Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Photography, Part I

I took advantage of a free library event last weekend. For adults, even! I have been a big fan of photography since high school. Love the basement of the Art Institute of Chicago. Love just about everything about photography. Take some decent shots myself, when I make the effort. With digital photography being so cheap, everyone can take better photos with a little applied knowledge.

So, presenting at the library was a Chicago Tribune staff photographer veteran (35 years, then laid off. The new American reality.) named
John, who had some interesting tidbits. Here are some highlights.

Read the camera manual. I really need to do this for the fancy camera I received nearly a year ago.

Always carry your camera. I don’t, but Baywatch does, and I certainly enjoy his work, so seems like a solid tip to me. Baywatch also keeps a cute little tripod attached to his camera all the time. I have one now, too (Came with the camera! Bonus!), but haven’t actually used it yet.

Use different angles on your subject. Get low, go high, whatever. If you take boring photos – this is the number one hint for you!

For one National Geographic story, a photographer will generally take 14,000 shots. They use about 12. What does this mean to you? Take more photos! They are free until you start storing every single one back home. Then obviously the memory will eventually cost you.

The light at 4 pm is very flattering. My husband is always going on about this.

A recent photography book he recommends is The Moment It Clicks: Photography secrets from one of the world's top shooters (Voices That Matter). Apparently it’s full of good cheap solutions to taking better photos. John had a few tips along those lines, too.

  • Create a lightbox with plain nylon ripstop fabric.
  • Buy clamps at the Home Depot not the camera store.
  • Go to Hobby Lobby, buy Mylar, and apply it to Gatorboard (whatever that is. Stronger than posterboard, I guess.) for a cheap light bouncing technique.

Granted, the first two are more for indoor studio-type work. But hey, aren't we all trying to take better photos for selling stuff on eBay and etsy and all?

There are only two differences between a cheap and an expensive digital camera. The speed with which the camera reacts when you want to take a photo, and the digital noise you get when shooting in low light conditions.

Next up: Inspiration and resources

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Summary of State of the Union address

I just *knew* I shouldn't promise future posting! I forgot about the State of the Union address, and I have to say, hearing our president say "No torture! Health care reform! Parents, take responsibility for your kids' education! Banks -- we are watching your skanky asses. Let's keep jobs in America!" just really puts me into a Zen state.

Photography tomorrow. I swear.

More subliminal messages from your old buddy old pal Bluestem

To think, the Wii costs list price on Amazon now! And to think, Amazon won't let me link directly to the main Wii console item itself! How odd! Don't forget your extra Wii Remote Controller, which i am allowed to link to. Go figure.

OK. I apologize for the above paragraph. I have a better post coming up tonight about PHOTOGRAPHY. Who doesn't love some good discussion about taking better photos? Not you, nope. You love to talk about art. And photos of kids. And dogs. That's high-quality good fun there. Am I right? Or am I right?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Food for the hungry and food for your brain

I’ve mentioned Free Rice before, where you can exercise your brain and earn rice to donate to the hungry at the same time. Little did I know that there are lots of other subjects! Boo just reached level 5 on Basic Math – I’m so proud. I thought I knew a lot about art, but I’m not nearly as good at the famous painting subject as I anticipated. English grammar is easy, as is German vocabulary, but I am surprised that I could hit level 8 in French. I took one year of French in high school and was never any good. There’s also geography and chemical symbol fun. Something for everyone! Go donate some rice now!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Wii Fit vs. My Fitness Coach

I’m not saying I don’t still love my Wii Fit. I do. It’s just that I needed to step it up a notch. So I bought the $28 My Fitness Coach “game.” Now that’s a workout! First you do a physical test (how many squats, push-ups, sit-ups you can do, plus a pulse check at rest and after 2 grueling minutes of jumping jacks). Then you select your main focus for today’s workout. Upper body, lower body, cardio, flexibility, yoga, or core. As you work out, your trainer asks you whether it’s too easy, too hard, or just right. After saying “too easy” a bunch of times and adding 8 pound hand weights, now I feel like I really do have a personalized coach for super cheap!* You can also use a exercise ball or step. I highly recommend a glass of water at the ready.

