My right brain has been subconsciously exerting some influence on my colour choices lately, and I suddenly find my life very full of oranges and reds and greens.
Photo of the Day Theme
A standard toned bokeh photo of a person or people.
Bokeh is to photography as haiku is poetry. It’s a technique with a Japanese origin that lots of people try to imitate… and do so very poorly.
I included bokeh in my daily photo randomizer because (a) I tend to do it poorly, except when I accidentally don’t and (b) I want to learn it better.
Rate this Photo
Bokeh is defined in Wikipedia as “is the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in the out-of-focus parts of an image produced by a lens.” In other words a blurry but pretty photo. I suppose you can have in focus elements in a bokeh photo. Or you can skip the main subject and try to produce a visually pleasing image that is all blur. Usually there are points of light softened by blur, or highly contrasting splotches of colour that pop and smudge together in the image. Either way, toeing that very, very, very fine line between a beautiful bokeh shot and just a blurry photo is a tough request.
I made it extra tough because (a) the only people I could find this evening were a group of people watching a soccer game in my park and (b) the sky was a gross, cloudy smudge that wasn’t very interesting in or out of focus. I stood there in the cold wind with my SLR and the dog, trying not to look to creepy taking shots of a girls soccer game. I nabbed about two dozen more-blurry-than-bokeh pics before I wandered back home.
You can judge for yourself: my bokeh (or maybe faux-keh) shot.
Desperately in need of a trim.
This is another post from my “Daddy Daze” series, an anecdotal exploration of my odd little adventures in parenting in bite-sized chunks (for your reading enjoyment) and because the last thing this world needs is yet another doting parent blog.
Karin went to Calgary for the week for a work orientation for her new position, so Claire and I are having a daddy-week… alone… in Edmonton…
We’re doing good, and the last thing I want to imply is that we’re lost without the mom around, but there have been a few little quirks that have emerged between the standard school-shuttling, homework-howls, and piano-impatience kind of fun that normally echoes through our house.
A Date For Dinner
Claire got it in her head because mom was out of town, that she and dad were going to dinner.
Claire and dad were going to Swiss Chalet for chicken fingers
And why not? It’s been a few weeks since the non-stop dining-out of Disney World, and mom was on a little mini-vacation (from her daughter’s perspective, at least) down in cow-town. So, Claire and dad were going to Swiss Chalet for chicken fingers.
It’s been cold. The temperature had dropped into the minus twenty Cs and the wind is making the wind-chill show numbers that are more akin to what you’d find at one of the poles. We bustled over to the restaurant, and hurried inside, dashing from car to doors to avoid as much cold as possible.
Now, you’re probably reading this wondering what the punch line is going to be: what went wrong? What did she break? Who did my precious little girl make cry?
But, that’s not the joke. The quirk was that this usually-wiggly, ants-in-her-pants, normally-impatient little girl had it in her head that this was our early Valentine’s dinner (yeah, almost two weeks early) and she was perfectly behaved: she made conversation, she ordered her own food, and she ate everything that was put in front of her.
Her mom was a little green when I told her later.
On the other end of the dad’s little angel spectrum was the Tuesday night “my hair NEEEEEEDS to be in a bun, DAD!” dance hair fiasco.
See, Tuesday is dance night. And since Karin has been dancing most her life and it was her determination that her daughter at least have a go at following in those footsteps, this dad usually takes a few steps back and let’s the dance thing be a girls thing.
I watch. I listen. I participate where applicable.
The dance thing has been a mommy-daughter activity for the last few years, and that’s a good thing… at least until mom is away on a dance practice night and the particularities of attending dance class become abundantly clear in certain minor details such as the fact every little girl in the class is required to wear their hair in a bun to be a ballerina. And this dad can barely manage getting his daughter’s hat on straight, let alone a clean pony tail or anything even close to resembling a bun.
We got an elastic to (at least) stay in the hair long enough for the teacher to fix it when we got to the studio, but it looks like I’ll be taking some lessons in little-girl-hair-styling in the near future.
Forgotten Snow Pants
Did I mention it’s cold? Yeah: Still cold.
Usually this means that they don’t make the kids go outside at school, instead letting them have access to the gym or some other spaces to burn off some enegry.
