Archive for June, 2005

Downtownio

Thursday, June 30th, 2005

Got a few pretty pictures downtown the other day. Also a pic of myself I’m gonna use temporarily on Hi5 whenever I get around to listening to all the people who keep telling me to join.

War of the Worlds –> War on your intellect

Thursday, June 30th, 2005

I thought War of the Worlds would be a cool, trippy movie to go see last night. Boy, was I ever wrong. I will say this about the movie: it’s very pretty. There is barely a shot in the movie that isn’t an explosion of cool shapes and colors. The aliens are very stylish, if incredibly stupid. Their spider tanks are cooler than they are.

And that, unfortunately, is the only positive thing that can be said about this movie. When I read Stephanie Zacharek’s review at Salon, I thought that she needed to get out more, and stop being so bitter about a bit of summer fluff–but she was right. This movie is offensive. It tries to pull those ol’ 9/11 heart strings in the most blatant, cheesy, downright insulting manner possible. Nothing anybody in the movie, human or alien, does makes any sense at all. Not a single one of the characters is anything but a stupid, grating, asinine moron. The acting is horrible. There might, possibly, somewhere on this earth, be somebody who could read these lines believably, but Spielberg didn’t hire any of them. The only exceptions are Tim Robbins as a creepy crazy guy and Morgan Freeman’s two minutes of voiceover that frames the movie. Dakota Fanning should perhaps not be blamed too much for her performance, as the few deliverable lines she has she delivers well; the rest, unfortunately, is just a bunch of screaming.

The only thing worse than the characters and the dialogue is the plot, a nonsensical story about aliens who have spent a million years planning an invasion of earth only to forget their inoculations on the way, who come here to Kill All Humans but do a spectacularly bad job of it. Or, perhaps, they came here to farm humans and for some reason decide to kill a lot of the produce instead. They have tanks with shields that don’t work if they operator gets sick, and prefer to individually investigate each house in the country rather than, say, just smashing all of them, which they evince plenty of ability to do.

If the aliens are dumb, the humans are not only moronic, but also mean-spirited and even more self-destructive than they seem to be in real life. NOTHING ANYONE DOES IN THIS MOVIE MAKES SENSE. Not even in an immediate sense. Run unarmed into instant and certain death to see something you can see from where you are? Sounds like a plan. Attempt to blow up a tripod tank that has previously shown itself invulnerable, and is also the only thing keeping you from a nasty 200 foot fall onto hard earth and trees? Brilliant!

The offensive part, though, is the theme. If I thought that this movie was a sly comment or satire on America’s reaction to 9/11, I wouldn’t be offended, but it isn’t. It can’t be satirizing America’s response because it doesn’t in the least resemble it. It depicts plenty of meanness in human nature, but it’s way too exaggerated and cartooney to make any point other than, perhaps, if you were to consider only the worst possible side of human nature and extract all the rationality, compassion, and, in fact, drive for self-preservation, then you can paint a pretty bleak picture. But goodness will win in the end after all, for no apparent reason. So, this movie plays of 9/11 quite a bit, but doesn’t bother to make a point with any of it. It’s just a bunch of cheap theatrics designed to put asses in the seats, and that’s just wrong.

The fact of the matter is that all of these things are the way they are because Spielberg has zero respect for the intelligence of his audience. He’s never been one to make movies that tax the brain too heavily, but this is a new nadir of stupidity. Why make it make sense when it’ll only be watched by people who wouldn’t understand the sense it makes? Why go for a subtle Tivo plug when you can just insert a 15-second commercial right in the middle of an establishing scene? Why try to say something about anything when you can just steal images from horrible things that happened and get the same emotional impact, because people are dumb? Why bother with scary pictures, or pictures that imply something scary, when you can just use a bunch of close-up reaction shots of Tom Cruise looking scared or determined, and Dakota fanning looking scared or, well, terrified?

Well, people are dumb. Really dumb. But, even then, they’re not as stupid as Spielberg seems to think . I don’t think I’ll watch another Spielberg flick again.

Which is a shame, because it really was a very pretty movie.

Hey look….

Tuesday, June 28th, 2005

The coolest fucking thing ever invented. Thanks for the look ahead, Neal.

Man, this would have been a crap weekend if it wasn’t so much fun.

