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Camera Recommendations (Nov 2013 Edition)

Every once in a while, friends ask me what camera they should get. I might as well make a blog post about it...

There are basically 5 cameras I'd recommend, if you're getting into photography, in size order:

  1. Canon S120 or any Canon point-and-shoot
  2. Sony RX100
  3. Any Sony NEX
  4. Any entry-level Nikon DSLR plus 35mm f/1.8 prime lens
  5. Canon 70D (for DSLR video) plus 17-55mm f/2.8 lens and mic

Jump down to summary

(Note that I haven't actually tried all of these cameras and lenses, so this is a mixture of personal experience and aggregation of what I've read from other people's reports.)

1. Canon S120 or any Canon point-and-shoot

s120 I honestly haven't really looked at the point-and-shoot market in a while. I remember Canon having the best point-and-shoots, and in its time the S100 was amazing. Its current generation is the Power Shot S120 ($400). I honestly wouldn't recommend it unless you need something both small and cheap. If you want it small but are willing to spend a bit more, get an RX100. If you want the same price but you're willing to get something a big bigger, get a low-end NEX. Both would be much better quality. And if your budget is even less than $400, then just get any low-end Canon point-and-shoot.

2. Sony RX100

rx100-ii Sony RX100 II ($750) (new generation)
Sony RX100 ($550) (previous generation).

(I think the new one is just supposed to be overall a bit better quality, but no huge differences.)

This is a (barely) pocketable camera that has nearly the same image quality as an entry-level DSLR with standard zoom lens. (It fits in my jeans pocket uncomfortably and in a way that might cause Mae West to comment, but it fits!) That's a remarkable technological achievement that I anxiously waited years for someone to actually achieve. I have one, and I love it. If you think you aren't likely to want to change lenses, I highly recommend it. Takes pretty good video, too. Many photographers with DSLRs (like myself) also have one of these as their second camera, for all the times we don't want to bother lugging our DSLR around.

3. Any Sony NEX camera

nex-3n Current entry-level examples: Sony NEX-3N ($400) or NEX-6 ($750)

(Not sure what the difference between the two is, but I think it's just various features, and not so much image quality. Here's a thread on the differences.)

(If you're reading this long after November 2013, just look for whichever the current entry-level Sony NEX cameras are. The rest of this entry will still apply.)

The Sony NEX-series are "mirrorless interchangeable lens" cameras which are exactly the same image quality as an entry-evel DSLR with standard zoom lens. The main difference between this and the RX100 is that you can also get new lenses. To be honest, though, I know very few NEX-owners who actually ever change lenses, and Sony's lens selection isn't great.

There are probably some advantages the NEX cameras have over the RX100 in terms of feature set even if you don't change lenses, but the larger physical size is a deal-breaker for me since it won't fit in my jeans pocket. It fits great in a purse, and isn't too heavy, so I think it's a good option for people who carry a purse or bag wherever they go. It's notable that the low-end NEX is cheaper than the RX100.

There are other mirrorless interchangeable lens camera manufacturers, but Sony is by far the most popular.

4. Any Nikon entry-level DSLR plus 35mm f/1.8 prime lens

35mm First, I should mention that if you just plan to use a standard zoom lens, there is no reason to get a DSLR. The NEX or even RX100 will get you the same quality, but they will be much lighter. Only consider getting a DSLR if you care about getting another lens.

Second, Canon and Nikon are very similar in quality and mostly pretty similar in lens range, with one significant difference:

Nikon offers a 35mm f/1.8 prime lens for $200.

Prime lenses are lenses that you can't zoom, but that let a lot more light in, so you can get great low light shots. The lack of zoom also allows them to be much higher quality than zooms of a similar price. With a prime lens, you'll be able to get indoor low-light photos that the other cameras can't get. Prime lenses also allow you to reduce depth-of-field, getting those in-focus subject but blurry background shots. You'll learn more about photography with it, if that's something you want to do.

(If you've noticed that 50mm f/1.8 prime lenses only cost $100, it's because 30-35mm on an entry-level DSLR is considered a "normal" field of view on entry-level DSLRs and is appropriate for most situations. A 50mm prime lens on an entry-evel DSLR will be too "zoomed in" to used for general-purpose photos indoors; it can still be useful for portraits.)

d3200 As for camera body, really any model is probably fine. The cheap Nikon DSLR at the moment seems to be D3200 for $500.

Canon does not offer a modern prime lens in the 30-35mm range, and their older lenses are $300+, so if you do get Canon, I'd recommend the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 which is going for $500. This lack of a cheap normal prime is the reason I'd recommend Nikon. (I actually personally got started in DSLRs with a Canon and the Sigma 30mm and loved it, but that was before the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 existed.)

One more amazing recent lens option is the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8, available for Nikon or for Canon ($800). No one else makes an f/1.8 zoom lens for entry-level DSLRs. This would be the perfect lens for photography. It lacks image-stabilization, though, so it won't be as good for video. More on that in the next section. Also, these prices are starting to get out of the beginner range...

5. Canon 70D (for DSLR video) plus 17-55mm f/2.8 lens and mic

70d The Canon 70D body-only is $1000.

One other reason you might want want to get into Canon is that they're more established on the DSLR video front. DSLR video is rather complicated. You can get great results, but it has many complexities. Notably, the auto-focus is usually painfully slow, forcing you to focus manually. The Canon 70D is the first DSLR to have fast auto-focus during video, so if you're interested in video, give it a shot.

17-55mm For the DSLR video to shine, though, you'll want lens with a wide constant aperture and image stabilization. (Image stabilization is handy for shooting still photos, but is an absolute must for hand-held video.) That's why I recommend skipping the kit zoom lens, buying the camera body-only, and shell out for the Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 ($780).

You'll also want an external microphone, because the camera's built-in microphone is both terrible and picks up on noises from the lens. (External mics have noise-dampening mounts). The Rode VideoMic with Windjammer ($135) is mono and directional, good for picking up speech; the Rode Stereo VideoMic ($300) is better for environmental sounds.

And as mentioned earlier, if you go this route, you may also want to shell out for the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 for photography.

Summary

 PriceSizeImage QualityVideo
Canon P&SLowPants PocketVery LowOkay
Canon S120$400Pants PocketLowOkay
Sony RX100 (II/I)$750/$550Pants Pocket (Barely)HighDecent
Sony NEX (3N/6)$400/$750Purse/Jacket PocketHighPretty good
Nikon (D3200) + 35mm f/1.8$500 + $200 = $700LargeVery High (with 35mm)Good but difficult
Canon 70D + 17-55mm f/2.8 + mic$1000 + $780 + $135 = $1915Very LargeVery High (esp. with Sigma 30mm)Very good

Where to buy

There's no such thing as a good deal on a camera, for the most part. If it's too good to be true, it probably is. The camera shop industry is rife with "deals" that seem several hundred dollars cheaper, but when you try to buy, you get hassled to get a bundle, and if you don't bite, they say the camera is out of stock, sometimes keeping your money, etc.

Get your camera either from Amazon, or, if you want a more tailored camera shopping experience, from B&H Photo Video.

New Exploratorium Snippets

Some tidbits from the Exploratorium's new location.

They had a camera setup that let you make your own stop motion movies! You were supposed to be able to upload them to YouTube, but we couldn't figure that out, so I used shot their computer screen with a digital camera, uploaded that to my computer, then used Vine on my phone to shoot my computer screen. :P)

These should all be animated. If any of them are still, try clicking it.

Shelley Chang made this one:

Here's the one I made. It's not as good. I even had to slow down the second half of the animation in iMovie a bit because I made it too fast. :\ That's supposed to be a B-2 Bomber.

This is an exhibit of some sort of magnetic liquid. You hold a magnet underneath to make spooky patterns.

And finally, they had a slow motion camera setup. I chose to slap myself. I don't think I slapped hard enough, but you get the idea. :)

(I really wish there were a way to upload short videos directly to Vine so I could have their cool auto-looping display tech without having to shoot with my phone.)

My Top 4 Photos of 2012, and a Video

I feel like I did more documentary-style stuff in 2012, with fewer photos that I find individually notable, so instead of having trouble sticking to 10, here are 4:

Bay Bridge New East Span on Fourth of July 2012

The new Bay Bridge East Span, under construction at night, easily my favorite photo of the year!

 

End of a long day

End of a long day. Two Rubik's Cube US Nationals 2012 staff members resting at the end of Day 2 of the 3-day competition.

Looking over Red Rock Canyon

"Red Rock Canyon Scenic Pullout Parking Lot: You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy." :P

 

Black rock at Red Rock Canyon, NV

Another shot from my first outdoor climbing trip, in Red Rock Canyon in Nevada.

 

I'm still experimenting with video, and again I've mostly been doing documentary-style stuff, but here's an artsy fartsy Fourth of July video I made. I like how it turned out:

Fourth of July 2012 from ToastyKen on Vimeo.

Here's my post from 2011, my post from 2010, and my lists from 2007, 2008, and 2009

Instant Narrative, Descriptive Acts, SFMOMA

At the Descriptive Acts exhibit at SFMOMA, I spotted this headphone hook... or is it a hexapus?

Descriptive Acts Part 1 - Headphone Hook or Hexapus?

I turned around after taking my picture, and projected* on the wall was the following:

(Note the second-to-last line.)

Descriptive Acts Part 2 - Being Stalked

!!!

Apparently, this was "Instant Narrative" by Dora García. I looked around the room and easily spotted this guy. Of course I had to take a picture of him in return:

Descriptive Acts Part 3 - The Watcher Becomes the Watched

The watcher becomes the watched!

* * *

*The projector was just displaying black text on white background, but the R, G, and B beams on the projector must've been out of sync, so that at a fast shutter speed, I got colors.

My Top 10 Photos of 2011

Here's my annual list of my own photos that I liked the most from 2011, in chronological order:

Glaciers at sunset

I went to India a couple of times last year, and because it's literally half-way around the world (but still in the northern hemisphere), the great circle flight path is pretty much due north, meaning we got to fly over glaciers.

 

Dodging a garland amidst a shower of petals

I attended an Indian wedding in India! The bride and groom got up on a rotating platform! That rotated! And there was a flower petal cannon! Be sure to watch my video of this scene if you haven't already.

 

Emirates Flight Attendants

Flight attendants on Emirates. I'm happy with how this shot turned out looking like corporate brochure photo. :) The funny thing is that I messed up my settings, so it was really dark, but I brightened it in Lightroom and pumped up the noise reduction, which is what gives it that plasticky corporate look, I think. Of course, their well-trained smiles help, too! :D

 

"Our Love Can Never Be"

"Our Love Can Never Be"

I basically saw these two, thought up the title, cracked myself up, and then spent a good ten or fifteen minutes waiting for them to actually look at each other so I could get this shot. :P

 

Chefs at the Khansama restaurant in Bangalore

Somehow, the lighting of these chefs came out just right, so that an otherwise mundane photo turned out to be inexplicably appealing to me. I'm undecided about whether the composition would be better if the center chef were slightly to the right.

 

Rupa & The April Fishes @ The Independent in San Francisco

So I managed to get a press pass to bring my DSLR into The Independent to shoot Rupa & The April Fishes. Ironically, my favorite shot of the evening was actually from before the show started, when she was tuning her guitar.

I recently took another guitar-tuning photo that I liked. Maybe that can be my "thing". I could do a series of photos of people tuning their guitars at shows. :)

 

"Honey, I'm home!"

"Honey, I'm home!"

I got the idea into my head for this picture of my newlywed friends. My subjects were reluctant, but I insisted on carrying out my vision! I could not be stopped!

They liked the end result. :)

 

Parents of the Bride

This shot is semi-posed. I saw my friend's dad do this mock-eating motion, and I asked him to do it again so I could take a picture. It was just too adorable. :)

 

Silhouettes at the Narrows

The Narrows at Zion National Park were amazing. There's this one section at the beginning where you have to hike through chest-deep water! It was so fun. In this photo, I like how the lines on the cliff wall happen to radiate from my two friends on the right.

 

"Claire"

I liked how cooling off the white balance here allowed the blue lighting to set her apart from the background.

 

Here's my post from 2010, and my lists from 2007, 2008, and 2009

And here's a longer list of my favorite photos in reverse chronological order if you want to see more!

Mos Eisley Mosque

So I saw this photo via Tamara Mann's Google+ of Jama ar-Rahman mosque in Baghdad (under construction):

Jama ar-Rahman,  Baghdad.

And I commented that it looked like a spacecraft getting ready to lift off. She responded that it does have a certain Mos Eisley feel to it, which led me to create:

But then I thought, perhaps my original suggestion was more accurate:

Yay Photoshop! :)

Manhattan Sights

At 53rd St and 6th Ave:

53rd St and 6th Ave, New York City

The giant brick building here now belongs to Google:

111 Eighth Avenue, New York

It began its life as a freight depot, then became home to the Port Authority. Now it houses a number of different tenants. It's SO HUGE. It's like a skyscraper turned on its side!

Parking is in short supply in New York:

Parking structure as viewed from The High Line in New York

And finally, I loved this cake at some shop called Lulu:

Display cake at Lulu Cake Boutique

:D

MOMA 2011

I went back to New York and toured MOMA again. I love that place. It made me so happy! Let's lead off with... The Menstruation Machine!

Menstruation Machine, Takashi's Take

Here's a music video explanation of it:

Um, if that wasn't enough, here's what the placard had to say:

With her Menstruation Machine, Sputniko! explores the relationship between gender identity, biology, and choice. The device, equipped with a blood-dispensing system and electrodes that stimulate the lower abdomen, replicates the pain and bleeding of the average five-day menstrual period. It is designed to be worn by men, children, postmenopausal women, or whoever else wants to experience menstruation firsthand, transforming an internal, private process into a wearable display of identity. The video tells the story of Takashi, a biological male who builds the Menstruation Machine and wears it out on the town with a girlfriend, strutting around a shopping mall and occasionally doubling over in pain. Sputniko! notes that the Menstruation Machine may be particularly desirable now that hormone-based contraceptives such as the birth-control pill have rendered menstruation biologically unnecessary.

Btw, I love how this artist has an exclamation point in her name. :D Here's the music video for her other exhibit about a mechanical crow:

I love this idea of making music videos for your electronic art contraptions. :)

Okay... onward!

This is a Rubik's Cube for the blind, featuring braille on all the faces!

Rubik's Cube for the Blind

Even the out-of-order signs are awesome at MOMA:

Even the out-of-order signs are awesome here :)

And finally, for all the Point Break fans (I know you're out there :D), there was a Kathryn Bigelow exhibit, and here's a storyboard from the film!

Storyboard for Point Break

Wedding action shots

Parents of the bride being adorable:

Parents of the Bride

And some unplanned speeches:

Uninvited Speeches

Wedding portraits

Some portraits I shot at my friend's wedding:

First, the groom:

The Groom

And then some of the guests:

Looking Up

Awesome hair:

Awesome Hair

Contemplative:

Contemplating

A Modern Wedding Ceremony

The scene at the wedding ceremony:

A Modern Wedding Ceremony

:)

I also rather liked the pens at the signing:

Wedding Witnesses

Pre-Reception Makeup

This shot of putting on mascara…

Applying Mascara

…reminds me of this scene from A Clockwork Orange. :P

Putting on eyeshadow is much less frightening:

Applying Eyeshadow

Every wedding needs one of those shots with the flowers in the foreground and subjects blurry in the background, right?

Pre-Reception Makeup

And finally, some hair curling action from before a wedding reception in another city:

Hair Curling

"Honey, I'm home!"

More photos of my just-married friends. Here is my prediction of their future home life:

"Honey, I'm home!"

:D It took a lot of finagling to get them to pose for that. :P

And I call this next one "domesticity":

Domesticity

Rose Garden Wedding Photos

I loved this tree. :D

Tree!

And here are the actual roses at the rose garden:

J&V in Rose Garden

Bride in Rose Garden

(I kinda went for the same effect I came up with at another wedding a couple of years ago.)

A week of concerts

A week ago, I went to see Rupa & the April Fishes. My favorite shot was actually during tuning:

Rupa & The April Fishes @ The Independent in San Francisco

Full Rupa & the April Fishes set here.

Later in the week, I caught the tail end of the San Francisco Cabaret Opera's performance of Kurt Weill songs. I think she looks a bit like Billie Holliday here, no?

San Francisco Cabaret Opera at Cafe Royale

A few more SF Cabaret Opera photos here.

Later that night, I caught My Goodness. His hair was in his face the whole evening:

My Goodness @ Brick & Mortar Music Hall

And then I saw Two Star Hotel. Here's their bassist looking manly:

Two Star Hotel @ Brick & Mortar Music Hall

Full My Goodness and Two Star Hotel set here.

Bangalore, Take Two

I made a second trip to Bangalore. Here are the chefs at a fancy restaurant called the Khansama:

Chefs at the Khansama restaurant in Bangalore

Night-time foliage at the Taj West End Hotel:

Path and foliage at the Taj West End Bangalore

A couple of pictures of discussions:

Meeting in Bangalore 1

Meeting in Bangalore 2

And finally, I really liked the smile I caught here:

Smiling at the Blue Bar

:)

Mysore Zoo

I call this first one "Our Love Can Never Be":

"Our Love Can Never Be"

That's a blue peacock and a white peahen.

The Mysore Zoo was surprisingly huge! There were lions and tigers and giraffes, too, but here are some grooming marmosets:

Marmosets (aka "Pocket Monkeys")

A lounging gorilla:

Lounging Gorilla

And some crows just hanging out on some sambars:

Crows on Sambars

I liked how these workers carried stuff on their heads:

Workers at the Mysore Zoo

And finally, my one "street photography" style shot of the trip:

Relaxing zoo visitors

A Market in Mysore

I took a day trip to Mysore on my second visit to India. It's about a 3 hour drive from Bangalore. Here are a few shots of fruits and pigments from Devaraja Market:

Fruit stands at Devaraja Market in Mysore

Pigment stand at Devaraja Market in Mysore

Pigments at Devaraja Market in Mysore

I only had my US SIM Card with me this trip, so I turned off data roaming. Luckily, Google Maps for Android just released a Labs feature: After enabling Offline Maps in Labs, you can just search for any city, select it, and download the maps within a 10 mile radius. I was able to view the map of the Mysore area without data access! The GPS still worked, too.

Offline Maps!

So my driver from Bangalore actually got a bit lost. He didn't know where Devaraja Market was, and he just tried to drop me off at some random shopping area. The Offline Maps actually came in handy: I was able to guide my driver to the right place! :D

A few more street scenes:

Here's a rather full van:

Full Van in India

A beast of burden:

Beast of Burden

A women police station:

Women Police Station Sign in India

Airport security lines in India also have separate men and women lines.

Finally, I visited a small Railway Museum, and the most interesting part was this "Austin Rail Motor Car":

Austin Rail Motor Car

It had a fun caption that was full of spelling and capitalization errors and lacked punctuation entirely. I don't feel like making fun of bad English again, so I've cleaned it up a bit here:

My Story

I am an Austin Car. Whenever I watch the speeding vehicles on the road in front of the Rail Museum, I always remember my days: I was born in England in 1925 and brought to India, where I served several owners till I became unserviceable.

A kind-hearted railway man bought me at an auction and resurrected me from the scrap by providing rail wheels. This metamorphosis from a car to a rail motor made me a Super Star, carrying officers on inspection on the railway track. Still I can carry.

Emirates Flight Attendants

Emirates Flight Attendants

I love the Emirates female flight attendants' hats!

So I asked this female flight attendant if I could take her picture. She blushed and then asked her male coworker to come over and be in the picture with her. I wondered if it was because she didn't want to be in the picture alone?

In any case, I think this picture turned out better with both of them!

Mysore Street Scenes

I went back to Bangalore this month, and I finally made it out to Mysore, a town 3 hours' drive away. Here are some snippets of video from my trip. The bits in the middle are from the Devaraja Market. (It's missing a lot of my actual time in Mysore, such as my visit to the surprisingly large zoo. Photos forthcoming.)

I like kids all of a sudden

So normally I'm not that into kids, and I certainly complain when people post too many baby pictures on Facebook and such... but somehow, this weekend, I ended up hanging out with some friends with kids, and I actually liked them! I'm even about to post some pictures of other people's kids! What's happening to me?!?!

Father and son at New People in Japantown:

New Person

Parents and two daughters at dinner:

Mom and daughter at dinner

Daughter reaches for a lamp

And finally, a silly little video!

Music: XMASMYTH by Mister Electric Demon
(Used under CC BY-NC 3.0 license)

Seadragon

A seadragon I saw at the Monterey Bay Aquarium a few weeks ago:

Sea Dragon

See a couple more seadragon photos here.

Job Corps garden on Treasure Island

I did a volunteer day thing at work last week, and we went to Treasure Island to help out Job Corps, a federal gov't vocational training program for 16- to 24-year-olds. The best part was pulling a carrot right out of the dirt! Here's the carrot in the dirt:

Carrot in the dirt

Here's a video of me pulling it out of the dirt and pretending to eat it right away:

And here I am actually eating it after washing it off:

What's up, doc?

"What's up, Doc?"

I also learned a few things, like how asparagus is a lot like bamboo shoots:

Asparagus shoots grow like bamboo!

Fully grown, it becomes leafy!

These are pretty funny-looking, too:

Artichokes!

Artichokes!

Bay Bridge Eastern Span Panorama from Treasure Island

Here's a panorama I shot of Bay Bridge construction from Treasure Island:

Best viewed fullscreen!

A wedding in India

A few photos from a wedding I attended in India:

The venue resembled a street fair:

The wedding venue resembled a street fair!

There was a CRANE CAM:

CRANE CAM!

The groom arrives, surrounded by dancers:

The groom arrives, surrounded by dancing

The bride emerges from a curtain of light:

The bride emerges from a curtain of light

And finally, check out the EPIC EPICNESS of this video:

Epic wedding ceremony on a rotating platform from ToastyKen on Vimeo.

They are on a rotating platform, rotating! And there's non-stop flower petal cannon!

I don't think any other wedding I attend could live up to this. :P

Those are just a few of the photos, btw. See the full set of 20 photos here.

