Rants & Ramblings

random commentary about culture, media, politics, technology and whatnot.

feb
13
2006

rules of engagement

As my Flickr obsession has deepened over the past year, I’ve learned a few tricks to help boost my photos’ exposure within the Flickr community. That’s not to say that I’ve established any kind of massive following on the photo site — I definitely haven’t. But I’ve noticed some patterns in how people use the site and encounter my photostream.

  • You have to comment to get comments. Folks may land on your photostream out of sheer serendipity, but, for the most part, you’re not going to develop an audience unless you seek out other Flickr users. Explore all the photography that Flickr has to offer, and comment or “favorite” the photos that you especially like. And if you really like a photographer’s work, add them to your contact list. If you show an interest in others’ work, they may show an interest in yours.
  • In all things, moderation. When people who have marked you as a contact pull up their “Photos from your Contacts” page, they’ll only see your five most recent photos. Nevermind that you just uploaded 60 photos from your most recent trip to Rome. They’re only going to see the last five — and they probably won’t dig any deeper unless they really like what they see. Personally, after a photo-taking expedition, I’ll only upload a few photos at a time, as I know that anything beyond the last 4-5 may well be overlooked entirely.
  • Make it count. Use Flickr to showcase your best photography efforts. Be ruthlessly discriminating about which photos make the cut. The more potent the photos, the more likely they’ll be to catch someone’s eye.

Has anyone else caught on to any other unwritten rules?

feb
07
2006

memorials

Terracotta face at Gathland State Park

This weekend, Rob and I decided to do a little exploring, our game plan to check out two state parks near Frederick, Md., and then cap the day off with a late lunch at Mexicali Cantina.

Our first stop was Gathland State Park, home to the War Correspondents Arch. The tall brick wall, built in 1896, honors reporters, photographers and cartoonists who covered the Civil War. It was commissioned by George Townsend, himself a Civil War journalist, and built on his own land.

Our second stop was the nearby Washington Monument State Park, which boasts the first monument to George Washington in the United States. Along the uphill path to the kiln-shaped edifice were orange signs marking various events in Washington’s life. At the monument, we climbed a narrow stairway to get to the top, where we had a 360-degree view of the valley below. Standing on the top of a small tower at the top of a hill on a windy day, we were buffeted by freezing gusts, and I could hardly hold my camera steady.

The light was pretty hazy that day, so the photos didn’t come out as well as I would have liked. Still, it was a great excuse to get out of town on an otherwise lazy Sunday.

Photos »

jan
31
2006

desert sunset

Tucson sunset

I’ve finally gone through some of my photos from the past month. This newest set was taken on Christmas Day from my parents’ home in Tucson. There’s nothing like a desert sunset.

Photos »

jan
23
2006

out of the camera business

There have been some interesting developments lately in the camera world. Earlier this month, Nikon announced that it will phase out most of its film cameras in favor of digital cameras. And last week, Konica Minolta announced that it’s getting out of the camera business altogether.

My first camera was a small point-and-shoot Minolta, a Christmas present from Santa when I was in middle school. (Actually, it was my second camera … My first camera was a brick-sized Fisher Price camera that I got when I was in second grade. But the Minolta was my first real camera.)

I didn’t really go whole-hog into photography, though, until about three years ago, when I got my second digital camera, a Canon Powershot Digital Elph S230. I loved being able to futz with settings to produce a desired effect, and, most of all, being able to know right away if a photo had turned out the way I wanted it, rather than going through the expense of having film developed and learning only then that, say, my sister’s eyes were closed in that otherwise perfect family photo. Going digital freed me to experiment, not having to worry about whether I was wasting film with my photos of the mundane.

That said, in the back of my mind I’ve also always wanted to take a black-and-white photography class where I could learn how to develop my own film in a darkroom. There’s something so tangible about a darkroom, where you’re producing a physical copy of your photograph with your own hands, and manipulating the final product with levels of light that you have to learn how to control. It’s much more work-intensive and time-consuming than uploading those digital files to, say, Shutterfly … But there’s a tangible reward at the end, and the knowledge that this print, from shutter click to picture frame, is the product of your work.

One of these days, I’m going to sign up for that class … and hopefully the low-tech methods of developing film haven’t disappeared by the time I do.

searchr

Earlier this week, I ran across Retrievr, an interesting way to search Flickr photos by color or sketch. A search on Retrievr doesn’t return an extensive number of photos, and the interface isn’t as intuitive as it could be (no “search” button to intiate the search?), but it’s an interesting creative exercise at searching non-text items using non-text search terms.

A description of how it works from the site:

It helps to think of it as matching the most pronounced shapes and slabs of colors.