Monday, June 27th, 2005

Sunday I decided I was going to go hike the Greenbelt again, as I hadn’t done it in quite some time, and not at all since I got my E-10. I started out at Westgate again, and this time, having a better sense of location, discovered that there is in fact a trail that takes you all the way to the greenbelt proper in about 18 minutes.

I then hiked around a bit and after quite a bit of hemmng and hawing decided to head upstream to Scottish Woods trail and see if I could find any water. As you can tell from the pictures, it took a good long while to find any. Sculpture falls has, at long last, pretty much dried up. Even the most upstream of the falls at Scottish Woods wasn’t flowing, although the next one downstream was, and had a pool of incredibly refreshing water behind it. I had to get out as soon as I got in, though, to go meet various TAMU alumni for a trip out to lake Travis, and proceeded to make a hellacious uphill hike where I managed to give my camera a nasty knock that resulted in it acting a bit goofy ever since.

This made me very, very, very, very, very, very sad, especially as I was at the time under the impression that it had simply stopped working. I found out later that I can get it to work again by tilting it 30 degrees to the right and giving it a sharp whack on the right side of the case.

Despite my unhappiness over this, I had a helluva time out on the lake, but then was helping to load up my buddy Dave’s boat slipped and fell into the water with my brand new cell phone in my pocket, rendering it inoperable as well.

This also did not really improve my mood. It’s all seemed to work out in the end, though, as after a day of drying out, my cell phone is back in working order, and my camera was in working enough order that I was able to get some pretty nice pictures from the UT campus after work today.

And, to be fair, I did have a good time all around, so I guess it’s a wash.

More news: I can’t post all the pictures I want to this site that convey a story of the places I visited and things I saw, without diluting the quality of the pictures in terms of charting my progress in the act of taking them. So, I’m going to break out my best pics to another site, il.lusion.org, just about my photography. Height of arrogance, I know, but I’m an arrogant bastard, so there it is.

I’m working on some gallery-making software to make this possible and easy. It’s pretty early on, but I’m calling it, completely inappropriately, Galleria. I’ll give it a site when I get it at least semi-finished.

Skinny boy at sunset.

Thursday, June 23rd, 2005

Check out my bro and the yet-to-be-named ride.

Various new E-10 pics

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005

I’m still more miss than hit with my new camera. The autofocus is fast, but not always accurate, and the autoexposure is inconsistent. I keep forgetting to clear modes (macro, manual focus, exposure compensation) that I’d set for special situations. All of this is exacerbated by the fact that the LCD review function is so slow, and having auto-review turned on slows your picture save time and eats your batteries. Also, you can’t use the remote with the monitor on, for some reason, and if you turn the monitor on, then the drive mode that you can use the remote with is cleared. All of this is very frustrating to me.

Still, the E-10 is about a hundred times better than my Powershot A20, and I’m learning to work around the annoying bits and take advantage of the good stuff it offers. I got some pretty cool pics after work, a couple on South Congress, a few more around sunset and at night last night on Town Lake and Downtown, and even a couple portraits of the Kitty Cats. I’m slowly learning to post only one pic that tells the same story, instead of all the pics that I think look good, and I think that if I only ever post my really good pics, then nobody will know that I take bad ones.

I also got some pics that aren’t too bad at a Travis County park at Windy Point on Sunday. These are here not so much for artistic value as for my friends, and I didn’t take all of them.

I also got a Polarizing filter that I forsee vastly improving my nature shots. Click “Read More” below to see some explanation and samples.

This filter can add some saturation to sky that is washed out, and remove glare from water, and, more importanty, foliage. This will help a lot with the overexposure and washout problems I had, for instance, at the botanical gardens the other day. Here are some comparison pics. The polarizing filter is on all of them, but on the left tuned to its least effective angle, on the right to its most effective:

As you can see, it sometimes has a pretty dramatic effect, and sometimes completely alters the autoexposure behavior for the better.

Blunn Creek Nature Preserve and McKinney Falls State Park

Sunday, June 19th, 2005

Man, this picture takin’ thing is hard. I got off work yesterday at 5:45, which left enough time to hit up Blunn Creek Nature Preserve down the street from my place, where I met up with Jay and we went out to McKinney Falls state park, on Onion creek out toward the airport.

