Saturday, August 14, 2010

Dome of gold at the end of the rainbow

Dome of Gold at the End of the Rainbow
Spectacular sunset -- and rainbow -- last night, as the storm clouds from the torrential downpour that drenched Madison moved off to the east. The Capitol was bathed in gold and framed by a spectacular rainbow.

View large on black.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The rising purple flood that threatens to drown Democratic election hopes

The spreading purple and red areas in the video dramatically illustrate the rising flood waters of unemployment that have spread across the country the last three years. The Obama administration seems helpless to do much about this vast outpouring of human misery, and Democrats are likely to pay the price at the polls this fall, as Frank Rich notes in the NYT.
But even if the Democrats sharpen their attack, they are doomed to fall short if they don’t address the cancer in the American heart — joblessness. This requires stunning emergency action right now, August recess be damned. Instead we get the Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, offering the thin statistical gruel that job growth has returned “at an earlier stage of this recovery than in the last two recoveries.”
What happened? In 1992, a Democrat famously ran against Bush unemployment with the slogan, "It's the economy, stupid!" A new era of prosperity ensued. Now another Democratic president has taken over the wreckage left by another Bush presidency, but instead of boldness, the Democrats offer at best a timid holding action against a renewed conservative uprising. Rich again:
If they can’t make the case to Americans like Alexandra Jarrin that they offer more hope for a job than a radical conservative movement poised to tear down what remains of the safety net, they deserve to lose.
Voters are likely to agree.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

NY Times critic compares Rosanne Cash's memoir to her tweets, finds tweets better

It was bound to happen. Sooner or later a critic was going to find a new way to wield a snarky dagger by comparing an author's work to their Twitter feed and preferring the tweets. The pioneering critic who made this breakthrough in Twitterspheric criticism was Dwight Garner in today's NY Times, reviewing Rosanne Cash's new memoir, Composed.
Ms. Cash rarely has a negative word to say about anyone. That’s a quality that might make her a lovely person to spend time with (she’s worth finding on Twitter, where her posts are forthright and funny) but is cloying on the page. The snappiest line I could find in “Composed” mentions the record producer Jimmy Iovine, about whom she writes, “I did not find him to be the most gracious person in the world.”
It's a pretty standard lit-world put-down of a writer who has achieved fame in another arena: The trouble with Rosanne Cash is that she's too literary.
The bad news about “Composed” is that its title fits too well. Ms. Cash, who is previously the author of “Bodies of Water,” a book of short stories, is a self-consciously literary storyteller. (Not for her the kind of memoir that’s stuffed with cheesy photo inserts.) Her calm book is short on rude humor and wit, and whatever narrative tension it manages to build mostly leaks away. “Where’s the MADNESS, Rose?” Ms. Cash was once asked, she says, by a friend who found one of her records too mannered. Her book, too, is short on sonic clutter and emotional reverb.
For some reason, "Ms. Cash" was less than thrilled by the review.
Can't say I'm thrilled w/ NY Times review. Seems he reviewed the book I DIDN'T write. I'll stick with the WaPo review.
Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post critic Jonathan Yardley's review does seem more thoughtful, and it also does a nice job of tying Cash's approach to writing for print to her roots as a songwriter. You can read it here. Don't know about you, but I'm reserving Composed at the library.

Monday, August 09, 2010

The illuminated peace flotilla is ferried out against the breeze in the Tenney Park lagoon

With a little help from their friends, the first of Monday night's Lanterns for Peace made their way out into Madison's Tenney Park Lagoon, at dusk on Aug. 9. 2010 -- the 65th anniversary of the incineration of Nagasaki, which came three days after Hiroshima was destroyed by the first of the two atomic bombs the U. S. dropped on Japan. So many years after the horror, a moment of remembrance and a whisper of hope.

Photo hacks with everyday objects: Using your sunglasses as a polarizer or ND filter

Use Your Sunglasses As a Polarizer and/or ND Filter
Use Your Sunglasses As a Polarizer and/or ND Filter

Disappointed in how the sky washes out in your photos and drains all the drama out of the clouds?

Various processing options in Photoshop will allow you to fix this, but it's nice to be able to adjust for this in the camera, so you can see what you're getting. A polarizing filter will do the trick, but not all photographers have them, or have them with them when they need them. And most point-and-shoots don't take any filters at all. So what can you do to dress up that point-and-shoot landscape?

That's where your Polaroid sunglasses come in -- you know, the kind that selectively cut road glare. They also darken the blue of the sky while leaving the clouds intact. And they cut the glare on water and sand, keeping them from washing out.

I tried this with my Coolpix this afternoon, holding the camera lens close to the sunglass lens, and you can see the results. The shot at the top is with sunglasses; the one at the bottom is without. Both have the same processing. Because my sunglasses are amber, I tried it in black and white, to avoid introducing a color tint. But with neutral gray glasses, the same thing would work in color.

It's easier with a point-and-shoot, simply because the smaller lens is easier to position in the center of the sunglass lens, but it should also work with a DSLR in an emergency, though you might have to do some cropping around the edges to avoid the frames or reflections (there's a bit of flare on the left of the photo above, which I could have gotten rid of either by cropping, or trying to angle the glasses slightly differently).

Along the way, I discovered another application for the sunglasses -- serving as a makeshift neutral density (ND) filter, which is used to darken an image so as to use either a slower shutter speed or larger f/stop -- as in giving a nice blur to a running stream, for example. Judging from the exposure of the two images, the sunglasses were equivalent to a 2.5X ND filter. Darker glasses would have even more of an effect.

Next time you're outdoors with your shades and a camera, give it a try!

Madison Street Department finally gets it right: Vilas Park stone bridge no longer a death trap

Four years ago I started blogging about what I called the Vilas Park deathtrap, the old narrow stone bridge at the west end of the park. All times of year, summer and winter alike, I blogged and blogged. Finally the problem has been solved, and quite elegantly. Maybe someone at the Street Department was reading Letter from Here. More likely, it was plain common sense. Or maybe a long-planned redesign finally rose to the top of the Street Department to-do list.

The problem used to be that some motorists would come speeding down the steep Edgewood Avenue hill and fly across the bridge without slowing much, endangering kids, adult pedestrians and bikers who all shared the narrow bike lane off to the left. It was a terrible accident waiting to happen, as demonstrated by the way speeders regularly took chunks out of the leading edge of the wall as they swung wide to the left. Racing down that roller coaster hill has always been a temptation for certain drivers, especially those with an excess of teenage testosterone (I know, because I was a Madison teenager once). The trouble was the old S-curve at the bottom. It was always easy to misjudge that second curve and swing out toward the pedestrian lane.

I commend the city's simple, but elegant solution. Yes, they put in a stop sign, as I had been asking. But they did more than that. They followed the modern trend of not just relying on traffic signs but building safety into known trouble spots by using road design to force drivers to slow down. As part of the redesign and repaving of the parking area and roadway, the road was changed so that it made a hard, 90-degree turn onto the bridge. Drivers now have to not only slow down, but come to a complete stop before the bridge (if they forget, there's a tree right across the street to remind them).