Saturday, October 27, 2007

Reality catches up with Madison

Reality Catches Up with Madison
Even a city that is famously known as "x square miles surrounded by reality" eventually has to face reality: Winter is coming and the lakes must be drained (in the fountain on the Capitol Square that has water gently rippling in the lakes all summer long). Oddly, the lakes look more blue than ever without water in them.

Friday, October 26, 2007

It takes a lot of energy to prepare for a Big Ten football game

It Takes a Lot of Energy to Prepare for a Big Ten Home Football Game
And it generated a lot of light, turning night into day near Madison's Camp Randall Stadium tonight as they prepared for the Wisconsin-Indiana game. It was bright enough to try counting the individual footballs in "Nail's Tales," the $200,000 phallic monstrosity by sculptor and UW alum Donald Lipski, and to try to figure out what it cost per football.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Errol Morris explains why blue-eyed Wisconsinites tended to look insane in late 19th century photos

Visual History of Photographic Emulsions in Three Steps
A visual history of photographic emulsions in three steps: Nineteenth century photographic emulsions were only sensitive to blue light, producing a look quite a bit like today's ortho film, which is only sensitive to blue and green. The 19th century emulsions turned lipstick black and produced white, washed out skies with little or no cloud detail. Panchromatic black and white film rendered the world in a more natural grayscale. And then, of course, color film was developed.

The limitations of 19th century photographic emulsions affect the way we imagine that time in the past. The effect of blue sensitivity not only darkened red lipstick, but produced another effect in pictures of people, one that was similar to the way it washed out the sky -- anything blue was turned white, or nearly white. Filmmaker Errol Morris comments on this in his fascinating recent series of extended blog posts in the NYT, in which he deconstructs two photographs by 19th century war photographer Roger Fenton (a quest that eventually got him started on his next film project, a film that will be released next year about those iconic Abu Ghraib photos.)
“Too bad, it was a cloudy day. You really can’t see any shadows.”

My friend, the inventor Dennis Purcell, corrected me: “I don’t think it was cloudy. It was a bright, sunny day. Or perhaps cloudy-bright.”

Dennis explained that most 19th century photographic emulsions are blue-sensitive and hence cannot record the sky – overcast, partially cloudy and sunny skies are all overexposed. The sky is a featureless white, but the “whiteness” of the sky is unrelated to the question of whether there are clouds or whether you can see shadows. It was only much later that panchromatic film was developed. (This accounts for what I would call The Wisconsin Death-Trip Effect, after the book by the same name. Scandinavian immigrants in turn-of-the-century Wisconsin might not be insane, but they look insane because their blue eyes are white in the pre-panchromatic emulsions used to produce the photographs.)
Clearly, the reputation of Wisconsin as a state has greatly benefited from the development of panchromatic film...

Want to experiment with making pictures that have a 19th Century look? You can shoot with filters and/or ortho film. Or you can do it quickly in Photoshop by doing what I did above -- use the channel mixer, set for monochrome, to set the red and green channels at 0 percent and really crank up the blue channel. You'll know you're there when the clouds disappear. Add a bit of sepia tone for that antique effect, and you've got it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Seasonal Identity Disorder

Seasonal Identity Disorder
Halloween is a week from today, but people will start to feel an overwhelming urge to shed their identities and become someone else this weekend, especially on State Street here in Madison. Last year at this time, there was a lot of controversy about the new idea of fencing off most of State Street and charging admission as a means of controlling the feared unruly behavior of thousands of Dionysian student revelers. There was even a lively controversy about whether closing down a public street in this manner was constitutional. This year, few people seem to care, one way or the other.

The Badger Herald reports that the event, now officially dubbed "Freakfest," has become so hemmed in by restrictions, regulations, police and surveillance, that many students are tuning out.
“I think things are just getting too — I hate to say this — but strictly, anal,” said UW senior Louis Washington. “I think they’re being a little too cautious as far as trying to prevent things from occurring. We are college students, but we aren’t animals.”
Interested in going anyhow, whether or not you will be treated like an animal? The Isthmus Daily Page has lots of news, information and links. One factor that should tend to moderate behavior this weekend is that the bars will not be open that extra hour they used to be the Saturday night before Halloween, when setting back the clocks at 2:00 a.m. provided an extra hour of bar time.

That won't happen this year until the following weekend, the first Sunday in November. Who knows? Maybe spontaneous celebrations of the bartime bonus hour will lead to a new "Novemberfest" blowout to replace the increasingly domesticated Freakfest.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Bubble Wonders Show

The Bubble Wonders Show
The Hilldale Theater is being torn down to build another condo like Weston Place in the background. Hard to see what's driving this project except the sheer momentum of the Madison real estate bubble's rapidly ebbing tide. Soon all that will be left of the theater is the marquee, which seems to say it all. The Bubble Wonders Show. Exactly.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Hanging out on Gorham Street for more than two years

We get downtown often, but we don't always spend a lot of time walking around. Last Saturday, after taking in the Farmers' Market, lunch at Chautara, and the Zombie Lurch on State Street, we wandered back to our car by way of the 300 block of West Gorham. That's where I saw this mural for the first time. These people have been sitting here, behind the Lands' End Outlet, for more than 2 years, and I never even noticed, despite driving by countless times. You see things differently on foot (perhaps because you don't have to worry about pedestrians running in front of your car). Once I became aware of it, the mural really stood out, and I wondered about who painted it (artist Mikii Youngbauer) and who the people were. As usual, the Internet answered all my questions.

Hairy balls at Olbrich Botanical Gardens. Really, that's what this plant is called.

Hairy Balls at Olbrich Gardens. Really, That's What They're Called.
Hairy Balls photographed at dusk in Olbrich Gardens. Really. That's what this plant is called -- unless you want to go the Latin route, and then its name is Gomphocarpus physocarpus. The faint of heart may choose to call it the Swan Plant, Balloon Plant, or Giant Swan Milkweed instead.

Prius on Steroids

Prius on Steroids
The greening of Madison's public transportation: This is one of the buses in the city's pilot fleet of bybrids.

M Is For (Mpowering) Madison

M Is for (Mpowering) Madison
Katie Ross of Sustain Dane was at the Dane County Farmers' Market Saturday with the big green "M," trying to get Madisonians to take the pledge to join the community in reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 100,000 tons citywide by 2011. Sustain Dane is one of 11 partners in the broad-based community initiative. Go to to find out more.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Autumn colors in the Vilas Park Lagoon

Autumn Colors in the Vilas Park Lagoon
It must be something about the end of summer and the really hot weather being over. The cool clear light of autumn seems to have magically cleared the water in Madison's Vilas Park Lagoon. Saturday morning you could see all the way to the bottom, and it turned out that the large, gliding shadows weren't shadows at all, but fish -- carp, I think.

Zombies lurch down State Street to demonstrate their right to have rights

Zombies Lurch down State Street to Demonstrate for Rights
Year after year, it's the same old same old: Every time Zombies try to stand up for their rights, they're told not now, this isn't the right time, some of my best friends are zombies, etc. Or the ultimate insult -- "It's almost Halloween. Why don't you wait till then? You'll be with your kind, you'll feel more comfortable." Enough is enough. The Zombies have had it, and Saturday they were driven to take to the streets and demand their rights. For some minorities, it's about coming out of the closet. For Zombies, it's about coming out of the dark into the full light of day. Kristian Knutson has more in the Isthmus Daily Page.