Saturday, May 01, 2010

Trillium flowering in the oak grove

Trillium Flowering in the Oak Grove
Happy May Day!

It's the time of year when the trilliums are flowering, and I was struck by the magical way a stray shaft of light filtered through the oak branches and spotlighted the heart of this trillium. View Large On Black.

Trillium Flowering in the Oak GroveT took me to an oak grove to see the trilliums. They were everywhere. What is it about trilliums and oaks? According to T, trilliums need the right mix of direct and indirect light. Since the oak leaves bud later than most other trees, plenty of light filters through the oak canopy when trilliums need it. The trilliums flower when the oaks are just starting to bud.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Between rain showers Friday afternoon

Between Rain Showers
Last day for April showers. It rained. The tulips loved it.

Bigger Raindrops On Black

Washington Post: We won't pay you, but if someone sues us, we expect you to pay us

The death throes of the big dinosaurs are terrible to watch. They sink into the muck, and the more they struggle to free themselves, the more they flounder around trying to become like those sleek new mammals they see frolicking at the edge of their tar pit, the more deeply the dinosaurs dig themselves in, ceding the future to more nimble creatures.

When the dinosaurs are newspapers it can be especially pathetic. Since the world seems to have turned to blogging and other social media, some papers think they can revive their "brand" just by signing up some local or regional bloggers. And since they seem to have turned their management over to bean counters, they're usually looking to pick up the content for free, for the byline and the "exposure" -- apparently on the theory that bloggers aren't interested in money, or making a living. And that they would have no qualms about undercutting paid journalists with their free content.

Adam Pagnucco of Maryland Politics Watch writes about the Washington Post's clumsy attempt to recruit his blog for the paper's "local blogging network (via markos). I'll let you savor his comedy of errors by reading it for yourself, but there was one point that really stood out for me. Not only was the Post trying to solicit him to provide free content, but the legalistic contract they offered included the following:
3. You represent and warrant that the Work is Your own creation, that you have all necessary rights and permissions to grant the rights set forth in Paragraph 1, and that The Post’s republication and distribution of the Work will not violate any copyright or other right of any third party. You agree to indemnify and hold harmless The Post from any claim related to the Work.
In other words, if someone should sue the Post about a story provided by Pagnucco, he would be liable. It's not a trivial matter. Bloggers rarely get sued, because there's no mileage in it -- nobody expects them to have deep pockets. No lawyer would take the case on contingency. The Post is a different matter altogether. Times may be tough, but their pockets are not exactly empty.

So -- not only are bloggers supposed to feel honored to be asked to provide free content, but they're also expected to take additional risk on their own dime simply by linking to an esteemed dead tree paper's website. It's all part of the growing media practice of treating content as a commodity and trying to provide it at the cheapest possible price -- zero if possible.

If the media are increasingly reluctant to pay for content, why on earth do they expect news "consumers" to pay for it? But then, nobody ever said the dinosaurs were very bright.

Be sure to see Olbrich's meadow garden while the spring flowers are still in bloom

Meadow Garden at Olbrich Botanical Gardens
Now is the time to go head for Olbrich Botanical Gardens, while the spring flowers are in bloom and the apples are still blossoming. Their meadow garden is one of Madison's great seasonal treasures.
Olbrich's Meadow Garden is a favorite of visitors and staff, especially in spring. Inspired by English meadow gardens, Olbrich's Meadow Garden features low-maintenance fescue grasses and spring flowering bulbs. The short, drought-tolerant fescue grasses eliminate the need for high maintenance and energy consumptive lawn care. The grasses don't require supplemental watering or fertilizer and are mowed just twice a year - once in late spring and again in late fall.
But words -- or even pictures -- don't begin to do it justice. See it for yourself. Now. It's pure magic, and as fleeting as a spring breeze.

Blooming Large On Black

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tim and Renée Farley host fundraiser this Sunday for Madison Symphony Orchestra

CSC_0072 copy-sm
I photographed Tim and Renée Farley seated at their magnificent, 132-year-old restored Steinway for John Barker's Isthmus article, Brilliant musicians play at intimate Farley's House of Pianos. It was a pleasure meeting this gracious and charming couple, who have carved out a unique niche in the local music scene through their commitment to pianos, music and musicians.

The recital series they sponsor at Farley's House of Pianos is what Barker calls "one of Madison's unfairly well-kept musical secrets." He explains how they got started.
Early on, they thought the pianos they refurbished should have a sendoff, "a graduation party," as they put it, by being played before an audience. The idea of giving both instruments and young pianists public exposure became embedded in their operations.