So, Claire forgetting her snow pants on the back stairs this morning — despite me specifically asking her five times to remember them — and then not realizing she forgot to bring them until we were AT school HANGING UP an invisible and non-existent pair of those same snow pants on the coat rack… well, normally this would not be a huge deal on a super-cold day.
February 5th is Alberta Winter Walk day
But guess what… February 5th is Alberta Winter Walk day. What is Winter Walk Day, you ask?
“Winter Walk Day is a province-wide initiative to get Albertans up and moving during the winter months. Winter Walk Day celebrates our Alberta winter while promoting the year-round health benefits of walking.”
The certainty of the kids having zero outside time in this cold weather was not exactly a certainty this morning.
My commute got about twenty-five minutes longer as I drove back to the house to get the snow pants and deliver them to Claire.
And… there’s still enough time that there may be a second part to this article…
The sixth, and second-last installment of my nearly-complete first “week of lists” is really only going to be of interest to those of you operating blogs or with an interest in information management. Again, the point of these lists is to go through my meta-topics and so-called “informology” is a career-focused interest for me… and I’m trying to keep it slightly relevant for (a) all my readers, (b) anyone stumbling across meta-blogging information, and (c) in case I decide to cross-post this on my other more topic-focused informology blog. If it helps, think of this like the commentary “making-of” track for this site… this is how I tend to organize posts:
1 : Sort By History
Think about time. Group posts by month or year. You might even make use of a plugin that adds a “this day in my blog history” post that lets users look back on what you were thinking about and writing about this time in previous years.
2 : Sort By What You Like
If someone is reading your posts now, they might be interested to know what you consider to be your best or most interesting work. An “author’s favourites” menu or page helps organize these in one convenient place.
3 : Sort By When You Wrote It
Similar to grouping by history, this time think more recent: what are your newest and freshest posts. A list of recent articles is useful, especially if you’re verbose and your content quickly falls off the front page.
4 : Sort By Popularity
Looking at your stats — or better, using software to rank based on hits — it should be fairly straight-forward to group or list posts based on what is popular out on the web. Maybe you’re getting hits because you wrote about something popular — so, show readers what others think is interesting. (Alternatively: a list of unpopular, under-rated posts might be intersting in a self-deluding kind of way, too.)
5 : Sort By Closely Related Topics
Keywords are one way automating this process, but another way is to build out topic landing pages — a travel writings page, for example — that links similar content that wouldn’t otherwise be obviously interconnected by simple categories.
6 : Sort By Broad Categories
On the other hand, get into the habit of building out general and meaningful categories under which each post is connected at least once. Categories can easily get out of hand, so think much more broadly than you might with keywords.
7 : Sort By Style
Somehow I always come back to my “week of lists” posts. Lists are one style of presenting information, but you’ve certainly got a couple other ways of presenting your thoughts to the public: connect them together and make sure readers can easily hop between your various lists, essays, rants, photo updates, or sporadic bouts of improptu fiction.
It’s a funny thing to go looking for… for me at, least. I was trolling through Amazon’s site looking for a book on journal writing. Y’know… a book about this exact thing that I’m doing right here on this web page. A book about how to keep a collection of personal writing for, say, a third of your life and make it readable with a deliberate purpose.
Of course, most of what I found looked like complete rubbish.
The low down: The “how to write a journal” books are all about self-help therapy or finding a spiritual journey of some sort or another. And on the other side, “how to write a blog” books all take the approach that the only reason anyone would write a blog is to string together a bunch of honey-pot style articles to generate ad-revenue via traffic. All my looking and I never really found a good book on just how to write to tell your story. So, needless to say, I didn’t buy anything.
I’ve been thinking about this a little bit lately, mostly because I’ve reached this sort-of impasse on my writing here. You’d never notice if you’ve been reading my prolific vacation posts for the last week. But all that writing was part of a deliberate effort to break myself out of a bit of a funk.
