Friday, October 29, 2010

Great Midwest Land Hurricane of 2010: Hilldale Wind-o-Meter registers phenomenal wind gusts

How windy was it during the Great Midwest "Land Hurricane" of 2010? Plenty. A totally unscientific reading of the Wind-o-Meter next to Metcalfe's at Hilldale suggests that any reading more than 45° from the vertical would qualify as a hurricane-force wind, if we actually had hurricanes in the Midwest.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

In near-hurricane winds, Madison trees bend and sway and dance with the sky but rarely break

Driven by a record low pressure system, the winds came roaring out of the Great Plains into the Madison area with near-hurricane force, with occasional gusts peaking right up into hurricane range -- and they just didn't stop. Listening to the wind rattle the house and whip the trees into a frenzy, it sometimes felt as if we were bound to lose all our trees. But aside from some limbs and power lines coming down, and the usual storm debris, we didn't lose many trees.

Madison was lucky. It could have been much worse. If it had been summer and it had been raining, and the trees had been covered with a full coat of wet leaves, they would have offered a lot more resistance to the wind, and something would have had to give, probably not the wind. And we were lucky that the ground was not waterlogged -- many trees have been uprooted in winds less powerful than these when the ground was soaking wet. As it was, the wind whistled through mostly bare branches, and the trees almost seemed to be enjoying themselves.

I, not being a tree, did not. Prolonged winds always make me kind of nutsy. This was worse than usual, with plenty to worry about. Would something come crashing through the window? Would the roof be ripped off, shingle by shingle? Exactly what sort of wind damage did our homeowner's policy cover, anyhow? Still, I was just nervous and irritable.

Hiding Out from the StormIt was worse for our cat. He seemed to fall into full-fledged despair. Every time he optimistically ventured out to the backyard he loves, he beat a quick retreat. Something had turned his world into a howling wind tunnel that threatened to blow him away. Finally he gave up and just retreated into a near catatonic trance, only occasionally getting up to attend to bodily functions. Much of the time he slept with a paw curled protectively around his head as if to to block everything out and say, "Wake me up when it's over." Finally, apparently, it is.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The wilting Whitman campaign urges voters to choose a billionaire with no government experience

Or, as Talking Points Memo puts it, "I Know You Might Not Like Me, But Please Vote For Me." They're commenting on this ad for the Republican gubernatorial candidate in California, which starts out on an unusually candid note.
I know many of you see this election as an unhappy choice between a longtime politician with no plan for the future, and a billionaire with no government experience.
Since she refers to herself as a billionaire, you might wonder how Meg Whitman made her billions, and what it suggests about her management acumen. The short answer is that she made her billions as the CEO of eBay. The long answer is that she made her billions as the CEO of eBay while practically destroying the company. If she ran California like she ran eBay maybe the state really would fall into the sea. Not likely, though -- her wilting candidacy appears to be falling further behind Jerry Brown's with every passing day.

Here we go again . . .

The One Time of Year the Gutters Are Beautiful
The one time of year the gutters are beautiful. Sometimes it pays to look down.

I took a stunning photo of Dylan at the Overture, and the gods punished me by erasing it

It was a powerful moment. Dylan finished his set (his second of the night), the stage went dark and he was gone. Shouts and waves of applause swept through the darkness in Overture Hall. Everyone was standing, a few people holding up their lighters, flickering hopefully. The applause went on and on, a crescendo of anticipation.

And then the master reappeared with his band and they rocked into Jolene and Like a Rolling Stone. Everyone's hair glowed in the backlight, the crowd stood and swayed with the music and leaned into the light, as if hypnotized by the shadows on the wall of a cave far bigger than any Plato could imagine. It was a transcendent moment, bathed in white light. I had taken a few photos earlier, but they were nothing much. This was going to be my keeper: I set the zoom at 28mm, exposure comp at -2. Perfect -- the people, the stage, and that awesome backlighting. I framed the shot in the LCD and pressed the shutter. There! The green light went on as the camera saved the imageto the card, and a quick preview flashed on the screen, perfectly exposed and crystal clear. I had it! Except I didn't.

