Running. Bowing. Drawing.
Practice Logged: 231 hours + 35 minutes
A less-than-obvious challenge has been mounting over the last few months of my musical education and yet it was something I could not wholly articulate until a few days ago.
In fact, it was another project and the effort to create a backing track for my running video that drew attention to the notion in my mind.
I recorded ten minutes of footage of my run, and edited it into a first-person “let’s run” video.
I recorded a ten minute narration track and overdubbed that into the video, creating a let’s run “vlog” video.
And then it occurred to me to record ten minutes of gentle violin music and to layer that at about 20% volume into the background of my let’s run vlog video.
The running footage was solid. The narration turned it into something (I think) interesting. The violin made it unwatchable.
It’s not that I played wrong (or as the title of these posts implies, scratchy) but just putting the notes in the right order does not good music make.
I didn’t think much more of it until my recent lesson when, having nailed the fingering for a Bach Musette to about 95% consistent perfection, my teacher basically said: “you’ve got the notes down, now you just need to make it sound good.”
There is a science of making music, and it comes down to chords and timing and harmony. But there is also an art to making music, and it comes down to drawing the emotion and feeling from the technical pieces. As Karin put it, it’s why listening to a middle school band drives you crazy: they may get most of the notes, but the music is largely functional.
Thus, the not-so-obvious (or maybe it is completely obvious) challenge that I start to face in this process of learning to play this instrument. I can read music. And I can turn all the lines and splots of ink on my sheet music into sounds by holding the right strings on my violin. But is it actually music? More vitally, is it good music? And how do I take all those sounds and make it into good music if it isn’t already?
Maybe the challenge is obvious. The solution probably isn’t.
If you haven’t been paying attention, a lot of MY attention has been diverted into a new summer project.
(How long it lasts after that will depends on how much the equation of PUBLIC INTEREST over EXERTED EFFORT tallies to a number larger than zero, but I digress.)
I have officially created sixteen “This is Pi Day” comics and released seven — six full strips and one bonus panel. I’ve started a few social media feeds, the most successful by far being an Instagram account which spawned over a hundred followers inside of a week and is growing so quick I had to disable notifications because the random-but-frequent buzz on my smartwatch was starting to trigger a kind of subtle reverse shock therapy.
I have strips (current) scheduled all the way through mid-August on my central website www.piday.ca which you should totally visit frequently and bookmark so that you can view it as any loyal fan should.
Now I figure if I can crank out one post a week for the next few months I should be able to keep this thing alive for a good long while. So… stay tuned…?
Posting a graph like this probably puts me in the “asshole” zone.
But so be it…
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about politics lately — we all have, I think — and I’ve been trying to sort out in my own head what bugs me about the state of discourse online these days. And while I could write a whole rant about the bane of internet trolls and the various perceptions of what it means to be a good person in twenty-first century society, I’d rather just do it this way.
None of us are perfect. What makes us good is what we do, how we do it, and the degree to which it affects others. Which is worse: A bad parent or a corrupt politician? Who does more good in doing their job well: a civil servant or farmer? It’s a qualitative judgement with loosely quantifiable factors.
See, we all know what it means to be a good person, but sometimes how our behaviors rank doesn’t quite become clear until we map them out. For example, in Fig. 1 above note that my assholery in drawing and publishing this chart fits somewhere on the scale of taking a medium sized group (say, the readership of this blog) and pushing them down (say, by implying that our behaviors are not as perfect as we think they are!)
I should really know better.
What this all means is that while you can probably figure out if the things you say or do (or write) make you a good (or bad) person, and while you can probably do this on your own, it’s real simple to forget that all of this lays on a basic spectrum of behavior.
Question 1: Is your behaviour or interaction lifting someone up or pushing them down?
Question 2: How many people is your behaviour or interaction affecting?
Alternatively, figure out where you want to live on a chart like this one and behave the way that can make it happen. You can shout and scream all you want that life doesn’t treat you fairly, and you’re right: life isn’t. But you are and forever will be judged by how you treat life (and all the people in it) in return.
It’s been two years since I wrote a week of lists, but I thought I would start this last four months of 2016 with revisit to that old meme. So, starting on the first, the eighth edition of the Week of Lists begins, called the “Turning 40ish Edition” with deep and engaging topics such as this one…
I’ve been pretending to be a serious photographer for over a decade now. It’s longer if you delete the word “serious” from that last sentence.