The problem goes something like this: as the quality of writing increases, the quality of content should seemingly increase in parallel. In other words, I check back on my old crap, back from five or ten years ago, and it’s not much better than much of the drivel that is posted on Facebook these days: vague updates, links to other junk, or random opinions with no substance behind them. Then I look at the stuff I’ve written more recently, and the quality generally improves: articles, ideas fleshed out, or detailed expositions on concepts or opinions. The writing is improving. The content is improving. (Feel free to disagree…)
Now, I’m in a catch. Suddenly I sit down to write anything and… well… the bar is that much higher. I feel like I need to get something of substance to say here or not bother writing at all. So, I kick myself down and don’t write the trivial stuff. And more and more gets classified as trivial. So less and less gets written about. Does that make sense?
I went looking for some advice in book form: how to write a journal or a blog. But every bit of advice seems to be either from people trying to make a quick buck by writing on some topic, filling the web with semi-factual drivel or opinions, and attempting to monetize that with Google Ads, or from people looking to recover from addiction or trauma by spilling their guts to a private sheath of paper.
Neither are what I’m looking for: I want to read about how to write for the sake of telling your story. Why to write this? What to write about? What to do? What not to do? …make sense?
Or maybe, it just needs to be written. I’ll need to think about that some more. Perhaps with my years of blog-writing experience, I might have something to say. But, figuring out what that might be — what I’ve done right or what I’ve done wrong — that’s the tricky part.
I haven’t written much about gaming lately. This is probably because I haven’t been doing much gaming lately. Not much, with the exception of some mobile stuff — because I can play mobile while I am mobile, and I seem to be mobile a lot.
That, and it’s summer, so gaming is kind of a winter sport around here.
So… mobile-wise, I’ve been playing a stupidly addictive little iOS game called Tiny Tower, a time-sucking, resource-farming-style game (yes, in the spirit of Farmville, et al, but with fewer virtual chickens) that takes place in some random rental-property utopia.
The eight-bit-fashioned graphics form the essense of a virtual two-dimensional office, commercial, and apartment tower-in-one. You, the (apparently omniscient) landlord are tasked with four innane tasks that can (literally) fill your days with repetitive micromanagment of your little vitual tennents lives. These include: (1) moving the elevator to correct floor delivering passengers to their desired destinations, (2) keeping the stores stocked with both goods and employees, (3) controlling the rental agreements of your bitizens (and dressing them, too, for some reason I can’t quite figure out), and (4) acquiring enough resources (gold coins, I think) to upgrade the building through the addition of new floors, better and faster elevators, paint jobs, or whatever.
I’ve taken my brother’s strategy to heart — he’s the one who introduced the mind-virus-that-is-tiny-tower into my life — and I drop by my little harmonious utopia as infrequently as possible, letting the game churn away in my absence. This means I click in during my commutes to and from work to restock my stores, shuttle some folks around, and apply any pending upgrades to the building.
I’m sure there must be something more to the game than what I’ve been doing. There is a bright green menu button that I pressed once (or maybe twice) to see what happens: a whole new screen appears with lots of social-looking features. But I haven’t been back to prod around much more with those.
Overall, it’s an evil little game. You should check it out. It gets into your skull, messing with your mind and then tapping into your phone’s notification system to send you constant phone-buzzing reminders (which I do realize I could turn off — but THINK OF THE VIRTUAL CHILDREN!) to stop in, check up on things, and “restock” the damn stores… because apparently the little virtual people can add, decorate, and furnish entirely new floors to an existing skyscraper without my help, but can’t seem to unpack a box of hot-rollers for a virtual barbershop unless I click an icon.
I think I’d better get back to real gaming soon.
Thinking about the whole concept of pop culture art in the context of the internet, it’s tough not to look across the breadth of modern design — particularly in online indie-style art — and see the historic influence of Andy Warhol. It permeates the feel of the web in so many ways.
I didn’t realize just how much so that was true until I took the opportunity to wander over to the Art Gallery of Alberta, the hulking crumpled paper-ball of a steel architectural wonder on the corner of Churchill Square in Edmonton, and view the Warhol Manufactured exhibit before it leaves town next week. I gave the gallery an unjustifiably short forty-five minutes of my lunch hour earlier today, but this was long enough to get a taste and a sense of the artist and the influence he’s had on even lowly wannabes such as myself.
I really like pop culture. And I liked this. And so a few things were striking to me.
