My Neck Gets Longer

Posted in Humor, On Tthe Road on May 28th, 2011 by MadDog
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My bags are packed. I’m ready to go. As you read this I will possibly be zipping across the sky from Buffalo to Phoenix leaving behind me a trail of noxious fumes. I will do this with the aid of an airplane, one Continental Airlines monster or another. As I board I will be chanting the mantra of all sensible airline passengers, “Sure hope the plane don’t crash.”

My suitcase is half full of the warmest clothing which I own. I certainly hope that I will not need them any longer once I reach Sedona. According the the 14 day trend, the lowest daytime temperature I’ll encounter for a while will be about 32°C (about 90°F). At night I might have to put up with 18°C (about 64°F). This is much more my speed. Now that I have wasted your time giving you my personal weather forecast I’ll move on to the equally boring subject of this post – my neck.

For several months I’ve had tingly fingers. The last two fingers on each hand are a bit numb and feel as if they have been frozen and are thawing out. It’s not debilitating, but it’s not pleasant, either. I’ve heard suggestions that it might be a pinched nerve in my neck. Googling seems to confirm the possibility. I’ve also heard suggestions that I might get my neck stretched. This does not appeal to me. I prefer the do-it-yourself approach.

A couple of weeks ago I was suddenly attacked by the idea that I could think my neck longer. Perhaps it might stretch itself. Yes, I know what you are thinking. However, in this case, you overestimate my absurdity. As I went about thinking about my neck being longer I discovered that if, for instance, I’m walking or sitting or whatever and I sort of make my head higher (it is hard to explain) my neck will stretch a little, maybe a few millimeters. I’ve been doing this pretty regularly several times a day. I’ve tried to hold that posture as long as I can continue thinking about it. After a while I forget what I was doing and my neck gets shorter again. I feel like a turtle.

It’s a distinctly strange sensation to think your neck longer. If I do it right now as I’m writing about it, I can describe it to you. First, I have to calm myself a little and hold my head level while looking straight ahead. Then I think about my neck being longer; I stretch it mentally. My head actually moves up a little, accompanied by some rather unpleasant popping and crackling noises. That’s the not-so-nice bit. The nice bit is that, after only a short while, I can feel the tingling in my fingers abating.

The weirdest thing about this is that it appears to be working. I don’t imagine that my neck looks any longer, but the tingling in my fingers has reduced appreciably, even when I’m not stretching my neck. Is it possible that I’d discovered a new medical technique? Can I patent it?

Okay, that’s pretty much everything I can squeeze out of that subject. If you’re still here I have some miscellaneous pictures from the last couple of weeks to show to you.

It’s entirely possible that you have never seen the Willis Tower (I still think of it as the Sears Tower) in Chicago nearly obscured by fog:

Now you have.  One less thing, eh?

While we’re doing tall things (hey, this fits in with the neck-stretching!) have a look at this shot of the big CN Tower in Toronto being annoyed by some wanna-be big ones. I call it Conflicting Egos:

Okay, so I get zero points for clever title.

Toronto is chock full of sculpture. Some of it is very cool. Others are so-so. I grabbed this shot from my bus:

I don’t know what to say about it. It’s big. It’s sculpture. It’s art. It reminds me of an eggbeater.

This also is a bus shot:

At first I thought, “How cruel. They are all tied together.” Then I noticed that they are simply hanging onto the child-securing line. This impressed me. They are remarkably obedient and rule-following. Hey, they are little Canadians. We would expect no less of them . If that sounds sarcastic, it’s not meant to be. I much admire Canada and its adorable inhabitants. I even have a tattoo to celebrate the whole idea of Canada. I would happily be a Canadian, if only it were possible. I might even survive the first winter. Or maybe not.

When I do these miscellanea posts I often fret over which images are worthy of the space. This one falls in the “I don’t know.” category. I include it only because I have not previously seen a pine tree which sports cute little green pom-poms on each branch:

Okay . . .

Moving on now.  I went to Fort George with Ron a few days ago. It was amusing. Ron stepped in a skunk hole and took a tumble. Actually, that part was somewhat less amusing and more scary. It could just as easily been me. You know, I have never been hurt while engaging in any of my adventurous activities. Years of cave exploring, rock climbing, flying helicopters, SCUBA diving, slogging through swamps and jungles, not to mention some recent skydiving have done me no injuries. The only times I have ever gotten hurt was when I was minding my own business and suddenly found myslef picking myself up off the ground. Perhaps this indicates that I am most at risk when I’m not paying attention, eh?