Eleven years ago they moved their business to the west side. They expanded their presentations of gifted young pianists and other musicians. At first, these were talents lacking big-name status, but they were enthusiastically recommended by colleagues. As Renée notes with pride, "Now artists ask to play here."
This Sunday, May 2, Armenian-born virtuoso Raffi Besalyan plays Gershwin and Rachmaninoff in a benefit for the Madison Symphony Orchestra's outreach programs. There's more information about the recital, the pianist and his program at this web page, along with a link to the pianist's website.

Wingra Boats will be open weekends in May starting this Saturday

Getting Ready for Opening Day at Wingra Boats
There's no better way to spend a sunny afternoon in late spring, summer, or early autumn than on Madison's lakes. Wingra Boats on Lake Wingra rents canoes, kayaks, rowboats, paddleboats and sailboats and probably something else I may be forgetting. They're open weekends in May and September, beginning this Saturday, and then between Memorial Day and Labor Day they're open seven days a week. Maybe this is the year I'll learn to sail. Probably wouldn't take the D90 with me, but hey, I already dropped the Coolpix in a water glass -- might as well take it out on the lake one of these days.

View Large On Black

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Back to basics for a while

Back to Basics for Awhile
I took this photo around twilight at Stricker's Pond in Middleton. It was captured with my Nikon Coolpix P50, a simple, inexpensive point-and-shoot with a short zoom. It's not fancy, but it will usually capture what I see -- like this Great Blue Heron framed by foliage and silhouetted against the dying light.

Lately I've been taking the Nikon D90 digital single lens reflex body with two or three lenses on our walks. A faster lens might have rendered more detail -- or conversely, let me play with some DOF effects. With the telephoto zoom, I could have isolated the heron and its reflection and got rid of the clutter. With the 10-20mm superwide, I could have captured the entire pond and much of the fading sky, with the silhouette of the heron just a small but significant detail in the foreground. But why? This is what I saw, and it was a beautiful moment. Do I always have to try to improve on it?

I used to always carry a compact camera with me as a visual sketchbook, but I didn't shoot all that much -- mostly just when something really moved me visually. Now that I'm usually shooting more and carrying more equipment, the equipment often seems to set the agenda. Each of the lenses I carry creates its own visual effects, and it's easy to look at a scene and think, oh, that calls for such-and-such a lens. The photo almost takes itself.

What about my eye and what it sees? I'm going to try to find out, by leaving the heavy gear at home and try a more minimalistic approach for awhile, I want to get back to basics for awhile and reacquaint myself with what my eye sees as opposed to what the lens is capable of seeing.

Might be fewer new photos for awhile on Flickr (though it's not as if I don't have a big backlog of DSLR shots I haven't posted yet).

View Large On Black

Spring in Vilas Park

Spring at the Vilas Park Lagoon
Bridge over the Vilas park Lagoon, the trees with their new growth just glowing in the afternoon light. Maybe it's just me, but some days the colors seem so bright and intense that I don't trust color to capture it and instead rely on black and white to suggest it. But, again, I don't know if that makes sense to anyone but me.

Abstract art, nonlinear JCS PowerPoint, or perfect tool to hypnotize chickens?

All of the above, it seems. This graphic certainly has some of the the swirly energy of an abstract expressionist painting (or a bowl of spaghetti). It was produced by the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We'll get to the chickens later.

The graphic is a PowerPoint slide (click here to enlarge) summarizing the U.S. counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan. NBC's Richard Engel unearthed it last year, and wrote about it.
Detractors say the slide represents an assault on logic, an attempt to jam a square peg into a round hole. They say the concept of occupying a foreign nation to protect security at home is expensive, time consuming, ineffective and ultimately leads to the "spaghetti logic" of the slide. They say this slide is what happens when smart people are asked to come up with a solution to the wrong question.
It's easy to kick around PowerPoint, because almost everyone has had to endure mind-numbingly boring and uninformative PowerPoint presentations. It's easy to blame the tool. But that's all it is, a tool for managing and projecting slides -- and a pretty good one at that. It's what people do with it that's the problem.

I think that what has made PowerPoint such a psychically deadening -- and highly effective -- audience management tool is that there are so many occasions in business, government, academia and the military in which a speaker is determined to give a presentation with absolutely no real content, while also controlling the audience and preventing meaningful questions. To say something real would mean taking a stand or making a decision and defending it in rational terms, which can be dangerous to one's career. PowerPoint solves the problem.