First, while the idea of mass manufacturing and consumer culture is something that many of us have strong opinions on in 2011, when Warhol presented his art inspired by popular culture — the advertising as his influence — it was not something he was dismissing or undermining, it was a style he was embracing, and setting out as a positive piece of modern society. A quote from one of the displays (and I need to paraphrase here because my memory is about as detailed as one of Warhol’s paintings, distinct in the message but blurry around the edges) went something like this: ‘The nice thing about a Coke is that there is no such thing as a better Coke. Coke is Coke, and whether you are rich or poor you’ll be drinking the same Coke as both the celebrity in Hollywood and the bum on the corner.’ In other words, consumer culture and mass manufacturing seemed to Warhol to be this great societal equalizer. (Though perhaps in light of the last few years of economic turmoil around the world, there is another aspect of consumer culture that is definitely not an equalizer. But… whatever.) His thoughts then seemed to reflect an idea that no matter how rich you were, you got the same quality of product. A Coke is a Coke is a Coke. Which to me is kinda like online, there is an equalizer of information and design. A website is a website is a website — and has the goal of being virtually identical no matter who views it from where.
Second, Warhol didn’t seem to be afraid of trying new ideas. As I puttered through the display it was clear that there were a lot of popular and more famous works at the beginning — the stuff that made him famous, no doubt — but then more obscure, more fringe, and more experimental works followed deeper in. He dabbled in film, and made oddly strange and very artsy (even by today’s standards) works. He went back to old ideas and re-invented. He got introspective and retrospective and almost self-mocking as his career progressed. I’m not sure what the lesson here is, but it seems at least to suggest that people — no matter who you are — are capable of changing, moving, growing, and all that fun stuff. And that’s all I might suggest as an interpretation to that.
And third, simply, you wander through and realize: this was the root of all this familiar iconography in our modern world. It’s not where it began, but where it was first really reflected back at us as something worthy of acknowledgement and appreciation. And that alone was awesome.
If you get a chance before it closes next week at the art gallery here in Edmonton — or any chance to see Warhol somewhere, anywhere else — and you have an interest in modern design, film, or photography — or particular interest in seeing how it reflects so much on our modern digital world — it’s worth a peek, even if you’ve only got forty-five minutes like me.
Edit: After writing this post I followed through and applied some warhol-style inspiration to my daily photoshoot. There are links to a couple of the results above.
It’s not that the gas mower is broken, or anything. I figure the reason I went out an bought the cheapest (albeit brand new) rotary push mower I could find was this eclectic penchant for the anachronistic I tend to secretly nurture. It’s not an old mower, of course, but it is a kind of old-style mower: and it’s kinda kitchy out there in the yard, whilst the neighbors fire up their screamingly loud gas mowers, to get that whirring buzz of the push-powered grass-chomper out front and do just as good of a job clipping.
Plus all the environmental do-gooder-etc yadda-yadda-yadda…
I got carried away this morning and started clipping the neighbors lawn. It was really more of a momentum-meets-inattention thing, and I did a six foot strip into their yard.
It was a little bit obvious, and looked a bit lame — as if he’d started and just got really lazy; which is not the case, of course. But tell that to the judge. He’s not, y’know, particular or anything about his yard, but about five minutes after I cut the original swath and had decided to just buck-up and finish their whole front yard, he came staggering out the door in his pajamas, and I couldn’t tell at first if he was upset or grateful. I am going to dismiss the suspense and say as the conversation went on it was revealed to be the latter. Or at least I am going to continue assuming. It’s tough to say. Lawns in the suburbs are like this, holy-rite sacred-ground no-go-zone. If he had asked me to mow it, no-prob-bob, right? But I just kinda did it: and how does one interpret that? Is he in his house right now thinking I did it to be nice because his wife just had surgery and since he works on weekends I just thought, impromtu and resulting form my original carelessness, I’d help out? Or is he thinking I’m pissed, because his lawn is a haven for dandilions and I’m stepping in to be a prick? …of which I don’t really care about dandilions, anyhow.
It’s just funny. All this suburbia politics that come into play, our little postage-stamp-size chunks of grass. Weird, y’know.