We gawked at the old buildings and I snapped a few of the mildly interesting items. No, really, that’s not fair. It is quite a spectacular place and well worth a visit. I’m just being difficult and moody. I did particularly want to get a shot of the demonstration of musket shooting. Maybe everybody else in the world has seen this, but it was my first time.

Here is the spiffily dressed soldier firing his musket:

Well, as you can see, that didn’t work out so well. The stupid thing failed to fire four times in a row. The guy who was talking us through the demonstration had just mentioned that the weapons were highly unreliable. So, having relaxed my guard, I lined up my camera for the fifth try and KA-BOOM the thing went off. It surprised me so much that my camera jumped out of my hands. I successfully juggled it back into my grip before it fell to the ground. I had a little laugh when I looked at the shot.

The shooter then went through his routine of loading the musket and fired again. I finally got the shot I wanted:

Uh, right. That one is checked off the list.

I’ll start winding things down with this shot off Morningstar Mill:

Don’t believe the “Always on hand” part. They had no flour for sale, not that I wanted to buy any. It is, however, a pretty site.

Here is a shot of the small waterfall:

I had to take three exposures at different levels of brightness and combine them into a single high dynamic range shot to make this image. Isn’t that fascinating? Anyway, you can see a rainbow in the mist at the right, if you look very closely.

The shot above and this one are what I call “Calendar Junk”:

Pretty, but devoid of purpose or meaning.

They are the pop-stars of images.

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Fooling Around – Experimental Photography

Posted in Humor, On Tthe Road, Photography Tricks on May 26th, 2011 by MadDog
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Once again I will get all pedantic on you and deliver a lecture on a subject so obscure that most would not even consider its existence. Today’s endless monograph will lightly cover the pseudo-intellectual pursuit of what I dare to call Experimental Photography. If you Google that phrase, you won’t find very much of interest. Some of the Google Images do lead in the general direction, though. Are you laughing yet?

I use the term more to make fun of myself than for any other reason. It embarrasses me to admit that when I have my camera in my hands I have reverted to a kid with a particularly engaging toy. I wish to appear more serious and, uh . . . deep than that. It’s all about ego. So, don’t take the second part of the title of this post seriously. The “Fooling Around” part is the operative phrase.

My personal view of experimental photography includes a continuum of categories ranging from purely narrative or descriptive to abstract. Within these categories a range of camera techniques can be employed to get the desired effect. I could write a book about this, but I have only this much space. Prepare for compression!

When I take a picture of something which must be instantly recognisable and the object itself is more or less the message, I call this narrative or descriptive. The object is  the story.  Here is a very obvious example:

It’s a sign. How simple can it get? It would be a very uninteresting image except for the words on the sign. What is the message? I’m sure that you’ve gathered that this is a sort of visual double entendre.  There is a place called Lick Elevator, a grain storage facility which you have seen here before. What makes it amusing is that the sign could appear to be a command – a rather absurd one.

This also is a narrative image. In The Happy Singing Machine  I wanted to convey the little surprise I felt when I turned my head and saw the cartoon face staring at me from the side of this whatever-it-is machine:

Here again, to complete the transaction between the photographer and the viewer, the viewer must uncover the narrative – decode it, so to speak. This one is so obvious that it takes little effort.

As you wade through this post you’ll note that I’m slowly (oh, so slowly – will it never end?) moving from narrative or descriptive to abstract. You may find yourself nodding off.

This one is also narrative, in the sense that you can easily see what it is – a restaurant bar top with the street scene outside and everything reflected upside down in the shiny surface:

In actuality, this is a tripple entendre.  The first meaning is the obvious one – the descriptive image itself. It is what it is, an interesting visualisation, but otherwise not noteworthy. The second requires seeing the title of the image, often a clue to the photographer’s hidden message – The Honest Lawyer.  Aside from the fact that the place is possibly a hangout for downtown lawyers, there is the aspect of the mirrored but shaded world reflected in the bar top. Honest? Possibly. True? Probably not. Ethical? Quite likely. Accurate? Well, that depends on who you are asking, eh? You can play these little word games with the image until you decide that you’re wasting valuable time. The third part of the tripple entendre  works for you only if you live in Hamilton, Ontario where there is a matched set of way-too-loud-music quasi-sports (too many big screen TVs silently blaring miscellaneous mundane sports nonsense) plastic-food establishments called The Honest Lawyer. (The funky video clip makes this site worth a click.)

Whew! All that in there? It’s a stretch, I admit.

That shot didn’t require much in the way of camera technique. I simply plopped my Canon G11 down on the bar, pointed it towards the windows and pushed the button. It did require a lot of post-processing to get the effect I wanted.