McKinney Falls is a pretty nice park, seems to be popular with fishermen. I got some pictures from the hikes, but they serve more as an object lesson to for what not to do. I put the less offensive ones up here.

Basically, I did a lot of walking around and snapping pics with no stabilization in fairly low light conditions, occasionally not even stopping. The E-10 lets in a lot more light than my old camera, but it don’t work no miracles. I couldn’t really get to the other side of the creek, which would have been best for taking pictures at sunset, and really need to get a polarizing filter so that my skies don’t suck so much.

I got it I got it I got it!

Saturday, June 18th, 2005

I finally got my E-10. I got up with the sun this morning to take it outside and give it a go. The results came out pretty good. Most of these pics have only minimal cropping to make them 5×7, although a couple of the cat pics have more extensive cropping for compositional reasons. They’re all still higher-res than the 1024 width/height they’re reproduced at here. These are practically the first pics that I’ve taken with this camera, and quite a few of them came out awesome. I used manual focus and aperature priority when shooting these to play with selective focus and a small depth of field. I love this camera already. I took it to work with me to try to get some other pics, but they took it away at the front desk. Bastards. I’ll get it back later.

On a note about a crappier camera, I got a new phone yesterday, a Sanyo PM-8200, basically a newer version of my old phone. It really hurts to have to buy a new phone right now. Oh well, at least I’ve got a new toy. The camera on it kind of sucks, but it does have a small flash, and some of the pics come out kind of interesting:

Batman Begins

Thursday, June 16th, 2005

Batman Begins: Go see it. It’s the best Batman since Tim Burton’s, and quite possibly better. It dispenses with the hokiest of comic book conventions without losing track of the story. This is not hard to accomplish with Batman, easily the un-hokiest of superheroes in his original form, but Christopher Nolan accomplishes more than that, using Batman as a canvas to paint a picture of the birth of a hero, and delving with a fair amount of deftness into the well-trodden depths of the bat-psyche. I would not necessarily draw any deep life lessons from the movie’s philosophical underpinnings, but they are at least interesting and self-consistent, which is more than I can say for that other summer movie with a pretension at a theme. *cough* Episode III *cough*.

Nolan continues to pull sometimes surprisingly good performances from his actors, for such a young director, although it’s hard to get a bad performance out of Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Michael Caine, or Gary Oldman. Christian Bale has generally shown himself a capable actor, but be becomes the Batman in this film, and will hopefully erase the memory of the some of the more recent performances in that role. Katie Holmes seems a little out of her depth here, and I wasn’t the only person to notice it, but her performance isn’t bad–it just pales a bit in comparison with the others.

The story is, if not plausible, then at least taut and well-told, with fairly even pacing and a well-executed twist or two. The visuals are hallucinogenically bad-ASS, with a great, dark visual mood and sepia sensibility. My only real disappointment is the fight scenes, which are a blurry, close-cropped mess. Atmospheric, yes, but they don’t tell any kinetic story at all, and often get in the way of the rest of the story, as you’re never sure exactly what’s going on.

All in all though, this movie gets three thumbs up, or would if I had an extra thumb.

Tired of pictures yet?

Monday, June 13th, 2005

Because I’m not. :) Seriously, sorry if I’m boring any of the approximately 5 people that read this blog, but I’m trying to accomplish something, trying to move forward with my photography, so I’m spending a lot of time lately looking at my old ones, trying to figure out where they all went so horribly wrong, fix them up, and otherwise do the things necessary so that I won’t make the same mistakes again. And, also, I’m trying to subjectively objectively (:P) look at them and decide what went right, and why.

At some point I’m going to want a portfolio of my best pictures, so I figure I might as well start now with my 25 best shots, so I’ve added them to the Portfolio.

I’m already questioning my choice of 25 best shots, so they’ll undoubtedly change somewhere along the line, but keep in mind that I’ve got a fairly particular defition of “best shot” here:

  • It must make a halfway-decent 8×10–this rules out, with my current camera, any shots that have to be cropped to any significant extent.
  • It must be correctly exposed–The sky must not be washed out to the extent that it bleeds into nearby objects, for instance. Of course, if the exposure can be corrected without ruining the photo, that’s fine.
  • Chromatic aberration and other camera artifacts must be practically non-existent. A bit of work in Photoshop could fix some of this in otherwise perfectly good shots, and I may look into that.