Another thing to know is that there’s currently no way to specify the aspect ratio, so you have to rescale the image in your head (things that are close to the borders of the image you’re thinking of should be close to the borders of your sketches), but that’s really more of a missing feature of the drawing flashlet than an inherent problem. Sometimes it also helps to remove detail instead of adding it.

Personally, I see retrievr more as an “exploration” tool than as a “search” tool, and it seems to work very well for that.

dec
24
2005

christmas hike

cactus closeup

I continue to be amazed by the fabulous, beautiful weather in Tucson this holiday weekend. With highs in the 70s (and threatening 80s) all weekend, it’s unseasonably warm — even for Tucson. But it’s made for some gorgeous days, and today I wanted nothing more than to take advantage of the gorgeous weather and fantastic desert scenery with a hike in Sabino Canyon.

The hike ended up as a pre-Christmas-Eve-dinner family affair, as Ashley, my parents and I drove out to the park for a pre-sunset stroll. With about 45 minutes of daylight left, we took to the Nature Trail to snap photos and soak up the surroundings. It was so beautiful out, and I only hope that next year (Mom has suggested making this an annual tradition) we’ll arrive even earlier, so we can explore even more of the canyon.

Photos »

dec
22
2005

spectacular sunset

Sunset

There was an amazing sunset over Arlington on Thursday evening. I took a few photos looking out from my office.

dec
03
2005

charleston

The Battery

I’m finally getting caught up on my photos/blog entries from Thanksgiving weekend…

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Aunt Lulu, my cousin Katie, Rob and I spent the day in Charleson, S.C. This was Rob’s first visit; I’d been there once before, in 1998.

Charleston is a beautiful city, and we had a great time walking around the historic district, from the old market to the Battery and myriad side streets in between. Rob remarked at one point that, architecturally, many of the old homes reminded him of New Orleans. And, to me, the main shopping street seemed like a much cleaner version of Georgetown. With all the walking, we earned our food, from our obligatory early lunch at Tommy Condon’s to our afternoon snack break at a coffee bar with wonderfully comfortable couches to dinner and pool at a nearby pub.

It fascinated me that, more than an architectural backdrop, the city’s history was front-and-center, from the ubiquitous horse-drawn carriage rides for tourists to the after-dark “ghost tours.” But while I’m well-aware of the city’s history and its role in the Civil War, I was a bit taken aback by the rapturous way the woman that greeted us at the Confederate Museum spoke of some of the more prized items in the museum’s collection, including locks of hair from Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis.

After dark, the four of us went on one of those ghost walks, this one focusing on ghost tales related to some of the city’s older graveyards led by a woman originally from northern Virginia. The walk was more informative than spooky, but provided many an interesting historical anecdote. Between this and the Chicago architectural walks we went on in August, I’m beginning to really like these tours of historic areas. It might be worthwhile to look into similar programs locally.

Over the course of the day, I took a lot of photos, but the sky was pretty overcast so everything looks a little washed out. Photos »

dec
01
2005

swan lake

Swan Lake

The day after Thanksgiving, Aunt Lulu took Rob and I over to Swan Lake for an afternoon stroll. I have fond memories of running along the park’s dirt paths when I was a kid. I hadn’t been there in years — maybe 1991, when we drove from Texas to visit one summer? — and the park was actually even nicer than I remembered.

Photos »

nov
19
2005

walkathon

Our 'team' at the Help the Homeless Walkathon

For the fourth year in a row (have I been here that long now?), I participated in the annual Help the Homeless Walkathon with a “team” from Shawn’s company. We all met up at Federal Triangle, then marched over to the Mall to join the rest of the marchers. Like last year, our 5K route took us east toward the Capitol, west down Independence Avenue, south on 15th Street to the Jefferson Memorial, around the Tidal Basin, and back across the mall, past the Washington Monument. Aside from a bit of chilliness, it was a beautiful morning to be out walking, and the cold actually felt pretty good once we got moving.

There’s always a strange disconnect for me when I see homeless people begging for money from participants in the Help the Homeless Walkathon. I generally don’t give money to panhandlers, partly because I rarely have cash on me and and partly because it makes me uncomfortable — I don’t know where the money is going, and I don’t know if it’s an opening for a mugging. I like the idea of the walkthon because it generates money for specific programs for everything from low-income housing to soup kitchens to health care to children. But I still feel crappy turning down or ignoring panhandlers at an event for those very people.

After the event, we walked from the Mall up to Dupont Circle for lunch. We’d hoped to have brunch at Luna, but the line was out the door — and filled with other folks from Shawn’s company who had beaten us to the punch. Then we tried Raku, but since we’d have to wait half an hour for the restaurant to open, we decided to go up the street to Alero, which could seat us immediately. In all, we’d walked about five miles that morning.

