense. Their current full court press against homeowners selling excess solar power back to utilities is an egregious example -- naked self-interest positioning itself as a matter of principle that's laughable in its hypocrisy.

The Kochs were very effective in advancing their agenda when nobody knew who they were, when they kept a low profile and let their various front organizations do the heavy lifting. That's no longer true. Now everyone knows who they are and what they represent. The more they flounder around and try to manipulate public opinion and shape social and economic change, the less it will work.

The public is on to them. They're just a couple more billionaires using libertarianism to mask their insatiable greed.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Now you can download high-res offline Google maps for your iPhone or Android

Thank you, Google -- you made my day.

Google just upgraded its Maps app for the iPhone and Android. The biggest change is that you can finally save high-res offline vector maps of any area you choose. Two main applications:

1. Save offline maps of areas where you know you won't have a data connection. For us this means Door County, WI. It's always frustrating to lose access to a GPS map when we drive north from Sturgeon Bay and my ATT phone loses its data connection. Never again.

2. Even when you're in data range, it's often  useful to be able to use GPS without bumping up against your data limit or running down the battery with the data connection. Great for hiking and biking.

What it doesn't do is give you all the bells and whistles and search, which are still in the cloud (Google would prefer you stay connected, obviously). No navigation either.  But you can zoom into the map to all the geographic detail that Google Maps usually displays, and GPS will show you where you are.

The maximum area you can save as one map is about the size of this screen grab of upper Door County -- about a 35-mile diagonal. Outside this area, the saved map will still show major roads outside the area for quite a distance, but the rest of the detail is degraded.

BTW, once you have your data turned back on, the Maps navigation has also been upgraded. Among other things, it now includes lane directions for upcoming turns.

Friday, April 18, 2014

What is a photograph worth, anyhow?

Photography is about many things, and sometimes it's about money. In an age of royalty-free inexpensive microstock photography and millions of crowd-sourced amateur images, some of which may be very good, the money often doesn't amount to much. Sometimes nothing at all. Often people cite a small budget and ask if a photographer will make an image available for nothing but a photo credit and "the exposure." Is this fair? Certainly not, but it's the reality of the market.

In marketplace terms, a photo has value to a buyer to the extent that it solves a problem for the buyer, if the buyer can't find a free or inexpensive image that accomplishes the same thing for them. When I was a magazine editor, sometimes I did my own photography to stretch a limited budget. Sometimes I used photos donated by PR or marketing agencies (who had usually paid for the photography on the other end). Sometimes I used inexpensive microstock images. Sometimes I blew a big chunk of my art budget on hiring an assignment photographer to shoot what I wanted or by going to a high end rights-managed photo agency. It all depended on the story and what I was trying to accomplish.

Today I post a lot of photos online, on Flickr and elsewhere. I frequently get requests to license photos. Occasionally buyers will offer to pay a licensing fee. Those are the most pleasant negotiations. Then there are the requests for freebies in exchange for a photo credit and "exposure." (Hey, I'm already "exposed" -- that's how you found me.) These used to make me angry and I replied in kind. That was short-sighted. Now I take a more conciliatory approach and explain why I normally don't give my work away for free (though I've been known to give Wikipedia a Creative Commons license on occasion for an individual photo, and I'll usually give a reduced rate to a nonprofit I support). I give all the usual reasons, including the fact that it's unfair to other photographers to give work away to commercial ventures without compensation. That's a race to the bottom that nobody wins.

In short, I no longer get angry -- I negotiate. In the end, if someone really wants your image, it's surprising how often they're able to find some money in their budget after all.

Monday, March 03, 2014

It's All in the Point of View

Frank Lloyd Wright envisioned his Monona Terrace design as a way of visually linking the Capitol Square with Lake Monona, gracefully inviting the eye to roam down what's now MLK Jr. Blvd to the lake beyond. That's also the way the way the adaptation of his design was presented to the public when the current Monona Terrace was presented to the public. The architectural renderings showed a view from the Square that included the lake.

That was misleading, because as everyone knows now, Monona Terrace blocks the view of the lake from the Square. That's because Wright's original design was bumped up. The renderings in the proposal were misleading because of their point of view. (Several years ago I took this photo, which does show the lake, from the observation deck of the Capitol dome.)

