Saturday, November 13, 2010

Taming shadows at the Milwaukee Art Museum in the camera, which also happens to be a phone

Quadracci Pavilion Lobby
Recently took this photo of the Quadracci Pavilion by Santiago Calatrava at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Another example of how well the iPhone 4's HDR (High Dynamic Range) mode works with certain scenes. Without it, the photo just shows three pools of light floating in distractingly dark shadows. This is more like what the human eye, with its much greater dynamic range, sees.

Friday, November 12, 2010

It's all about the will of the people -- until it isn't

I'm enjoying watching the the display of hypocrisy in Alaska, where the Tea Party Senate candidate is doing everything he can to keep the write-in vote from being counted. It's all about the will of the people. Until they vote against you. Then it's all about trying to seize power and hold onto it. An old, old story.

What's that big sculpture in front of the downtown library?

It's a hammered copper sculpture by artist O. V. Shaffer called Hieroglyph , and this is a detail. Located in the courtyard at the entrance of the Madison Public Library downtown, it's always been one of my favorite works of public art in Madison. In an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal in 1964, the artist talked about his work:
The sculpture attempts to symbolize the timelessness of knowledge and suggest the mysterious quietude of a seeking spirit. It is as though the past and the future of mankind were contained within these 'walls.'

A large undeciphered form looms flat and bold as one approaches from the steps, even tipping slightly forward as he walks beside it. On either side, a large crevice opens up, suggesting the canyon walls and caves upon which man has recorded in painting and hieroglyphics a part of what he knew.

The side facing the window wall is reminiscent of pillars and curved capitals or monuments, implying another kind of knowledge. Moving between these two forms is a figure which seems to become a part of the sculpture.

On the other side, another figure appears to emerge from an opening, yet it is also a fragment or frieze, symbolic of the 'voices of silence' which come down to us from past civilizations and still 'speak.'
Does the sculpture communicate all this to the average visitor? Perhaps not, but I'm fond of it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

We always knew they were beautiful, but now we also know how they drink

We Always Knew They Were Beautiful, But Now We Know How They Drink
Have you ever wondered how cats drink? I sure have. It was always a mystery. A dog will roll up its big tongue into more or less the shape of a cup, and then slurp that up (noisily). Cats don't do that. They just make that discreet little lappity-lap sound, and it's hard to see what they're really doing. They almost seem to ingest water through osmosis.

Until recently, nobody knew. Now science has provided the answer. And it's amazing. The NYT reports that a group of engineers published a paper today that clears up the mystery.
Writing in Thursday’s issue of Science, the four engineers report that the cat’s lapping method depends on its instinctive ability to calculate the balance between opposing gravitational and inertial forces.

What happens is that the cat darts out its tongue, curving the upper side downward so that the tip lightly touches the surface of the water. The tongue is then pulled upward at high speed, drawing a column of water up behind it. Just at the moment that gravity finally overcomes the upward rush of the water and starts to pull the column down — snap! The cat’s jaws have closed over the jet of water and swallowed it.

The cat laps four times a second — too fast for the human eye to see but a blur — and its tongue moves at a speed of one meter per second.
For a high-speed video of how this works, check out the NYT's story. The video also contains an interview with the researchers.

The researchers developed a formula that predicts how fast a cat, depending on body size, should lap to get the maximum amount of water. They then observed felines of various sizes. Lions, leopards, jaguars and ocelots all lapped at the predicted speeds for maximizing their water intake. It's a complex problem -- and one that that evolution figured out long before human science did.

The best way to honor our veterns is to bring them home and end the Forever War

Honor Our Vets by Bringing Them Home and Ending the Forever War
I took this photograph on Veterans Day two years ago and used it in a blog post about the Veterans for Peace Memorial Mile at Forest Hills Cemetery, which is the resting place for hundreds of Union and Confederate soldiers, as well as veterans who served in the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, Korea, Viet Nam and the first Gulf War. The week of Veterans Day, they were joined by symbolic grave markers representing the Americans who have perished in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Two years later, nothing has changed. Our pursuit in Afghanistan makes no more sense than it did two years ago, In some ways we're going backwards. There's talk now of American troops staying until at least 2014. Meanwhile, the Deficit Reduction Commission is talking about having to reduce VA benefits. We owe our vets more than that. Politicians are quick to commit other people's lives, and then have no idea how to get out of the mess they started. We owe those who have given so much all honor, respect, and the best of benefits. And above all, we owe it to them to make sure that the Forever War does not, in fact, go on forever.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Nothing brightens up an old sketchbook like a Hipstamatic

Nothing Brightens Up an Old Sketchbook Like a Hipstamatic
Noodling around with the iPhone 4 while going through some old sketchbboks. This is a semi-abstract watercolor I did in 1996, loosely inspired by Partington Cove in Big Sur, and even more loosely inspired by the watercolors of Henry Miller. Note: The colors in the original aren't nearly as vibrant as they became once the Hipstamatic did its magic. Thanks Hipsta!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Keep your eyes open. Slow down. Wear seatbelt. Use horn. And stay in your lane.