It’s still cold, and being stuck inside for the long hours of darkness makes one consider the creative potential of places to inhospitable to inhabit. On warmer days I enjoy strapping my camera around my neck and exploring a wilderness trail or urban stomping route. But when it’s this cold out…
Neon Hawk is casually flipping through a small collection of images I had gathered while out walking recently. He is propped on one arm beside the monitor, advancing the photos one-by-one with sharp clicks of the mouse.
“See anything you like?” I ask.
“You’ve really delved into the whole black-and-white photo thing here, eh?” He says without looking away from the LCD.
“The style fascinates me.” I say. “And if you’ll notice, those pics are not just black-and-white as you might expect.”
“Yeah.” He scowls. “I’m trying to figure out what you’ve done here. It’s almost as if… as if there is an extra sharpness or something added. Post-processing?”
“No.” I smirk. “All unedited, as captured.”
He’s stumbled on a small sampling of work I’d shot with a thought towards the single-minded effort of replicating a particularly stark-style of black-and-white photography I’d let hang idealized in my memory. I couldn’t have said for certain what that style was formally called, or what it represented, but when I’d turned the settings on my camera to move away from the factory-defaulted monochrome — desaturated — image style supplied by Canon, I was looking for something that was less about the ‘lack of color,’ per se, and more about the style of black-and-white photography.
“You’ve done something more than just desaturate these images, though?” It was a question, and I could tell he was really puzzled.
“Look at the histogram.” I offered.
He fumbled with the mouse, and calling up the menu from within the current picture — a scene of dark evergreens set against a lit sky — he loaded the small bell-curved graph representing the breadth of colors — or in this case contrasts — to the screen. He studied it for only a moment and said. “You’ve covered a lot of ground here. The graph goes from left to right, a full breadth of grays.”
“I set the camera to maximum contrast.” I said.
“Maximum?” He closed the histogram and turned back to the image. “Interesting.” A pause, then: “Why?”
“I was thinking,” I said, “and wondering why I could only rarely capture a black-and-white photo on my digital camera that really, truly reminded me of the old-style of black-and-white imagery that I’d seen so often. Then it occured to me one day while I was poking around in photoshop: contrast and the nature of how — or at least I’m assuming because I’ve never had the chance to play with chemicals — pictures were developed.”
“You’re making a lot of assumptions, here.” Neon quirked an eye at me.
“I’m a creative amateur.” I admitted. “I prefer to think of it as though I’m discovering techniques from first principles.” I shrugged. “Anyhow, it occurred to me that what my digital camera was doing when I set it to capture “monochrome” pictures using the factory settings was simply desaturating the image. I mean, the camera wasn’t looking at the image and considering the artistic merit. It was capturing it as though it were in color and then just removing the color.”
Neon seemed to consider this. “And black-and-white photography — true black-and-white photography — is not about colorless film, but a whole separate chemistry for capturing images.”
“Exactly.” I smiled. “Contrast was not a matter of a so-called, lightness or gray-value derived from a color, but a quantitative exposure of a — for lack of a better term — binary option: black OR white. Gray was what you got when there was a mix. But in reality, every pixel — if you want to think of film grain like that — was either one or the other. And in other words…”
“…maximum contrast.” Neon finished my thought.
“But that’s just what I’m thinking.”
There it is. Maybe you’re been reading this blog for the last week or so and waiting (with baited breath) on the list of awkward topics — wondering who I’ll embarrass next — and you’ve pondering my ability to write coherent articles on many of those items.
Or, maybe not.
Either way, you need to assume that I have been pondering just that question. And as such, I have been humming — hawing — and letting the more complex items stew around in my brain for a few days before setting fingers to keyboard. Thus, we get to the third in the list: Write about developing your own style and voice. And I realize that other than some rambling advice I’ve not really given much critical thought to my own “style and voice” here and elsewhere, at least not in a self-evaluative sort of way. For that reason, I’m going to pick a few trends from my own general observations and write on those. Call it “Take One” of the “Your Very Own Style and Voice” series… maybe I’ll even write more some day.