A Cathedral Built on War

I saw this at the De Young Museum a couple of months ago:

"The Spine and Tooth of Santo Guerro"

"The Spine and Tooth of Santo Guerro"

Al Farrow
2007
Guns, bullets, shot, steel, glass, tooth, bone, and 15th-century fabric

Towers made of muzzles:

Towers made of muzzles on "The Spine and Tooth of Santo Guerro"

Flying buttresses made of guns:

Flying buttresses made of guns on "The Spine and Tooth of Santo Guerro"

And finally, there's a portal where the stained glass window would be, through which you can see the altar:

A view to the altar on "The Spine and Tooth of Santo Guerro"

Fire and Darkness

I like taking pictures with dramatic lighting. I guess the technical term is chiaroscuro? Here are a couple I took by a fire:

Fire-side portrait on a beach in Santa Cruz

Sad fire-side portrait on a beach in Santa Cruz

India Street Scenes

Nothing too crazy, just a small slice of street scenes in Bangalore, shot from inside a car.

Rain in Bangalore

In a previous post, I talked about how I was drenched by a sudden torrential downpour in Bangalore. Well, here's some video evidence!

The second half of the video is from my balcony. Toward the end, note the lightning and the several seconds before distant thunder.

Giant Step Well in Abhaneri

Near Jaipur on the road to Agra is a small town called Abhaneri which has a giant "step well" called Chand Baori. It was used to collect rain water, but oddly it was also a temple and then a palace!

Chand Baori step well in Abhaneri

Click for a zoomed-in version

Here's a view from another angle:

Chand Baori step well in Abhaneri

Again, click to see a zoomed-in version.

I love the patterns of light and dark that the steps make based on the angle of the sun!

On my way home from India

Eyes of the Driver

My driver's eyes

Begrudging sunrise as we fly west

Begrudging sunrise as we fly west

Lights through the clouds

Lights through the clouds

I saw these somewhere in Eastern Europe. I don't know what they. I'm thinking maybe ships? Or buoys?

Next up: Not sure yet. Some videos or panos probably.

The Streets of Bengaluru, Part II

One of my favorite posts this trip has been when I finally managed to do some street photography, so I set out to take some more in Bangalore on my last day in India.

First, it being Easter Sunday, we decided to drop by St. Mary's Basilica.

St. Mary's Basilica in Bangalore on Easter

The garlands on the Madonna and Child are an Indian tradition, so this is an interesting localized version of Easter celebration, I think. I think it's also worthy of noting that Christian women still wear saris.

The Basilica was around the corner from Russell Market:

Russell Market in Bangalore

Then I attempted to go to the museums I missed on Good Friday. Unfortunately, one was closed on Sundays, and the other was closed due to power outage. Power demand severely out-strips supply in India, to the point where there are daily brownouts except in the biggest cities. Even when I was in Hyderabad, there were daily brownouts, and all the big companies have diesel backup generators.

So I decided to take a stroll in the neighboring Cubbon Park instead. Here is a strolling couple:

Couple strolling in Cubbon Park in Bangalore

And here is a woman in a sari playing cricket:

Woman playing cricket in Cubbon Park in Bangalore

(Sorry about the baby stroller on the right; I took some unobstructed pictures, but they were a bit blurry, and she didn't have as intense a stance.)

A family:

Family on a bench in Cubbon Park in Bangalore

This boy has spotted me:

The boy has spotted me

A couple on a bench:

Couple on a bench in Cubbon Park in Bangalore

(Note how some women do wear Western clothes.)

And then a few from my ride home:

Scooter riders in Bangalore

Truck riders in Bangalore

Up next: My trip home!

Fun with paintings at Bangalore Palace

I met up with a friend on my last day in Bangalore, and we visited the Bangalore Palace. It actually had a surprising amount of interesting art. It also had a 500 rupee camera fee on top of the 350 rupee foreigner admission, so I decided to break my usual rule of not taking pictures of paintings so I could get my money's worth. :P

As my friend said, one of these paintings is not like the others:

One of these paintings is not like the others

:P

This one I just really liked because I felt like you could see a lot about her life through her eyes:

Golden painting of woman with pot

(Sorry, I didn't bother with the audio tour, there were no plaques, and I can't understand the signature, so I have no idea who painted this, or what it's called.)

My made up title for this one is: Draupadi and the Infinite Sari:

Draupadi and the Infinite Sari

So the short version I was told is that the guy on the bottom, Dushasana, was trying to strip Draupadi, but Krishna gave her an infinite sari, providing her with ever more fabric that could never be fully unraveled.

And then I suddenly came upon this!

Portrait of Srikantadatta Narsimharaja Wodeyar, Maharaja of Mysore

Is that Dom DeLuise? No, I think it's more likely to be Srikantadatta Narsimharaja Wodeyar, the current Maharaja of Mysore. And here's his memento from a trip to the Great Wall:

China trip memento of Srikantadatta Narsimharaja Wodeyar, Maharaja of Mysore

Update: I just found his official website!

Finally, as Lonely Planet puts it, "Alongside many family photos, the sometimes lavish interiors are hung with a collection of nude portraits, adding a saucy note to the tour." But I didn't take any pictures of those.

Next up: More from the streets of Bangalore!

The Streets of Bengaluru

I took a trip around town in Bangalore1 on Good Friday2. On my way out, I spotted this scooter rider and passenger:

Scooter rider and passenger in Bangalore

You see male riders with male passengers much more often than you do in the US, but a male passenger with a female rider is still not too common a sight.

I went to Lal Bagh Botanical Garden. It seemed like a popular spot for local residents. I saw a lot of couples sitting on park benches. I stalked this couple, looking for just the right picture, probably far longer than was appropriate. :)

Resting Couple in Lal Bagh Botanical Garden

Here are some scenes of people playing in the park, even though there were signs that literally read, "NO PLAYING". :\

Women and children in Lal Bagh Botanical Garden

Young people playing in Lal Bagh Botanical Garden

Young people playing in Lal Bagh Botanical Garden

I had trouble figuring out weather these women were just playing badminton with a round ball (instead of a shuttlecock), or if this is a different game?

Badminton with a round ball? in Lal Bagh Botanical Garden

In Lal Bagh Botanical Garden

I also found it interesting that she was wearing a colorful outfit underneath her chador.

Next, I went to the Visvesvaraya Industrial & Technical Museum, which was basically a science museum. While the Birla Science Museum in Hyderabad was really sad, this one was quite nice! The ground floor had a room of engines, displaying various engines and demonstrating the principles behind them. Here's a stationary bike that lets you push a ball up the tube:

Using pedal power to push a ball up

I just liked this sign because it sounds like it could be the title of a Kraftwerk or Daft Punk album:

ELECTRO TECHNIC

The Exploratorium in San Francisco has this neat exhibit where an air cannon blowing up holds a ball in place because the air flows around all sides of the ball. The version here was even cooler, because the cannon was at an angle, but it could still hold the ball in place! And then they even let you rotate the cannon slowly to try to put the ball through a hoop!

Air cannon with ball trick Air cannon with ball trick

(The boy on the right has failed. The ball bounced off of the hoop and is on its way to the floor. :P)

Prepare yourself for the next one...

Ready?

Okay:

Monkey Me

MONKEY ME!

Or perhaps: BandarKen!

I think it's neat how I was wearing just the right colors so that, even though I did a terrible job of hiding myself, and you can totally see my shirt and pants, I kind of blend right in, and the effect still works. :)

I wanted to visit some other museums, but they were closed due to the government holiday. I'll see if they're open tomorrow. I next attempted to go to Iskcon Temple. What a fiasco! (On my part! I'm sure the temple is perfectly nice.)

They didn't allow bags or cameras inside, but I hopped out of the car with my bag, hoping to get a picture from the outside. Unfortunately, it turned out you can't really see the temple easily from the street. So I tried to find my driver again, but for some reason I got a "not in service" message when I tried to call him!

And then it suddenly started raining! POURING!

An autorickshaw driver motioned me into his vehicle. I was skeptical, but he swore "no charge". I really had few options, since I had no umbrella, so I got in. We tried looking for my car, and I told him the license number. He said they usually park half a block up ahead, so I let him drive me there. He actually spotted the car for me. I asked how much, and he said 20 rupees, which was very reasonable. So I tipped him, too. Hurray for a driver who was actually nice! :)

I had originally intended to drop off my bag and check out the inside of the temple, but at this point all I wanted to do was go home. :P Here's a photo I shot on the way back:

Sudden torrential downpour in Bangalore

I also saw a stairwell where water was just cascading down the steps. Crazy. Early monsoon season? :\

Next up: I don't know! I'm actually all caught up with posting pictures! But I'm going out in Bangalore again tomorrow, so you might see some of those? And then when I'm back in the US, I'll process the few videos and panoramas that I took. Oh, and wedding photos eventually, too, of course!

1 Chennai (Madras), Kolkata (Calcutta), Mumbai (Bombay), and many other Indian cities successfully shed their colonial names, but "Bengaluru" hasn't quite caught on here in Bangalore. The official rename has been stalled by the central government, and most people here still call it Bangalore. That said, "Bengaluru" has the same number of syllables as "San Francisco", so I used it in the title of this post. :P ^

2 Unbeknownst to me when I booked the trip, Good Friday is public holiday here in Bangalore! It's not in the US, even though we have 10 times as many Christians. :P But of course, the political situations are very different. The US has that whole Separation of Church and State thing, so Christmas is the only one that snuck in. India takes the opposite approach: Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Parsis, and Sikhs all get official public holidays! (It varies from state to state, though.) ^

Hyderabad, Golconda Fort and Other Places I Didn't Take Pictures of

Salar Jung Museum

So I did two days of touristing in Hyderabad. The first day, I went to the Salar Jung Museum, which I mostly found somewhat disappointing. Some of the collections were interesting, but much of it felt like the kind of kitschy stuff you'd find at a rich person's house. Well, a really rich person's house, but still. :P My favorite piece there was Veiled Rebecca by Giovanni Maria Benzoni, sculpted in the late 19th Century. (Cameras were not allowed.)

Chowmahalla Palace

Next I saw the Chowmahalla Palace. I think I even paid an extra 50 rupees to bring my camera in, but I didn't really find anything interesting enough to shoot. :P I dunno.. I just don't have that much to say about it. It was interesting how the back of the palace had an exhibition of vintage cars!

Birla Temple

And so, disappointed, I trekked out on the second day, which went much better! First, I went to the Birla Mandir. No cameras or shoes were allowed, so I basically left everything in the car. I even took my socks off for the truly authentic experience. :) The ground got hot in places, but mostly they had straw mats laid out for you to walk to. The temple was built entirely with white marble, and it has various areas for worshipping each god. I find it interesting that Birla is basically a really rich family, and their foundation financed this and many other temples, and named them after themselves. I was the only foreigner at the temple, I think, so it was interesting watching how people would pray or rest or just kind of hang out.

Birla Museums

I also dropped by the nearby Birla Science Museum and Birla Modern Art Gallery. It was the first time I went to an attraction in India that didn't have a separate 10x price for foreigners! That said... So the art gallery was interesting though small. There were three workers there, and I was the only visitor.

One of the workers followed me around, turning lights on, and explaining some of the art to me. Oddly, even though I had to check my bag and camera, she asked me if I wanted to take pictures of one of the drawings (where all the lines were actually tiny letters). Confused, I said that I had to check my bag. So she asked if I had a cell phone camera. I didn't want to break the rules even if she seemed to want me to. I walked on, and then she said, "I want tip." :\ I was low on change, and so I handed her a 10 rupee note, a 5 rupee coin, and a really wrinkled, kind of disgusting 5 rupee note. She looked at it and handed it back! :P I replaced it with a 5 rupee coin. :\

I hate the whole forced tipping thing, but I suppose that's the flipside of not having to pay more as a foreigner. For instance, I felt compelled to tip the bag check guy, too, whereas I hadn't at previous museums I went to.

Onward to the Birla Science Museum: It was also kind of sad. They had a hands-on exploratorium type area, but half the exhibits were broken or missing parts! These museums both seem rather underfunded. It made me kind of wish they did charge foreigners extra, so they could afford to patch things up a bit!

Golconda Fort

Finally, I came to my favorite site in Hyderabad, the Golconda Fort, a massive ruined city. I was stopped several times there by people who wanted to take a picture with me. The most amusing was when four guys came up to me. Three of them stood next to me, while the fourth took the picture. Then that guy wanted a picture, so he took a picture with me. But then the other guys got jealous that he got to have a picture with me by himself, so each of them then got another individual photo with me! Hilarious. :P

When I was near the top, a resting family sent their little boy to talk to me, asking me where I was from and so forth. I gave him my camera to take a picture for me:

Near the top of Golconda Fort in Hyderabad

Afterward, I asked them if I could take a picture of their family, and they said sure:

Family at Golconda Fort

Finally, here's a shot of some other tourists:

Tourists at Golconda Fort

Being from the US in today's political environment, I can't claim that this photo was just random. I wanted to show Muslims doing ordinary things, and in particular, Mr. Strongman here displaying a sense of humor. :)

(Though I have to say: Anyone who claims to be an objective photojournalist is lying anyway; someone who's truly object would mostly end up with pictures of people with blank expressions, looking mildly bored. :P)

Delhi Day Two: Humayun's Tomb, Red Fort, and More

Humayun's Tomb is another major tourist attraction in Delhi. I found it an odd mixture of styles, but it seems to be similar to the auxiliary buildings at the Taj Mahal:

Humayun's Tomb

The waterways at the site didn't seem designed for efficiency:

These waterways were not designed for efficiency

I guess in the ancient days, the rulers could afford to hire even more people to constantly change the water?

My friends at the tomb:

Trees all around Humayun's Tomb

Leaving Humayun's Tomb

I liked all the greenery in the area. Also, I saw quite a few Muslims in traditional outfits here, but here, I'm the one who stands out! :)

Some sort of dragonfly (I think?) that I saw there:

Dragonfly (I think?)

When we arrived at the Red Fort, the first gate was closed off:

Fortifications at Red Fort

I said, "Wow, look at those baricades! They make this look like some sort of military installation! Oh wait... I guess it is. Or was." :P

I liked the big red wall of the fort:

Walking along the outer wall of the Red Fort

Look! A cyborg!

Cyborg

Okay, actually it's just a display of some (unlabeled) armor in a weapons museum inside the Red Fort, but come on. Just try to tell me that's not a cyborg. :P

And finally, after visiting the Red Fort, my friends and I went to a musical instrument shop near the famous Chandi Chowk street market area. They didn't have what my friends wanted in stock, so the guy asked us to follow him through these twisty alleyways, and into a nondescript building; it was a bit scary until I suddenly saw a room of more musical instruments. :) I looked out the window there and found this scene:

Streetside Shave and Guy on Blankets

Next stop: Hyderabad!

Delhi Day One: Museums and the Qutb Minar

So I went to the National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi, and it was pretty nice. I had to check my bag, and I wasn't allowed to take pictures, so I took a few notes. Gaganendranath Tagore was my favorite artist there, partly because he painted in such a variety of styles.

But then I went to the National Museum of India. India has a rich history with many surviving artifacts, and I assumed the government would display them proudly in a world-class museum. So I was baffled to find the museum woefully underfunded. Only about a third of the galleries were open. Of the rest, some were only half-filled (with many empty cabinets), several were lacking A/C, and half the labels were just pieces of paper printed on an inkjet. What gives? It was so sad. Anyway, on to the pictures:

I call this The Saddest Lion:

The Saddest Lion

Next up is a Robot from the 3rd Century!

3rd Century Robot!

Okay it just looks like a robot to me. :P It's officially labeled "Buddha-Pada".

Most of the tourist sites in Delhi cost 20 rupees (about 50 cents) for Indian nationals and 250 rupees (just over $6) for foreigners. The National Museum charged an additional 300 rupees for bringing in a camera! I only ended up with two pictures, so y'all had better appreciate them. They cost me $3.50 a piece! :P

Qutb Minar

That is the Qutb Minar, the world's tallest brick minaret. It was completed in the late 14th Century after nearly 200 years of construction. There were very few foreigners there. When I arrived at the ticket window, there was a huge line, but then someone at a different window waved me over to the foreigners window. I could skip the line, but I was paying 10 times as much as anyone else. :)

All around the Qutb Minar is a set of other monuments and buildings, called the Qutb Complex. People loved to climb these ruins:

Climbing at the Qutb Complex

Girl watching boys climb at the Qutb Complex

After those guys who were climbing got down off the wall, they looked at me and shyly whispered to each other, as if to say, "You go ask him. No, you go ask him." Eventually they came over and asked to take a picture with me. :) East Asians appear to be quite a novelty to many people here, and people are very excited to take pictures with me. I feel like I'm either a celebrity or a zoo animal. :D

And finally, this is the unfinished Alai Minar:

Alai Minar (Unfinished)

It was meant to be twice as tall as the Qutb Minar, but when the ruler who commissioned it died, no one cared any more. I feel like it now resembles that famous plateau at Monument Valley. :)

I went to a wedding that night, but the photos from that will come later. Next up: Delhi Day Two

The Taj Mahal and other fun around Agra!

On my second day in India, I hired a driver through my hotel to take me to Agra and then to Delhi.

A word of warning to anyone traveling to India: The cab drivers here love to pull sneaky tricks, even the "pre-paid" government-approved ones. Just on this trip, I've heard of people whose drivers pulled over on the side of a dark road and only moved after being "tipped". Others will lie to you about your hotel being fully booked, only to bring you to some crappy hotel they have a deal with.

So first, you'll definitely want your hotel to send a driver to pick you up from the airport. Also, for my trips, I hired a driver through my hotel itself. If you stay at a high-end hotel (still reasonably priced by American standards), you can be confident that their drivers will be trustworthy. It'll be a bit more expensive upfront, but the peace of mind is so worth it.

Okay, onward...

Cows just do what they want here

Cows can do what they want here, and cars pretty much just have to drive around them. I've seen cows just chewing on grass and trash in medians of highways. Often the cows actually belong to local residents, but they just let their cows roam during the day, and they somehow find their way back in the evening, or so I'm told.

Here's a kid actually herding some cattle:

Cowherd

I felt a little sorry for this donkey: :\

Little donkey

And then...

First glimpse of the Taj Mahal

Bam! My first glimpse of the Taj Mahal! One interesting thing about the Taj Mahal is that they don't allow you to bring in any electronics other than your mobile, your camera, and your digital watch. They don't allow any food, and they don't even allow books, for some reason! (Can anyone explain the book prohibition to me?) This is another time when having a hired driver is handy, because you can leave your stuff in the car, which feels safer than the ubiquitous coat check lockers at tourist attractions here.

Everyone is supposed to get this photo some time in their life right?

Okay, everyone's supposed to have one of these photos taken in their life, right? :P

If you turn around from that very spot, you can see the main Gateway, which is very nice on its own:

The Gateway at the Taj Mahal

Here it is from another angle:

The Gateway at the Taj Mahal

Here's the Taj Mahal from behind, viewed from the northwest corner:

Back of the Taj Mahal

The tomb is flanked by two buildings. There is a mosque to the west, and an identical but mostly functionless "Jawab" to the east:

The Jawab at the Taj Mahal

And finally, here is the Taj Mahal viewed from the the Agra Fort, quite some distance away:

The Taj Mahal as viewed from the Agra Fort

You can see the mosque at the front right.

I find that I rather like battlements, and I particularly liked how the inner courtyard area of the Agra Fort was overgrown with foliage:

Battlements at Red Fort, and the overgrown courtyard

On my way up to Delhi, there were a ton of trucks with more or less identical writing on the back:

Horn Please; Use Dipper at Night; Wait for Side

I had to look up that "dipper" probably means low beams, so the sign is asking you not to use high beams at night. The horn part is because, in India, honking doesn't necessarily imply anger or even impatience (though it often does). Rather, the primary purpose of honking is as a safety mechanism. Cars are constantly passing each other with minimal clearance, so they honk to let other cars know they're there. :\

For instance, we'd always honk when passing these giant tractors (which appear to be threshers maybe?):

Giant tractor or thresher

Finally, I arrived in Delhi in the evening, and this sign caught my eye:

Redundant sign

It makes a bit more sense when you consider that the signs were standardized so that all of them had explanatory text at the bottom. But still. :P

Next up: Sights around Delhi

SO MANY MONKEYS

This here is Jaigarh Fort, so imposing it was never attacked:

Jaigarh Fort, viewed from Amber Fort

Rather unexpectedly, the best thing about it was..

Monkey Butt! at Jaigarh Fort

MONKEY BUTT!

:D

Okay, well, the monkeys in general. :)

Flying Monkey!

Flying Monkey at Jaigarh Fort

Wall-Running Parkour Monkey!

Monkey Wall-jump  at Jaigarh Fort

I saw a monkey do a rather high wall-jump, too, but I didn't catch it on film. :(

Some lazy monkeys:

Lazing Monkeys at Jaigarh Fort

Sparring monkeys:

Sparring Monkeys at Jaigarh Fort

I kept thinking: How come humans stop doing this sort of thing past the age of 12? It looks like so much fun!

And finally, a monkey stares back:

Monkey Staring Back at Me at Jaigarh Fort

And this is one reason I don't like having guides. I spent a good 10 minutes squatting there, taking pictures of monkeys. :D My guide would've been confused. :P

Up next: The Taj Mahal!

Jaipur and Amber

My first stop was Jaipur, in Rajastan, and my first stop in Jaipur was the Jantar Mantar, a collection of large scale astronomical (and astrological) instruments. This here is a ginormous sundial! The sun casts a shadow on the curved portion, which is marked off to 2-second accuracy!

Giant Sundial at Jantar Mantar in Jaipur

Here I am in front of a slightly smaller sundial:

Sundial at Jantar Mantar in Jaipur

Then I dropped by the City Palace next door. Here's a guy who offered to pose with me, but then he asked me for a tip. :P

Guy who offered to take a picture with me and then asked for a tip

Sadly, I'm super paranoid now every time someone comes up to me. :\

Amusingly, almost every other time, it's because they want to take a picture with me using THEIR camera! Apparently, East Asian guys are a novelty around here. Also, they always ask me, "Where you from?" And I answer, "U.S." And they look very confused. :P

This is the huge silver urn that I was trying to take a self-portrait in before that guy distracted me:

Giant silver urn at City Palace in Jaipur

Next to Jaipur is Amber, home of the famed Amber Fort. On my way up the mountain, there were a lot of elephants on the road. Here's a painted one:

Painted elephant

And this next photo I call "Self-Driving Elephant":

Self-Driving Elephant!