However, some shots require some planning and fiddling with the camera controls. I like to take shots of things whizzing past the car window. This requires setting the camera to manual or shutter priority mode and selecting a relatively low shutter speed, in this case about 1/8th of a second. It also requires one to look ahead to see what shot might be coming up, because there will be a very short window of time for the exposure:

Here we have the giant communications tower in Toronto framed between trees which are blurred by the movement of the bus on which I was riding. Even more blurred, because it was closer to my camera, is the traffic light on the right. This image is light on transcendental value. There’s not much there. It’s only real interest is the demonstration of motion blur. Ho-hum.

This one is a little more meaty. I remember seeing this sculpture from previous visits to Toronto. I find it no less repulsive than I did before. I wondered how I could capture my revulsion in an image? Hah! A passing pedestrian. Make her appear as if she is fleeing the ugliness:

Simple – select a slow shutter speed, brace firmly against the window frame of the bus and hope that the bus does not move until the pedestrian reaches the precise point at which she seems to be rushing past the travesty. I give you Rush on By.

I’ve been waiting a long time for the opportunity to put a picture of that sculpture in a post and treat it with proper disrespect. Thank you, kind lady, whoever you are.

With this one we are approaching the abstract. I call this a concoction. It follows the recipe of the moment. It’s shaken and baked virtually on the fly. As I was looking out of the window of the bus I was distracted by the reflection of the bus driver. How inconvenient. Why not record my complaint?

Here again, a normal automated shot will not work. If both the reflection and the outside scene are sharp the reflection is lost in the muddle. What is needed is to blur the scenery outside so that the reflection stands our more by its sharpness than by its contrast. A slow shutter speed once again comes to the rescue. If there is a subliminal message in The Phantom Bus Driver  other than the title, you will have to find it. I’ve racked my brain and can’t puzzle it out.

If you are very observant or very bored, you may notice the reflection of my hand holding the camera at the far right of the image. There is a term for this self-referential imagery in which the artist or a portion of the artist appears in the image, but I can’t think of it. Any help out there?

Here the narrative and the abstract mingle. What is the mountainous object which dwarfs the trees? What kind of grass matches a good-sized pine? Does the title Around My Neck  lend a clue? Well, silly me, of course it does. Who am I trying to fool. Some images are just fun and camera technique boils down to nothing more technical than lying on my belly in the wet grass like a 140 pound short thick snake:

The object is, rather obviously, a millstone and it is not twenty meters tall, only about one. The camera angle, shooting from the ground nearly straight up, and the inclusion of the trees make it seem much larger at first glance. I call this Abstract But Not Really Abstract. It’s a visual joke, if not a very good one.

Some of these last ones are approaching abstraction. This one probably more than any of the others:

In Clouds and Angles  it’s all about photography. Nobody would paint this picture. It’s a found object which disappears in an instant unless it is captured and viewed. It appears in a singular place in a moment of time. Were it not for me, nobody would ever have seen it – nobody. Does that mean anything? Of course not. Wait . . . no, it does mean something. It means that somebody sat in a car thinking about the sky and the clouds and watching things go by as a little story about the sky and the clouds and the things going by was being scripted in the mind of the observer until the right moment came along when everything converged and the world was set right for a nanosecond and the finger moved of its own accord to freeze the instant for no purpose whatsoever except the stopping, the pause, the memory of the moment of perfection.

Is that abstract enough for you?

You have to be a little bit odd, I think, to be a photographer. I’ve never made any money to speak of from photography. I’d certainly like  to make some money from it, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards. However, I have made a little money at it and I take it very seriously as an expression of how I see the world, so I call myself a semi-professional photographer. Hey, you can have semi-pro baseball players and golfers, why not semi-professional photographers? Fair is fair. Part of that oddness I mentioned is allowing the mind to romp unfettered through the mountains of optical data flooding the visual cortex to stumble across little meadows of incongruity. I give you GO!

This shot would better fit the abstract label if it were not for the top of the bus at the bottom of the image. I, as the photographer, share a tiny hidden joke with you. There is a thing in Ontario called Go Transit. It’s a combination of bus and train service. The logo is entirely unintelligible – see the little turquoise colored symbol? It’s supposed to read “GO”, but you have to be a calligrapher to figure it out.

Patience, I’m nearly finished.

In This Way Up  we are back at the grain elevator again. We’re nearly all the way to abstract now. The object is not clearly recognisable. This is an assemblage of shapes and colours. It has been Photoshopped beyond all reason. My purpose was, as nearly as possible, to obscure reality under layers of camouflage:

If I’ve done my job well the reality will not be too obvious, unless you are an  employee of the establishment and you travel up and down this precarious ladder frequently. See, there you go. Once the reality is clear, the image loses it’s interest. It’s no longer a mystery. Phooey! I should have stopped while I was ahead.

