Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Brit memos no smoking gun; most damaging to Britain herself

Link: From Memos, Insights Into Ally's Doubts On Iraq War

The Washington Post's review of the various documents being leaked out of the British government concerning the lead-up to war in Iraq paint a rather unsurprising picture: The Brits were smart enough to be hesitant about invading and nervous about the Bush administration's approach and eagerness.

There's no smoking gun here, nothing new we couldn't already reasonably guess for ourselves.

The article ends with a quote:

"No doubt from the British point of view Iraq has been a strategic blunder -- not just a mistake, but a mistake that we're still paying for," said Clarke, of King's College. "Still, while no one in government would ever say it, the rationale from the British point of view is that our strategic relationship with the U.S. is more important than any single campaign we fight on its behalf. The basic calculation was: Right or wrong, it is in our interest to stand with the United States." (emphasis added)

So really the only revelation through all of this is that the once-mighty British empire has been reduced to the United States' lapdog. What's worse is that they're not blindly following in blissful ignorance - they know full well what disasters lay ahead. And yet they're such suckers they feel they have no choice but to follow. Bring out the Gimp.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The next challenge: slacklining

Slacklining is an offshoot of tightrope - you string up 1" wide nylon webbing between two trees or poles and try to walk it. A tightrope doesn't actually move much as you walk it - but a slackline is different. The webbing is really elastic and bouncy and wobbles like crazy under your feet. It's really difficult, but it's a fantastic challenge. And to do it you have to be in an almost meditative state - tightly focused, but relaxed.

I first started picking it up at the gymnastics park at the original muscle beach site in Santa Monica (where I spend every Sunday). My friend Ernie is the master and taught me how to get started. I still had to dedicate two full Sundays to it before I was able to walk across it all the way. Ernie's line is super simple - he just ties the appropriate knots to mount his line around the poles. But he also has to re-tighten it every hour or so as the tension slips out of the line. And he can't wrap the line around a tree (the abrasion against the bark would tear up the line).

His line snapped (three guys were jumping on it) so we were slackline-less for about a month. I started getting antsy so he pointed me to this great site, www.slacklineexpress.com, that offers beginner's kits that come with everything you need. So I ordered a 50' kit and started playing as soon as it arrived.

This kit takes the whole system to another level. It's freakin' awesome. There's the sweet ratchet to crank in the line's tension and a secondary strap/carabiner system to wrap around trees or poles. Slackline Express supplied everything, even sewing in loops at the end of the straps. The webbing itself is only worth about $13, but with all the extras the kit came in at around $90. A worthwhile investment, I think.

The only thing I had to add were 2" webbing shields for the tree straps to protect against abrasion. A whopping $0.60 per foot from REI.

Anyway on Saturday I got my sister, my roommate, and his girlfriend to give it a try out at the park near our apartment. Check out the videos on this page (scroll down below the photo). Some of them are pretty dang funny. Andrew had a rough going his first time on the line, but improved quickly. Dawn started well and really stunned me with how far she progressed in that first session. Katie did well too, but needs a little more practice to get her confidence up.

As the summer progresses I'll grab more video footage of everyone to post.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Mann Village theater fails

My favorite theater in LA, the majestic Mann Village in Westwood, has failed me and the movie-going public terribly.

The failure is described in my email to Mann Theatres, copied here for your edification:

The screening of Batman Begins at the Mann Village theater on Friday, June 17th, 10:30pm suffered from audio problems.

The dialogue was very difficult to hear and understand whenever there was musical score or other noise in the scene. Other members of the audience expressed similar difficulties understanding the dialogue. This is obviously unacceptable.

Being something of an audiophile, it seems to me that your front/center speakers are being overwhelmed by the side/surrounds. The left/right front channels will carry some of the dialogue, but without a strong center channel the result is what we experienced Friday – dialogue that is difficult to understand or dialogue that is completely drowned out by other noises in the mix.

This was also a problem, though to a lesser degree, with a screening of Episode III at that theater on May 27th, 7pm.

This is terribly disappointing as I had previously considered the Mann Village the best theater in LA. I now hand that title to the Arclight with The Bridge coming in a close second.

If you address this problem at the Mann Village, I’ll be happy to give it another chance. But I will not be spending any money there until I hear that this has been addressed. I will also make this message publicly available on the Web. If and when a response is received I will be happy to publish that response as well. Hopefully this story will end with me congratulating you on your swift attention to the matter.