:D Google needs to switch gears and look into uploading elephant brains into cars instead. :P

This is what the Amber Fort looks like (as I shot later from the Jaigarh Fort):

Amber Fort, viewed from Jaigarh Fort

It's a collection of inter-connecting passageways that lead to lots of empty rooms. Reminded me a lot of early first person shooters. :)

When I first go in, there was a huge line, but people just shooed me along, like "This line is not for you." Turns out they were all in line to go to the temple inside the fort. (You can kind of see the tented area in the above photo; that's where the lines were.)

Here's touristy shot of me on the Amber Fort. Note all the long walls around the area. I call it the Great Wall of India!

The Great Wall of India?

And here's another reflective self-portrait, from inside the Amber Fort. Look at all the shiny!

Shiny reflective stuff at Amber Fort

A family having fun:

Having fun at Amber Fort

The girls were waiting their turn.

And finally, I headed back to Jaipur. Here's the Lake Palace, only accessible by boat. I heard it's going to be converted to a hotel. :\

Jal Mahal, the Lake Palace

I saw the Lakshmi Narayan Temple on my way to the hotel from the airport, and I knew I wanted to see it up close, even though I knew it wasn't a huge tourist attraction (because it's relatively new):

Lakshmi Narayan Temple, the Marble Temple

This was the first of many times when I had to take my shoes off. It was spacious inside. No benches, just people sitting and praying or just hanging out.

Incidentally, you can see in this photo how a lot of women wear saris in India, though not all. Men are mostly in Western clothing, though again there are some who wear traditional clothing. I'd say it's about 90/10 in opposite directions.

On the hill next to this temple is the Moti Doongri Fort, only open one day every year!

Moti Doongri Fort

This view of it reminded me a lot of Edinburgh Castle in Scotland.

You may notice that I skipped over my trip to Jaigarh Fort. That's because I'm saving it for tomorrow. Tomorrow you will get: MONKEYS! :D

Flying to India

The flight safety card on my Air India flight:

Air India safety card

(My Indian friends talked a lot of trash about Air India, but my flight was fine. :P The plane was actually really empty, so I had a row of 3 seats all to myself. :D )

I chose to watch some cartoons on the interactive seatback screen:

Tenali Rama Cartoon

This was a series about Tenali Rama, apparently a trickster character.

I was amused by how he would trick a king out of a bag of gold, and the king would be like, "You are so clever! Here's another bag of gold!" :)

And now, glaciers! At sunset! From somewhere over Canada:

Glaciers at sunset

And ten minutes after sunset, in the direction away from the sun:

Glaciers after sunset

Long Photos in Monterey

A while back, when Flickr introduced support for videos up to 90 seconds long, they chose to call them long photos. More recently, I've been fascinated by the tumblr blog If we don't, remember me, which features looping animated gifs made from movies, "long stills", if you will. On my recent trip to Monterey, I explored the long photo in several different forms:

First, I was fascinated by the common murre, which looks like a duck on the surface, but transforms into the Batjet when underwater:

Diving Murres look like Batjets!

It was hard to get a good picture of them, because they moved so quickly, but a collage gives you a better sense of their movement than any individual photo.

Next, we saw a man dive into the Bay from a rock:

Diver jumping into the Monterey Bay

I took photos of the entire dive in continuous mode. I originally wanted to make an animated GIF, but I decided that compositing them together was more interesting.

Speaking of animated GIFs, I did end up making one, but of a swell shark egg case. Look at that embryo boogie!

I was lucky to find just the right set of frames from both sets of photos that they looped just right together. :)

Finally, I shot a continuous series of 2-second exposures of waves washing over some rocks (best viewed full screen in 720p HD):

I recorded the audio separately and then synced the images up to it. The funny thing is that I originally called this a "time-lapse" video, since it's a series of still images, but in fact it's more or less real-time, so it's not technically a time-lapse. :)

These are attempts to combine multiple still photographs to convey a sense of time or motion. What other methods are there?

My Top 10 Photos of 2010

For once, I actually managed to cull my list down to 10! I'll try something a little different this time and say a little about each one.

Denver Oasis at Sunset

I've always liked taking pictures from planes, but I got really lucky this time on my way back from DC. I barely even adjusted the colors, and I love how Denver sits in the middle of a vast flatness like an oasis. I also like this photo of the Rocky Mountains I took around the same time.

 

Davies Symphony Hall - UCSF Medical School Graduation 2010

I've been to Davies Symphony Hall before, but it's always been for a concert (or movie with live music), and photography wasn't allowed. So when I attended my cousin's graduation there, I was really excited about shooting a panorama. I just love those sound reflection panels that hang from the ceiling. (Zoom in)

 

Día de los Muertos 3

A friend of mine dressed up in Día de los Muertos attire for Halloween. I took a few pictures, but this one works best because of the way she's looking at the camera. So femme fatale!

 

Showered with Petals

Showered with petals! And this is why I like continuous shot, so I can pick out moments like this.

 

The groom, underwater!

This is my favorite photo that I've taken with a waterproof disposable camera. I like the way he's all lit up while the background fades away. Snorkeling was the most amazing thing ever, btw, especially when I got to see a giant sea turtle up close.

 

Suzhou Creek in Shanghai at Night

I shot this from a window in the stairwell of my uncle's apartment in Shanghai, overlooking Suzhou Creek. I think it gives a good sense of how many people live there. (Zoom in) It was tough choosing between this and my Hawaiian wedding panos, so here are those: reception and ceremony.

 

Shanghai World Expo Cultural Center

The Shanghai World Expo Cultural Center, soon to be renamed Mercedes-Benz Arena, was my favorite building at the Expo. (Zoom in)

 

Carving characters onto bamboo

I like men-at-work pictures, and here's someone carving characters onto bamboo, at a tourist spot in Guilin.

 

And finally, two photos I shot at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island:

The Apocalypse

"The Apocalypse". I think this would've been better if I had shot it from a cliff overlooking the flat expanses of hardened lava, but the sun had already set by the time we made it back onto those cliffs.

 

"The Road"

"The Road". I like to think of her as the lone survivor of the events in the previous photo. I actually photoshopped out some other random tourists near the end of the road. Content-aware fill ftw! :)

 

Honorable Mention

Who needs Inception when you live in San Francisco?

My parody of this Inception poster. I call it, "Who needs Inception when you live in San Francisco?" It's not that exciting as a photo per se, but it's the most "interesting" of my 2010 photos, according to Flickr's algorithms. :P Also, I put far more effort than necessary into historically accurate "credits", which can you read when you zoom in.

 

Okay, that's all! Here's a longer list of my favorite photos if you want to see more. They're from all years, but the newest ones are first. Let me know if you think some of those should've made this list instead!

My top 13/12/16 lists for 2007, 2008, and 2009.

Digital noise on the Shanghai Metro

I'm fascinated by digital noise. It's so much more complicated than analog noise. Apologies for the shakiness, but I was standing on a moving subway train. :P

And here's an out-take from my Shanghai photos that I decided to post after all. Evening stroll in Pudong:

Evening stroll in Pudong

Mudu

I Rule with an Iron Thunderbolt

I rule with an iron thunderbolt.

Mudu (木渎) is a tourist village in Suzhou (苏州) with a ridiculous number of glamour shot stores where they loan you traditional outfits and take pictures for you:

Glamour Shots in Mudu

Glamour Shots in Mudu

Glamour Shots in Mudu

This next couple were just in street clothes, but I liked their look:

Young Couple in Mudu

Pomegranate Tree!

Pomegranate Tree!

And finally, I call this next one "Zombie Bird":

Zombie Bird

My Favorite Works at the Guangdong Museum of Art

Some stuff I liked at the 广州美术馆:

I like how the snow in this is three-dimensional:

"Sing drunkenly while charging into the snow, and you can accomplish many goals"

"Sing drunkenly while charging into the snow, and you can accomplish many goals"
Wu Jinhua, Porcelain, 2008

酣歌冲雪众志成
吴锦华

That's my own attempt at an English translation of the title. A less literal translation would be:
"Forge ahead bravely toward challenges, and you can accomplish anything"

You can see the full work here.

Next are two self-shadow-portraits I took in a room that was part of an exhibition called "Environment Chromatic-Interference":

"Environment under the Intervention of Color (Color Interference)"

"Environment under the Intervention of Color (Color Interference)"
Carlos Cruz-Díez, 2010

Next are two statues in the sculpture garden made 26 years apart:

"Daughter of the Sea"  "We won't be Distressed any more in the New Century"

Left: "Daughter of the Sea"
Tang Daxi, Bronze, 1974

海的女儿
唐大禧

Right: "We won't be Distressed any more in the New Century"
Huang Yongyu, Bronze, 2000

新世纪不要忧伤
黄永玉

Note that the woman on the left is carrying an assault rifle! In Communist China, women don't just rivet! :)

The one on the right reminds me of the art style from Aeon Flux.

This is such a sad-looking Einstein:

"Einstein"

"Einstein"
Pan He, Bronze, 1985

爱因斯坦
潘鹤

And finally, this is not from the museum at all, but how can you not love my cousin's daughter's adorable plush pig? :D

Plush Pig

Guangzhou by Night

The Xinghai Concert Hall (星海音乐厅) in Guangzhou:

Xinghai Concert Hall in Guangzhou

I think it's meant to resemble a grand piano. :)

Musicians on the waterfront near the concert hall:

Waterfront musicians in Guangzhou

Here is the site of the 2010 Asian Games Opening Ceremonies:

Site of the opening ceremonies for the 2010 Asian Games, on Haixinsha Island

Site of the opening ceremonies for the 2010 Asian Games, on Haixinsha Island

Interestingly, instead of having the ceremony inside a stadium, they built temporary stands on a small island in the river, presumably so there would be a better view.

(The Games were played this past November, and I took these photos earlier in October.)

As you know, I like taking pictures of people laughing:

Laughing!

One evening, we went to a strange restaurant with no name. You only learn about it by word-of-mouth. Oddly for a Chinese restaurant, the menu is prix fixe, and you can ask for seconds of most dishes. Even more strangely, it's located in the middle of a park, so you call them when you get to the park entrance, and they send a tram out to pick you up! Here's a silly photo I took on my cell phone from the tram:

Me and my dad on a park tram

Their restroom had a crazy number of mirrors!

Bathroom with many mirrors!

They had four private rooms, and no individual tables. Each room had a radically different decor. This one had a classic European style mixed with modern style paintings:

Restaurant with paintings in Guangzhou

Giant Russian Hat?

Giant Russian hat?

Actually, it's a lamp! :)

Okay, panoramic time! Click to view larger:

Guangzhou skyline, featuring the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou IFC

The colorful thing on the left is the recently-completed Canton Tower, and the building on the right is the Guangzhou International Finance Center.

Finally, some silly stuff:

Chinese Roman Centurion with a Shopping Cart

I call that one "Chinese Roman Centurion with a Shopping Cart".

50%-off sale advertised by Obama on the Mac OS X wallpaper

And that's an ad for a 50%-off sale inexplicably featuring President Obama over what appears to be the Mac OS X wallpaper. o_O

Next up: Photos from the Guangdong Museum of Art!

Guangzhou by Day

Guangzhou (广州) is in the Guangdong (广东) or "Canton" province, which is where most of the Chinese people immigrated from in the 1800s. That's why most Chinese people in San Francisco speak Cantonese. We spent most of our time in Guangzhou eating, but we did take some time out to visit various parks.*

These first two pictures seem to go together:

Big tree!  Exercise in the park

On the left is just a big tree. I love that root system! (I also experimented with Photoshop CS5's content-aware system to erase a sign on the tree. :P)

On the right is my 10th photo for the 100 Strangers Project. I saw this lady doing interesting exercises and asked if I could take her picture. She blushed and seemed rather flattered. :) (I started my 100 strangers in mid-2008, and I've only got 10 so far. At this rate, I'll finish some time in 2023! :P)

The next two are pretty silly and self-explanatory.

Bunny with cell phone

Me with giant teapot

On a different day, we visited a park with a large cascading waterfall that you could hike along. You don't want to know how many pictures I took trying to catch these two butterfly lovers:

Butterfly Lovers

Here I am in front of some giant water wheels. You can see the top of the waterfall in the background:

Giant Water Wheels

Here's a 0.4 sec exposure of water running over rocks:

Water flowing over rocks, 0.4 sec exposure

And finally, a couple of cute photos of my parents. The left one I call "Careful now!" And the right one, simply, "Penguins".

Careful now!  Penguins

Still to come: Guangzhou by Night!

*Alas, I did a terrible job keeping track of the names of these parks. If I can figure them out, I'll come back to amend this post.

Weaving Machine

My rural relatives in China make their living with a variety of methods, including fish farming, but recently they got some weaving machines. I thought they were pretty neat.

Weaving machine

Weaving machine

Weaving machine

Here's a brief (18 second) video:

Rural China visit

During this China trip, I went to the countryside to visit some cousins and my grandparents' grave. I like these pictures I took of my relatives:

Relatives in Haiyan

Relative with bike cart

I like the colors in this one of my mom and her umbrella:

Mom with umbrella

What's a visit to the country without animals?

Chicken!

Baa sheep

There were a bunch of these guinea pig cages in one tourist area, hanging from trees:

Guinea pig in a colorful cage

They were so colorful!

We hiked up a bamboo forest to get to the grave site.

In a bamboo forest

I got a billion mosquito bites just from the hike in the woods! (I wish I took more (and better) pictures in that forest.)

I think this may be my first time seeing a real "live" scarecrow:

Scarecrow

We brought food to the grave and paid our respects. Afterward, we wired some money to my late grandparents:

Wiring money to my late grandparents

I was fascinated by the solar water heater on the roof:

Solar water heater

These things are apparently quite popular now. I think the tubes trap heat by greenhouse effect or something.

And finally, we wave goodbye:

Cousin on a tricycle

Last Day in Guilin

I title this photo "Walkie Talkie":

Walkie Talkie

Here I am in a mock imperial exam booth, with brush, ink pad, and exam paper:

Traditional Chinese Imperial Exam Booth

China has a rich history of imperial examinations, where, theoretically, any adult male could become a government official through successful testing. Reality was probably a bit more complicated, but it remained the greatest hope for social mobility in a feudal society, and it's probably responsible for how much education is valued in China even today.

This is the famed "Elephant Trunk Hill" (象鼻山) in Guilin:

Elephant Trunk Hill in Guilin

But I actually thought "Pierced Mountain" (穿山) looked more like an elephant:

"Pierced Mountain"

Everything by Elephant Trunk Hill had an elephant theme. Even the bathroom signs!

Elephant-shaped sign

Finally, here I am by a statue of some dude called Wang Zheng Gong (王正功). Based on the brush in his hand, I'm going to assume he's a writer or poet. :)

Wang Zheng Gong Statue in Guilin

Looms, Poetic Trash Cans, and other fun in Guilin

One tourist spot in Guilin had various craft demonstrations. I liked this loom and this clever way of keeping strings taut:

Loom  Interesting way to keep the strings taut

Here is a guy carving characters into bamboo: (I like how the lighting and colors look in this shot.)

Carving characters onto bamboo

This was a demonstration of the traditional Chinese version of a rap battle:

Chinese song battling

The girl on the raft sings a line of song, and a guy on the shore has to improvise an appropriate response, and so forth. In the old days, a guy who was good would win the girl's hand in marriage. Here, one of the tourists who responded well just got a free raft ride. :P

And now.. Waterfall Climbing!

Waterfall-climbing

You had to swap out your shoes for these straw sandals, and then you basically pulled your way up the side of this waterfall with a chain. This being China, there was of course no safety rope. :)

I was a chicken and didn't try it. :P

And finally, here is a series of curiously inappropriate(?) poetry on trash and recycling bins at this park:

Recycling bin with interesting label 1

Trash bin with interesting label

Recycling bin with interesting label 2

Recycling bin with interesting label 3

Camels and fish and birds (on rafts) oh my!

On our second day visiting Guilin, in Yangshuo County, we took a bamboo raft tour in these covered rafts:

We took these bamboo rafts out to sightsee in Yangshuo

I like how even my shot of rafts has those awesome Super Mario Bros mountains in the background. :)

Here I am pretending to punt the raft!

Me pretending to punt in Yangshuo

It's tough! You have to jam that bamboo stick all the way into the riverbed and push really hard!

Once we started taking pictures, this merchant punted up to rent us traditional outfits for the photos:

I liked this merchant's wacky outfit

But I really liked HER outfit a lot, actually, with the hot pink and purple boots and straw hat. :)

Instant digital photo booth in the middle of a river

That's an instant digital photo booth in the middle of the river! These were everywhere in China. They would take your picture with a DSLR and then immediately print it and laminate it, typically charging 10-20 RMB (about US$1.50-3.00) per picture. Note that the tents in the background were for pictures, too.

The craziest part, btw, is where the power comes from. I looked behind the setup and saw that all these electronics are plugged into a power strip, and that power strip's cord... goes straight into the water! It presumably runs underwater all the way to shore? And it didn't look particularly reinforced, either. o_O

And now, taking pictures in those outfits! In the back is "Camel Mountain".

Taking pictures at "Camel Mountain"

To be honest, I felt like the outfits were maybe a little bit exploitative of minorities? I'm undecided.

I think these guys are cheating:

Lazy punters

Finally, we saw a demonstration of cormorant fishing:

Cormorant fishing in Guilin

They put a ring around the cormorant bird's neck to prevent it from swallowing the big fish, and then they retrieve the fish:

Retrieving a fish from a cormorant

The birds do eventually get fed. :P

In China, an actual river is the stage, and actual mountains are the backdrop

(Click to view larger.)

This is the Impression · Sanjie Liu 《印象·刘三姐》 show in the Yangshuo part of Guilin. They perform pretty much every night to a capacity of about 2600, sometimes doing two shows a night. And there are 600 performers per show! Supposedly, about half of them are area minorities, and the other half are professionals.

They actually light up real mountains in the background during parts of the show. You just can't get this kind of scale elsewhere!

Torches across the water

Not only did people use the main stage, they also used the water and the far shoreline. Above, you see people carrying torches there.

Girl on a boat

The show was based on an old story about a maiden and a suitor who "dui ge" 对歌, which is like the traditional Chinese version of a rap battle. The girl sings a line, and the guy has to sing an appropriate response. Only if he's good can he win her hand in marriage. Typically, the girl will be on a boat, as you see above, while the guy is on the shore.

Red ribbons across the water

I have to admit that, although the performance was clearly inspired by things like the Olympic opening ceremonies, most of the choreography wasn't quite up to that level. The only part that came close was this bit with red ribbons across the water, being pulled up and down like waves.

Boats and manually-operated spotlights

I was pretty surprised to look closely and see that all the spotlights were manually operated and not computer-controlled.

Riverside daily life scene

(Click to view large.) I also liked this bit, where they took a break from singing and dancing to just act out a typical daily riverside scene from back in the day. You could see people doing laundry, selling goods, eating, and playing games.

Raft by a crescent moon

This floating moon was quite pretty.

Lady running on the moon

Supposedly, the lady running on the moon used to actually be naked, but you couldn't see very well anyway from far away. After some complaints, they gave her a flesh-toned body suit instead.

Lights!

Finally, these folks came out wearing a light show. The lights were all centrally controlled and made patterns and such. I was most fascinated by the fact that the lights on one person would occasionally die out. When that happened (a total of 3 times that I noticed), that person would discreetly step back, and their neighbors would join hands. I liked how fault-tolerant it was. :)

The image at the top is actually from the finale, so feel free to go back up there and look at it again, and be like, wow, that is the most insane stage ever. :)

Of course, you also have to consider that they can afford paying 600 people a night because they don't pay them very much. I heard from a local tour guide that the non-professional performers only make 700 RMB (about $100) a month, which is a low even by Chinese standards, and that they only make an extra 20 RMB or so each night that they have to do two shows. Still, I think this show has probably brought in a lot of business to Yangshuo and helped the local economy.

All that aside, though, again, where else can you see a nightly show that employees 600 performers and has actual mountains as a backdrop! Not cardboard ones! Crazy!

Fun with Vehicles in Guilin

From my hotel in Yangshuo, I watched a lot of bikes, scooters, and motorcycles. Here's an overloaded freight bike and a lady with a lot of corn! (The second was actually shot in Guilin.)

Overloaded freight bicycle in Yangshuo, Guilin  Woman on a scooter with a lot of corn in Guilin

But I was mostly fascinated by all the adults driving multiple children around:

Man with helmet and two kids on a motorcycle in Yangshuo, Guilin  Woman and two kids on a scooter in Yangshuo, Guilin

The most amazing was this motorcycle with two adults and two kids on it:

Two adults and two kids (!) on a motorcycle in Yangshuo, Guilin

It was in the afternoon, so I assume these are parents picking up their kids from school?

At night, I had fun with the cheap bent window in a van:

Glare from cheap van window in Yangshuo  Glare from cheap van window in Yangshuo

I saw these all over the place:

Tractor truck in Guilin

I had to ask what they were. Why is the engine exposed? Turns out they're tractors! They sure don't look like tractors I've seen!

And finally, one more street scene, a man selling electronic cigarettes:

Electronic cigarette salesman in Yangshuo

The World's Largest Emergency Glass-Breaking Mallet and Other Guilin Hotel Hijinks

This was my view at the Guifu Hotel in Yangshuo. The foreground is kind of bland, but look at those pretty mountains! Click it to view a full-sized zoomable Gigapan, or you can just take a look at the larger Flickr view.