Signs in the lobby had told the audience that cameras and cellphones were all supposed to be turned off during the performance. No photography. No video. Sure, we understood. Of course, much of the audience, myself included, simply took that injunction as a challenge to their manhood (or womanhood). From the beginning, you could see photos and video being taken. A few uncool people couldn't figure out how to turn off their flash, or didn't care, and made jerks of themselves. But mostly you just saw LCDs lighting up briefly as people captured their memories. In front of me, one young woman found a ledge perfectly positioned to hold her camera still as it shot video -- until the usher came over and told her to shut it off.

At first, the ushers were vigilant in their law enforcement duties, swooping down like owls in the night on the lawbreakers. I kept a low profile, because I didn't want to get hassled. At first, I found a way to hide my camera by interposing my jacked between it and the nearest usher, who seemed to be reading my mind and looking my way a lot. But that was awkward, and ultimately unnecessary. The ushers gradually tired of chasing offenders, and perhaps more to the point, got caught up in the music. Their eyes were riveted on the stage, the same as everyone else's. So when I saw my opportunity, I held the camera high and got just what I wanted with no interference -- a perfect memory frozen at the end of a perfect night. I waited to play back the photos until we got home. I could hardly wait, but I had the memory of that image, and knew I had nailed it.

We arrived home and finally I played back the contents of my card. There were the autumn pictures I had shot earlier in the day. There was the downtown Madison at night picture I took on the way to dinner. But no Overture pictures, no Dylan pictures. Nada. They were never written to the card. I tried reading the card on different computers but could find nothing. Was the card bad? Maybe it was -- I tried a few test shots in the house and they didn't write to the card either. But after I restored the camera to its original, default settings, it wrote to the card just fine. I took the camera and card to the Camera Company on the Square, where I bought it recently. They couldn't figure it out either, and hadn't heard of anything similar. I left the card there to see if they could somehow bring something back with their data recovery software. They weren't optimistic, and neither am I.

I love my Nikon P7000, which I bought a few weeks ago, and I've already shot thousands of frames with it. I can't imagine what I could have done wrong that would have caused this. But the camera is running firmware Version 1.0, and it's a complicated new software package. It has locked up on me a couple of times while changing settings. Ken Rockwell (consider the source, and take this with a grain of salt) says the firmware is buggy and needs an update. Maybe he's right; maybe the camera's operating system had a brief nervous breakdown, as some combination of settings triggered a buggy malfunction. Who knows?

But most likely, I think this is simply a matter of the music gods punishing me for presuming that I could capture my Dylan experience with a mere camera, and a point-and-shoot at that. It was sheer hubris, and the gods punished me. It's as simple as that.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Glad this image wasn't the final impression Joan Rivers left in Madison Saturday

A melancholy sight at the Farmers' Market Saturday, a waterlogged image of Joan Rivers plastered with wet leaves in the gutter. But Saturday night she turned standup comedy into "a dangerous, complicated work of art" at the Overture Center.

A bit of serenity to start the week

There's enough bad news out there to raise your blood pressure. Here's something to lower it. Lake Wingra, Madison.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

World-famous documentary filmmaker Errol Morris disappears (briefly) in Madison, Wisconsin

World-famous Filmmaker Disappears (Briefly) in Madison, Wisconsin
Was it true love, or was it merely an obsession? Only Errol Morris really knows, but one thing's for sure -- it probably was inevitable. After all, the Plaza Tavern is only a block north on Henry Street from the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA). It's not surprising that the filmmaker and UW alum would be seduced away from the screening of his new documentary, Tabloid. People lined up for more than an hour Friday afternoon to get a precious seat for a rare pre-release screening of the film, only the third public showing, after the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals. The audience watched in rapt attention as the tale of love, obsession, abduction, bondage (and puppy cloning) unfolded. They never noticed as the filmmaker slipped away, abducted by memory, in bondage to an obsession that has persisted for more than four decades. Errol Morris had to have it. He had to taste the world-famous Plazaburger once again. He returned to MMoCA in time for his Q&A session at the end of the film -- where he confessed that he snuck out during the screening, walked up to the Plaza, and surrendered to the seductions of a Plazaburger and a Point beer. Who are we to judge him?