Saturday, October 09, 2010

Celebrating John Lennon's 70th birthday at the Wisconsin Union with fireworks and Joan Baez

Happy Birthday, John Lennon!Our Friday night was Saturday morning in England, where it was already John Lennon's 70th birthday.

Celebrating John Lennon's Birthday with FireworksWe celebrated with the Joan Baez concert in the Union Theater and a warmup fireworks display on the Union Terrace, courtesy of the UW Homecoming festivities. Baez, who turns 70 in January, got a loud standing ovation. She sang "Imagine" as her second encore on Lennon's 70th birthday Friday night. We loved the concert, well worth the 1-mile hike each way because it was impossible to park anywhere near the campus. And the fireworks weren't bad either.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Enjoying Bradbury's lemon curd crepe after the Farmers' Market with a Nikon Coolpix P7000 on the side

Bradbury's Lemon Curd Crepe with Whipped Cream
We shared a little piece of heaven after the Wednesday Farmers' Market. Wow!

Although I don't usually use the "scene" modes on my cameras, I was interested in testing the "Food" scene mode of the new Nikon P7000. It does what food settings usually do, automatically putting the camera in macro mode and upping the ISO, within limits, as needed. But it has another cool feature: On the left of the LCD is a slider in a rainbow of hues for adjusting the white balance on the fly. A really useful feature, because when photographing food by available restaurant lighting is often a real white balance challenge. This lets you adjust it in real time and preview the result, without having to flip back and forth between different menus.

Monroe Street icons in the Madison night

Monroe Street Icons in the Madison Night
Michael's Frozen Custard and Pasqual's are Monroe Street icons, across the street from each other. I always wanted to get them in the same picture, and in the dark of night I managed it. Shot with Nikon P7000 handheld from across the street: f/5.6, 1/30, 200mm, ISO 319, Vibration Reduction on.

Another Cool Nikon P7000 Feature: The image is pretty sharp for a handheld photo taken at a long focal length at this shutter speed. That's because of the camera's BSS (Best Shot Selector) setting. It relies on something I once read on Ken Rockwell's sometimes infuriating, sometimes insightful web site: When you're shooting handheld at a slow shutter speed in low light and it's hard to focus and hold the camera still enough, shoot a lot of frames. Chances are, just by chance, one of them will be a lot sharper than the rest. It works, but it's frustraing to do in practice. You fill up your card with a lot of images that you have to sort through to find those few good ones. BSS automates that process. It saves only the sharpest. So when you're shooting one of those borderline shots, just hold down the shutter release and shoot a burst. The camera will save only the best one, and often it's surprisingly sharp.

So how would this hospital billboard cut costs, benefit patients or improve their quality of care?

Can Anyone Tell Me How This Hospital Billboard Benefits Patients?
I have problems with this billboard, which I saw on Regent Street. Even if you accept the traditional market justification of medical advertising, that it provides consumers the information they need to make informed medical choices, it's of no help here. This is not a product ad. It's not telling consumers about the efficacy, benefits and risks of a new drug. Nor does it provide any factual information about Meriter Hospital. It's not as if it's comparing surgical mortality rates for Madison's hospitals and saying, "We're number one!"

No, this isn't a product ad. It's a branding message, designed to boost brand recognition and loyalty by promoting warm, fuzzy feelings about the brand, so that when you have to make a choice of hospital or health insurance plan you'll choose the brand or plan associated with it -- all in the complete absence of any actual concrete information.

I don't mean to pick on Meriter. All the healthcare providers run advertising like this, advertising that tells you less about the provider than about its ad agency and its brand advertising strategy. This one seems to be going for cutesy, contemporary and caring. Funny how it never mentions the word "health." Has that become too political? "Better" seems a rather tepid substitute, if you ask me.

Market advocates of competition in healthcare typically defend medical advertising by saying that's how medical consumers find out about new medical products and services -- information that might in some cases be life-saving. But they never talk about gimmicky content-free ads like this. Nor do they talk about the anti-competitive nature of brand advertising in general, which is less about promoting competition than locking out new competitors by making it more expensive for them to enter a given market. They don't explain how advertising like this does anything but drive up costs.

Why am I not surprised?

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

A beautiful afternoon on the Union Terrace: Where Is everybody?

A Beautiful Afternoon on the Union Terrace: Where Is Everybody?
It wasn't exactly deserted, but I was surprised there weren't more people on the Union Terrace yesterday, a gorgeous autumn afternoon. I remember when the only time you could get photographs of the brightly colored sunburst chairs and tables without people was on a cold, overcast or rainy day. Not so yesterday.

DSCN0310-TableShadow2-smWhere is everybody? Have they bought their own chairs to enjoy in their backyards and patios? Or are we all spending so much time online and in the virtual world that being outdoors in the real world, sitting on the Terrace and gazing out at Lake Mendota, has lost its appeal? Has basking in the sun's carcinogenic rays come to be seen as too dangerous? Or has its glare become just too distracting for people tethered to mobile devices, making it too hard to Tweet or update their Facebook status? Will the future of humanity be found in the shadows? Just wondering.

Translating Andrei Codrescu into an image

Andrei Codrescu at Wisconsin Union Theater
Andrei Codrescu brought his surreal magic to the Wisconsin Union Theater last night. The poet, novelist, essayist, NPR commentator, and editor of the literary journal, Exquisite Corpse, wove his spell around the theme "Swimming Between Languages: Learning English by Osmosis and Other Adventures." One possible takeaway: We translate every time we venture to speak or write, putting into words the inchoate, wordless stuff of our experience or imagination. Life is translation, and the more languages the merrier.

Translated his image into an image with the new Nikon P7000 compact (if somewhat hefty and only barely pocketable) digital. Wondered how it would do, shooting from the back of the orchestra section. ISO 800, f/5.6, 1/55, 200mm, VR on. Can't complain.

Also experimented with BSS -- Best Shot Selection, with which you fire a burst and the camera saves the "best," (i.e., sharpest). It was hard to capture his expressive hand gestures and wonderful, fleeting smile with the shutter lag of a P&S. I wondered if BSS would help. Not really. At least not in this case. It invariably captured him at his least mobile and expressive. So I turned it off.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Is it art, or is it an accident? Does it matter?

Chaotic Equilibrium
Sometimes you come across something interesting on a wall, and you really don't know if it got there accidentally or was made deliberately.

Edgewood Avenue BridgeI came across these marks as I was driving over the Edgewood Avenue Bridge over the Southwest Bike Path in Madison. At first they looked like scuff marks that had been made by some large object being moved across the bridge and brushing against the wall.

On second thought, I wasn't so sure. Maybe these were abstract paintings, street art that some might call graffiti, although they weren't spray painted. They looked more like dry brush strokes. I've put a couple more in my my Chasing Abstraction set on Flickr.

In the end, I was left to wonder. Is it art, or is it an accident? Does it matter? Why?