View from my hotel room at the Guifu Hotel in Yangshou, Guilin

"But wait," you say. "Yangshuo? I thought you were in Guilin." Well... Apparently, Guilin is a city; we left it, traveled down the Li River, and arrived at Yangshuo, which is both a county and a town within that county. Meanwhile, there is also Guilin the prefecture-level city, which isn't like a city at all! Prefecture-level cities are larger than a county but smaller than a province. So Yangshou is part of Guilin the prefecture-level city, but it's not part of the Guilin urban core (more what we would normally think of as a city). I'm still kind of confused. :P

Anyway, back to the hotel in Yangshuo. I like how the hotel lobby had the Chinese character for "fortune" written in a billion different fonts:

Fortune on the lobby wall in Guifu Hotel

Here's something else I found in my hotel room:

Condom public service sign in my hotel room

STDs are a rising problem in China, but fortunately awareness and education are on the rise as well. Also, that's a huge condom! I can fit two people inside! :P

The next day, back at my hotel in Guilin (urban core), I noticed that one corner of the bathroom had "uncomplimentary" products that you have to pay for if you use, including innocuous shaving kits, but also these:

Buy a pair of underwear, get a condom free!

This is a pair of men's underwear with "condominclosed" for 10 RMB.

My best guess is that the underwear is there to ease your conscience. "I'm really just buying a pair of underwear," you might say to yourself. I asked a young Tianjin couple in my tour group what they thought, and they agreed with my interpretation. There is still a stigma against condom use in China, and people feel the need for an excuse to buy condoms.

For 10 RMB, you could also get this:

Mei Fu Antibacterial Lotion

The label reads:

Man use only

Mei Fu Man's Antibacterial Lotion

Specially designed for the health of man's genitals. Used for relieving the itching, klling germs and usual nursing of the private parts. Please apply to genital area gently. Rinse well with water.

Something tells me that if you're using this, you had better be buying the underwear with free condom instead.

The best part is that the "Woman use only" one on the right has the exact same description (swapping "woman" for "man"), and it has the exact same active ingredient (Benzalkonium Bromide).

Okay on the more family-friendly side is this awesomeness:

In case of emergency, break the glass door!

The sign reads:

"DEAR GUEST:
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, PLEASE USE THE HAMMER ASIDE TO BREAK THE GLASS DOOR FOR EMERGENT EXIT.
HOTEL MANAGEMENT"

In case it's not clear, the door is chained shut, thus necessitating the use of a GIANT MALLET. Just try to tell me this is not the best "in case of emergency break glass" ever. So awesome. :)

Speaking of safety, I bet you couldn't get away with these concrete lotus pads in the US:

Concrete lotus pads in the Guishan Hotel

They'd probably be required to wrap each one with a fence. :P

On the Li River in Guilin

Many consider Guilin (桂林) to be the most beautiful place in China. I like to call it "that place where the mountains look like the mountains in Super Mario Brothers". Here's my panorama:

Panorama on the Li River in Guilin

And a couple more pictures with boats in them:

On the Li River in Guilin

On the Li River in Guilin

Well, that second one is more of a raft.

So while we're on the top deck of our large 60-passenger boat, we see one of those bamboo rafts on a collision course toward us. "Look out!" one of my fellow tourists screams. "Be careful!" But it was all in the rafter's plans...

Boarded… by a salesman!

The raft was perfectly aimed to lightly tap our side as he looped some rope over a tire (see bottom left). We were boarded! Luckily, he wasn't a pirate. He just walked alongside and tapped on windows, hoping to sell some trinkets. In time, he unhooked his rope and quickly drifted off.

The next two times we were boarded, no one hollered any warnings.

Here's my obligatory photo proving I was there, and then an amusing one of a tourist showing another tourist how to pose:

Me on the Li River in Guilin  Tourist showing another tourist how to pose on the Li River in Guilin

A couple more silly photos: I'm mostly bored by Chinglish now, but I couldn't resist this one, which I call, "Poor Jiang!" And the second one shows one of the many antenna and cell photo towers that sadly ruin the landscape.

Poor Jiang!  Antenna on the Li River in Guilin

After the boat ride, we went to the Reed Flute Cave. It would've been a perfectly nice cave, except they had to go and light it with horribly gaudy primary colors! I did like this picture I shot of my uncle, though:

Shooting a photo in the crazy lighting

Also, the following sign amused me:

But Michael Jackson told me to!

.. But Michael Jackson told me to! :P

Shanghai: 2004 vs 2010

I thought I'd compare pictures I took in Shanghai of the same landmarks, 6 years apart.

Jin Mao Tower, 2004 vs 2010:

Jinmao Tower Jin Mao Tower as viewed from the observation level of the Shanghai World Financial Center

The 2004 photo of the Jin Mao Tower was the first picture I took that made me go, "Hey! That actually looks like a nice photo!" I also like how it's actually in color, but it just looks kind of black and white. I was extra proud of the fact that I just snapped it out the window of my taxi on my way from the airport. :) My 2010 shot is pretty mediocre, but saved a bit by the post-processing. I had to manually remove the color this time because the haze made everything dreary otherwise.

Pearl of the Orient, 2004 vs 2010:

Oriental Pearl Tower + Tunnel Pearl of the Orient

I really like the lucky timing of my 2004 shot, catching the tower just before I went into a tunnel, thus getting a double-exposure look on a single shot. The 2010 one lets you see some people walking around the observation deck, though, especially if you zoom in.

Shanghai cityscape and the Bund, 2004, another 2004, then 2010:

Shanghai city center from the Jinmao Tower

Panorama of the Bund

The Bund and Downtown Shanghai

In this last case, I think there's no question that my 2010 camera did a better job than my 2004 camera, especially if you zoom in to take a closer look. Click the 2004 shots, and you'll see that dark parts lose all detail and are just pitch black.

So I guess the upshot is that sometimes having a fancy camera doesn't matter, but sometimes it does!

M50: Art and Development in Shanghai

Darth Vader and the Pandas

Where a textile mill once stood on the banks of Suzhou Creek in Shanghai, there is now a blossoming art district known as M50 (for 50 Moganshan Road). Warehouses have been converted to artist studios, galleries, and graphic design and architecture firms. On its outskirts are buildings with sanctioned graffiti, as seen above. Hundreds of artists work here, and I spent hours exploring the galleries, even though more than half were closed for the holidays.

The amazing thing is the apparent artistic freedom these artists have, compared to official government-run museums. You can see overt politics here, like a gallery full of propaganda poster-style paintings of Chairman Mao and others, except everyone other than Mao has a pacifier in their mouth. It wasn't really my cup of tea, but it's notably more overtly critical than the typical kitschy faux-propaganda posters I saw all over town of Workers Uniting with Coca Cola or of Chairman Obama.

There's some of that commercial stuff here, including a photography shop that had some pretty nice photos of Shanghai until I started seeing the same exact photos everywhere; it's apparently a chain. Most of the art seems quite original, though. There is some traditional art, but the majority is modern, and of all styles, photo-realistic and abstract, Gothic and manga, creepy and cute. A few of my favorites:

  • A painting of leaves on water where the paint from the leaves are all 3-dimensional, so that they lift off of the painting and look real. Really neat.

  • A series of realistic paintings of city road scenes, with cars driving back and forth, except that there are traffic lights hanging above (all red), and there's a modern person sitting casually on top of the traffic light: a business woman on her laptop, a business man eating lunch, a hip young kid just leaning back. I liked the vague surrealness, and I think the idea was that these people are actually in quite a precarious position, but they don't even realize it. I felt its social commentary was much more subtle and effective than that in-your-face Mao-and-pacifiers stuff.

  • There was a room with a series of 25 giant head-shots of people laughing, all shot in identical poses in the same studio. (Even though they were posed, you all know how much I like photos of people laughing.)

If any of you plan to go to Shanghai any time soon, I highly recommend swinging by M50. I don't think this kind of art scene has existed in China, out in the open, until recently. And if you're stuck here in San Francisco, there are open studios the next two weekends! I've been to some a few times, and they're often a treat; very similar to what I was just talking about, just less surprising because it's not in China.

Sadly, it's not clear how long the area will last. All around M50 are far more lucrative residential high-rise apartments. I think a mixture of city planning and existing landlords have kept it going for now, but some of the nearby warehouses have already been demolished to make way for new development. So try to go soon! On the flipside, the only reason I even heard about it is because I have relatives who live right across the street. I made the following panorama from their stairwell, and you can see the more typical scene in the area. M50 is off-screen, just off the right side.

Suzhou Creek in Shanghai at Night

(Click above to view the full-screen zoomable Gigapan version, or just visit the Flickr page.)

The Chinese Match.com

I was on my way to visit some museums in Shanghai when I passed through People's Park. There were a ridiculous number of people packed there, nearly all middle-aged or older. I wondered if there was some sort of exercise activity or performance going on there. Then I saw a man wearing a sign around his neck like a political prisoner or something, but the sign actually had information about his adult son. What was going on?

The Chinese Match.com

It turns out that this is where all the parents come together to look for matches for their kids! (There are also some folks who are looking for themselves.) There's a special area for older folks, and there's an "overseas corner".

Each parent sits there with a sign with their son or daughter's year of birth, height, job, and sometimes salary. A few have pictures. In China, another important stat is your hukou, or city of residence registration (sort of an internal passport and immigration system). Some signs advertise that their kids have a car, or that they have a house in a nice area, both highly-sought prerequisites among the middle class these days.

I overheard a conversation where one mother said to another (in Shangahainese):

*sigh* Kids these days don't even want you to look for them. I had to sneak over here! They'd raise such a fuss if they found out. But what else are we gonna do, right?

Expo 2010

I dropped by Expo 2010 in Shanghai. The big country pavilions all had lines of at least 2-4 hours! So I didn't bother going to any of those, and I only went to the stuff no one cared about. :)

My favorite building is one of the few that will actually stay after the rest are torn down: The UFO-shaped Shanghai World Expo Cultural Center (next year to be renamed the Mercedes-Benz Arena; so much for culture):

Shanghai World Expo Cultural Center

I thought the South Korean Pavilion was quite clever, with Hangul integrated into the geometry of the building:

Hangul integrated into the South Korea Pavilion at Expo 2010

I'm not sure if these kung fu kicking sculptures were even part of the expo, but I thought they were awesome:

Kung Fu Kick.. Augustus Caesar?

Kung Fu Kick a Rocket!  Kung Fu Kick the Arc de Triomphe!  Just a Whole Lot of Kung Fu Kicking

And last, but not least, the Oil Pavilion!

Oil Pavilion at Expo 2010

Oil Pavilion at Expo 2010

Those walls are actually giant video screens. At one point, they displayed, in English, the Expo 2010 motto "BETTER CITY BETTER LIFE" followed by "OIL EXTENDING CITY DREAMS".

:\

See the full set here.

End of the road

While on the Big Island, I had my first helicopter ride, to check out areas where fresh lava is still flowing. Later, my friends and I visited Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, where you can actually walk on recently hardened lava and see a road that has been buried under lava.

It is quite literally an apocalyptic landscape, where nearly all traces of human civilization were wiped out in days, inspiring me to take the following shots.

The Apocalypse:

The Apocalypse

"The Road":

"The Road"

You can see the rest of the national park set here.

E&A's Wedding Panoramas in Hawaii

The rehearsal dinner at the Fairmont Orchid:

E&A Rehearsal Dinner at the Fairmont

Click the above to view a larger version on Flickr. Stitched from 5 photos.

And here is the ceremony at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai:

Double-click to zoom in. Or you can view it full-screen.

70 Megapixels, from 15 photos stitched in Photoshop CS5. I had to manually tweak the tree trunks a bit to get them to line up. :P

Who needs Inception when you live in San Francisco?

Who needs Inception when you live in San Francisco?

I was driving up 22nd St toward Mission St when the hills in the distance reminded me of this Inception poster.

(Shot this photo while standing in the middle of a crosswalk at S Van Ness Ave.)

Russian Cruiser Varyag in San Francisco

The Russian cruiser Varyag is in town. It's the first time a Russian warship has docked in San Francisco since 1863! I didn't have time for the ridiculously long line to go aboard, but I took several pictures from shore. My favorite is this one because of the awesome expressions:

See a larger version.

I also like this walking stereotype:

G-Man by Russian Cruiser Varyag

See the rest of the set here.

Davies Symphony Hall

davies-ucsf-graduation-2010-blog.jpg

View it Large or View it Even Larger

Davies is so gorgeous, but usually there's a performance, so photography isn't allowed. Hurray for attending a graduation there! :D

Pauchi and The Matinees

Wow, I can't believe last August was the last time I used my DSLR to take concert photos. In any case, I was happy to have the chance to do so again twice this past week!

Friday night, I went to see my friend Felipe perform with Pauchi Sazaki from Peru:

pauchi-subterranean-arthouse.jpg

Pauchi is an experimental violinist who puts on a very eclectic live show using pedals to loop her various instruments and sounds. My favorite part is when she looped her own giggling, and it was super creepy, like something you might hear in a haunted house. Here are the rest of my photos from her show.

Earlier in the week, I saw a friend's friend's friends' band, The Matinees. They kept introducing friends from other bands to play with them just about every song! Here's one of their friends helping out on the cello:

the-matinees-cello.jpg

I like how the colored streamers taped onto the window behind them give the scene sort of a meteor shower look.

And here is an adoring fan, watching them play: (Okay, actually a painting on the wall. :P)

the-matinees-audience.jpg

Here are the rest of my Matinees photos.

My photo in Pictory

My photo "London's Finest" has been accepted for the latest Pictory showcase: London! It's the eighteenth photo.

My Top 16 Photos of 2009

top-16-2009.jpg

I made a set of my top 16 photos of 2009.

Of course, Waiting with Sheep is my favorite photo I took last year.

Earlier: Top 12 of 2008 and Top 13 of 2007.

And here are my favorite 141 (and counting) photos that I've taken, ever.

Flags of Mist at San Jose City Hall

Flags of Mist at San Jose City Hall

I had seen these flagpole-like structures before outside of San Jose City Hall, but I didn't know what they were for. Here's a photo I took of San Jose City Hall a while back.

It turns out they are flag poles of a sort.. only they fly flags of mist! So awesome.

Hotel Utah

I went to see my friends The Bad Beginning play at Hotel Utah. Here's the full photo set. My two favorite photos of the night, though, are of the other bands. On the left are The Party Fouls, and on the right is DoubleDouble. DoubleDouble's fans ripped up and tossed newspaper bits all over the stage, and it gave the place a post-apocalyptic look I liked.

The Party Fouls @ Hotel Utah   Post-apocalyptic rock! (DoubleDouble @ Hotel Utah)

Again, you can see the rest of the pictures here.

The Bad Beginning, Mouse Kills Tiger, and other friend's bands

My first attempt at a band promo photo, and also my first attempt at a posed photo using off-camera flash; click to view it larger:

The Bad Beginning - Waiting with Sheep

Thanks to Praveen for holding the flash for me (at camera right). That's what gives their faces that painterly feel. Also, the sheep had actually wandered off by the time I shot this, so I had to photoshop them in from a previous test shot. :P

Here's a Reservoir Dogs style shot:

The Bad Beginning - Walking

And here's another shot that I used off-camera flash on, this time holding the flash in my left hand while shooting with my right; click to view larger:

The Bad Beginning - Look over there!

I like the first one the best. Must be the sheep. :)

Here's the full set from the shoot, and here's The Bad Beginning's MySpace page.

* * *

A few days earlier, I went to their show at the Retox Lounge, where a bunch of their friends played, too. Here is Prof. René Lysoff playing spacey electronic music:

René Lysloff @ Retox Lounge

I tried to give it that new Star Trek lens flare look. (That bright light at the bottom right is my flash.)

I liked how these shots of Husni (guitarist for Orkes Pantai Barat) and DJ Chris Beale turned out:

Orkes Pantai Barat @ Retox Lounge    DJ Chris Beale @ Retox Lounge

And of course, a couple of shots of The Bad Beginning:

The Bad Beginning @ Retox Lounge    The Bad Beginning @ Retox Lounge

Here's the full set from Retox Lounge.

* * *

A couple of weeks earlier, I saw my high school friend Miles perform as they toured in San Francisco. He drummed for Mouse Kills Tiger [MySpace]:

Mouse Kills Tiger @ Kimo's in San Francisco    Mouse Kills Tiger @ Kimo's in San Francisco

Here's Mouse Kills Tiger's lead singer Jens:

Mouse Kills Tiger @ Kimo's in San Francisco

And a spectator watching them:

Mouse Kills Tiger @ Kimo's in San Francisco

Jens also drummed for another band, My Imaginary Friends [MySpace]. Their lead singer, Erin, has a great voice:

My Imaginary Friends @ Kimo's in San Francisco

I feel like this picture looks like something out of an old time musician's biopic or something:

My Imaginary Friends @ Kimo's in San Francisco

:) Another spectator shot. I like the colors:

My Imaginary Friends @ Kimo's in San Francisco

Here's the full set from Mouse Kills Tiger and My Imaginary Friends.

* * *

At Miles' show, I met a friend of his, Alice Tong [MySpace]. She performed later that week at a condo complex in Oakland that's doing events like this as promotions:

Alice Tong @ Golden Bridge Lofts in Oakland

Alice Tong @ Golden Bridge Lofts in Oakland

I like this shot of her cellist:

Alice Tong's Cellist @ Golden Bridge Lofts in Oakland

Next up were Michelle Jasso, an opera singer, and dj fflood, calling themselves The Diva and the DJ:

The Diva & The DJ (Michelle Jasso & dj fflood) Debut Performance @ Golden Bridge Lofts in Oakland

The Diva & The DJ (Michelle Jasso & dj fflood) Debut Performance @ Golden Bridge Lofts in Oakland    The Diva & The DJ (Michelle Jasso & dj fflood) Debut Performance @ Golden Bridge Lofts in Oakland

Their music was inspired by the blue alien diva scene from The Fifth Element [YouTube]! Jasso doesn't have a public page yet, but here's fflood's MySpace page.

And finally, here's the full set from Golden Bridge Lofts in Oakland.

Back to the Berg Skateboarding Competition

I dropped by a skateboarding competition and took a bunch of pictures. See also slide show mode. Here are a few highlights:

Back to the Berg

They had to clear several steps in a jump, and preferably do tricks while they're at it.

Back to the Berg

It was crowded, and people found every which way to actually see the competition. They climbed fences and trees, but this guy impressed me the most. How did he get up there with all that gear?!

Back to the Berg

It was much easier to take pictures of people just practicing off to the side. :)

Go take a look at the rest of the full set (or slide show)!

Boston Sights

Just put up the first batch of photos from my trip to Boston last weekend. Mostly architecture shots. Here's a subset.

The view from my 21st floor balcony at the Radisson (click to enlarge):

View from Radisson Hotel, Boston

Downtown Boston has a lot of interesting industrial buildings. Here's Big Dig Vent Building #1:

Big Dig Vent Building #1

Here is a neat power station (left) and a factory I haven't been able to identify on Kneeland St (right):

Boston Edison High Street Station    A factory in Boston

Finally, here's a shot from the plane that turned out pleasingly abstract:

Sunset in the clouds 2

See the full set for the rest!

Overcast San Francisco Night Skyline

Panorama I made from my patio. Double-click to zoom:

J&H Wedding Ceremony Panorama

I recommend viewing the full-screen Gigapan view, or pan around the flickr version if you don't have Flash.

That one is created from 30 photos! The final image is about 70 megapixels, and that's only because I reduced the size so I could edit it at all. Editing a 1.5 GB file on a computer with only 2 GB of RAM can be... slow. Although saving the file would take forever, props to Photoshop for actually being pretty snappy during the editing. It still took me forever to manually clean up all the double images... I also made one of the reception, only 5 photos:

J&H's Wedding Reception at Piedmont Community Hall

No Gigapan version for this one since it's only 30 megapixels, and Gigapan has a 50 megapixel minimum, but you can click it to pan around the reasonably big flickr version.

M&M's Wedding Ceremony in Cabo Panorama

Gigapan link, or see a reduced-size version on Flickr.

San Francisco 24-Hour Time-Lapse (With Music!)


San Francisco 24-Hour Time-Lapse from Kenneth Lu on Vimeo.

Update: I've added a soundtrack! The track is "City Cell" from the album Boundary Waters by my friend Senz of Depth (aka Miles Senzaki). Used with permission.

I made a 24-hour time-lapse video from my patio!

10 fps, 1 frame = 5 minutes.

Click through to the video's main page, and then click the "expand" icon at the bottom-right of the video to watch it full-screen!

Top 12 of 2008

[Thumbnails]

Some people on the photography list at work were posting their top 10 photos of 2008, so here's my stab at it. (You might also want to try this scrollable flickriver view.) Didn't quite manage to get it down to 10, but oh well. :) It's sorted in chronological order.

* * *

I thought I'd take this chance to mention that if you don't want to follow every photo on my photostream, you can see a smaller subset of the more visually interesting ones in the Everything Good set (currently 236 photos) or the even smaller Only the Best set (currently 78 photos). Both are sorted in reverse chronological order, so you can always see the latest ones at the beginning.

Keep Back 500 Feet

Keep Back 500 Feet

The sign on the back of this fire truck says "Keep Back 500 Feet". That's a whole city block! One and a half football fields! There's no way I could possibly read that sign from that distance! So I'd have to get up close to even read it! Wtf? Is this a joke?

That was my reaction, and why I took this picture while stopped behind the truck at a red light. Upon further research, I discovered that it really is the law to keep back 500 feet from a fire truck, but only if it is responding to an emergency, with lights flashing.

But in that case, why doesn't the say "Keep Back 500 Feet When Siren Is On" or something like that? It would only take up one more line, and of course they clearly don't expect you to read it from 500 feet away anyway. :P

A Shadow of Chinatown

A Shadow of Chinatown

I took this at Pine and Grant in Chinatown. I saw this when hanging out with a friend one day, but I didn't have my DSLR. This time I had my DSLR with me. I think I could do a better job next time by using a wider angle lens and a tripod.

Oakland Docks

oakland-docks.jpg

I went to Reno this weekend, but my favorite photo that I took was this one of the Oakland Docks, with the Bay Bridge and San Francisco in the background. I had to warm up the white-balance because it looks better in orange than blue, but I really like how it turned out.

View on black or View it full-size

Here are the rest of my public Reno trip photos.