Keep Your Eyes Open. Slow Down. Wear Seatbelt. Use Horn.
That time of year again. Time to repost the Photoshop recreation of my own near miss a few years ago.

Abstract sculpture on the Milwaukee lakefront by Alexander Liberman, a famous Vogue art director

One of my favorite works at the Milwaukee Art Museum, "Argo," by Alexander Liberman -- a fascinating figure who was better known as the long-time art director of Vogue during the heyday of Penn and Avedon and later editorial director of the entire Condes Nast magazine empire. He knew everyone in the arts, was an accomplished painter and photographer, and late in life, took up making these large, elegant abstract steel sculptures. More information in this earlier post.

Old Moon in the new Moon's arms

Old Moon in the New Moon's Arms
It was so clear last night. A sharply defined crescent Moon floated in the evening sky, with the dark part of the Moon clearly illuminated by earthlight -- the "old Moon in the new Moon's arms," as the saying goes. Photographed in Wingra Park, f/5.6, 2 sec. -2 EV exposure comp. Handheld, but braced against a tree.

Monday, November 08, 2010

"Standing Woman" and "Strolling Man" -- iPhone 4 photography at the Milwaukee Art Museum

"Standing Woman" and Strolling Man
I had a chance to put my new iPhone 4 camera through its paces at the Milwaukee Art Museum yesterday. In the spectacular corridor of the Calatrava addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum, I was struck by the contrast between the monumentality of the Gaston Lachaise bronze, "Standing Woman," and the mobility of the walking figure -- and also the way the converging lines pulled them together.

I was using the iPhone 4's HDR feature because without it the slanting late afternoon shadows were much too pronounced and dominated the picture. Coincidentally, I found a "bug" that's really a feature. If you look at the large size of this photo, you'll see that the moving figure is triple-exposed, giving it an almost Cubist quality that I like. This was caused by the way the HDR mode works. It shoots three images in rapid succession -- exposed for shadows, midtones and highlights -- and then merges them in processing to extend the dynamic range of the photograph. But, of course, when a subject is moving, the different images can't really be merged. They just become overlays piled on top of each other. On the one hand, this is why HDR is usually not shot with moving subjects. On the other hand, it suggests some really cool special effects opportunities -- in which multiple exposures of a rapidly moving subject appear against a single, nonmoving background. Can't wait to try it deliberately.

Milwaukee Art MuseumI also stepped outside and took some photos of Santiago Calatrava's magnificent structure in the fading light of the late afternoon sun. This is straight from the iPhone, uncropped and unprocessed. Cell phone photos sure aren't what they used to be. I used my mobile Flickr app to upload this photo to the internet right on the spot, standing outside the museum. It all seemed like magic to me -- Calatrava's striking architecture, the iPhone itself, and being able to upload photos to the intertubes from anywhere.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Falling Back to Standard Time

Standard Time
The trees shed the last of their leaves and we set back our clocks -- if we remember. Or if our cell phones remember. Wrist watches are another matter. Setting the time on my Timex Ironman involves so many little tiny buttons pushed in such completely nonintuitive fashion and I do it so rarely that I never can remember the instructions or the sequence. I used to carry the directions in my wallet to be ready for these moments, but it got to be too bulky, so I tossed the big, multi-folded sheet with all the fine print. Now I look up the instructions on the internet with my smart phone. Should I toss the Timex, too? No, never. It's a little security bracelet around my wrist, an amulet warding off the ravages of time.

Who cares about gas prices? It's donut prices that count. America gets its energy from junk calories.

Who Cares about Gas Prices? It's Donut Prices That Count.
Sometimes it seems as if America runs on cheap donuts. A coworker once put it this way, "As long as I'm taking diabetes medication, I might as well live a little -- pass the donuts!" Seems to be a widely shared sentiment.

Open Pantry, Regent and Randall, Madison. (No donuts were harmed, or even consumed, in the making of this picture.)