I’ll be the first to admit, however, that my pics are usually and consistently technically solid but tend to lack something of the flare and spirit that would elevate them to the next level. In other words they’re nice photos but they don’t always tell much of a story, either about me or something much more important than that.
I haven’t seen the chart in a while, but there used to be this meme floating around the net that was a kind of maslov’s hierarchy of photography, where on the bottom you had the gomers who drooled over pure specs but whose photos were mundane and weak-at-best, while on the top were uber-pros who had transcended photography as a craft and were now just farting out pictures without apparent effort that were works of super-genius-art.
At 40ish I don’t want to be either of those guys. But I think my 40s will be a time of photographic infolding where I stop pestering myself to be some kind of technical wizard and instead dig with more affected effort into a few high level focal points, like…
5. Dooing Stuff Pix
This probably sounds vague and not exactly a challenge. After all, aren’t you always taking pictures of “doing something” — action shots. I guess what I’m getting at though is more than just the action of a shot and right back to the notion of a photo that evokes a story, and here’s the important part: a story of yourself… wait for it… doing stuff. Call it sentimentality, call it ego, but I think by 40ish you have probably started down this path of a rigorously defined self image. You’re not getting younger, but you’re getting better at knowing who you are and what you are and why you are. If not, I can’t help you other than to suggest that maybe you should trying documenting it, say through photography, and perhaps you’ll start to understand yourself a bit better.
4. Candid Portraits of All Your Peeples
Likewise, whether it’s friends or family, the act of being a social being is in this weird place in your life. If you’re anything like me, a tail-ender of the gen-x fail-eration, you’ve spent your life striving towards this idealized version of success defined by you’re parents off-target aspirations blended with the societal urge to keep up with the metaphorical joneses clashing with the birth of the digital-millenialpunk-reality of the internet. In other words, you spend too much time working and watching netflix, and have a largely virtual social life that stands in for what would have… could have… should have been a real social life. In other words I suggest you learn to take pictures of your friends and family because it will force you to spend more real time with them.
3. Vacay Street Photography
Oh, and this has nothing to do with documenting your latest booze cruise around the Caribbean or Mexican beach resort slosh, either. Street photography isn’t about urban or streets or even the photos: it’s about opening your eyes when you’re out in the real world. I see the fail in my generation and it’s that (even with access to a wide world of information, the ability to travel almost anywhere for virtually nothing, and the potential to experience the entire world in a way that is mostly safe and abstractly) we, so many of us, me included, choose to treat everywhere like its a theme park that exists for our amusement. A guy I roomed with in U recently spent eight months dragging his family around Europe in a minivan, and while he probably didn’t immerse himself everyday in this ineffable thing I’m hinting at, I got the vibe from looking at his photos almost every day that he touched it, honed in on that truth of the world, felt it on more occasions than I can lay claim to. My challenge for my own 40ish (and for yours too) is to bring yourself close enough to an unfamiliar reality that you can capture its essence in a photograph. It will be far more difficult than you expect.
2. Self-Promo Shoots
In a slightly different vein, but similar to number 5, I would also suggest your literally learn to document the awesomeness that is your work, craft, skill, and life. I don’t care if your thing is building bridges or just de-greasing gaskets, take a photo of it and prove it to the world. The one truth about this modern life is that everyone is responsible for their own. No one’s going to show the essence of your work except you.
1. Something Orig
Also known as “stop posing”… you’re a 40ish-er… go out and make your mark on this rock already. Quit pissing around copying other people’s ideas. Even Shakespeare only had another ten years.
Photo of the Day Theme
A saturated post-processed photo of action.
My camera has a long list of extra features that I rarely use. It’s a “fancy” camera, so they’re not like those goofy features you find in point-and-shoot cameras, features that are essentially real-time photoshop filters, no. The extra features are things like detailed colour nudging modes, or extreme forms of bracketing, or –as like I used this morning– multi-exposure modes.