I mean, let’s be serious. I’m not joining a gym any year soon. I can’t be bothered to drive there and then actually interact with humans. And touch sweaty equipment. Who needs that crap in their lives? I’d rather break up my day here at home, alone, being told what to do by a virtual female who wipes away her virtual sweat and adjusts her virtual shoelace. Occasionally she needs to “find the beat.”

So what’s the difference over using an exercise DVD? It’s got 450 different exercises and every time you work out you do different ones. It makes the sequences easier or harder, depending on how you answer the question on how you feel.

I’ve been doing 30 minutes a day for maybe 10 days or so. I definitely feel more toned. Naturally I haven’t lost any actual weight, but it’ll happen eventually. Especially as the weather gets warmer and I go jogging more often, and go back to walking the kids to school 3 times a week.

I still use the Fit for fun and for a change. I like the boxing and hula-hooping. The balance games are fun. The kids still virtual jog. Now they can do it together, since we got another wii-mote. Actually, that was a good purchase. One evening we set up my parents to box each other, and they managed to knock each other out at the same time. Opa won the match by a hair, but his Mii was barely standing. Ah, laughter, the best medicine.

*Cheap assuming you already own the Wii. Otherwise, factor in that $250.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Book Group

Our next selection is Honeymoon with My Brother: A Memoir by Franz Wisner. A svelte 288 pages!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Kindergarten isn’t like it used to be

Boo’s 100th day of Kindergarten is tomorrow. It’s a big event with lots of fun activities. She’s in a full-day program, which the district switched to two years ago. She’s reading and writing and all that cool stuff.

For the 100th day, every kindergartener was assigned this project. Take 100 of something and put it on a posterboard and give an oral presentation. From Boo's assignment sheet: Your child will be assessed on verbal delivery, nonverbal delivery (eye contact), organization (details on collection), language/grammar, and visual support (shows item brought in).

So we picked “beads” as our collection. We decided on 5 groups of 20 on pipe cleaners, stapled to the posterboard. We practiced her presentation, as instructed. But is this not nuts?! It’s KINDERGARTEN. I think PowerPoint must start in first grade, then.

Our little neighbor Luke was deciding what to use for his 100 collection. He wanted to do chickens. Seriously. His parents said they were too big. So he said, “oh, oh! Chicks!” Still totally serious. They said, still too big. So he said, “oh, oh! Eggs!” I’m not sure what he eventually picked, but I like the visual of 100 chickens flapping their wings, stapled to posterboard. And the visual of 100 eggs taped to posterboard.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Boo luves Nea

When the kids are bickering, it’s nice to reflect on the sweet things they do when no one is watching. Boo made this heart for Nea and posted it above her bed (using masking tape, as she has been taught. She’s a big wall-coverer in her artistic creations.)

Side one: I luve you

Side two: [Heart] Ernie [Heart]

Thursday, February 5, 2009

What is a technical writer, anyway?

I work for Giant Global Consulting Firm, which isn’t really relevant, as I stay cocooned in my little group’s Ivory Tower. I have been in the same group for 10 years. We create the reference materials that everyone in company uses (or should use). My responsibilities have ranged from just plain editing text to make it clearer; running teams of people editing; writing content and publishing it with xmlspy, FrontPage, wiki, etc.; and many other random tasks that needed doing.

Best part: Keeping up to date with new technologies.

Worst part: The corporate lingo, jargon, and general slaughter of the language. “Updation” is still my favorite example. Let’s take a noun and make it into a … noun! Go, team! However, standards have improved some. We spent a few years changing “client” to “sponsoring organization” and “user” to “business representative” – glad that era passed.

Corporate bingo and Dilbert were funnier when they weren’t so damn true.