If you have also experienced this problem at the Mann Village, I encourage you to contact both Mann Theatres (talk2mann@manntheatres.com) and - more importantly - THX at http://www.thx.com/mod/cinema/survey.html.

One email to Mann corporate won't do much, but THX wields some significant influence. If they start receiving complaints about the same theater, they'll definitely press the owners to fix the situation.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Fun for insomniacs

When you can't sleep at 4am, what's a guy to do?

How about this: http://tv2.match.com

It's the Norwegian entry to Match.com. I have this theory that all those Nordic peoples are attractive folk. Finland especially. And now I kind of have a way of proving it. I figured out how to register - "Kvinner" means "woman", "Mann" means "man", and "brukernavn" means "username".

The hard part was guessing that you have to check a box that's basically the terms of service agreement. "Søk" means "Search". "Jeg er en mann som søker kvinner" means "I am a man searching for a woman" (important to get that one right).

The Norwegians did not disappoint. At least one of them even wrote her profile in English (another bonus for that part of the world - I've noticed beore that the Finns especially seem to learn excellent English). But tragically the system only allows them one photo. What's up with that?

The Swedes lived up to their reputation, though their best offerings weren't necessarily tall and blonde.

Finland started off strangely disappointing, but then came on strong as I paged through more search results. And more of their profiles were written in English. Yeah, I'd definitely like to go to Finland some day.

Denmark fared quite well too. Their language (Dutch?) looks like Norwegian to me.

The search droplist includes every country, so you can hop anywhere you like. I discovered that Slovenians (slavic women are another favorite of mine) all seem to know English. And I wasn't so impressed with South Africa.

Anyway, even this gets boring after a while. But it helps to pass the time.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Black Eyed Peas for President(s) in '08...

Okay, so you can't elect a quartet into office. But on their previous effort "Elephunk" and on their latest "Monkey Business" they've shown more wisdom than some United States administrations during this millenium who shall go unnamed.

They close this album like they did Elephunk, with a call for more peace and unity in the world. Elephunk's Where is the Love offers:

Madness is what you demonstrate
And that's exactly how anger works and operates
Man, you gotta have love just to set it straight
Take control of your mind and meditate
Let your soul gravitate to the love, y'all


Whatever happened to the values of humanity
Whatever happened to the fairness in equality
Instead of spreading love we spreading animosity
Lack of understanding, leading us away from unity
That's the reason why sometimes I'm feelin' under
That's the reason why sometimes I'm feelin' down
There's no wonder why sometimes I'm feelin' under
Gotta keep my faith alive 'til love is found

Now ask yourself
Where is the love?

You could say that they then retread the same ground with Union, the final track on their latest album. But their use of Sting's old Gentleman in New York melody is really effective, especially Sting's cameo featuring excellent new lyrics appropriate to the new song:

Got no time for grand philosophy
I barely keep my head above the tide
I got this mortgage, got three kids at school
What you're saying is the truth,
but really troubles me inside
I'd change the world if I could change my mind
If I could live beyond my fears
Exchanging unity for all my insecurity
Exchanging laughter for my tears

The Peas add:

Divided by beliefs, differences in religion
Why do we keep missing the point of our mission?
Why do we keep killing each other, what's the reason?
God made us all equal in his vision
I wish that I could make music as a religion
Then we could harmonise together in this mission

Sure, the religion/mission rhyme retread is a little lacking, but when offering calls for world unity, I think we can give the Peas a break or two.

They've also found a way to express their faith as a uniting force - not just in terms of Christian-Muslim relations but also in terms of Red States vs Blue States. In Where is the Love they say "Gotta keep my faith alive 'til love is found" - until love is found, not God. It's clever. Religion can be divisive, but love is universal. The line doesn't alienate anyone except the hate-mongerers. Union includes a smart bit: "do you really think Mohammed got a problem with Jehovah?" Put that way the whole thing seems ridiculous, indeed.

This kind of thing will always come off as naive or overly simplistic, but it's an earnest effort and well-worth attempting. BEP 4 Prez 08.

NYT: Bush Aide Softened Greenhouse Gas Links to Global Warming

AKA "it's not global warming unless I say it's global warming".