Rate this Photo
Multi-exposure is this weird sort of throwback to what is essentially a broken camera. Imagine you had a situation where you just slipped in a fresh roll of film, started snapping photos of that precious moment, and after you hit photo number thirty-six on standard 24 roll, it starts to dawn on you that maybe your camera isn’t winding the film forward properly. You go get it developed and two weeks later your 4x6s come back and there your pics are, layered with overlapping exposures in the same frame. Oops. They are mostly crap, sure, but a few turn out nicely and make a weird, artistic effect that isn’t all bad.
My camera does that on purpose. One little toggle and you can layer up to 10 simultaneous photos on top of each other using all kinds of different settings.
Claire was painting this morning. Early. And the moment seemed perfect for a saturated, colourful photo of the painting action. I cranked up the colour saturation settings and started snapping, trying to get that definitive shot capturing the movement of her hand through the frame. I was poking around with some of those aforementioned special features looking for something that would fit the “post-processed” bill and after some failed attempts at an HDR blur, I remembered the multi-exposure mode. Result… see above.
I’ve been back to messing about with Blender when time permits.
Inspired by the Hawaiian sunsets, and then the fact I’ve been noticing the local sunsets lately too, I spent a few hours piecing together a fairly simple animation:
It’s a silhouette of some text and trees (all unique 3D objects) casting a subtle shadow as a sun-like light source rises in the background above the horizon. It’s not as complex as you might imagine… except for those damn clouds.
I spent 90% of my time trying to get the clouds to light, refract, and act like real sunrise clouds. They are these complex masses of interacting virtual particles, so complex in the model that the scene would take about 3 seconds per frame to render without them… but takes a minute and a half per frame with them included. That eight second burst of animation above took seven hours to render… because of the seemingly simple clouds.
I was walking to my office yesterday and the sunrise was squeezing between the downtown towers, and lighting a wisp of venting exhaust from an office building heating system. Billows of orange and purples, catching against the azure backdrop, and all of it reflecting and refracting from the mirrored surfaces of the glass-faced high-rises. Amazingly beautiful. And it struck me just how incomprehensibly complex it would be for me to copy, even crudely, inside of a piece of software. And when I did — because I think I probably could — how long each fraction of a second of that paused moment would take to mathematically compute and appear on my screen.
Yet all of it so simple…. and completely ignored by the dozens of people walking to work with their coffees in hand.
The moral of this story is: don’t ever let anyone tell you that sitting in an uncomfortable chair in a dark basement while manipulating three-dimensional vertices in the voids of digital space doesn’t fine tune your appreciation of the universe.
A comic strip about the lighter side of running.
“But mine is so bad.” She says, a pouting glare focused on me as she slump back into her chair and folds her arms across her chest. “I don’t know how to make it look nice.”
While many parents will be quick to point out the brilliant qualities of their children, the buzzword of the week touting a rash of so-called “over-sharenting” wherein doting parents brag up the glowing wonder of their infallible tots, not many will be so forthcoming with their flaws. As it turns out, my daughter is flawed: she is a perfectionist who is far too quick to throw in the metaphorical towel when the going gets tough. Also, I’m way past the undeserved praise stage. “We’ve been through this a hundred times.” I insist, frustrated at the cycle of the same-old whimpering complaint. “You’re not going to just be good at something the first time you try it.”
Of all the things to try perfecting, this time she’s taken a shining to digital art. She’s watched her father dabbling in simple doodles, puttering through the efforts of electronic sketches on the computer, mostly for use in brightening up various websites. It did not help that earlier that same day I’d proudly shown her the digital book I’d self-published, blossomed from a made-up story she herself had helped refine, and whose pages had been stuffed full of her father’s amateur artwork. So, of course, she wants to replicate that effort on her own.
Monkey see, monkey do. At least, monkey see even if monkey can’t quite do it perfectly.
“You know,” I say in my best dad voice. “I’ve been drawing on the computer for nearly thirty years. I’ve had a lot of practice.”
“I don’t want to wait that long.” She huffs, and I am forced to practice my skills at holding back a burst of knowing laughter at her unrealistic and impatient expectations.