Photos »

oct
31
2005

macabre

Halloween decorationsTo coincide with Friday’s office-sanctioned Halloween celebrations, my department decorated for the holiday. The theme: guillotine horror. A coworker brought his prop guillotine from home, and we set things up to make it look like we’d lopped off his head. Then we mounted printouts of our heads on golf club “pikes.” And, as a final touch, put candy in the basket that held the lopped-off head. (Photos)

If we don’t win the office decorating contest, I hope we at least get a nod for “Most Macabre.”

For the past two years, Rob and I have attended Eric and Caroline’s annual Halloween party, where costumes are mandatory. (This year, Rob went as a pink-slipped office worker (complete with cardboard box of desk sundries) and I went as a 1930s-ish starlet.) (Photos) However, since the party is always held at the beginning of the month, by the time the real Halloween comes around, the whole holiday / costume thing feels very “been there, done that.”

That said, it was still fun to go downstairs today and see all the local schoolkids lined up in costume in Courthouse Plaza to collect candy from local merchants. So much hyperactive, sugar-fueled enthusiasm!

oct
21
2005

debating the digital slr

When I was debating this summer about what camera to upgrade to, my first thought was that I wanted a digital SLR. After playing with one at B&H and weighing the cost, I ultimately decided that, in addition to the higher cost, the digital SLR (I’d been looking at a Canon 20D) was “too much camera” for what I want to do right now. I ended up buying a Canon Powershot S2 IS, a lower-end camera, which I’ve been very happy with so far.

On Flickr today, I found a great discussion thread comparing the features of a S2 IS to a digital SLR. In addition to clarifying what each camera does particularly well, the responses in this thread should also be a good reference for when I decide to upgrade my camera again (which likely won’t be for another couple years).

oct
20
2005

shades of fall

Brown County State Park

Rob and I took a road trip out to Bloomington, Ind., for a long weekend to reconnect with some of his old friends, explore the town and enjoy some fall color (and temperatures!). Google Maps predicted a 12-hour trip, but we made it in 10 ½ — and got about 35 miles per gallon doing it! (I love my little Saturn.)

We stayed at the beautiful home of Jeff and Erica, friends of Rob’s from his days at the IDS and great hosts. Between the pasta they prepared for us the night we arrived to the almond croissants at City Bakery, where they brought us after our Saturday morning outing to the farmer’s market, we definitely weren’t hurting for good food. And on Friday night, they hosted a small dinner party in our honor — complete with fire pit in the backyard.

I also got to visit the IDS newsroom twice and meet much of the professional staff, including Malinda, Rob’s former adviser. And on Saturday we spent the afternoon with Rob’s friend Rachel, with whom we explored the IU campus and went hiking at Brown County State Park.

Photos »

sep
22
2005

catching the photo bug

In today’s “Washington Sketch,” the Post’s Dana Milbank describes how senators Orrin Hatch and Joe Biden futzed with their cameraphones during boring moments in the Roberts confirmation hearings. I don’t know if this is a statement about the photo-taking senators’ dedication to their day jobs, or a statement about the hearings themselves. (“At Roberts Hearings, Bored Senators Become Photojournalists” - 09/22/05)

It happened for the first time shortly after Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) observed that the “hearings were dignified.” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) whipped out his camera phone and snapped a photo of Leahy.

Admiring the result of his amateur photography, Hatch went on to compose a digital photo album of Orrin’s Excellent Adventure during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation vote for John G. Roberts Jr.’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

I wish that photo album was online somewhere. I don’t see anything on Hatch’s Web site.

sep
06
2005

experiments in super macro

Experiments in Super Macro

My new camera, a Canon PowerShot S2 IS, arrived last Wednesday, but amid all the hubub of moving, I didn’t get a chance to actually start playing with it until this weekend. (And, believe me, it took an incredible amount of self-discipline not to toy with the camera instead of hauling boxes.)

I’m still getting a feel for the camera — it has a lot more power than my Digital Elph S230 — but I know already that I’m going to be able to do quite a lot with this thing as I learn how to tinker with its settings and exercise a greater level of control over the photos I take.

In the meantime, I’ve been gleefully employing my favorite feature so far — “super macro” — to take extreme close-up shots of mundane objects around the apartment. I’ll take it out and shoot “real” photos sometime soon, I hope, once the apartment is in a reasonable state.

aug
19
2005

windy city

Just got back from Chicago around 1 a.m. the morning of August 22, and I’m in an Adaptive Path workshop today. There’s been a lot of stuff going on. Expect a few back-dated entries while I play catch-up…

Children play in Crown Fountain in Chicago's Millennium ParkWe finally arrived in Chicago in the early afternoon and made our way to the Holovatys’ place via public transit. They live in a great neighborhood, with lots of options for dining and shopping. Rob and I had a late lunch at Joy’s Noodles and Rice, one of a multitude of Thai restaurants in the neighborhood. The food was great and the meal largely without incident, except for an odd moment that sent me into a giggling fit: As the Roxette song “Must Have Been Love” played on the loudspeaker, a waiter randomly sang along with the line “Touch me now” just as he walked by our table. That one line was all he sang, and it was so thoroughly random that I couldn’t help cracking up.