We rely on architectural renderings to form judgments of development projects in the planning stage, and yet the renderings are often misleading -- whether intentionally so or because of wishful thinking is often hard to tell. Bird's eye views like this are only part of the problem, as Joe Tarr discusses in the cover story of the current Isthmus, From Vision to Reality: Computer renderings are shaping Madison development. Can we trust them?

Check out the story. It's an important topic. Architectural renderings play a major role in the many debates about development that occur in Madison. The better we understand the rendering process, the more informed our debates will be.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

iP = E x 6

During February 6 of my photos were selected by Flickr's mysterious algorithm to be in Explore, the daily display of the 500 most "interesting" photos on Flickr. The number was unusual. I've never had that many photos in Explore in one month. Even more unusual was that they were all taken with my iPhone 5s.

Since upgrading my phone last November (mostly for the camera), I've been doing almost all of my personal photography with the iPhone. There are several reasons why I've been leaving most of my gear at home, the most immediate being our brutal winter. It's easy to keep the phone warm in a coat pocket, and shooting requires just the briefest touch, while using a DSLR on a cold winter day is a great way to suck all the warmth in your body out through your fingertips.

But there's more. The resolution is much better than my old iPhone 4. The lens is faster than those in older iPhones; the sensor and low light performance are better. Processing apps have become more flexible and powerful. I love the immediacy of shooting on the iPhone, and I like being able to process images on the phone while the memory of what I was trying to capture is fresh. I really like black and white, and the improvements in hardware and software allow me to make excellent bw conversions right in the camera.

Of course, the iPhone can't do everything. There are times I need a bigger sensor, full manual control, a longer lens or a much wider lens.That's not surprising.

What does surprise me is how many things the little phone does well.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A whole new way of doing photography

I took this photo in Madison's Overture Center and processed it on the spot in-camera. (I later did a bit of tweaking in Photoshop, but it wasn't really necessary -- I just don't know when to leave well enough alone.)

One reason my iPhone is replacing more and more of my "real cameras" is the incredible photo processing power of in-camera apps. By using Snapseed's HDR function in conjunction with its B&W conversion using color filters, I have amazing control over B&W tonal range -- all in real-time, on-the-spot, in the palm of my hand, while my own visual impression of the image is still fresh -- not hours or days later in PS post.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Fire and Ice, Memory and Forgetting

I came across this fragment of someone else's life in the icy snows of Wingra Park on one of the coldest day of the year. It had been touched by fire (perhaps someone had been burning papers in the fireplace, and this little piece flew up the chimney), and now it lay frozen in the snow.

First I thought it said "Mt Remembering," which led me to imagine some huge snow-capped mountain of memories stacked as high as the eye could see, but that didn't make much sense, and looking more closely, I saw that it said "Not Remembering."

When we come across notes that have been discarded or lost by other people, they usually raise more questions than they answer; this was no exception, and it came with its a paradox of its own: Usually we write notes to remind ourselves of something, in order not to forget. But why write a note to remember "not remembering"? And why write it on both sides of the paper, as indicated by the faint reverse lettering? And why "not remembering" instead of simply "forgetting"? Is there a difference, and if so, what? It's a mystery, as are so many things about memory and forgetting.

"I can't remember" means different things to different people. For some, forgetting something is a momentary irritation -- wait a moment, and it will some back. For others, the loss of memory is connected with a profound struggle to preserve a sense of self. Most of us are somewhere in between the extremes, and we negotiate our own tradeoffs between memory and forgetting, writing down the reminders we need, and letting go what we don't need. Nobody can remember everything. And again, some can remember very little.

"Forgetting It All" is the title of a powerful essay in the NYT by Floyd Skloot, a poet and author and father of best-selling science writer Rebecca Skloot. A viral attack 25 years ago devastated his memory centers, abstract reasoning capability and sense of structure -- all qualities that would seem vital to a writer. And yet he has not only coped, but had a productive career as a writer in the years since his illness. His account makes fascinating reading, and we can all learn from it. I love his closing lines:

Since I can’t assume I’ll remember anything, I must live fully in the present. Since I can’t assume my experience will cohere, I must prize its fragmentation. Since I can’t fix or escape my damaged brain, I must learn to be at peace with it. And since I can’t assume I’ll master anything I do, I must let go of mastery as a goal and seek harmony instead.