Btw, to see the power of post-processing, compare the processed version to the original. :P

Infernal Jokers, or: Gotham Police Story

One Rincon Hill and the Moon

Here's a photo I took of One Rincon Hill, the new residential tower in San Francisco. The color scheme was inspired by the Dark Knight. I thought I'd add some more thoughts here about the movie.

Mild spoiler warning! (I'm not going to give away real spoilers, per se, but I'm going to discuss the plot a bit more than I did in my initial review.)

* * *

First of all, I read in some review (forget which) that the Joker isn't just the Joker here. He's basically the Devil himself. The Prince of Lies. The smartest guy in the room (smarter than Batman), who's always a step ahead of you, who doesn't play by any rules, whose words you can never trust, and who does something totally unpredictable just when you think you've got him figured out. One thing that amazed me is that he's the most menacing villain I've seen since I can remember, and the movie is only rated PG-13, proving that unseen violence and a good script trump gorefests any day.

Ain't It Cool News has a great (though spoilerful) review by Alexandra DuPont. (I definitely recommend you put off reading it until after watching the movie.) I agree with many of her points. I like that this movie is mostly gadget-free, and I think the realism of it makes Batman Begins (which I never liked that much) look like Schumacher-era Batman. :P I liked the score. At times it felt blatantly manipulative, but I didn't mind. I was begging to be manipulated by this movie. :)

I agree with some of her criticisms, too. Harvey's actions as Two-Face felt rushed and not entirely convincing. Bale's Batman deep Batman voice got pretty irritating when he went off on long speeches with it. :P I didn't mind the editing and slight logical shortcuts too much, though. In fact, I liked that Batman's first fight scene felt confusing and messy. To me, it showed that Gotham is a confusing a messy place.

But DuPont's comment that I found most interesting was when she talked about how she loved the way the movie respected classic cop dramas, how the rank-and-file cops seemed to have depth and character. I noticed this, too. Chris Nolan was supposedly inspired by Michael Mann's Heat while making The Dark Knight. I think he must also have been influenced by classic Hong Kong cop dramas like Infernal Affairs or old John Woo/Chow Yung Fat movies (like A Better Tomorrow or Hard Boiled). I don't think it's a coincidence that the only major scene outside of Gotham was set in Hong Kong.

Maybe it's the police funeral procession, so popular in Hong Kong cop dramas? Maybe it's the fact that the cops seemed so earnest, whether they were doing good or bad? They seemed to come from another era, when cops were cops, and not wise-cracking jokers. They also reminded me a bit of cops in film noir, like L.A. Confidential. The Dark Knight definitely had a police procedural feel to it at times. Take out the costumes and the Batmobile, and you might as well be watching something like In the Line of Fire or Silence of the Lambs. The Joker is as menacing a serial killer as the silver screen has ever seen.

What it all boils down to is that The Dark Knight takes its cues from classic live action police movies instead of superhero movies. Note how none of the movies I compared it to is a comic book movie. (Okay, except for my comparison to Batman Begins, I guess, but that doesn't count. :P) The Dark Knight is grounded in a mean gray reality and then tacks on the superhero aspect only to exaggerate and emphasize its points. That's why, to steal some other review's comment, it's not only quite possibly the greatest superhero movie of all time, but a great movie, period.

P.S.: How did I manage to write two reviews without mentioning how perfectly Gary Oldman plays Gordon? He's kind of aloof, but you totally trust him to do the right thing. Oh man, there's some movie (again not a superhero movie) I've seen where there's like the rebel cop, but there's also the cop who's trying to keep everything together from the inside, and it's as hard a job if not harder... I can't remember what that movie was, but Gordon perfectly embodies that kind of role.

See also my initial review and my third review (spoiler warning).

A dark night

The Joker at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight

I went to a midnight showing of The Dark Knight. I saw a few other people in various outfits, but this guy's home-made getup was the most impressive.

As for the movie, it was crazy intense. I was thinking of going to rewatch it in IMAX, but I might need a while to recover. :\

Toast Toast Toast Toast

There were some parts where the Joker would, well, make a joke, and some of the audience would laugh, but I'd be cowering in my seat, thinking, "That's not funny! It's freaky!" :\ This is one freaky Joker.

Many of the reviews I've read said, "Aaron Eckhart's performance will be overshadowed by Heath Ledger's, but he was awesome, too!" And he was. I believed in Harvey Dent. He was so likable. But while many reviews downplayed Batman himself, saying he wasn't as interesting as the villains he faced, I don't think this movie shortchanged the title character at all. I loved the ending sequence, which wasn't about plot so much as it was about who Batman is, what he represents, and what he sacrifices. For all the high melodrama, all the ups and downs of the movie, it was that final sequence that got me a little misty-eyed.

It's a damn shame that Heath Ledger won't be able to reprise his irreproduceable turn as the Joker, but Chris Nolan is still around to write and direct more Batman movies. I look forward to future installments, because he really understands what's at the heart of the Batman myth.

Update: Added more thoughts about the movie in a follow-up post.

See also my second review and my third review (spoiler warning).

Thrillionaires and Playground Kings at Blake's in Berkeley

A week ago, I went to see my friends' friends' band Thrillionaires. Here's a shot of the band that played before them, The Playground Kings:

Playground Kings @ Blake's in Berkeley

Amazingly, all four members of The Thrillionaires just got their PhDs. The stormed onto the stage in their graduation gowns! I wasn't ready for it, so I only got a shot of one of them:

Thrillionaires @ Blake's in Berkeley

I am only just beginning to learn the art of off-camera flash, but in the meantime, I'll settle for the poor man's off-camera flash, accidentally catching another photographer's flash:

Thrillionaires @ Blake's in Berkeley

All the colors of the rainbow:

Thrillionaires @ Blake's in Berkeley

(That was more or less how it came out of the camera; I just pumped up the saturation a bit.)

And finally, my favorite shot of the evening:

Thrillionaires @ Blake's in Berkeley

There are a few more shots in the full set.

Swedish indie pop night at Bimbo's

Last Sunday night, I went to Bimbo's for the first time. It's quite a classy venue. All the bands were from Sweden. I was wondering what the deal was with this Swedish invasion of the last few years until Dan X pointed me to an New York Times article about how Scandinavian governments are subsidizing their popular music with funding for recording and tours. Wacky. (I'm not saying these particular bands were, btw.)

Anyway, the first act was Anna Ternheim [MySpace], a singer-songwriter type. She was quite good! Here she is:

Anna Ternheim @ Bimbo's in San Francisco

Presumably she didn't have enough money to bring a whole band with her, and, well, you know how some bands use a drum machine or a synthesizer with recordings? Her backup band was her iPod. :)

I took that last shot with my trusty Fujifilm F30 compact camera. A security guy tapped me on my shoulder, and I was ready to put my camera away, but instead he said, "We're fine with you taking pictures, but no flash, okay?" I was like, "Sure!" I had noticed someone else using flash, so I guess they were bugging everyone with a camera. But see, then I thought, sweet! They're officially letting people take pictures! I had just just bought a Canon 85mm f/1.8 lens, and I wasn't sure when I'd get a good chance to try it out. I immediately ran out to my car to get my DSLR. :) These next few pictures are all from my shiny new lens.

Next up was Lykke Li [MySpace], and she was an awesome indie pop singer. Easily my favorite of the evening:

Lykke Li with megaphone

She went from sorta slower songs to danceable songs, always just a little odd but less weird than, say, Björk (whose personality she reminded me of a little), and with sort of a mysterious sexiness through aloofness appeal. :P I like her guitarist's pose in the background of the above shot. Here's a her guitarist in focus:

Lykke Li's guitarist

The quality difference between these and the F30 shot isn't as obvious at this size (a testament to the low light ability of the F30), but click on the guitarist to zoom in, and see the detail on the hair, then zoom in on the first shot to compare. (The one of Lykke Li has a bit of motion blur.)

The headliner was El Perro del Mar, another indie pop band, though more mellow than Lykke Li. Here's the lead singer:

El Perro del Mar @ Bimbo's in San Francisco

I like how the backlight on her hair makes it glow. They had an incense stick on stage that acted as sort of a poor man's smoke effects. It worked pretty well in the lighting:

El Perro del Mar's keyboardist

I only thought that shot was okay at first, but my friends all seem to like that one the most. It oddly reminds me of a radio telescope and moon shot I took a while back.

There are a few shots I didn't post here; see the full set here, or watch the full-screen slide show.

I love the new lens. It's so perfect for concerts, at least! I'm totally gonna want to find more concerts that allow photography now. :) And I look forward to trying it out at my friends' weddings this summer.

Band in a Door!

Band in a Door!

Actually, this was shot through a reflection in a window. The band is The Mary Onettes, from Sweden, playing at Pop Scene. They were so-so. Kinda new wavy, with a dash of Bloc Party's more poppy stuff.

Lyrics Born at the Independent

Lyrics Born at the Independent in SF, May 2008

I went to see Lyrics Born [MySpace] at The Independent in San Francisco Friday night. (He's a half-Japanese, half-Italian rapper who lives in Berkeley.) I like that they actually officially let us take photos, which they rarely do in SF, even at some smaller venues. The show was really fun. I like that he had a full band and backup singer with him:

Lyrics Born at the Independent in SF, May 2008

It was a great contrast from the opening act, who only had a DJ for music. It was also an interesting contrast from a typical rock show because the music never stopped! Every time he finished a song, the band would immediate segue into the next, just jamming along even when he's talking to the audience. It gave the show a non-stop party feel.

The hipster crowd wasn't quite as loud as it could've been, but it was still a lot more into it than the crowd at a typical nod-your-head indie rock concert. All-in-all, I'd say the music was actually even better live than on the album. I think that Galactic [MySpace] album I've been listening to, From the Corner to the Block [Amazon] has really gotten me to like this whole funk music backing hip-hop thing.

Lyrics Born live:

Toast Toast Toast and a half

Lyrics Born / Later That Day... (2003):

Toast Toast and a half
It has two awesome tracks, "Callin' Out" and "Do That There", but the production is a bit spare, and I wasn't that into the album as a whole when I got it.

Lyrics Born / Same !@#$ Different Day (2005):

Toast Toast Toast and a half
Half the tracks on this album are remixes of his first album, but in most cases I actually like the remixes together (with the exception of the two songs on the original I really liked already). The interesting thing is that most of them are more than "remixes" in that they have whole new verses or even new guest rappers with new lyrics, so they're more like alternative versions than mere remixes. The production on this album is much fuller and more exciting. I particularly like "Shake It Off (Bad Dreams Part II)" and "The Last Trumpet (Halou Remix)".

Lyrics Born / Everywhere At Once (2008):

His new album just came out, and I haven't quite listened to it enough to give it a good review yet, but my instinct is that it's somewhere between the first two. The songs don't sound quite as catchy so far, but I do rather like "I Like It, I Love It", while "Do U Buy It?" is both annoying and catchy at the same time. :P There is more R&B-ish stuff (by guest vocalists) on this album, and I'm not as into that.

Galactic / From the Corner to the Block (2007):

Toast Toast Toast and a half
I might as well review this while I'm at it. It's the best album I've heard in a while. Galactic is this New Orleans funk band who joined up with a different rapper for each track on their new album, and it's awesome. (Lyrics Born is on the first track, but it's not really one of the best tracks on the album.) My favorite is track 2: "...And I'm Out", featuring Mr. Lif. Click that link to listen to it. Pure awesome.

* * *

And now for something completely different, from Maker Faire on Saturday:

[flickr video link]

Chinese Warning

Chinese Warning

This is an anti-smoking ad in a magazine. On the left you see a warning flyer posted on an elevator, and on the right is a closeup of the flyer, which is mostly in Chinese. The small print at the bottom is in English, and it says, "In some developing countries, one tobacco company voluntarily placed warning labels on cigarette packs in English."

So it was showing you how useless a warning label in another language is. The cool thing, though, is that the Chinese isn't gibberish, but it isn't just a normal warning label, either. It roughly translates to:

ELEVATOR WARNING IF YOU CAN READ this message, that means you understand Chinese. Congratulations! The reason we're doing this is because we want you to know how people in Third World countries feel when they read warnings on cigarette packages that they can't even understand. But we think the fact that you understand Chinese is really great.

ACTUALLY, WE'RE EVEN A LITTLE ENVIOUS. Elevator warning if you can read this message, that means you understand Chinese. Congratulations! The reason we're doing this is because we want you to know how people in Third World countries feel when they read warnings on cigarette packages that they can't even understand.

[Yes, it repeats.]

Dog, Car, Ming and Ping

Lucy on the Grass:

Lucy on the Grass

I played softball with some friends this afternoon while their dog chilled out on the grass.

I loved how this Cars playset contained a video game controller and big screen TV for Lightning McQueen to play with in his downtime:

Video game for a car

And finally, "Ming and Ping":

Ming and Ping

I saw this bizarre electronic music act last week. They had a bunch of people dancing around in Peking Opera outfits, but this was the lead singer.

I wasn't so much into the music, but I liked how "Ming" claimed that the guy on the video screen behind him was his identical twin brother "Ping", when it was clearly a pre-recorded video of himself. They would sometimes sing together, and other times they would banter with each other.

Alien Landing Site

Alien Landing Site

I spotted this base off the side of CA State Route 237. I think we're being invaded.

Accordion Festival

A couple of pictures from the summer of 2006. An accordion festival!

Accordion Festival

And I like this scene from shortly after the accordion festival:

Summer Fun near Ghirardelli Square

Lounging in a DC hotel

Lounging in a DC hotel

From our trip to the National Science Bowl in 1996.

Sumner Tunnel

Sumner Tunnel

A shot I took in Boston back in 2002 from a cab on the way back from the airport. It was the last time I headed back to school from Logan. I think it looks kinda futuristic (so I tried to enhance that with the blue-ish tone).

P.S.: For the curious, the double-white line means you're not supposed to change lanes. (I just looked that up. :P)

Chickens eating coconut in Panama

Chickens eating coconut in Panama

I started posting some of my best pre-project 365 photoblog pictures to flickr. This one I left out of my original Panama photoblog post, but I quite like it.

Kiwi

Kiwi

This is a pencil sharpener I got from a coworker who visited New Zealand.

I just got my Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens today (not to be confused with the kit lens with the same numbers but no IS). I knew that, compared to the kit lens, it has image stabilization and an additional aspherical lens element that creates better images (less distortion and fringing). But what I only found out upon getting it is that while the kit lens is made in Taiwan, this lens is made in Japan.

I'll still love my Sigma 30mm f/1.4 for indoor people shots, because the image-stabilization only helps steady your hand; only a bigger aperture can help when the people are moving. But one advantage (other than the zoom) this new lens has is that it can focus as close as 0.25m just like the kit lens, whereas my Sigma can only focus at 0.4m. Couple that with the 55mm end, and you can take some decent macro shots with it.

VR Chairs

VR Chairs

I thought these guys looked pretty ridiculous in their suits. :)

Fogcutter

Fogcutter

A "Virgin Fogcutter" at a friend's birthday party last weekend.

Korean Restaurant Silhouettes

Korean Restaurant Silhouettes

My first post-Project 365 but Project 365-ish photo.

The Go! Team at the Mezzanine in San Francisco

The Go! Team at the Mezzanine in San Francisco

(Project 365 Day 365 (actually 366))

[Because I accidentally labeled two days Day 86, I was actually done with Project 365 yesterday, though I thought it would be today. Look at yesterday's entry for more details. I decided to write my end-of-project notes there, since this entry's comment is going to be long enough as it is...]

A couple more shots:

The Go! Team with Melodica

You can't really see it well in this picture, but she's playing what I thought of as a "key-flute". It's apparently actually a melodica. (And I think the little bit of shoulder you see on the right is the leader of the band. :P)

The Go! Team at the Mezzanine in San Francisco

Today was an eventful day. First of all, I've been having kind of a bad week. So I was looking forward to tonight's The Go! Team concert. (They're this awesome band that's a mixture of 60s/70s pop, 80s action movie theme music, hip-hop, and cheerleader cheers!) I had bought two tickets, hoping to find someone to go with me, but I couldn't find anyone! I eventually I asked around at work, but all I found was someone else who also got two tickets but couldn't find a buddy. :P We decided to meet up at the show. The tickets were only $15, so eating the cost of the spare ticket wasn't a big deal.

Meanwhile, another friend mentioned that he's going to a screening Justin Lin's new movie. (Justin Lin directed the "milestone in Asian-America cinema" Better Luck Tomorrow. (Personally, I found Harold and Kumar to be a bigger breakthrough for Asian-American cinema.) Lin then "went Hollywood" and made Annapolis and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Now he's returned to his indie roots and made a mockumentary set in the 70s about trying to cast a double for Bruce Lee after his death in order to finish off Game of Death.) The director was going to be there, too, so I was curious.

I was running a little late. I had to go home after work to grab some stuff, including the concert tickets, and I couldn't find them! I eventually did, but that wasted some precious time. Then it started raining, and traffic slowed to a crawl on the highway. I noticed I was going to be at least 45 minutes late to the movie, so even though I already bought the ticket online, I decided to skip it. Oh well. More ticket money wasted.

I grabbed some dinner at a Korean place instead. (I love how at this place, when I ordered the rice bowl, they first gave me some Korean pancakes before the standard Korean appetizers, and then they gave me huge bowl of tofu stew on the side as well. One time when I was there they actually gave me free fish.)

Okay, so then I get to the venue, and I mention to the doorman that I have an extra ticket I'd like to get rid of. He tells me to go over to the line of people waiting to get tickets and just sell it to them. I go over there, and this big bouncer tells me I have to go around to the back of the line to sell my ticket. I'm a bit confused. Meanwhile, one of the guys in line who was about to go to the window says, "I'll buy it right now." The bouncer goes, "No no no. This is exactly what you can't do!" He directs me around the line to the back and tells me to do my business there. (I'm sure they had policies and all, but I didn't appreciate his attitude.) The guy who said he'd buy my ticket just gets his ticket from the window. I ask the guys in the back of the line, and they say they all have will-call already. So I think, screw this, decide not to bother trying to sell it, and just head on in.

As I walk in through the front door, my pager goes off! I'm on duty this week at work, which means that I need to go diagnose problems... Thing is, my normal phone broke last week, and I'm using an old phone with older phone numbers. I wrote down some of my friends' numbers on a sheet of paper, but I forgot to write down my coworkers' numbers. I want to ignore the page. I really don't want to have to go home at this point. But I don't have any of my coworkers' phone numbers to hand it off to someone else! I'm really stressing out at this point. All this crazy stuff happening, and now this!

Luckily, I eventually figure out how to use my pager to send text messages to my coworkers, and another on duty coworker tells me he'll take care of the problem. *Whew!* I breathe a huge sigh of relief at this point. I wasn't going to be able to enjoy the concert with this hanging over my head!

The concert, luckily, was awesome. The Go! Team is kinda weird in that it actually started out as an album recorded in some dude's parents' kitchen, and not as live gigs. There are lots of sampled cheerleading chants and such that are replaced by different singers in the live version. And a lot of what I thought was horns on the album was a harmonica live. I guess they don't have the money to bring a whole horn section with them. So musically, it didn't quite work as well, in that I think the album tracks sound better, but the ENERGY was definitely there! And they did have two complete drum sets. :) The whole crowd was totally into the music and jumping up and down and sideways throughout the show. It was great! That was exactly what I needed at the end of a rough week!

(I didn't actually manage to get a good shot of the actual band leader. After my encounter with that draconian bouncer, and because it was a relatively small venue, I decided to play it safe and only whipped out my camera toward the end of the show, when I wouldn't have much to lose on the off-chance they kicked me out. (...which of course I've never actually seen any venue do. That's another pet peeve of mine: unenforced (or worse: selectively enforced) rules that basically reward people who break the rules.))

Back when the show started, it had occurred to me that I had parked my car on Howard Street, where I once got a street cleaning ticket. (Street cleaning starts at 12:01am on that street. What the hell? People are still out! Literally like 20 cars in a row each had a ticket the time I got mine. So they clearly have no intention of cleaning the streets and actually enacted those times just as a source of income. :P) But anyway, I was like, no way I'm going to bother moving it now. This show is going to be worth it even if I get a ticket! :) And yeah, the concert was good enough for that. :)

This story has a bizarre coda:

After the concert, my newfound friend from work (the guy who also got two tickets and wasted one) had to retrieve his jacket from coat check. I told him I'd wait outside. But I was still kinda worried about getting a ticket, so I went back inside to tell him I was going to head out.

On my way back out, two tall guys in the coat check line intentionally blocked my path and loudly proclaim, "WAIT IN LINE LIKE THE REST OF US!" I think he was drunk. So I reply, "I'm exiting!" Then he's like, "Oh... He's EXITING..." His friends laugh. I find him so obnoxious at this point that I flip him off a couple of inches from his face. His friends are like, "Ooooo...." but they don't do anything as I leave. You have to realize that I can't even remember the last time I flipped someone off. It's just not something I do. Especially to 6-foot tall drunk guys. :P

Immediately afterward I felt kinda bad about it. I felt like I should've taken the high road. Maybe I could've said something like, "We're all having a good time. Why do you have to go and bring us down?" I don't know. :P Maybe flipping him off was the right thing to do. Who knows. So that felt like kind of a bummer end to the evening.

But then I got to my car... and no ticket! No street cleaning tonight. :) Yay! Happy ending to my day after all.

Plus today marks the end of my Project 365. Very eventful day.

I guess I was so pumped that I came home and typed like the longest Project 365/blog entry every. :)

Lust, Helvetica

Lust, Helvetica

(Project 365 Day 358)

Last weekend, I watched the documentary Helvetica. Yes, the font. It's only had special screenings, not wide release, but it'll be out on DVD next month. The film mostly consists of interviews with typographers, and it's pretty crazy how excited some people get about Helvetica! It would've probably been better at 60 minutes instead of 80, but I still really enjoyed it.

Helvetica was invented in 1957 in Switzerland. It was meant to be the ultimate Modernist typeface, neutral, utilitarian, communicating information without adding connotations of its own. It has since spread to be, well, everywhere. I'm pretty sure the air bag warning on my car's visor flap (pictured) is in Helvetica.

