Note From Jon


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Photo 101

Took the Photo 101 "class" with Scott and Laura tonight (they even had a syllabus and illustrations). Scott gave a good overview of common features of digital cameras, and I had a chance to spend time finding them on my Canon Powershot SD630 Digital Elph (which took a self portrait of himself there on the left). Then Laura went over some of the basic principles of photography and composition as shown in the lovely illustrations below. A couple of tips that I picked up:

-You can cover the flash of your camera with a piece of paper (like a receipt from your pocket) to get a diffuse flash (using a finger will give everything a red tone and a dollar bill will make things green).

-Instead of using a digital zoom it is usually better to just crop the picture after it is uploaded, the one exception could be when the subject is in much different lighting conditions than its surroundings and the camera can't auto focus or auto meter without being digitally zoomed.

-Red eye tends to be worse the closer the flash is to the lens (or when your subject is drunk, because their eye responds to light more slowly)

-You can take a picture into the sun if your subject's head blocks the sun and it will make them look like they have an aura (otherwise there really isn't a trick to being able to take a picture of someone in front of a particular backdrop when the sun is also low in the sky behind them).

-I only get about two hours of use out of my camera when I am tinkering with it as I was for this class

Monday, May 28, 2007

Rock Slide!

Started what may become a new Memorial Day tradition this year with the White Oak Canyon/Cedar Run hike in Shenandoah National Park. I can't believe I lived here 30 years without knowing about "The Slide" on Cedar Run (AB took this shot of me on the right - as well as the video on the sidebar). The hike up White Oak Canyon, across the fire road and horse trail and back down Cedar Run was about 6.5 miles to the Rock Slide and took us from 10am to 1:30pm so it made for a late lunch. When I do the hike again I would do it exactly the same way though since the rock slide was fantastic and you can stay as long as you want and know you are nearly at the car (in case an afternoon storm moves in as it did today just as we reached the parking lot). The best swimming hole other than the slide (and the best for pure swimming) appeared to be the bottommost of the waterfalls on White Oak Canyon (the first you reach hiking up).

One of the goals of the hike (for me) was to test out Mimsi's backpack and the Keen Newport H2 Sandals (on the right with Ann's Keen hiking boats) I got as possible gear for Africa. Both passed the test.

Ann at the top of the main White Oak Canyon falls with a view down from the top on the right.

In front of the second falls on White Oak Canyon and a photo Ray took of me at the top of the main falls during our snack break.

AB hanging out on a log and Dave hanging out in the water (he ran ahead and was in the pool here at the lowermost falls when we arrived)

Ray took this sequence of shots of tandem rock sliding...

And these of a memorable run...

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Enfreedoming Shakespeare

Tonight I got to see "Love's Labor's Lost" at this year's Shakespeare Free For All. This was the third year in a row I've seen it and this was easily my favorite (though I loved the past two and the free for all is one of the highlights of my year). The original director Michael Kahn set the play in 1960s India and the setting fit perfectly (with obvious adaptations). Beatle-esque rock stars have agreed to study with an Indian maharajah and forsake women for three years... until a quartet of lovely, witty women show up at their court.

The scene at the end of act one is perhaps my favorite single scene of any play I've seen. Each of the students (and the maharajah) come on stage and "secretly" express their love of a lady to the audience (and the now hidden previous players) through song (including the drummer who rolls an entire drum set out under a sheet where he ultimately hides as the next confessor arrives), and then proceed one by one to call out each other on their hypocrisy before ultimately deciding to renounce their oaths and pursue the women together. The scene finally culminates in the foursome playing a full rock concert song, complete with computer controlled rope lights scrolling around the prescenium. I'm sure you had to be there but it was spectacular.

The best thing about the free for all is that is it outdoors at the Carter Barron amphitheatre. Of course the worst thing about the free for all is that it was nearly rained out, but they build a 30 minute rain delay into their schedule and wound up seating us as the final drops fell. Some other highlights of the show were lines about the "posterior of the day" (afternoon), "remuneration" (which Costard determines to mean 3 farthings), and "enfreedoming your person" as an offer to remove his handcuffs. Michael Milligan as the hippie stoner Costard really stole the show, and I will always remember watching him sit on the bench at the side of the stage, pull out a bag of weed and roll his own joint (like the statue on the National Cathedral I suppose).

What I also want to remember is that Jeffrey mentioned that his goal was to see every one of Shakespeare's works performed and I am going to steal his suggestion and make that a life goal of my own (with this blog hopefully helping to keep track). So far I will only officially count A Midsummer Night's Dream, Pericles, and Love's Labor's Lost as crossed off the list.