Link: Bush Aide Softened Greenhouse Gas Links to Global Warming - New York Times

It's absolutely scandalous that the head lobbyist for the largest pro-oil trade group is now serving as the chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. So it's not surprising that he is editing scientific reports and summaries to downplay the effects of greenhouse gases on global warming. But surely, you say, this man is a scientist and knows what he's doing, right? Nope. He's a lawyer. But surely he's at least studied the sciences involved? Nope. He has a degree in economics.

This isn't a case of some administration official being bribed into crafting bad environmental policy; it's inviting the polluters' representative to reshape the science that drives that policy as he sees fit.

Per the New York Times article:

In handwritten notes on drafts of several reports issued in 2002 and 2003, the official, Philip A. Cooney, removed or adjusted descriptions of climate research that government scientists and their supervisors, including some senior Bush administration officials, had already approved. In many cases, the changes appeared in the final reports.

The dozens of changes, while sometimes as subtle as the insertion of the phrase "significant and fundamental" before the word "uncertainties," tend to produce an air of doubt about findings that most climate experts say are robust.

In one instance... Mr. Cooney amplified the sense of uncertainty by adding the word "extremely" to this sentence: "The attribution of the causes of biological and ecological changes to climate change or variability is extremely difficult."

Who is he to insert his own evaluations and alterations into a scientific report? Yes, his position in the administration gives him permission, but having this man in this position is worse than a farce. It's an insult. And it undermines the entire point of having such a council in the first place.

The Bush administration is "friendly" to environmental concerns only because the "environmentalists" are actually oil lobbyists (and let's not forget that Bush's first head of the EPA resigned in frustration; that the air is "cleaner" now thanks to lower standards of what constitutes "clean"). This whole situation is so ridiculously Orwellian that it would be funny, were it not so upsetting.

Greenhouse gases "may" be contributing to global warming, but this man and his role in this administration is definitely sickening.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

A surprisingly successful first model shoot

I met a v-ball player, Jean, at a tournament last weekend who was looking for a photographer. She needed some shots of her to accompany her profile in an upcoming issue of Volleyball magazine. I told her I was just an amateur shooter but she was in a time crunch (i.e. desperate) and knew enough about photography to be impressed with my equipment (strangely that sentence isn't quite as satisfying as you might think).

So we set up a quick shoot and I crossed my fingers hoping I wouldn't completely screw it up and do terrible, amateur work.

It turns out, I actually kind of know what I'm doing.

I used my 70-200/4L, knowing that longer focal lengths were always more flattering to the subject. But I stuck to the 70mm end of the zoom so that I'd only have to be about ten to twelve feet away while shooting.

I also mounted the circular polarizer to cut down on the bright glare. It probably wasn't necessary, but I'm not sure.

The 420EX external flash head was a must - it added fill flash and worked absolutely flawlessly. I set up my manual exposure settings (the volleyball, conveniently, is bright white and served as a reference for how "hot" to expose the whites) and I let the flash and Canon's E-TTL system automatically meter the fill. Every shot was perfectly balanced out by the flash. No over-exposures. The 420EX never blasted too brightly and never blew out highlight detail. Spectacular.

With the technical aspects under control I was doubly lucky to have such a good subject. Jean has modeled before and was very comfortable posing and flashing perfect smiles on cue.

We arrived much later than planned (her car's negative empty level of gas forced a detour to a gas station) and only had 10-15 minutes for the shoot. So we hurried through a bunch of shots, she did a quick outfit change, then we shot some more. We only took about 28 frames total but got more than enough good shots.

Back at my apartment we had about ten minutes left to sort through them and pick the ones we'd send off to the photo editor. We picked the two posted here and I rushed them through C1 RAW conversion and Photoshop (even managed to adjust the exposure on her face in the first shot in about 45 seconds) and got them emailed off a mere five minutes past our noon deadline.

Anyway we were both really pleased with the results. I for one was somewhat shocked by how professional they look - both in terms of technical aspects (my doing) and in aesthetics (her wardrobe, her smile). The first shot was taken with me kneeling, slightly shooting up at her. It's subtle, but enough to give her a larger-than-life quality without looking too contrived. Her smile and classic pose add to the effect. I think it's a portfolio-quality shot.

The second shot was taken at eye-level (notice the change in the horizon line) and is a bit less dynamic. But she looks very natural and relaxed and makes it seem much less staged than the first shot.

There are a few more keepers that I still need to go through - even though they won't make it into the magazine article, she and I would both like to have the whole set. We were talking about doing another shoot and perhaps getting me in touch with some of her other friends. I'd like to get more practice at this so hopefully this will lead to more work.