Just to be clear, this is neither a question of grammar nor spelling, but rather of style. You can draw your own conclusions of developing — or at least recognizing — your own style. And, feel free to comment and suggest other elements of style that you’d like me to tackle in “Take Two” (again, to appear some time in the future.)
To start, my analysis of style includes:
Scroll through any of my writing and you are bound to come to one of these: —
I guess — or so my eight seconds of research has informed me — that this is called an em-dash and denotes a kind of pause in the sentence meant to emphasize a thought tangential to the rest of the sentence. I lean on it as something of a crutch, though I find that I do use it purposefully to make my (blog) writing seem a little more conversational. This is a little funny when I write it now because those who know me know I’m not exactly a conversational kind of guy. So, it makes me wonder if I’m perhaps using it incorrectly.
But I digress…
I’ve incorporated the em-dash into my writing, I think, because of two reasons. First, this kind of writing — and by that I’m refering to my blogging — is in some respects very ‘stream-of-consciousness.’ There is not much editing done, and as such, it allows me to plug a parallel thought right into the middle of a sentence as I’m writing. There is no formal analysis to follow, just an ‘oh yeah, by the way moment’ while I toss the extra info into the mix. Second, it tends to reflect the way my brain works (or fails to work, whatever the case may be.) That is to say, I think my writing tends to be an ongoing parse-and-splice type process that weaves old ideas together into new. If you were a biologist, I’d draw an analogy here between this process and recombinant DNA. Or, another apt metaphor might be cooking a stir-fry: lots of ideas chopped into pieces and blended in a pan, and the em-dash sections are big chunks of onion, carrot, or chicken that give the finished product some texture and depth.
Imagine reading these partitioned segments with a bit of a pause and a slightly different, observational voice.
Or so I think. Of course all this segues nicely into…
My second obvious element of style: my excessive use of metaphor.
Call it a throwback to my teacher mentality — or perhaps the storyteller bursting to get out — the metaphor is yet another crutch I look to when I want to explain a topic I’m not sure how to explain any other way. It’s sorta like… or, this kind of compares to… but, often I draw a link between this idea and the example of…
You get the idea. And heck, I persist in calling these elements of style “crutches” after all. Isn’t that a metaphor in itself?
In technical writing — business writing — or formal wordsmithery, metaphor is a big no-no. But then in those circumstances I usually am fairly certain about what I’m writing. Again, the blogging form is something of a linear process that tends to knot and twist between the poetic and the prose, across informative and evocative, all while weaving between the abstract and the concrete.
And speaking of not exactly getting to the point…
The Unwrapping Onion
The third and final stylistic element I’m going to write about here is what I’ve informally dubbed, the “Unwrapping Onion”. Even more so than hyphens and metaphors, the slow peeling back of layers that I find fills so much of my writing tends to be very deliberate and purposeful, and in a way a cornerstone of my so-called style. You might understand what I’m referring to here. In a perfect example there would be a teaser sentence, something that hints at something interesting. This would peel away to a notion of something more — perhaps a feeling or an observation — that pulls the reader in a little deeper. Depending on the depth or length of the topic, this might persist for a few more sentences, each layer honing to the point a little further until finally the core is revealed: chomp.
As I implied, there is an ideal example of this is, well, somewhere and though I use this technique quite often, I have not quite mastered that ideal. Yes, sometimes it emerges — though often it does not.
I suppose if you wanted to write like me — though why you would, I cannot say — you could incorporate any or all of these elements into your text. Or better, you could avoid them altogether and make sense. And if you were really paying attention you might just want to comment and make a note of something else I do when I write… particularly if that something else annoys you.
In the spirit of the quickly fading summer, we ordered our shed package last week. Building it will be one of two last outdoor projects to accomplish before the weather turns cool and the insides of our house echo with the sounds of parenthood.
The shed package itself — an eight foot square, barn-style contraption — comes tomorrow, neatly stacked in a decidedly non-shed-shaped pile, probably to be delivered in the driveway. I’ll be spending the hours after work shuttling the pieces into the garage.
It’s a necessary task. We need the space in the garage, and there are a number of outdoor implements, hoses, planters, and furniture — not to mention my summer tires — which will find a winter home in the frozen sanctuary of the yet-to-be-built shed.
It’s going to be a busy weekend.