Update: I enjoyed it so much I went back to see the show the next Friday. It was still good the second time although the audience was dead and the energy of the show was down. I did catch an additional favorite quote though: "Abstinence engenders maladies"...

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Artomatic 2007

Artomatic 2007 wraps up today and I want to record some of my impressions of this year's show. The show this time took place in the old Patent and Trademark buildings in Crystal City, and with the metro, free weekend and after 4pm weekday parking (plus bike path access I took advantage of twice) and restaurants in the area, I think this is easily the best location they have had yet.

The highlight of the show for me was getting my portrait done by my friends in the 4traits on opening night (my profile photo - which I think looks like me but which most people said looks like a superhero and as Jan Louis said "looks better than you do"). Overall though this year no single piece stood out to me the way they had in the past, but there were quite a few which I enjoyed and overall my experience at Artomatic this year was as fun as each of the past two. I'm just disappointed I didn't spread my visits more out over the length of the show instead of just opening night and then four visits in the last week. My other regret is not going earlier in the show and purchasing some of my favorite pieces. A couple of pieces I would have bought had sold by the last week.

Here are some of my favorite pieces (if any artists would like me to remove these photos just let me know, I'm not exactly sure of the fair use policies regarding photos of your artwork in my blog).

First of all my favorite pieces from AOM 2002 and 2004 (without credits since I didn't have my blog then, if you happen to know who did these pieces I'd love to know and include them):

2002: A series of photographs taken from the top down of each different color of Converse sneaker in a similar colored setting (green chucks in grass, camo chucks in leaves, etc.). The actual color study effect was much more visually interesting than my description.

2004: Joseph Merchlinsky's painting (who I can finally credit a year later thanks to his comment on my 2008 post) consisted of hundreds of "I Voted" stickers (painted, not actual stickers) in red, white and blue or black, green and red. Viewed from a normal distance it just looked like a piece comparing American and Iraqi Democracy, but the subtlety (or not so subtlety) of the piece was that when seen from a greater distance the change between American and Iraqi stickers occurs in a vague silouette of the infamous hooded prisoner at Abu Ghraib. The 2007 show had another political commentary piece (not pictured) which was really sad to see that was a photo collage of George W. Bush's face constructed from photos of soldier's who had been killed in Iraq.

If I had to pick one favorite memorable piece from this year's show it would probably be Alicia Buenaventura Santos piece shown to the left which reveals something about the viewer.

And another image of the same subject...

Emily Greene Liddle had a fun series of paintings of fruit in unusual shapes or situations (a delicious strawberry and blackberry on a fishing line with the hook poking out menacingly).

On the right is one of pieces I would have purchased had it not already been sold by the time I saw it. The piece was by Richard Goulet and sold for something like $120.

Andrew Cronan's space is filled with a variety of mobiles, most of which are essentially identical to miniature Calder's, although he had created Calderesque mobiles in the shape of a horse and fish which were more interesting.

But my favorite part of his exhibit was the two mobiles he placed in a steel cage and acrylic box respectively and left papers for the audience to comment on what was in each box. Many answers focused on gender roles, but my favorite was perhaps the most literal.

George Koch and Rebecca Gordon's Antomatic was a simple yet satisfying installation of ants stamped all across the walls and ceilings of a dead end hallway

Anna Nazaretz's whimsical Terrance and Philip-esque Close Up was matched by an equally whimsical BRASH poem. One particularly fun part of Artomatic (and a reason to see it again towards the end of the run) is that BRASH writes poems in response to artists pieces and secretly places them in the exhibits throughout the show.

Carl Dahlke captured the last few weeks of his father's life and his mother's interaction with his father is this poignant series of photographs.

Damien Gill captured this series of detailed fire hydrant photos which reminded me of the water tower photo series I'd seen at the LACMA Museum several years ago.

Jennifer Haack's Counting the Days was another piece that I definitely would have purchased ($400) had it not sold before I saw it. I'm just a sucker for Manatees. EDIT: In a wild twist of fate I discovered that this painting was actually bought by a friend of a friend who I went White Water Rafting with this past weekend! Small world.

Bill Remington's The Frame Builder is another piece I considered buying (for the mantle). It's hard to tell from the photo, but the paint was layered on so thick is areas (over an inch) that from most angles it looked like purely abstract art. Only from straight on could you see the man in the painting. The caption was "There is a method to his madness".