After settling into our temporary lodging, we set off toward downtown, enjoying some of the local architecture at the Merchandise Mart and Union Station (and were politely chastised for taking photos in the lobby of a nearby Metra/shopping/office building).

We watched the sunset and soaked up the ambiance at Millennium Park, where we stumbled upon a public opera performance and a great photography exhibit.

And then we walked over to the Crown Fountain.

I was skeptical about the fountain when I first saw it last summer, when the park was still under construction. But after having seen it in action this weekend, I’m convinced that it’s a brilliantly executed idea for the public space. Visitors are welcome to play in the fountain, and it’s incredibly energizing to see so many kids there just having a ball, splashing in the water and queueing up for the next time the fountain’s faces would spit water or send it cascading down from the top of the pillars.

I took off my sandals and wandered barefoot around the fountain, dodging kids on the run and laughing at their enthusiasm. It was so much fun.

We ended our day’s wanderings with dinner at Giordano’s, then went to hang out with Adrian, who totally schooled us at Mario Kart.

Photos are up

aug
06
2005

apple core

Apple Store opening at Pentagon City MallOut of curiosity and utter geekitude (and the lure of a free t-shirt), Rob and I decided to pay a visit to the brand-new Apple Store at the Pentagon City mall. We arrived just after 10 a.m. on opening day and spent about 45 minutes in a line that snaked almost all the way around the large atrium.

Birthday money burning a hole in my pocket, I toyed with the idea of getting Apple’s spiffy-keen new Mighty Mouse (even though I rarely work at a desk with my laptop), but there were none to be found in the store. There were, however, lots of iPods, lots of computers and lots of people, from the neon green-clad store associates to the curious masses there to buy or just have a look.

Satisfied with our once-over of the store, we headed back outside, picking up our free t-shirts on the way out. On the front of the t-shirt: a small Apple logo and, in white, the text “Pentagon City.” On the back, in small type near the collar: “Designed by Apple in Cupertino.” I feel so branded. Sadly, the shirts only came in extra-large, so this likely will be relegated to workout or sleep-shirt status.

I posted my photos from the event to Flickr. Someone else on Flickr posted photos, too.

aug
04
2005

investigations

Intriguing local photography exhibition opening up next week at the National Building Museum in D.C.:

Investigating Where We Live

August 13 - October 2, 2005

This exhibition will showcase the results of the National Building Museums five-week, outreach program Investigating Where We Live (IWWL). IWWL teaches young people to use photography as a tool for exploring and documenting neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. Through this process, they gain an understanding of city planning, architecture, photography, and exhibition design. The neighborhoods explored in this years program are Anacostia, Navy Yard, and the New York Avenue corridor. The exhibition which the participants helped design will include photographs, plus poems, stories and narratives.

When I mentioned it to Rob, he quipped:

maybe they’ll teach a follow-up session on how to use geotagging to extend said narratives ;)

aug
01
2005

If the photo isn’t interesting, get someone naked. If it needs more, then roll someone or something in mud. Lastly, light something on fire!

— Keith Carter, on interesting photos

jul
24
2005

great falls

Shells alongside the banks of the Potomac River

Rob and I took a late afternoon hike on the Maryland side of Great Falls, part of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park, which runs from Washington, D.C. through Maryland to West Virginia. We didn’t go very far, but we did visit Olmstead Island (named after the man who, among other things, designed New York’s Central Park) and found a lovely, quiet inlet.

Photos »

jul
15
2005

case study

Enticed by the focus on AJAX and user-generated content, I’m planning to go to Day One of Adaptive Path‘s User Experience Week here in D.C. next month. But I was even more jazzed when I read about an addition to the day’s agenda: A Flickr case study presented by one of the company’s designers.

Flickr Case Study

Eric Costello, Ludicorp/Yahoo!

The photo-sharing site Flickr has emerged as one of the most influential of the new breed of Web applications. Countless small-scale projects and major online offerings alike have been inspired by elements of Flickr’s design. In this case study, Flickr interface developer Eric Costello takes you inside Ludicorp’s design process to see the thinking that went into the creation of Flickr’s innovative interface.

Now I just need to get around to registering for it.