Presenters looking for cover can use PowerPoint as a content-free means of disguising their lack of content and as a way to stifle discussion, audience interaction and skepticism. The more imaginative slides tease the eye with loopy visual like this spaghetti graphic. More often, they consist of lists containing those vague thought fragments known as bullet points. Whether containing tangled loops of spaghetti or hierarchical ladders of bullet points, the contents of the slides hold rational inquiry at bay. They are designed to be so vague and confusing that there's no way to formulate a rational question in response to them. The speaker is safe, and the real content remains unstated.

Yesterday's NYT ran a story about the use of PowerPoint in today's military. There are a lot of people who use it, as well as a lot of skeptics.
Despite such tales, “death by PowerPoint,” the phrase used to described the numbing sensation that accompanies a 30-slide briefing, seems here to stay. The program, which first went on sale in 1987 and was acquired by Microsoft soon afterward, is deeply embedded in a military culture that has come to rely on PowerPoint’s hierarchical ordering of a confused world.
Does PowerPoint add much to military planning and thinking? Does it accomplish anything that's worth the time it wastes? Probably not.

But everyone agrees that there is one military application for which PowerPoint is absolutely superb. It involves those chickens.
Senior officers say the program does come in handy when the goal is not imparting information, as in briefings for reporters.

The news media sessions often last 25 minutes, with 5 minutes left at the end for questions from anyone still awake. Those types of PowerPoint presentations, Dr. Hammes said, are known as “hypnotizing chickens.”
Looking back at media coverage of the last decade's wars, it's hard not to conlude that the hypnosis worked.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

If the UW doesn't tear down the Humanities Building soon, they may have to preserve it instead

If It Isn't Soon Demolished, It May May Have to Be Preserved Instead
I wandered over to the campus yesterday afternoon to take some photos of the George L. Mosse Humanities building in the rain (view large on black). It's probably the most hated Brutalist building in Madison, and I wanted to take another look at its brooding, labyrinthian forms after reading in the NYT about what's happening with Brutalism out East.

Architectural trends seem to swing like a pendulum, and this once much-reviled offshoot of late modernism seems to be making a comeback. The tide is turning. If the UW doesn't carry out its plans to demolish Humanities soon, it may end up facing pressure to preserve and renovate it as an architectural landmark instead.

Breton Brut WallAlthough for many people the term Brutalism evokes architecture that is ugly, sterile and inhuman, the NYT's "Beautiful Brutes" explains that term originally had a more positive meaning. It's derived from the French "breton brut" (raw concrete) popularized by Corbusier. (This example is on Vilas Hall, another Brutalist building across University Ave. from Humanities.) Often bearing the imprint of the wooden forms into which it was poured, the concrete ages in interesting ways. Up close, it often looks like an interesting abstraction. From a distance, it often looks dilapidated. The NYT story includes a slide show of drawings portraying Brutalist buildings in New York that seem worth a second look. Drawing is a great medium for highlighting some of the strengths of Brutalism while avoiding the often shabby exterior details of these aging buildings.

Walkway Over Park StreetThis is a view looking through one of the exterior passages toward the pedestrian bridge over Park Street (view large on black). I love to wander the exterior passageways and courtyards of the Humanities Building. There's some serious geometry going on, and the sheer bulk of the building avoids being oppressive because the visitor is led forward by interesting openings for the eye and other visual surprises. Of course, I don't have to work or attend classes there.

How likely is it that Humanities will be restored and preserved? I have no idea, but it's probably worth taking a look at what they did at Yale University. The school recently spent $126 million renovating the Art and Architecture Building (and building an addition). The Yale building was designed by Paul Rudolph and completed in 1963, just a few years before Chicago architect Harry Weese designed Humanities for the UW. Rudolph's building opened to widespread critical acclaim, but -- like Humanities -- soon became very unpopular on campus. It was rumored, though never proved, that disgruntled students set the fire that gutted the interior just a few years later, turning the building into a white elephant that sat around for decades. Now it's an architectural landmark with a spiffy new addition by the New York firm Gwathmey Siegel & Associates, which also supervised the restoration.

Will the UW follow suit? Currently there's no money in the budget to tear down Humanities. Continuing budget woes may give the building more time to come back into fashion. Or the delay might just lead to continuing decay and deterioration, to the point where it no longer makes sense to preserve the structure. Stay tuned.