Ruth Trevarrow's Caution Christian Values is another piece that would have made a fun mantle hanging. I especially enjoyed the reflectors lighting up with the flash.

My favorite of the Washington Post's Sunday Source Peep Diorama Contest was this peeposuction clinic by Marti Doyle, mainly for the before and after shots of the peep.

Heather Schmaedeke's Senses was a simply but well executed piece that appealed to me...

Thankfully our hands don't actually look like that or else it would have made collecting the materials for this piece even more unpleasant than it surely was (unfortunately I can't figure out from my photos or the artomatic website who the artist is).

Malcolm Jones had a whole series of paintings (as well as decorating his wall with murals) of cartoon Koi. I have to remind myself that Koi are the fish and Poi is the starchy purple pudding I had in Maui.

Genevieve Lynn had a series of Chinese brush paintings including this one of a Tiger. I may actually purchase this one because I am also a sucker for Tigers (Harimau-Harimau) and my Manatee was sold.

Michelle Wee's vibrant rendition of a turtle was another of my favorites. Looking at it made me happy. This was a place where Darren pointed out that our taste in art diverges. He needs visionary scope and layered meaning whereas I appreciate a colorful turtle.

Darren and I did both agree that we loved this impromptu installation (of an artist whose name I haven't been able to determine) that was an homage to a recent episode of Heroes where strings create a 3-D map of the connections between all the various heroes. In this case the strings connect many of the artists in Artomatic and the tagline "Save the Cheerleader, Save the World" has evolved into "Save the Artist, Save the World".

I'm not sure if we succeeded in saving the artist, but I did love the time I spent at this year's Artomatic and can't wait until the next show (hopefully no more than two years away). I definitely share Darren's sentiment about the end of the show as expressed here with our friend Ming's croqueted head.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Air Jumpshot Prayer

This morning I had the opportunity to visit the ADAMS Mosque in Sterling with the Middle East Engagement Forum. We got a tour of the Mosque which is styled as a community center rather than in the traditional Mosque architecture, to the point where the main prayer room is a basketball court except when carpets are rolled out for Friday prayer. Both men and women pray in the same room and the mosque serves Sunni and Shia Muslims. There is a motorized partition in the room which was originally intended as a divider between the men and womens' side of the room during prayer but the women rejected this. Cubicle partitions were next suggested but this was also rejected by the women. Finally it was agreed that the partitions would be short wooden fence sections with lattice work (exactly the same lattice that is on our deck).

The Imam of the Mosque, Mohamed Magid, took the time to meet with us for nearly two hours to answer our questions about Islam. A great deal was covered but some of the more interesting points were the high level contacts between the Imam and senior government officials. He discussed having meetings with the President, Secretary of State Powell and Rice, and the FBI Director among others in the years since September 11th. This raised another point which was the wide variety of roles that an Imam such as Imam Magid plays. In addition to the traditional role of leading prayers, he is also the main PR and media contact for the Mosque, provides counseling services, matrimonial services, attends conferences and works on interfaith initiatives.

A couple of points that Imam Magid stressed were the need for interfaith initiatives and to always talk to those who hate you, not just those who love you. He stated that any reform or reinterpretation of Islam needed to come from within and couldn't be prodded from outside by the West. He was frustrated with the media for emphasizing the sectarian terminology in their reports (e.g. "Sunni insurgents" and "Shia Militia"). He did raise the identical point to one raised by Thomas Friedman at an earlier lecture which was: Where was the outrage in the Muslim world against the beheading of a hostage in the name of Islam? He pointed out that this was a much greater affront to Islam than the Danish cartoons which were demonstrated against vehemently.

After the discussion with the Imam we had the opportunity to witness the afternoon prayer (zuhr). I sat to the side of the men's prayer area and was able to watch the prayer. Azim, the Muslim in our group explained how the prayers work. The zuhr prayer is a silent prayer except for the call to change positions (between standing, bowed head, kneeling and fully prostrate). At the zuhr prayer the prostrations are done 4 times. The number of the times prayers are done is apparently extremely important and even when you do non-obligitory prayers before or after the actual call to prayer they must be done in specific numbers.