This last one is neither narrative nor abstract. I might go so far as to call it a visual pun, though not a very good one. What makes it weak is that there is no common phrase “food temple” to match the title of the image:

I had some concept or other in mind as I was working on this image. It may have been a deep thought about the place that food has taken in modern western culture. I might have been thinking about how irritated I am that I can’t go to a meeting or visit with friends or engage in practically any social activity without being compelled to consume food. Really folks, I can’t eat that much. Please stop trying to feed me.

Yeah, that may have been it.

I can’t remember.

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Stupid Man Tricks and Crystals – The ROM

Posted in Humor, On Tthe Road on May 23rd, 2011 by MadDog
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On Friday my intention was to go to Toronto, no matter what the weather was doing. The weather cooperated somewhat. The sun even peeked out cautiously a few times, giving me the opportunity to walk about in my lumberjack flannel shirt. I did go to Toronto, but I did not get to do what I had planned. You see, planning is the key. That is precisely what I forgot to do.

What I wanted to do was to visit the MZTV Museum of Television at 55o East Queen Street. Forget about the address. It’s not important to you unless you plan to walk all the way to the museum from the bus station as I did. You have to pass through a very interesting neighborhood. When I say interesting you can surmise that I really mean scary. Don’t get me wrong. I fit in there quite nicely with my pony tail, earring and multiple tattoos. My choice of clothing also blended in with the attire of huge, rough-looking men hanging around in front of bars and loans-until-payday joints. The word “joint” fits into this picture also, if you get my drift. No need to purchase. Just pick up a roach from the sidewalk. Anyway, I did make it to the museum, but it did me no good.

This is where the planning comes in. You see, what I had failed to do was to ascertain whether or not the museum was actually going to be open when I arrived. The answer is NO, unless you have called ahead to make an appointment. I truly did not know how to react when I saw the sign saying “by Appointment ONLY!!!!!” No, there were no exclamation marks nor upper case. My mind added those. Having no cell phone with me I had no way to call for an appointment, as if such a thing could be arranged on the spot anyway. So I just stood there and stared at it for a while as my mind ran back over the previous twenty-four hours to try to figure out what other blunders I had made which were still lying in wait for me.

I soon found out.

My son, Hans, had mentioned the Royal Ontario Museum. I thought to myself, “Oh, I’ve never been there.” So, I decided to figure out where to find it and how to get there. It seems faintly ridiculous for a seriously mature man to admit that getting around in a big, unfamiliar city alone is a challenge. It is, nevertheless, true. So, I set about to meet the obstacles and overcome them one after the other.

The first of which was to learn how I could get onto one of those cute little streetcars with the wire over the top so that I could bypass the harmless, but disconcerting neighborhood I had just passed through. I did the obvious. I asked a kindly looking woman on the street how I could travel by trolley. She directed me to a corner variety store where I could purchase a tiny token to get me on the vehicle. The clerk there asked where I was going and suggested that I purchase two tokens. She also cautioned me to get a transfer so that I could use the subway. It seemed to be getting complicated, but I reckoned that I could manage it.

The trolley took me in minutes back to the spot I had been an hour ago. It was a while before I located the entrance to the subway. The sign was too small, I think. Four stops later I was here:

At this moment I realized my second blunder. I had been here before with Eunie. Maybe someday happy memories will flood over me when I revisit places which we once enjoyed. However, I now try to avoid those places, if possible. However, I was already there. I decided to tough it out.

As it turned out, the trip was not a bust. Three years ago I remember seeing a small section of the museum which displayed some amazing mineral specimens, including splendid crystals the likes of which I had never seen. I’m glad I forked over the CA$21 to get into the museum, because the new display – a hundred times larger – was a mind-blowing experience.

I give no credence to theories of “crystal power”. They seem nonsense to me. For me they are objects which dramatically display the myriad ways by which the laws of physics and chemistry can be expressed as wondrous works of beauty.

I tried Googling to get some idea of where the great mineral displays of the world are located. No luck. I can’t imagine that there are many which can beat this one. I took a lot of pictures. As the lighting was not bright enough for easy photography, I had to set my ISO at 400, which makes for noisy images in my Canon G11. Nevertheless, they are good enough to get an idea of the beauty of the specimens.

Here is a gallery of some of the better shots. You can start the gallery by clicking on any of the images:

I’m happy with the way the day turned out. It was a bittersweet mixture of emotions. I feel as if I salvaged something from it. Now most of life feels that way to me. I’m getting better at it.

I’m synthesizing happiness. It’s almost as good as the real thing.