So some people see it as practically the culmination of Western society or something. :P Meanwhile, other people utterly despise Helvetica (and they think Microsoft's clone, Arial, is even worse), because it has seen such widespread use by corporations, and because people are lazy and tend to just use Helvetica by default.

I took this photo right after watching the new Ang Lee movie, Lust, Caution (which the "Warning" reminded me of). I really liked it. It has this epic yet personal feel of a classic film. Lee put so much loving detail into developing the environment of World War II era Shanghai and Hong Kong. The movie is really intense (my new favorite word), which is also its theme. The much ballyhooed sex scenes are definitely relevant to the plot; they were more unnerving than titillating, showing the contrast between these moments of freedom and the cautious, calculated world that the characters usually inhabit. (I really liked the opening scene of four women playing Mahjongg, making ostensible small talk where they tensely and carefully choose each word.)

Hm. Maybe that's the argument against Helvetica. It's cautious. It's restrained. It attempts to reveal as little emotion as possible while speaking a controlled, calculated message. Sometimes we need more lustful fonts.

And yet, giving in to our primal desires may lead to tragic consequences... like bad page layout.

Helvetica: Toast Toast Toast and a half Lust, Caution: Toast Toast Toast Toast [ Rating Key ]

Gunslinger

Gunslinger

(Project 365 Day 337)

Tonight I watched 3:10 to Yuma, and it was pretty good. Very well-cast and great music. The only thing that sucked was how this couple behind us kept giggling and making fun of the movie. They didn't tone down giggling until maybe halfway through the movie after I gave them several dirty looks. I think they must've been high. :\

Spaceship Patio II

Spaceship Patio II

(Project 365 Day 336)

This patio heater reminded me of the Icarus II spacecraft from Sunshine. The stem totally looks like some sort of truss, and the light part might be some sort of futuristic engine.

For comparison, here's a shot of the ship from the movie:

[Icarus II]

Europe 2007, Day 2: London

St. Pancras Station from the British Library

That's St. Pancras Station, as seen from the British Library.

Our plan was to see London a bit at the beginning of the trip and a bit at the end. We were pretty exhausted from the flight, though, so we just went to see Tower Bridge and took a bunch of touristy photos there. I liked this big red wall the British Library had, though.

We had some dinner at this Chinese place I used to go to all the time when I lived in London, but it was kinda bad. I think they must've changed owners some time in the last few years. :\

I was very excited to finally have some European Orange Fanta again. You see, Fanta in Europe has 10% juice! Fanta in the US has 0% juice. It tastes totally different.

Europe 2007, Day 1: Flight Out

Creepy Virgin Atlantic Safety Video Characters Virgin Atlantic has a screen on every seatback, and you can watch the movies you want when you want to. It's pretty awesome, even if their safety video characters kinda freaked me out.

I watched Waitress, which was light but fun. My favorite character was this plucky, insecure, and utterly adorable supporting character called Dawn. Turns out she's played by the writer/director, Adrienne Shelley, who was unfortunately senselessly murdered while working on post-production for this movie! :( So sad! She was found hanging by a bedsheet in her bathroom, but it turned out she was actually strangled by a neighbor who get pissed off when she made a noise complaint. Wtf?! And so her promising career was cut short. :\

I also watched most of The Namesake, but with half an hour left, my movie was cut short because the plane landed half an hour early. D'oh! Once we got on the ground, the jetway broke down, so we ended up having to wait half an hour on the ground at Heathrow before they sent us some stairs. :P

What was even more amusing was that, once we got down the stairs, we got in a bus that drove all the way around the plane in a big circle to the left... only to drop us off at a door that was no more than 100 feet to the right of the plane. I guess they had to do that for safety reasons or something, but it was still kind of ridiculous. :)

But I get ahead of myself! Technically, all that happened on Day 2, not Day 1. I boarded the plane on Day 1, but arrived in London on Day 2. Oops.

Hook, Line, Sinker (How I fell for a phishing scam)

Hook, Line, Sinker (How I fell for a phishing scam) (Project 365 Day 314)

Today I fell for a phishing scam. :( A friend of mine sends me a link via Yahoo IM asking me to check out some geocities link. I click on it, and I get a Yahoo 360 sign-in page. "Strange that you'd need to sign in to see a geocities page, but Yahoo does own geocities, and I haven't been there in a while," I think.

So I put in my username/password and just get a Yahoo 360 homepage. Weird. I IM my friend to ask what the deal is, but he doesn't reply. I'm in the middle of working, so I quickly get distracted by other duties and don't think about it much.

A while later, I get a reply from my friend, along the lines of, "Huh?" Turns out he never sent me the link! "Crap!" I think. "I'm a doofus! I just fell for a phishing scam!" My friend had gotten the same link from one of HIS friends, and so I bet the bad guys have a program that recorded his password when he typed it into that bogus page, then logged in to his Yahoo IM account and spammed it to everyone on his buddy list.

It's quite insidious, because you're tempted to trust links your friends send you, and because this doesn't require any spyware on your computer; it's all done over the web.

So again, people, don't be an idiot like me. Think twice before putting your password in a page that asks for it!

Oh, and needless to say, I immediately reported the page to Yahoo (and it's been taken down now), changed my Yahoo password, and then changed the password in the various other places I use that same password, just in case. I also emailed everyone in my Yahoo IM buddy list to warn them, just in case my account sent them the bogus URL, too. Pain in the ass.

Whistleblowers in Iraq get demoted, detained, and tortured

Snuffing out a flame

(Project 365 Day 313: "Snuffing out a flame")

I don't know why people feel the need to make up poorly-evidenced conspiracy theories when there are conspiracies right under our noses with plenty of evidence. According to this AP report, whistleblowers in Iraq get smacked down. When private firms are misusing gov't funds or selling weapons to insurgents, brave individuals occasionally report the abuse. When they do, they get their responsibilities stripped, detained for months by the military they think they're trying to help, and even tortured.

In every case, whistleblowers get their lives destroyed. In the only case where a whistleblower was actually won a case in court, it got overturned by a higher court on the basis that the Coalition Provisional Authority was not part of the US Government.

Silencing the "rats"... That's a classic Mafia tactic, isn't it? Why aren't people more outraged about our gov't doing this?

I read an article a few weeks ago about the power that factory owners now have in China. A New York Times reporter was detained by a factory for trying to report on them, and the cops and even local officials were powerless to intervene. "Man, things sure are messy in China," is what I thought. "I'm glad things aren't like that here." Well, I guess they aren't like that here because there are too many eyes watching. But plop these same Americans in Iraq, away from the prying eyes of journalists and the public, and human nature re-asserts itself.

So depressing. :(

I don't know why I feel so riled up about this, but I do. I mean, I normally feel kinda numb to war and civilian casualties and all that, but not with this. Maybe I've been watching too many action movies? The lone advocate, bucking the system to take on the bad guys! A candle against the darkness! And here he's getting snuffed out. Or maybe it's that I actually do have faith in the system. Our country should be better than this!

Maybe I feel that, for all its flaws, our gov't does have mechanisms to heal itself, to improve itself. And here, all those mechanisms have failed. It's scary to think of our gov't as so actively corrupt. I feel like I lost a little faith in our country today...

(Or maybe I just stayed up too late last night watching the lunar eclipse, and I need to go to bed. Good night.)

Lunar Eclipse

Lunar Eclipse

(Project 365 Day 312)

This is the first time I've ever watched a lunar eclipse! It's so neat how the moon turns red.

Falling Star

Falling Star

(Project 365 Day 311)

I just watched Stardust, and my reaction was, "Wow! They actually managed to make a movie based on a Neil Gaiman book that feels like a Neil Gaiman book!" The fairy-tale-for-adults feel of the book was definitely present, even though they lightened up the ending a bit (in more ways than one).

Anyway, for those who don't know anything about the book or the movie, the plot centers around a falling star. Thus today's photo. (It's just me flicking my flashlight with a one-second exposure. Then I cooled off the color temperature.)

(And yes, I realize that the framing is a bit off.. The main flash is a bit too close to the bottom edge. Oh well.)

Try it large and on black.

Strunk and White, Illustrated?

Strunk and White, Illustrated?

(Project 365 Day 308)

I saw this at a book store. It's Strunk and White's Elements of Style.... the illustrated version. WTF?! An illustrated grammar book?! Not only that, the drawings were all really surreal, too, having little to do with what they're supposedly illustrating. For instance, the dude with the cardboard box over his head is captioned, "Illusion. See allusion."

WTF?! Why would you choose to illustrate a pointer entry, of all things?! And what on Earth does putting a cardboard box over your head have anything to do with illusions or allusions?!

(You can also see a big version.)

Aha, I found the artist's page, with more sample illustrations. That dog is the illustration for, "Well, Susan, this is a fine mess you are in." So crazy!

Don't Walk

Don't Walk

(Project 365 Day 295)

So I was reading this WaPo article about "sworn virgins" in Albania, women who take an oath, dress and act like men, and thus gain the social status of men in otherwise traditional areas where women have few rights. Fascinating article, but that's not what this post is about. :)

There was a video link on the article, and I clicked it. I was presented with a 15-second "pre-roll" ad that I couldn't skip. Why are those so annoying? I hate them much more than banner ads or even interstitial ads. I hate more than TV commercials, too. I hate them so much that I'm liable to just close the window and forgo watching the video just so I don't have to watch the pre-roll ad. (And it's not just me.) It occurred to me that they remind me of button-based walk signals.

I grew up in San Francisco, where all the signals are on timers. When you arrive an an intersection, the signal sometimes says Don't Walk, but sometimes it already says Walk, or it's at least still flashing. Also, with few exceptions, the pedestrian signals are synchronized with the normal traffic signals.

I went to college in Boston, where most of the signals use those button-pushy things. Even when the light for cars is green, the walk signal is sometimes still red, because that allows cars to turn more smoothly. At many of these intersections, when foot traffic is light, the light is always red when you arrive. And I found this really annoying! Other people seemed to as well, because people seem to violate walk signals a lot more in Boston than they do in San Francisco. It seems only fair to have to wait some of the time when you get to an intersection, but it seems unfair to be forced to wait every time you get to an intersection.

I think my psychology is similar when it comes to pre-roll ads. With TV commercials, as I switch channels, I sometimes have to watch a commercial, but I usually don't. Most of the time, I get to see some content before I have to see a commercial. Imagine if, every time you switched the channel, you had to watch a commercial before you got to see any part of the program. Television would be a most frustrating experience then. But that's precisely the experience pre-roll-infested web videos present us with.

Sterile Mall

Sterile Mall

(Project 365 Day 281)

The Vallco mall in Cupertino has struggled a lot over the year. The latest attempt to bring it back to life has renamed it "Cupertino Square" and added a new AMC movie theater.

One striking thing about the building is how empty it still is. On the way to the theater, you can see lots of blank white walls free of posters and advertisements.

It's kinda eerie!

I feel so vulnerable without the warm embrace of omnipresent marketing messages!

(See it extra large.)

Best wedding cake dolls ever.

Best wedding cake dolls ever.

(Project 365 Day 277)

Suburban Palm Trees

Suburban Palm Trees

(Project 365 Day 280)

These palm trees are just down the block from my apt. It just really amuses me to see all these palm trees in the middle of suburbia. :)

(30 second exposure taken at 2am that I brightened and saturated a bit more afterward. The sky is orange because it's overcast.)

Red Umbrella

red-umbrella.jpg

(Project 365 Day 274)

A little painting-effect processing and a ton of cropping go a long way toward rescuing a drive-by snapshot into one of my favorite pictures. :) See the flickr page for more details, and be sure to view it large.

Scarab @ Brainwash and Ireland's 32

I took pictures at two Scarab shows this weekend. Here are a couple of my favorite shots. You can go to the flickr sets to see the rest of them.

Saturday night, they played at Brain Wash again. I like how the brown shirts made it easy to give this shot a quasi-sepia look:

Brown

Sunday night, they played at Ireland's 32. Here's my favorite shot of that evening:

Looking up!

"My spoon is too big."

"My spoon is too big."

(Project 365 Day 256)

This is my re-creation of the opening scene of Rejected, a short film by Don Hertzfeldt. I guarantee it's quite different from anything you've seen before. (Warning: Features graphic stick figure violence at times.)

You should also check out Billy's Balloon and L'Amour.

A friend of mine showed me these videos back in college. He found them on the Internet somewhere, in the days before YouTube. :) I just bought Don Hertzfeldt's DVD, though, to finally actually support the artist. :)

Cthulhu the Wifi Hub

Cthulhu the Wifi Hub

(Project 365 Day 251)

I went to watch Live Free or Die Hard tonight. The bad guys essentially hack the computer infrastructure of the north-eastern US. (I've heard someone call it "Die Hard... in a country!") I actually found it kinda freaky because, well, I bet the security of our critical services really is pretty crappy and hackable.

On the other hand, computer hacking just doesn't present the kind of visceral sense of danger that an action movie really needs. (And the movie does supply its villains with guns and kung fu, to supplement the hacking.)

So here I present to you my attempt to depict my computer networking infrastructure with a sense of menace. :P

(Btw I went into the movie with extremely low expectations due to reading a bunch of negative reviews, and I ended up enjoying the movie. I enjoyed it as a summer action flick, but it definitely felt kinda light, and it certainly didn't feel like anyone was dying particularly hard. I did like, though, how Bruce Willis played it with a sort of "not this again" feel. Some of the biggest laughs of the movie were his subtle, weary sighs. Oh, and Mac Guy wasn't as annoying as I expected him to be.)

Do not enter room 6

Do not enter room 6

(Project 365 Day 246)

I went to watch 1408 last night. It's about an evil hotel room with that number. It was pretty mediocre, with John Cusack being the saving grace. But it did inspire this picture of my neighbor's door. I hope my neighbor is able to emerge safely in the morning!

Lonely Car

Lonely Car

(Project 365 Day 237)

My car seemed very lonely when I went to get it.

Darth in the Jungle

Darth in the Jungle

(Project 365 Day 235)

Lord Vader waddles through the rain forest.

P.S.: The background is this plant.

Hang Gliders at Fort Funston

I went to hang out with Jesse over at Fort Funston, where he was checking on his hang glider. He didn't actually fly, but I got some nice pictures of other people! :P Here's a glider at sunset:

Glider at Sunset

(Project 365 Day 233)

Hang glider over the Pacific Ocean.

I like this one, too:

Thermonuclear Explosion

I was thinking, "Man, this totally looks like there's a thermonuclear explosion in the distance." And then I thought, "Oh wait, that's exactly what it really is! Lots and lots of thermonuclear explosions all the time, too, not just a single one!" :D

Here's the rest of the set.

Twilight BBQ and Dog

Twilight BBQ and Dog.jpg

(Project 365 Day 232)

Went over to my friends' house for a BBQ for no reason. Well, just because it's Friday, I guess. :) That's their really cute dog Lucy.

Bocce Ball Dogs

(Project 365 Day 228)

I was taking pictures of my friends playing Bocce Ball, and I thought it kinda looked like the Reservoir Dogs cover, so I made this silly thing. :P

At one point when they were walking across the grass, it kinda reminded me of the Abbey Road cover, but I didn't get a picture of that. Who knew Bocce Ball could reproduce so many famous photographs!

Here it is large and on black.

I used these splatter brushes for the blood.

John Edwards, May 30, 2007

John Edwards, May 30, 2007

(Project 365 Day 223)

I heard John Edwards speak today. I need to start by saying that I saw Hillary Clinton speak a few months ago, and the most exciting part was when she first walked in, not 20 feet away from me, and smilingly waved at us. I was all like, "Oo look! It's Hillary Clinton! She's right over there!" Once she started talking, it was boredom city. Everything she said sounded like it was precisely calculated to offend the minimum number of people. Her Q&A was entirely devoid of content.

Admittedly, I already had a somewhat negative impression of Sen. Clinton going in (because I felt that she'd been pandering to the center in the most cynical ways possible, through meaningless family values issues and such), but her talk cemented my impression and then some. I came out with a much worse impression of her than I had going in.

(For comparison: A friend of mine who had the same experience with Clinton also saw John McCain. We also both had negative feelings about modern day McCain, feeling that he's towing the party line a lot more than he used to, but my friend said that he had a better impression of McCain after seeing him talk.)

Anyway, back to John Edwards. I honestly didn't know much about him going in, but I really like him now. He was amazingly open and honest. He actually, well, SAID stuff and made POINTS.

He said that he'd close down Guantanamo as his first act in office. He talked about regretting his support of the war in Iraq. When someone asked him about the mercenaries we use there, he said they should never have been there, and we should pull them out. He said he wants fully publicly-funded campaigns, adding that he knows he's raised millions himself in campaign funds but doesn't like the system.

He talked a lot about foreign aid, specifically focusing on primary school education and clean water in third world countries. He admitted that it may not be a popular topic with some people, who'd rather see us spend all our money at home. He said he wants to create a cabinet-level position to oversee humanitarian aid. I think he said that he wants to spend about $5 billion a year on it.

That led him to segue into mentioning farm subsidy reform, which was what I applauded the most. (Everyone talks about Big Tobacco and Big Oil, but it's time we got Big Corn on everyone's radar!) He wants to get rid of subsidies for million-dollar farms, but he does want to keep them for "family farms". He said the trick would be drawing the line, and he figures around $250,000 a year in income would be a reasonable one.

Edwards spent a lot of time talking about the work that the people of the country need to do. He said that nothing will happen if we just vote and elect someone. For instance, he said that fighting climate change would require a lot of sacrifices on our part, admitting that changes would require conservation and hikes in energy prices. I kinda really liked this part. In a way, it's sort of obvious, but it made me feel respected. A lot of politicians want to pretend that gov't can do everything for you. That's the easier route, no? All of Bush's talk about "maintaining the American way of life" comes to mind. Or maybe since people complain about Edwards being too young, he's just trying to channel some JFK associations. :P

On that note, he said that he doesn't believe in a President who wants to move cautiously and avoid offending people, and that there are candidates in both parties who are like that (which I think might be a thinly veiled attack on Sen. Clinton). He thinks we live in a time that requires a President who's willing to make bold moves even where it's not politically expedient.

I even liked how he was very open about dodging questions. One questioner first lightened mood by complimenting Edwards on his new haircut and then asked if the US should send military support if China invaded Taiwan. Edwards laughed, said, "Why don't you just get right to the question?" and then started, with a smile, "First of all, I'm not going to answer your question." He followed that with the expected fluffy non-answer, but I think a lot of candidates would ONLY give the fluffy non-answer.

Similarly, he was talking about how when he's President, he'd want to surround himself with smart people who didn't always agree with him. When asked if he wanted to name some such people he might choose, he gave a jokingly curt, "No." I'm impressed with the way he so directly handles questions he doesn't want to answer and sort of makes them into a joke. I guess it just gives me a sense of respect for the audience, as if he were saying, "I'm not trying to pull a fast one on you, but you know how politics works."

When the host said that they were running long, and they'd only take a couple more questions, Edwards insisted he'd stay as long as he needed to. He even answered a few more questions after the next prompting. Eventually, they just had to end it. I know this is part of the politics, and his insistence on staying is a pre-considered part of the act, but I still liked it. :P I don't mind calculated actions if they're sending the right message.

John Edwards is one smooth operator. He needs to just do more of these. I think the more people he speaks to in person, the more votes he'll get. I couldn't say the same for Hillary Clinton. :P

A couple pictures of him after the speech below:

John Edwards Photo Op

He stuck around afterward to chat with fans and take a few pictures. Note that at the beginning of Sen. Clinton's talk, the host told us that she had asked us not to take any pictures.

John Edwards and Fans

I tried to get a picture with him too. At one point, his minders urged him to leave; he waved over at us and said, "But what about all THESE people?" Sadly, after he left after only a couple more photos, and I just barely missed the cut. :P Again, I know what he said was calculated and designed to sound charming, but it still worked. :)

Funny how I went in knowing nothing about him, and by the end I wanted to take a picture with him. With Sen. Clinton, I wanted to take a picture of her before she came in, but by the end of her talk I just wanted to leave. :P I wonder if I would've dug Edwards so much if I hadn't seen Clinton first? :)

My first trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium!

I've been to Monterey several times, but somehow for one reason or another never actually went to the aquarium. I think it was hyped up a bit too much for me, so it wasn't AWESOME, but it was pretty cool. I particularly liked the jellyfish. So here's Project 365 Day 220.

Shark at Monterey Bay Aquarium

Too bad the kelp in the background gives away the fact that this shark isn't that big. :p

Octopus at Monterey Bay Aquarium

The octopus was all squished up against the side of the display. That couldn't have been comfortable! Or maybe it was?

And I managed to get this shot without flash by setting my Fujifilm F30 to ISO 1600, though sadly many other people were using their flashes despite the sign. :(

Tiny Jellyfish at Monterey Bay Aquarium

These tiny jellyfish looked more like a slide under a microscope than something I could actually see!

Almost Invisible Jellyfish at Monterey Bay Aquarium

Light on and light off shots of a type of jellyfish that is almost invisible in the open ocean. These jellyfish remind me of those transparent LCD clocks, you know the ones that have the numbers on transparent glass. It's like, where's the circuitry?! Here, it's like, where's the organs? :P

Reverse Time

Reverse Time

(Project 365 Day 185)

Tonight I went to see Merrily We Roll Along, a musical. The gimmick in this musical is that each scene takes place progressively earlier in time. So at the very first scene, you know the ending, that the main character is a composer who's "sold out" and miserable in middle age. Then each scene tells you a bit of his history, and of those around him, until you get to the wide-eyed days of his youth, when he was still optimistic and full of wonder.

It was so twisted! I mean, it gets happier and happier, but that actually means that their lives got sadder and sadder! Also, the production values were really good, and the acting was great, too, so if anyone who reads this lives in the Silicon Valley, I'd recommend that you consider taking a look.

Pillarboxing in a Restaurant!

Pillarboxing in a Restaurant!