This isn’t the first appearance of the Girl’s impatient perfectionism, either. She pouted at the piano, slumped in the snow when we took her skiing, slouched at soccer practice, knocked needles with her mother over learning to knit, and even balked at baking anymore when her first attempt at cookies weren’t up to her her high standards. Not that we’ve let her quit: but the refrain is all too familiar: “I don’t know how to…”
“Look.” I say. “Everything takes practice.” And I probably paused for dramatic emphasis here. “Everything! If you really want to learn how to do anything at all, you need to practice it. And you need to practice remembering that, too.”
nurturing imagination, rule 020
only practice makes perfect: demand imperfection
I’m pretty sure that not every kid leans towards the fusspot end of the spectrum, but from my sample size of one I’m also pretty sure that I’m dealing with a perfectionist population of roughly one hundred percent. Lofty goals and high standards are great, but when anyone, especially a kid, has neither the patience to build towards them, nor the chops to get there without trying those expectations turn into a real road-block. So, where the apparent problem resides is on that road not-yet-travelled between now and some point in the future when she’s actually able to suit her own criteria for high quality. I simply need to figure out how to make her walk that path, even if the destination won’t be clear to her for a few more years.
Actual perfection is ultimately and likely unattainable for we mere mortals, however, but convincing a kid of that can be a herculean effort. Not quite so epic of a task may simply be to demand something lesser, insisting on the incremental improvements that come with patience and practice and more realistic intermediate expectations. Imperfection isn’t a compromise, it’s a milestone.
“Do you know what makes me the saddest, Daddy?” She asks me from the backseat.
“What’s that?” I reply.
I had been pick-pocketed earlier in the day while out-and-about on my lunch break, and my wallet along with some cash, cards, and my ID were missing. “I guess you’ll need to draw me a new picture.” I suggest.
“Yeah.” She agrees, heavily and with an apparent sigh in her voice. We ride in silence for a few more minutes, she seeming to be contemplating the weight of the obscure events of her father’s day for which the most obvious impact was a minor disruption to the timing of our after-school pick-up.
I’d spent the afternoon making calls to the bank and having my driver’s license re-issued so that I could at the very least (and legally) collect the Girl from school. It’s a small thing, having your wallet go missing, but the ripple effect is that it pulls you out of the regularity of life and shakes that general sense of security you feel walking around and just trying to get by.
“But how did it get stolen?” She asks finally.
I’ve been working over the events in my own head, trying to reconcile the gaps between my casual inattention in the lunch-hour crowds, the dozen places I travelled over my break, and cementing in my memory the possibility that the jerk, the one who seemed to so rudely and deliberately jostled me on the escalator did so that he could more easily slip my wallet from my back pocket in the same moment. “I’m not sure.” I reply after a second’s thought. “I guess I wasn’t paying attention.”
“It will be alright, Daddy.” She says after another pause, and then in the naive optimism of a seven-year old adds: “I think you’ll find your wallet back soon.”
“No,” I chuckle and I shrug. “Probably not. But there’s nothing in it that I can’t replace. It’s just been a big pain.”
Another pause. “And I’ll draw you a new picture, okay?”
Except that, I think.
building integrity, rule 019
sympathy trumps revenge: be real but pragmatic about loss
I could hardly call myself an honest man if I wrote here claiming that my heart was not actually flaring with a tiny little fire of kindled anger tonight. Having your wallet stolen is a frustration and a pain that is only tempered by the seeming commonplaceness of the thing: “Press one to report a stolen card.” Though while it’s a minor blip in life and a frustration for me, for a kid the reality of even a little crime where little or none existed before can be an unwelcome surprise. She knew I was upset, and her reaction was to feel sorry for me and lend a supportive shoulder.
I don’t know if being pragmatic about crime normalizes it, or de-claws it. My gut sense –and that’s all it really is– hopes that an average kid who is sympathetic to the feelings of others is more likely to grow up respectful of those emotions and less willing to be the cause of them. In the same way, a sober but honest glimpse at the impact of someone who bears no such sympathy plants a seed of well-grounded morality that can be further nurtured through the inevitable and many changes that life will throw into the metaphorical path.
a mash-up of drawing & (family) events
The desire of a happy couple (hereafter, the client) to capture the spirit of their special day often falls to the task of recruiting a professional photography team. Dedicated photographic artists are hired by the client (often at great expense) to pursue the action and romance of the wedding day by following the itinerary and angling a quality lens and camera into a position of appropriate significance. Moments, noted by a blend and balance between the culturally cliche snapshots and photographs highlighting the unique personality of the couple, round out the final collection. The targeted end result is a well-documented photographic timeline, photos both documentary and artistic, of an unrepeatable span of time often weighted by a deep gravatas for the client.