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New Year’s Resolutions

Posted in Opinions on January 1st, 2009 by MadDog
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It’s an old-fashioned idea, I suppose. But, I’m an old-fashioned sort of guy. I also feel slightly silly when I attempt to give advice to others. I have a hard enough time just getting by myself.

Today, I’ll make an exception.

In the mid-80’s, when I began to realize what a jerk I was and I started employer-enforced therapy (yes, that’s how bad it was), I was looking for any sort of coping skills that could help me with my bipolar problem, depression, and the fact that nobody at all seemed to want to be around me – including my wife! The nice guy who I thought I was was a figment of my imagination. The truth was that I was horrid.

You wouldn’t want to hear about most of the stuff to which I submitted so that I could begin the long road to becoming someone else. It has been a tough journey, but, at the very least, I can truthfully say that I like myself better than I did before. More importantly, most people seem to be able actually to tolerate me now. It’s been a significant improvement over about twenty-some years.

Here’s a pretty picture of a sensitive plant flower after having been nourished for a month on a secret formula of psychedelic drugs – just in case you’re nodding off:

Spaced-out tickle-me plant flower

I attribute much of my happiness today to New Year’s Resolutions of the past. I never started doing it until I got into serious trouble. That was probably because I never believed it would work. I was so wrong.

I can’t tell you what several of my successful resolutions were, because they would be far too revealing. I’m not much into soul baring in public – it’s too Hollywood. However, I can tell you about a couple that aren’t too personal and really improved my life (not to mention relationships with others).

Have you ever been inside the Toronto subway stations? Some of them are über-cool indeed:

Subway station in Toronto

One resolution that saved me from employment doom was to learn to treat my co-workers with the same cordiality and respect that I (sometimes) accorded to my friends. Simply having to remember day-by-day that I had to pay attention to this, over a period of a year, improved my situation at work remarkably. Gradually I went from the always-grumpy old dude that nobody really wanted to interact with to someone less grumpy who seemed to actually care. Not perfect, but an improvement.

I love the way water drops look on leaves and flowers:

Water drops on a pandanus leaf

New Year’s Resolutions are strange beasts. I think that there’s a sort of placebo effect in action. If you think it will work, and you have no evidence to the contrary, then It probably will. I review my progress on my resolution all year and begin to think about the next one sometime around October.

I’m careful to choose resolutions that I honestly believe that I can accomplish. I will put off an important resolution for another year and try something less challenging if I don’t think I’m ready to achieve a difficult change.

I’ll reveal one other resolution that improved life considerably. Forever I had this annoying and unfair habit of blaming my wife for everything. No matter the situation, I could find a way to make a problem her fault. You guys out there – I bet some of you know exactly what I mean. It goes like this:

“Yes, I know that I goofed up there a little (bashed in the side of the car), but if you hadn’t parked it so close to the rubbish bin when you pulled in, then it wouldn’t have happened.” It sounds like a three-year-old. I could give a thousand more examples.

Here’s a beautiful deep sky over Pig Island. I darkened it by shooting through my polarized sunglasses:

Pig Island sky

Here’s MadDog’s Seven Secrets for Successful New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. Resolve to change something significant. Don’t waste your years fixing trivial quirks.
  2. Choose a problem that you think that you have a good chance of fixing. If it seems too difficult, then choose something else. In the intervening year, continue to think about the more challenging problem and invent ways to tackle it the next year.
  3. Enter into the resolution fully committed to it; anything less guarantees failure.
  4. If you’re the praying kind, include your resolution in your prayers. If praying isn’t your thing, then commit yourself to a regular, frequent quiet time of introspection to consider your progress.
  5. From January 1st onwards, make it habitual (easier than you think) to stop and consider your response in every situation that bears on your resolution. Once this habit is in place, you’re more than half-way to success.
  6. Learn to chastise youself appropriately when you fail to live up to your own expectations for your behaviour. Guilt works fine for me. Flog yourself if necessary – this is serious stuff.
  7. No matter what, don’t give up.

Have you seen the new kind of kid’s blow-bubbles stuff that doesn’t pop? The bubbles last for a long time:

Long-lasting bubble

I’ll reveal to you my 2009 New Year’s Resolution:

I’m going to eliminate nasty and offensive expletives and euphemisms from my daily speech – including times when I’m angry or when there’s nobody around even to hear me (Those will be the difficult times to zip my lips!). I picked up the habit in the military and it’s been with me since. I’m tired of it. It makes me sound ignorant. It’s childish and I’m no longer a child. It’s time I stopped.

I’ll let you know how I’m getting along with that.

Happy New Year!

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