During the zuhr, each person is mentally reciting their own selection of a section of the Qur'an. Speaking God's words to God. They must have memorized their prayer and that and only that is what they should be praying. It is not an informal silent prayer like I am used to which I found interesting. What was informal however was the dress people were wearing (a majority were in there shorts and tanktops that they had been playing basketball in and several had ball caps on) and the number of people who came late and joined partway through or even almost at the end of the prayer. The most memorable moment of the day for me came as a young boy who had been downstairs playing basketball came into the room and walked to join the prayer line. Partway across the floor, he paused, spun around, and pretended to make a jump shot into the air before spinning back around, stepping into place and beginning the solemn prostrations. This informality was juxtaposed again though by the fact that once the prayer was done, each person who had come in late continued through the prayer from the beginning to the point where they came in even as the rest of the congregation (if that word applies) left. It was critical that the latecomers had to complete the full 4 prostrations.

Monday, May 14, 2007

"Most Redundant Post Ever"

A few months back someone posted on Slashdot that a previous statement was "the most redundant sentence ever". The next post correctly corrected them and pointed to the Buffalo article on Wikipedia. Clearly the original post wasn't as redundant as the grammatically correct sentence Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. Or perhaps a bit more understandably Buffalo bison [that] Buffalo bison bully bully Buffalo bison. Apparently this example will show up in a book I just borrowed to read, Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct. In hindsight the sentence may not have been redundant at all, but rather just repetitive.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mother's Day Deer Hunt

A new family record was set today (Mother's Day) on our trip to Skyline drive. For the first time since these records were kept (not saying much since that is today) and as far back as anyone can remember this trip was the first time we spotted more than 50 deer. The new record is 52 deer, 49 of which were seen on the drive back from Big Meadow between 8 and 9 pm. Dad was the winner with his guess of 40 deer, though there was some controversy as to whether we should instead double everyone's guess and see who was closest (led by Mimsi and Mom who stood a chance of winning in that case).

Dad 40
Cousin Jennifer 34
Mom 30 (for how many year's she'd been a Mother)
Mimsi 27
Jon 20

Monday, May 7, 2007

Gargoyle Tour at the National Cathedral

A couple of weeks ago I took the Gargoyle Tour at the National Cathedral with MeetInDC and realized I'd learned some fun facts which I realized I had little chance of remembering. Since that became the impetus for starting this blog I figured it should be the first real post.

Here are some of the things I learned (as best I can remember - this is the internet, so it could be wrong. I am only infallible in person... usually):
- The National Cathedral is an Episcopalian Cathedral

- Gargoyles are a subset of "Grotesques", which is the more general name for decorative sculpture used to direct water away from a Cathedral to preserve the rock. Gargoyles typically have a hole bored through the rock through which the water is funnelled (gargoyles sometimes would have a channel on the top if it wasn't possible drill a hole through the rock). Then half of the block would be carved and the other half would be embedded directly as the wall of the Cathedral.

- Non-gargoyle grotesques (which don't have to be hideous at all - some grotesques are in the form of angels) often came in pairs at the base of "Gablets" (essentially small gables in the Cathedral structure)

Here are some of the more memorable grotesques we saw on the tour:

In Memoriam:

These two bare blocks are the only undecorated grotesques on the Cathedral. They are a memorial to the only stone carver who fell from scaffolding and died while working on the Cathedral. These blocks on the Gablet were to be his next project. None of the other workers knew what he had planned for them and asked to leave them blank in his memory.

The Boss:

This is a Gargoyle depicting one of the stone carvers bosses (apparently with the bosses' blessing - although he hadn't seen the design). The boss has a cloven hoof coming out of one shoe and a devil's tail. We were informed the boss took the joke rather well and the slide show on the tour had a photo of the boss with his gargoyle.

The Grandsons:

These boys' grandparents donated the money for these gargoyles. The grandson on the right is the good grandson with a halo and schoolbooks (or it could be a writing slate) while the bad grandson is on the left with a broken halo and his hand in the cookie jar. Apparently the grandparents never told the grandsons which was which.

The Whistling Mason:

We were informed that one of the stone carvers had a habit of whistling at the girls from the Cathedral's school. Somehow rather than a pink slip, he got a grotesque in his honor... in full whistling repose.

Clubs and cubs:

The left gargoyle consists of two hands gripping the pipe like a golf club. The right gargoyle is a bear looking through the St. Louis Arch.

Yes there is indeed a grotesque of Darth Vader on the National Cathedral (high up one of the towers as seen from the north side). It was apparently the winning idea of student who entered a competition in the 80s for a new design.

Not Shown:

A couple of the more memorable ones that I couldn't get pictures of include a hippie sitting on a bag of marijuana, and a couple of robotic stone cameras that are supposedly pointed at the Russian Embassy.