(Project 365 Day 176)

I took a picture of this TV in B J's Restaurant & Brewhouse because it's the first time I've ever seen a public HDTV display regular TV in pillarboxed format instead of distorted/stretched format. I was impressed. Details below:

So traditional TVs have an aspect ratio of 4:3. When you watch a movie on a normal TV, it's sometimes presented in "letterboxed" widescreen, which means you see the full picture as originally intended, with black empty spaces above and below the picture. Other times it's presented "pan & scan", where they crop the sides off of the image to fit your TV, customizing the cropping based on what makes sense for each shot. (The marketers love to call this "full screen", even though it actually means you're missing parts of the picture.) People used to get confused by letterboxing, wondering if parts of the picture are cut off, etc, but I think almost everyone understands it these days. In fact, some TV shows being shot for HDTV even broadcast in letterboxed format on normal TV these days. Which brings us to...

HDTVs have an aspect ratio of 16:9, which is wider than normal TV. This presents a bit of a problem when you're watching normal TV. To get the full picture, you would have empty spaces on the sides of the screen. (It's called "pillarboxing".) This presents two problems: (1) People aren't as comfortable about blank areas on the sides of their screen as they are about blank areas on the top and bottom. I think part of it is that people don't want to feel like they're wasting display area on their expensive HDTV. :P (2) Plasma TVs, the most common type of flat screen HDTVs, suffer from burn-in, such that if you leave the sides of the screen black and keep displaying stuff in the middle, the middle eventually turns a different shade from the sides.

To solve the second problem, plasma TVs usually come with gray bars (which will burn in the TV just as much as the rest of the image, on average, kind of an "I am Spartacus" way of damaging all the pixels equally so nothing stands out). That's what you see here. The problem, though, is that gray bars are even more ugly and annoying than black bars.

So then you really only have two options: You could ruthlessly crop off the top and bottom of the screen and fill the screen with the middle. Unfortunately, it's not logistically feasible to manually pan & scan every TV show, not to mention that movies are usually shot with pan & scanning in mind, whereas TV is not. So this usually cuts off important information and isn't very feasible. You could also simply distort and stretch the 4:3 image so it fills the whole 16:9 screen.

Who would want to spend $2000+ on a fancy new TV and watch most of their programming extra fat, as if it were on stretched-out silly putty? The answer: Almost everyone! I'd say about 90% of the time I see an HDTV, it's showing non-HD standard TV programming in stretched mode. I admit that the stretched images are not quite as annoying as you might expect, because our brains compensate for it to some degree, but I'm still baffled that this is the norm.

Anyway, this is why I'll never get a plasma HDTV. I don't want to watch my shows stretched, and I don't want those ugly gray bars, either. I'm waiting for LCD HDTV prices to come down before getting one of those. LCDs don't have that burn-in problem, so they can use black bars on the sides, which is far less annoying.

Still, I think I definitely prefer the gray bars to watching stretched images, and so I applaud B J's Restaurant and Brewhouse for giving us undistorted TV!

The ironic thing is that I didn't care at all about what was actually on TV there. :)

McGraw vs Bunny

McGraw vs Bunny

(Project 365 Day 175)

The fight of the century! Has Bunny met his match? But wait, McGraw's got a shiv! Is that even legal?

Bunny attacks with cybernetic hand

Bunny attacks with cybernetic hand!

(Project 365 Day 174)

Look out! Bunny's got a weapon now!

Judging a book by its cover

Judging a book by its cover

(Project 365 Day 173)

I still remember finding this book at my local public library. I think I was drawn to it by the image of an intrepid girl backpacking her way around the galaxy. Turns out it was the third book of the Foundation Trilogy, often named the best science fiction trilogy of all time. I ended up reading them in reverse order the first time through. :P

It was the first Isaac Asimov book I had read, and I became totally obsessed with Asimov in my teenage years. Two concepts of his have stuck with me all these years: (1) Complexity. his stories often involved multiple parties each trying to achieve their own goals, but once their plots interacted, the outcome wouldn't be what anyone anticipated, though it would of course be perfectly logical. That's kind of how I see life. (2) Clarity. I loved Asimov's direct style of writing. He was never big on poetic flourishes; he always just wanted to get the ideas straight through, and that's what I aspire to in my writing. (Yes, I know this post is ironically somewhat long-winded. :P)

I had considered buying a copy of the Foundation Trilogy and re-reading it for a while now, but the new covers always felt kinda cheesy to me, and they made the books seem different, somehow, less appealing. I mean, take a look at the recent covers on Amazon. Then one day I noticed this used copy with that cover from the 80s that drew me in originally, and I finally bought it. (It took me a while, rummaging through used book stores, to find copies of the other two books from the same edition, but I eventually did.)

I judged this book by its cover, and it lead to the wonderful world of Asimov, so I feel attached to it, I guess. But then, I also still buy physical CDs because I think the album cover art affects my appreciation of the music. So maybe I'm just weird. :)

And in the end, it's also just a wonderful cover.

(P.S.: I noticed that the glow from my lamp was just about the right size to put a halo around the image. I think it makes for a nifty effect. :) )

Update: Hm, you know what? I'm terrible at remembering the plots of books, and, despite the fact that the Foundation Trilogy are nominally my favorite books, I can't actually remember a thing about what this girl actually does in the book. But I do vividly remember this cover and all the ideas and emotions that it evoked the first time I saw it. I guess I'm just a visual person.

Bunny Rises From Grave

Bunny Rises From Grave

(Project 365 Day 171)

This is my Easter-themed photo of the day. :P

(flashlight + bunny + wall)

Composition with Head

Composition with Head

(Project 365 Day 160)

So I was over at SFMOMA to see a "Picasso and American Art" exhibit, and I saw this cubist oil painting by Arshile Gorky titled "Composition with Head". It was painted from 1936-1937, but I couldn't get over how much the thing at the corner looked like my cell phone! Could Gorky see the future?

Zoom in for a better look at the painting.

Bunny Doctor

Bunny

(Project 365 Day 158)

"Ah, you're awake," said the bunny. "It would appear that the operation was a success. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

Scarier large and on black.

Bloc Party with Final Fantasy in San Francisco

Final Fantasy (the band.. or rather, the guy) was pretty neat. He plays his violin in a variety of ways, and he'll play a short loop, record and replay it with foot pedals, and then play new layers over that. Meanwhile, there's a shadow puppet show via overhead projector to go along with the music.

Here he's covering Bloc Party's "Modern Love" as he opens for them: (The drummer from Smoosh, the other opener, is helping out on this one, but she's not in frame.)

Final Fantasy playing Bloc Party

And here's Bloc Party. Clap your hands.

Bloc Party in San Francisco

The ticket said "no camera or recorders", but flashes were going off all over the place:

Bloc Party in San Francisco and cameras

This really made me appreciate the shutter-priority mode on my Fujifilm F30. Even though it doesn't have full manual, the shutter-priority is useful in a case like this when I want to artificially shorten the exposure beyond what I could do even with exposure compensation set to -2. (The backlighting effect wreaked havoc with the auto-exposure. :P)

Scarab @ Kimo's

I had fun taking pictures of the band's reflections through the broken mirror glass pieces that were mounted on the wall.

Scratches:

kimos-01-scratches.jpg

Funhouse:

kimos-02-funhouse.jpg

Two guys:

kimos-03-two-guys.jpg

Two guys, closer. No, this is not homoerotic at all:

kimos-04-two-guys-close.jpg

Triangle:

kimos-05-triangle.jpg

The Big Bad Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood:

kimos-06-riding-hood.jpg

Yellow

My last three Project 365 photos have been themed around "yellow". The first two inadvertently, and the last intentionally.

Round Lamp, Yellow Wall:

Round Lamp, Yellow Wall

This is not a yellow truck:

This is not a yellow truck.

This is a Yellow truck.

Why am I yellow?

Why am I yellow?

I figured I'd continue with the yellow theme of my last two photos.

So I can understand where the terms "black" and "white" come from. One's darker, one lighter. I can even understand "brown". "Red", a little less so. But I've never understood "yellow".

Okay, so this notepad isn't the world's greatest example of yellow, but still, compared to my arm, one is clearly yellow, and one is clearly not. Even compared to other people, how am I more "yellow"? If I'm in between "black" and "white", why not "gray"? :P For that matter, I'm clearly more "orange" than "yellow".

In all seriousness, though, I actually really am quite curious about the origins of using "yellow" to refer to East Asians. I wonder if it had anything to do with the "cowardice" definition? That is, I wonder if "yellow" was originally meant as a derogatory term. Did it originate with the term "Yellow Peril", or did it predate that?

Self-referential clock? Or not?

Self-referential clock?  Or not? (Project 365 Day 132)

After a power outage, my microwave clock tells me, one word at a time, to "PRESS CLEAR THEN PRESS TWO TO SET CLOCK". So I took a picture of the clock saying "clock", because I'm all into self-reference. But then I thought: Is it really self-referential?

I figure: At the time it's displaying this message to me, it's not acting as a clock. If it's not a clock while it's displaying the word "clock", then it's not self-referential, after all, right?

On the other hand, if you had a digital watch that displayed some message, you'd still think of it as a watch. So, from that perspective, it's still a clock that's just temporarily displaying a message, in which case it IS self-referential.

But then again, this is a microwave, and the display's primary use is as a timer, not a clock (subtle difference). So maybe it really IS only a clock when it's acting like one.

So yeah, I can't decide whether this photo is self-referential or not. :P

"Where did Kenneth go?" asked his reflection, or: Excluded Chinese

"Where did Kenneth go?" asked his reflection, or: Excluded Chinese

(Project 365 Day 123)

So it's President's Day today, and I wanted to take a President-themed picture. I know it's supposed to be for Washington and Lincoln's birthdays, but I figured I'd try to find do something relating to one of the lesser-known Presidents instead. Looking through a list of former Presidents, I found Chester A. Arthur, the 21st President of the United States.

So I looked through his info for something interesting, and hey! Turns out he signed the Chinese Exclusion Act into law in 1882. It was a federal law that was specifically designed to limit Chinese immigration. Yellow Peril and all that. A number of related laws followed, and large scale Chinese immigration didn't resume until 1965!

Even today, Title 8, Chapter 7 of the United States Code is still labeled, "Exclusion of Chinese"! Of course, all the sections are now "repealed" or "omitted". But still, what a way to remind us of our history. (I can hear the foreign exchange student applicants now: "History?")

And so I came up with this picture: "Excluded Chinese".

P.S.: On a more flippant note, if vampires don't have reflections, does this make me an anti-vampire? And what do anti-vampires do, anyway? Spit blood, feast on garlic, and get burned by darkness? :P

Shoreline Ticket Counter

Shoreline Ticket Counter

(Project 365 Day 102)

The ticket counter at Shoreline Amphitheatre. Can you tell I've been obsessed with the decrepit carnival look lately? :P

Vernor Vinge @ Long Now

Vernor Vinge @ Long Now

(Project 365 Day 119 Year 00001)

Vernor Vinge (pronounced VIN-gee), who wrote the mind-blowing novel A Fire Upon the Deep and the ground-breaking paper The Coming Technological Singularity, gave a talk at the The Long Now Foundation tonight.

The concept behind The Long Now is that we're constantly living for the next day, if not the next five minutes, and we need to sometimes take a step back and think about the next ten thousand years, instead.

Meanwhile, Vinge speaks of a "singularity" that may well happen within our lifetimes when, through technology, we create a super-human intelligence that then, through a feedback loop, creates exponentially superior intelligences, until there exist minds that are far beyond our comprehension. After this happens, the world may be turned into something we cannot possibly predict.

Tonight, he gave a speech about what might happen if the technology singularity DOES NOT happen. He doesn't bring us new information so much as a new way of framing the issue, a new way of looking at things.

For anyone who lives in the San Francisco area, I highly recommend checking out future Long Now seminars. (They call the series SALT: Seminars About Long-term Thinking.)

Lego Mini Imperial Shuttle

(Project 365 Day 114)

I shot the shuttle in front of a poster, and then I shot the poster sans shuttle so I could manually mask out my hand in Photoshop.

UFO and Corn Palace

UFO?

[UFO]

I didn't do any post-processing on that one aside from cropping.

And I lit this next one with the high beam of my car:

[Corn Palace]

(I think it kinda has a bit of a deserted Coney Island look.)

Scarab @ Voodoo Lounge

[Lights]

Hooray pretty lights:

[Hooray Pretty Lights]

Seems every good picture of Felipe involves him screaming:

[Felipe Screaming]

Banzai:

[Banzai]

Okay, maybe he doesn't always have to be screaming:

[Grin]

Smoking in a tree:

[Smoking in a Tree]

Los Esteros Critical Energy Facility at Night

[Los Esteros]

Click above to expand. flickr link

I froze my hands off taking this picture. :P I knew I wanted to photograph this thing when I first saw it off the side of the freeway, but there's no way I can take a picture from a moving car at night.. So I was happy to find a dirt road off to the side of the freeway. It's the cross at the center of this map. (The power plant is to the north. Hover your mouse over it or click it!)

Radio Telescope and Moon

Radio Telescope and Moon

Click the above image for the flickr post (and larger version). I also took too more pictures of the telescopes here and here.

(Project 365 Day 78)

This is one of the four radio telescopes over by NASA Ames Research Center, right along Highway 237. I always thought they looked really cool. For one week, I drove by them every day to work nearby, and then I changed jobs. So sad.

Anyway, they didn't seem to actually belong to Ames, so I looked up Ames in Wikipedia, and that led me to something called WikiMapia, and I figured out who it belongs to.

Apparently, it belongs to Onizuka Air Force Station. It's soon to be decommissioned, but it has a windowless building called "the Blue Cube" that has for decades housed some of our most top secret projects. I had no idea! A bit more info in this other flickr user's description.

Hm. Come to think of it, Onizuka AFS redevelopment plans were mentioned in the Winter 2007 issue of the Sunnyvale Quarterly Report that I flickred a few days ago! The City of Sunnyvale is actively seeking community input in shaping its plans. :)

Traffic Light Repair

[Traffic Light Repair]

(Project 365 Day 77)

Quick snap while I was at a red light. (Cropped.)

Bowling Alley

I went to a bowling alley, but the wait was too long, so we didn't actually bowl. I did, however, take some pictures, stitched here into a QuickTime VR panorama. Drag left to pan the camera!

The still panorama version of this is my Project 365 Day 70 post.

Embedded version of the QTVR is below the fold.

Continue reading "Bowling Alley" »

Scarab @ El Rincon

The Yes Go's were up before Scarab:

The TV was playing that Doors movie, but with a really terrible signal causing lots of scan lines that made everything look really freaky:

DJ Chika was spinning some awesome alt. hip-hop:

Some badass standing in the back: ;)

(Hm. Now that I look at it some more, those light patterns make it look like he's having flaming flatulence. :D)

"Scarab has finally been spotted."

(I'm jealous of people with bigger lenses than me. :P)

Angry:

Apparently Felipe yells a lot: ;)

Emoting:

Scarab is for lovers:

Scarab @ The Vibe, Panorama

Here's Scarab at back at The Vibe, where they played once before. There were more people there this time:

Here's a big (1024x325) version on Flickr.

Wii Bowling Lies to you

[two pins on the right, player on the left]

This is Wii Bowling. The game says to twist your hand to curve the ball. I was rather impressed that the ball would tend to spin left, just like real life. I figured it was because I was right-handed, and I naturally twist my wrist a bit. I was impressed by the subtlety of control. When the pins were on my right, I twisted my hand right, and it would spin right. If I used both hands, I could get it to go straight. Cool, right? The Wii controller could sense the slightest of wrist twists. Impressive. Right?

Well, given the situation above, try to make the ball spin LEFT. You can't. It's impossible. In fact, most of the twist control is just an illusion! Yes, if you use both hands, you can get it within a small range where it actually goes straight, but if you give it the slightest twist, it will always spin in the direction of the pins (within certain limits). The easy way to test this is (assuming you're right-handed) to start to the left of the pins and just bowl normally. Or even intentionally twist left. Note that the ball will now curve right, leftward twist be damned.

Within the game, this means that strikes are largely a matter of luck, but that spares are relatively easy to pick up. Beyond this game, however, it means that the Wii controller's sensitivity is probably not as good as it seems at first glance, and that they have had to fudge it quite a bit. They might also have just done this to make the bowling game easier, I guess, to make beginners happier... but at the expense of making you lose your sense of accomplishment and enjoyment once you realize how much of your score is based on luck.

Either way, it is another demonstration of the Wii control scheme's focus on "perceived performance".

Update (Jan-24-2007): I thought I'd respond to the comments below over here as well. So I did more testing, and I have noticed that, contrary to what I thought, you can control the amount of spin, so that you can make it spin more or less. However, I still maintain that you cannot control the direction of spin.

When you start a lane, hit "right" a few times so you're standing to the right of the head pin, but facing straight. Now try to get the ball to curve into the right-side gutter. It is impossible. You can only curve it left. (If you aim to the left of the head pin, you can only curve it right.) However, it is possible to curve the ball very little so it misses the head pin on the right or curve it a lot so it misses the head pin on the left.

There is more skill involved than I thought, but the direction of curve is still determined before you throw.

Wiimote Vision

I'm fascinated by how the Wii Remote Controller (barely visible on the right) makes you think it's doing more than it does. You put this "sensor bar" on top of your TV, and you think that it's somehow magically detecting exactly where in 3-dimentional space your "Wiimote" is. I mean, you can move it, and it detects that, and you can even point at things on the screen. But in fact, the Wiimote is actually two completely separate technologies.

(1) There are accelerometers inside the controller that detect orientation and, well, acceleration. What it does NOT do is detect POSITION in any way, but it gives the illusion of detecting that through human behavior. For instance, in the boxing game, you kind of naturally hold your controllers up vertically to keep your fists high, and you kind of naturally hold them horizontally when your arms are down low.. But the game doesn't actually know if your arms are high or low. You can test this by turning your hands while holding them high: The game starts thinking your fists are low, etc. So how can you point at things on the screen if it doesn't know the position of your controller?

(2) The "sensor bar" atop your TV is not sensing anything at all. Instead, it's actually just a couple of IR lights. it's your Wiimote that actually has a camera! There is a calibration screen where you can see this in action, and that's what's pictured here. What you see is the view from the Wiimote. It sees the two dots of the "sensor bar" near the bottom right, tilted right, so it knows that you're actually pointing the controller at the top left, and tilting it left. Awesome, no? In fact, there's a YouTube video of a couple of guys using two regular remote controls to simulate the sensor bar.

The sensor bar in this picture is the thing with purple dots on top of the TV. Here's a close-up:

What's neat about this is that those lights are completely invisible to the naked eye, because they're infrared, but the CCDs on my digital camera pick it up somehow. Just another reminder that cameras and eyes actually work differently. :)

P.S.: I brought my Wii to Thanksgiving dinner. Even though I only have one controller, it was still a hit among the "adults". My mom got really into the bowling game. If Nintendo can keep releasing games that are as accessible as Wii Sports, they could really expand their market. I think the tough part now is getting the third parties to think in that mindset.

Working up a sweat playing Wii Boxing

I'll spare you my actual shirtless self and present you with this virtual version (what Nintendo calls a "Mii").

[Mii Boxing]

Scarab at a Foster City Teen Center

"The Vibe" was fully packed, as you can see here:

Behind Mel is a question often asked of the band:

Pipe's got crazy hair:

I never realized how much Mark looks like Goose:

Mel's singing, "WhatEVER":

Watching Studio 60

(Project 365 Day 26)

Here you are, watching Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip as if you were me.

Great Highway

Here's my latest project365 picture:

[Great Highway]

(Project 365 Day 24)

I went down to Ocean Beach at sunset, knowing that sunsets are really difficult to take pictures of (because people have already seen so many), but I figured I'd find something interesting somehow, and I did! The ocean was behind me as I took this picture.

Halloween Weekend

[Ash 1] [Ash 2]

I'm dressing up as Ash for Halloween.

And they're building a new eastern span of the Bay Bridge. Tons and tons of cranes!

[Bay Bridge Cranes]

Project 365 and Rooftop View

Judevac convinced me to do Project 365: Taking and posting one picture a day, of anything. I started a couple of days ago, and I've been uploading them to Flickr. You can see them all by looking at my Flickr pictures tagged project365. I'll probably try to set up a sidebar box or something at some point, but for now, I'm not going to post them all here on this blog. I'll only be posting ones I particularly like, like this one:

[Rooftop View]

The view from the roof deck of a party I went to. That couple at the bottom are on the roof of an adjacent building.

Scarab at Johnny V's

Pictures from the show that I made the flyer for. :)

"Four Skelchies"

A glimpse of Lisa.

Felipe, larger than life!

They look liked they're facing away from each other, all pissed or something, but we're actually looking at Mark through a mirror... so they're really facing toward each other!

Did I just blow your mind?

The revolution will be blogged.

Jammin'

And, just to make sure you can't sleep tonight, here's a completely undoctored picture from the evening. :-o

Scarab in San Jose at a block party

Scarab spontaneously played at a block party in San Jose with With Report.

This picture is comes right after they announced, "Our next song is about driving from one stop light to the next."

[block party]

Wacky Construction Vehicle

Got stuck at an intersection on my way home tonight because of this thing:

[wacky construction vehicle]

There was a bigass truck in front of it at first, too. What is that thing? Some sort of road-paving thing maybe?

P.S.: And why do the green lights look cyan?

Scarab in Chinatown

My friends' band Scarab (now with MySpace page!) played Friday night at the Li-Po Lounge in Chinatown! The bar looked all Chinesey and stuff:

[bar]

But that's not quite where they were playing. Instead, they were playing here:

[stairs]

No, that's not a restroom. That's just the staircase to the basement (which is also where the restrooms are). :P

[basement]

Ah, and we finally get to the basement! It doesn't get more "underground" than this!

The "lighting" consisted of a couple of lamps set up on the floor:

[lightsource]

But check out the disco ball at the back of the stage:

[disco ball]

That disco ball is the only bit of decoration in the place. It totally classes up the joint! :P

This is ancient martial arts form called "flex-filming":

[flex-filming]

Russ looking passionate: (He's so hot! ;) )

[russ]

Mel looking snooty: ;)

[mel]

It was too dark to get good pictures of the other band members. :\

Banging away:

chinatown-08-headbanging.jpg

The band's awesome glass-tinting van:

chinatown-09-sweet-van.jpg

BONUS PICS!