It is understood, however, that on many occasions the client is not looking for a large number of mediocre images, but is rather seeking a much smaller collection of significant images, photos that immortalize their grandiose event for future recollection and memory-making. The vast quantity of photographs that are collected in this pursuit is merely an effort to level of the odds towards success in that end goal. Thus, wedding photographers are compelled to capture hundreds or thousands of images in the hopes of snapping a mere four or five shots that become the definitive images of the day, usually employing at least one or two assistants to aid in this task.
In these cases, when quality is desired above quantity, it may be fair to say that the camera has become merely a means to ensure the aforementioned sample size for later interpretation. Many photos are taken so that the photographer and the client can use their qualitative reasoning to filter the results and select a narrower collection. The camera, thus, is a vital component of the workflow between the action and final product.
If the camera itself were open to free scrutiny as to its significant role in the workflow, one might speculate as to how to maintain the crucial connection that then links action to final product without it. As the weight of the process has come in recent history to lean so heavily on this single piece of equipment however, the other crucial components of the process have been given less credence. Specifically, the qualitative filtering of the human mind is more often than not the crucial and overlooked by the client when hiring a wedding photographer. Portfolios are browsed, yes, and past work is scrutinized, of course, but undue trust is occasionally leveled in the direction of an owner of expensive equipment.
There are other means of capturing images. Notably, and as centuries of historic art informs, prior to the invention of the camera significant people, places or events were recreated as still images through ink, oil or other hand-drawn means. This alternative fails when compared with the sheer quantity of images available to a client who is using a photographer, but the potential improvement qualitative filtering employed by the herein proposed “wedding sketch artist” would theoretically be immeasurably improved. An artist working among the action, even one who employed a camera as a supplemental tool for referencing details, could filter and blur the absolute realism of the moment into a softer abstraction of the evocative elements, interpreting said action into a representative illustration of the day.
Working as a small team, it is completely plausible that a skilled artist could capture the essence of the client’s “special day” in four or five sketches and custom works of art that could be later refined, honed, and finalized in-studio.
The final product could arguably be of equal (or potentially, greater) worth and quality than the photographic version of the same effort.
a mash-up of video games & games
Lurking in the depths and hiding behind the corners of nearly every new game release or console update is the much-bantered question of game-play versus technology. Better tech, the industry that churns out new titles and toys would have us believe, is the cornerstone of better games.
Faster computing processing.
More graphical polygons.
Smarter opponent AI.
Smoother video frame-rates.
Each of these, as the marketing mantras repeat in their advertising, are the crux of a better experience, immersing the player deeper into the artificial reality transposed upon the players senses and enhancing the foundation of escapism promised by our electronic toys.
The opposing argument, of course, is that games are games. Making them prettier or smarter or filled with lens-flaring camera effects, no matter how pretty, does nothing to improve the game itself.
And true, there is a discussion to be had within the realm of understanding what makes for good play: a great story, a challenging premise, a clear objective, or the ability to repeat again and again and again in perpetuity that same experience (with potentially different results.)
Ultimately, as with any art form, the field of game development has seemingly matured to the point where its reach has encompassed millions of diverse and invested audiences, and with like-as-many preferences has made the search for a single answer to the question of “great games” moot. After all, how is it possible to define a great game when we cannot possibly hope to agree upon the definition of “game” let alone “great?”
As such, the answer to the question of technology may be linked to the very problem itself. Any human pursuit seems inexorably linked to two foundational aspects. First, it is linked to a respect of the the history of said pursuit. Second it is tied to the iterative future enhancement of the same.
Will not video games, then, be granted the same effort: a respect of the foundations of great game play, while exploring the potential for things yet unlocked and undiscovered? That discovery may not be twelve percent faster processing, nor may it reside in the effort to make the sweat of a digital character bead down his face more realistically, but the serendipitous treasures we find between those efforts –or a few steps further down the iterative path– maybe the ones worth searching for.