From Scarab's second Brain Wash show a while back:

[atm]

Look! Russ is an ATM! :P

Brain Wash has apparently changed their paintings since the last Scarab show there:

[paintings]

Three Signs

My new phone takes still-crappy but at least halfway viewable pictures, so I present to you three signs.

I noticed this sign at the gas station:

gas-station-cell-phone-sign.jpg

Does anyone actually follow the directions and turn off their cell phones when they're filling up? Unenforced rules are one of my pet peeves. I mean, if it's really important, then station attendants should at least yell at people who use their cell phones (assuming it's impractical to check if it's turned off in their pockets). Anyway, I mostly found it interesting because I had never heard of that rule before.

Now for a couple of amusing signs:

free-fall.jpg secret-entrance.jpg

The one on the left was in the parking garage elevator at Jack London Square. I think it's glued on, but still: Hilarious! Actually, what I also found fascinating about it is that, against all rationality, I was afraid to press it. :P

The one on the right is the label for the back entrance of the building where I work. We just moved offices, and this sign suddenly appeared one day. What's particularly amusing is the shadow it casts against the inside walls in the afternoon. It reminded me of the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indy holds up the Staff of Ra at just the right time, and the sun beam hits a map to indicate the location of the Ark. Someone walked over to the wall and started patting it down, but, alas, he did not discover any hidden rooms, let alone the Ark of the Covenant. :P

London's Finest

I didn't actually go to most of the Feburary 15, 2003 London Anti-War Protest, but I caught the tail end of it in Piccadilly Circus (which is basically a square, no clowns or elephants). They were cleaning up, and people were heading home when I got there.

What amuses me about this picture is how you have this big line of police, and here I am taking a picture from behind the line. :) Actually, there were quite a few people still behind the line. The police were just shepherding new arrivals onto the crosswalks.

Northern California Road Trip

I took a solo Northern California road trip this week. Pictures!

Like any good All-American road trip, mine started with an All-American road-side diner! The food kinda sucked, though. It was cold.

This is where that diner was:

I stayed at an ocean-side hotel for a couple of nights in Fort Bragg, CA. I like how Google Maps satellite view only has half the town in hi-res. Guess what this next picture is; I'm pretty proud of it:

It's the building next door! That's a 15-second exposure I took with my mini-tripod. :)

The view from my back porch in the morning:

Reverse angle shot from the Glass Beach:

Okay, so you can't actually see the hotel, but at least it's a reverse angle shot of that group of trees!

This store reminds me of those "Chinese Food and Donuts" joints, except even more peculiar:

(It's not a joke! They really do sell both music and photography equipment!)

The highlight of my trip speaks for itself:

It reminded me of this picture I took of Arnold Schwarzenegger Stadium in Graz, Austria, though that's not named after him any more! And yes, the State Park is actually named after a different Van Damme. :P It still makes me want to go find places named after Stallone and Seagal, though. And then I can go on a real scavenger hunt and look for a landmark named after Lundgren!

I wanted to check out the the Pygmy Forest, but it was closed because the bridge was damaged by a storm. :(

This is a cool bridge, and I like how you can see the river peeking through the trees here:

It's a tiny town where people looked at me funny when I drove in, so I drove right back out, but I think it's quite photogenic from afar. :P

Sunset panorama in Mendocino:

Closeup:

I got back to Fort Bragg, went down a side road, and found the littlest Sears you ever saw:

Had some decent dinner at Mendo Bistro, where they had this odd ginger ale:

(I was also amused that my fish came with baby bok choy. I guess it's a theme!)

I love the way this building looks. I love the logo font, and the texture reminds me of suede:

They have a restaurant across the street, where I had the best fish sandwich ever. Locally caught fresh fish makes a big difference! I didn't drink their beer, but I did try their "Mendocino Mustard" that's made with their beer, so I guess that counts! :) (It was good and interestingly textured mustard, too.)

The next day, I drove up through the Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt State Park, where you wind through a redwood forest. It was very pretty, but I don't have any good pictures from it. :P

It rained the whole way back down to Santa Rosa. This picture I took along 101 is kinda spooky and pretty at the same time:

I love how all the roadside attractions proclaim themselves as "World Famous". :) This is supposed to be the house with the tallest ceiling or something like that. It was closed, though, but I took this vertical panorama:

Next to my motel in Santa Rosa was a very nice steakhouse. (The $25 prime rib was great stuff!) I also liked the juxtaposition of the classic Bates Motel look of the building and the modern sans serif font on the sign:

Good Ol' Charlie Brown! The pattern on his forehead is a drawing of the Charles M. Schulz Museum, which is where this was:

In the courtyard was this odd sculpture:

My favorite part was Woodstock's clipboard:

:)

Finally, I checked out the Pacific Coast Air Museum, where I saw lots of nifty planes, and also this other kind of flyer:

I like the part that reads: "Equipped with a full one horsepower 24 volt electric drivetrain, the best way to describe the power capabilities of the E-200 is that it is equal to the power of one person, struggling, to move the aircraft." :)

Lights and Necks

A couple of pictures from my phone (which is why they're so blurry):

We saw this out on Clement. It's a whole bunch of CDs strung up, spinning around, with colorful lights and a curved mirror behind them. Why? I have no idea.

And those, I just found creepy. From Forever 21, I think.

Not even trying...

So I hate the junkmail that says "IMPORTANT FEDERAL LOAN NOTICE", especially ones that get printed on those envelopes where you tear off the perforated sides so they look more official. Why do these people not get prosecuted for deceptive advertising? *sigh*

This envelope from the WWF (no longer confused with the WWE) amused me, though:

[Bright red circles added.]

I mean, doesn't that bit at the right undermine the seriousness of their "EMERGENCY" banner? Just a little? :P

Mahjongg in the Netherworld

So when I was a kid, we'd often burn "gold ingots" made of paper for the ancestors. The idea is that anything you burn goes down to the Netherworld. We don't do it much any more.

My dad recently visited my grandfather's grave in China. These were the offerings: (Our relatives took these pictures.)

(No, you don't burn the food.)

Well, you see that box of Mahjongg tiles there? That's a complete set of paper Mahjongg tiles, meant for burning, so my grandfather can play Mahjongg in the afterlife! :) And you see that small red box in the upper-right corner? That's a box of paper "cigarettes", of my grandfather's favorite brand, so he can take a drag in the afterlife! (No, he didn't die of lung cancer. :P)

The Mahjongg tiles being delivered:

Moss Beach

These are pictures from my trip to the Moss Beach tidepool area.

A colorful hermit crab:

Anyone have any idea what these are? They look like miniature palm trees to me:

Sea grass, bright pink algae, and an anemonemone:

Some kind of buoy? Also a seagull:

And here, a heron:

"Hi there. I am a rock."

This post is dedicated to the above rock, who started falling apart when I tried to take another picture of her.

More Vegas Photos

From my trip to Vegas a few months ago:

That's a sushi restaurant in the MGM Grand.

Below to your left is a picture from the Aladdin. Below to your right is a picture I took years ago in San Francisco Chinatown, of a similar theme.

[neon buddhas]

(Also from that trip: The Butter Knife of Damocles.)

Fleet Week Pics

[Blue Angels and Balclutha]

The ship is the Balclutha, which used to sail 'round the tip of Cape Horn during the Gold Rush! My strongest memory of elementary school was the night we spent on the Balclutha as a class. We weren't allowed to bring modern things like digital watches on the ship, and we learned to tie various knots and such. We even split up into groups and had to complete various tasks under time pressure, like hauling ropes in from the dock.

Unfortunately, the galley crew was really bad at it, and they kept having to redo it. We ended up having dinner at 1am! That was unheard of back in elementary school. :) Luckily, I was voted 2nd mate, so I got to eat inside with the teachers instead of out in the cold like the commoners. :P

We didn't get to bed (sleeping bags in the ship's hold) until 3 in the morning, and then I had to wake up 5 to stand watch! I think I got another couple of hours of sleep before we left in the morning. I pretty much slept through the entire next day. :)

And now, seal fight at Fisherman's Wharf!

The seal on the right was knocked off into the water, but it just jumped back up for a sneak attack:

Oh, but to no avail. We have a winner!

 

* * *

Bonus picture:

"Items Found at a Friend's House"
mixed media
2005

* * *

 

Okay, to cleanse your mind of that, here's another bonus picture, from nearly a year ago (November 18, 2004, apparently), behind the old Motorola building:

Informative

Earthquake Flavor Potato Chips

Earthquake. Flavor. Potato Chips.

This one kinda speaks for itself.

[Earthquake Flavor Potato Chips]

Okay, I take that back. It really doesn't. It doesn't speak for itself at all.

Scarab @ Brain Wash Cafe and Laundromat

Scarab's second gig. This place was livelier than the last, but the lighting wasn't as interesting, so fewer pictures. :P

Guitar + tambourine + Hindi lyrics = great song.

 

This next one is my favorite picture of the night. I call it, "Two Men".

 

I wonder how many instruments they actually use throughout their set. It's at least 10.

 

Colorful!

 

BONUS PHOTOS!

Lucky you! Here are a couple of pictures from their first gig that I didn't post last time.

 

This next one is of This Band Is A Ship, who played after Scarab at both shows. Yay, fog machines!

Accomplishment of the Weekend

I almost forgot to mention my greatest accomplishment of the weekend!

I introduced a five-year-old to Super Mario Brothers. :D

My new Journey to the West animation cells

My dad's friend gave me a couple of original animation cells from Journey to the West cartoons of the 80s! The guy knew the director of the Shanghai Animation Studio, who brought a bunch of cells to an awards show in Brazil and gave him a couple on the way. They've just been sitting in storage some 20-odd years until my dad mentioned to his friend that I liked the Monkey King. :)

For those who don't know, Journey to the West is one of the classic Chinese novels. You could think of it as the Chinese The Odyssey, maybe. The main character is Sun Wu Kong, a trickster monkey deity, born from a rock, who rules a monkey kingdom on Flower Fruit Mountain. You may have heard of him as "The Monkey King". He learns martial arts and magical powers and becomes extremely arrogant. Eventually he crashes a party in Heaven itself and causes a ruckus. The Jade Emperor sends warrior after Heavenly warrior after him, but he defeats all of them.

Finally, the Buddha Himself captures the Monkey King and imprisons him under a mountain. Fiven hundred years later, he's finally freed with a chance to redeem himself by helping a monk, Tang Seng, journey westward to retrieve Buddhist sutras from India. They're joined by two others seeking a second chance, Friar Sand and Zhu Ba Jie (a lazy, greedy, womanizing pig creature whose family name Zhu is literally "Pig"). That's them here:

That's actually a background plate with the characters painted on a clear plastic plate above!

The rest of the story is basically an episodic road trip. Rumor goes that eating Tang Seng's flesh would grant you everlasting life, so of course all sorts of demons come out of the woodwork.

Anyway, kids like me loved the various animated portrayals of the Monkey King. In a way, I think of him as my favorite part of Chinese culture. I looked all over the place for a poster of him, to no avail. These days, most portrayals are anime-style or whatnot, which just doesn't resonate with me.

My dad's friend also gave me this cell of Ne Zha, a hot-tempered child deity who flies around on flaming wheels. He was in some ways the Monkey King's arch nemesis, because they're both mischievous. Similar personalities tend to clash, I guess. :)

I can't wait to get these things framed and onto my walls. I looked all over Shanghai and couldn't find anything like this, and I was just looking for mass-produced posters, not original animation cells!

Memorial across the street

There's a memorial at the corner right across the street from my apartment. Apparently, a teenager was killed in a car accident on 680, and he used to live around here. Many kids have been visiting the site, adding more flowers and candles, talking to each other, all Saturday night and throughout the day Sunday. I saw one girl simply stand there, motionless, soundless, simply looking at it.

I wanted to capture the moment, but I didn't feel right taking pictures of them, so I waited until late at night when everyone had gone home to show you a few pictures of the memorial itself.

Update: His friends have been holding memorials at the same corner on the anniversary of the accident. I took another photo in 2007, two years later.

Scarab @ Edinburgh Castle Pub

Here's a selection of the pictures I took at Scarab's first gig. (Also the first time I've been to a friend's rock show!)

Tuning.

 

"¡BUENAS NOCHES!"

 

Once more, with feeling!

 

She can't take her eyes off her man.

 

So that's where that Technicolor Dreamcoat went!

 

The crowd at Edinburgh Castle (the pub, not the castle).

 

I like how the basson bisects the lantern and makes kind of a null set symbol. ∅ *ducks*

 

I kinda like the effect of someone else's flash going off during my long exposure.

 

Head-banging!

 

The cleanup. And now you see why I hate flashes. Anyone see the atmosphere? I could've sworn it was around here somewhere. Where did it go?

The Butter Knife of Damocles

[The Butter Knife of Damocles]

The Lion, the Cats, and the Reindeer

[Breakdancing Reindeer] I sent a new batch of pictures to myself from my phone.

To your right is a breakdancing reindeer. It kept spinning 'round and 'round on its head. :) I'm not sure how it deals with the antler situation.

I like this moving company's logo. :P

Below is a Chinese guardian lion in a color that's oh so very very wrong.

Istanbul gentleman

[Street near Istanbul Bazaar]

I haven't been taking many new pictures lately, so I figured I'd start spotlighting some of the more interesting ones I took before I started this photoblog.

This photo is from Istanbul. Take a look at the older gentleman on the left. Doesn't he totally look like someone from an old spy movie? Like he could lead you to some secret passageway or something. :)

Update Jan-06-2008: I replaced the image link to a better-processed one on flickr. Also should point out that since I'm the backpack-wearing fellow in the center, I clearly didn't actually take this picture; Tania did.

Christmas in September

I took this picture outside of Macy's on September 27:

[Christmas in September]

Yes, I said September 27. I'm not sure what else there is to say, really. :)

Fun with a Taiwanese cell phone

[I am ironic flirty] My family just got new cell phones. My mom's phone has a list of pictures you can send along with your text messages. They're mostly various faces with an appropriate label, like "I am sad". Some of the descriptions and faces match better than others. My favorite, though, is the one to your right.

Gotta love it.

Her phone was free, and it's ridiculously small. The catch, though, is that it has a pretty crummy UI, and it's imported from Taiwan. You see, her phone doesn't support voice mail, and I can only guess that this is because they don't have voice mail in Taiwan. But guess what? In kluging together a solution, I got to find out how voice mail notifications really work!

On a typical phone, when someone leaves a message, you get a little voice mail icon. You hit the voice mail button, and it dials up a number to access your voice mail. When you listen to or delete all your messages, the voice mail icon goes away.

When someone leaves a voice mail on my mom's account, she instead gets a text message with the contents: "_@". Pretty wacky, but I guess that's the way voice mail really works? So she has to delete that message and then call up her voice mail manually. (I put the number in her phone book.) Once she clears her messages, she gets another SMS with the contents: "Δ@". I guess that's the message that tells her phone to clear the notification. :) (Maybe the actual messages are longer and getting truncated somehow, but it's still pretty neat.)

Fun stuff.

Deceptive Southwestern Bell phone

[Southwestern Bell phone] [plastic antenna] My parents bought a Southwestern Bell cordless phone for really cheap. Only $7 after rebates! The quality really sucked, though. It was really really staticky even if you used it right next to the base. They expected it to suck, but not quite that much, so we're going to go return it.

In any case, here's the real kicker: I accidentally broke off the antenna on the base... or so I thought. It turns out it's not an antenna at all!

The "antenna" is just a piece of plastic!

And I'm pretty sure nothing's missing inside, too. It's just a little plastic thing that slides into a socket, completely for show. Sheesh.

You get what you pay for, and I guess we paid for a fake antenna.

Point Reyes Lighthouse, old and new

[Point Reyes Lighthouse Comparison] On the left is the lighthouse at Point Reyes that was used until 1975. Built in 1870, it was equipped with a state-of-the-art Fresnel Lens. But it's still in this cute little house and stuff, you know? On the right is its replacement, a pair of 1000-watt lightbulbs on an automatically rotating platform.

I mean, sure, life sucked for the lighthouse keeper who had to watch over the old light through fog and storm without human contact, but did they have to make the new lens so.... Utilitarian and ugly? :P

It reminds me of when I was in Florence, and I visited the "History of Science Museum". They had actual Galileo contraptions, Kepler's old telescope, things like that. And they were so beautiful, with intricate wood carvings and all that.

Back in San Francisco

[Little League Players]

I saw some Little League players warming up for a game, and it reminded me of this photo I took in Panama. Look! They have uniforms and everything! It may sound cheesy, but it reminded me of how lucky we are.

(Well, maybe not me, personally... When I was in elementary school, my friends and I played baseball all the time. (We used a tennis ball, but we had aluminum bats and baseball gloves.) We dreamed of playing in the Little League, but our school didn't have that. Oh well.)

Another interesting thing about this photo was how awkward I felt taking it. Even though they were playing in a public park, I didn't want to seem like some freak or something. :P Now that I've started taking some photos of random stuff, I've become conscious of how uncomfortable some people feel about having their pictures taken by strangers.

[Dogs on Leash Sign]

This sign was by San Francisco's Ocean Beach. I found it really interesting. Click to expand and read.

I missed Ocean Beach and its overcastness. :)

Finally, we have this rather inexplicable billboard:

[Slow for the Cone Zone]

Caltrans is the California Department of Transportation, for those who don't know. But a public service ad about construction zones? And with such a funky catch phrase?

Air show and Panama

The Blue Angels were pretty darn cool:

[Blue Angels]

On the road outside Patrick Air Force Base:

[Low Flying Planes sign]

Now take a look at this:

[DayGlo Camouflage]

It's camouflage.... covered in DayGlo!

Camouflage... DayGlo!

Camouflage .............. DayGlo!

I found that very amusing.

From Orlando International Airport:

[Citizen vs. Soldier]

Note how these people are smiling when they're citizens and no longer smiling when they're soldiers. :P

From the tour bus at Kennedy Space Center:

[Kneeling Bus sign]

Oh, how I love warning signs. :)

The following are from Panama.

[Flammable, inflamable, inflammable sign]

Why oh why did this sign have to be in three different languages? Is anyone on this planet really going to understand one of those three big words but not the other two?! (Especially since they could just as easily have used "Inflammable" for the English version as well!)

No comment on this one:

[Radio Maria]

From just outside Jenny's house:

[Palm tree sunset]

A neighborhood kid playing baseball with a stick:

[Kid playing baseball]

And finally, look what's invaded Panama! This is from a country fair I went to. I might also note that there were no Chinese people at the stand this sign pointed to:

[Bienvenido Feng Shui sign]

Car Carrying Tractor Trailer

My last photo from London, just around the corner from my flat.

[Car Carrier]

I love these car carrier things. This one was trying to back into a side street when a couple of cops hollered at the driver to stop because he was about to hit a traffic light.

All Around Britain

So I took a trip around Great Britain, and here are some tidbits.

[Peacock Wooing Peahen]

I loved how these peacocks (at Warwick Castle) kept trying to woo the peahens, and the peahens would have none of it. This one time, as a peahen walked over, a peacock started rattling its plummage at her. She ignored it and kept on walking. Another peahen walked over, and the peacock quickly turned and started rattling its plummage at the new one. Not very picky, was he? (Isn't anthropomorphizing fun?)

[Royal Mineral Water Hospital]

Bath, England has a natural hot spring that the Romans used for a public bath. The water was said to have healing properties, and I'm guessing that's where this place comes in.

[Fire Exit Room]

A fire exit at a hotel. Nothing remarkable... except that this was my room! There was a fire escape out my window, so anyone could just take that little hammer, break the glass, and get the key to my room. A tad bit disconcerting, it was.

POP QUIZ: What's wrong with the following picture?

[Photography shop with only furniture on display]

Hint: See the signs, then see the windows.

Below are some signs. The one on the left was posted at the entrance to a spiral staircase.

[Some signs]

Look look! Welsh TV!

[Welsh TV]

Welsh is such a bizarre language. So many consonants! (I mean, seriously, does "brwydr" look like a real word to you? :P ) In Swansea, Wales, one of the five channels was in Welsh. They had some talk show and also a cartoon about Vikings. This here was a program listing.

And finally...

[Lamb]

Some ridiculously cute lambs with their mothers! (Photos are a bit blurry because I took them from a moving vehicle, and my camera doesn't have a high-speed option.) There are so many sheep in Britain. Everywhere we drove, there were tons of sheep. There just aren't many sheep in the States, are there?

I saw an interview on TV with city dwellers who moved to the country. One couple hated it, and one guy loved it. That guy was holding a really cute lamb. He said he actually feels better about eating his own animals because he knows they've had a good life (before he slaughters them). He also doesn't name his sheep unless they're breeders or other types who don't get slaughtered.

Lambs are sooooo cute. At the same time, I've eaten more lamb here than I ever have in the States. It's so very tasty! Yum! *Turns off empathy.* :P

Some Photos from Jesse's Visit

To the left is a sign from the men's room at a London Underground station. To the right is a traffic light from Graz, Austria telling stunt bikers that they can cross now.

[Loo of the Year]     [BMX Crossing]

Also from Graz is this funky double spiral staircase where the two spirals join once per revolution.

[double spiral staircase]

Again from Graz is this tunnel with a funky modern art exhibit called the "Cave of Memories". There are neon signs with modern artsy slogans, one of which is illuminating Jesse here. (This shot reminds me of a scene from Return of the Jedi where the lighting was symbolic of Luke trying to choose a side of the Force.)

[Cave of Memories]

Speaking of Return of the Jedi, I saw this at a toy store in Salzburg. Official Princess Leia slave-girl outfit lego figure!

[Jabba the Hutt Lego]

Krimml Falls in western Austria.

[Krimml Falls]

(Jesse took that last photo. That's me looking up.)

Le McDonald's!

[Mmmm! le Cheeseburger] I just had to take a picture of this bus shelter ad I saw in Nice. You have to imagine pronouncing it in a stereotypical French accent. :)

[French McDonald's Menu]

le Croque McDo! I don't think I need to say any more. :)

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