23 November, 2008

Aaahh!!! Real Vaulters

Sometimes, photographers like to gloat. Or at least, I do. This post is certainly about pole vaulters, but beyond that, it's also about why we're awesome. It's not brimming with superlatives or anything, but I've done a lot of things that I'm proud of, and a lot of other vaulters have done things for which I'm proud of them. I find joy in displaying that pride.

So with out further ado, let's talk about the photo above. Of the O(100,000) photos I've taken, I think it's one of my favorites. I mean, it makes me giddy every time I look at it, and I certainly haven't seen any other pole vault photo like it.

Part of what I'm so proud of is undoubtedly the years of practice that went into being able to take this. Many people find it challenging to pan horizontally with a subject moving at a constant velocity, but I managed to smoothly track Old Man Ball as he followed a considerably more complex trajectory (think 1/x), and fired off this shot as the pole was unbending and accelerating him upward.

Given all that, there's a pretty cool juxtaposition between the blurry, moving pole and Ball's face, which is tack sharp. At full resolution, you can see the texture of his helmet straps.

I competed at the Div-III National Championships twice in the pole vault, both my senior year at MIT, and both times placing eighth. After I was out, I starting taking photos and got this awesome frame. It's not every day that a guy racks himself on the bar while trying to jump close to 17 feet at the national championships, and it's times like those when photographic practice and skill can really pay off.

As noted, I'm extremely proud of my own accomplishments. But I'm also proud of MIT's vault squad, and consider myself extremely fortunate to have been one of them (go blue team!). One not-quite-pastime of mine is demonstrating that people's initial conceptions are often misguided. And I think the vaulters at MIT exemplify a fun mish-mash of counterintuitive characteristics.

This is Sharpe (or, at least, it's his helmet. And possibly his feet. And it's pronounced "Sharpé", but possibly only if you're a vaulter.) You may remember him from an earlier post. He's a senior and one of the track captains this year, and holds the curious distinction of being the only MIT vaulter I know of who came in as a distance runner. He and his brother Jacob also happen to be among the best Diabolo teams in the world.

Vaulting at MIT is something of a tradition, and vaulters at MIT are a family. Patrick and I graduated this past year. Old Man Ballsky, in red, graduated in '05 (hence the name), after which he jumped for '06 indoor season as a Grad student, and coached us for the rest of '06, all of '07, and the majority of '08. He's now the host of Design Squad, a kids engineering show in a similar style to the venerable Bill Nye the Science Guy. He's also a co-founder of Atlas Devices, LLC, makers of the Atlas powered rope ascender (cue awesome 5-minute video). Sweet.

Patrick graduated with degrees in Mech-E (course 2) and EECS (course 6), two of the courses with the most requirements. In addition to finishing up where Ball left off at the end of '08, Patrick is the vault coach for '09, and is starting in the course 2 Ph.D. program. Rock.

Anyway, at some point, Patrick suggested that we get mohawks for our outdoor championship meet season. The guys figured that it was generally a good idea (the ladies not so much), and it's been a tradition ever since.

This is Tao. Here, he's checking out his 'hawk after all was said and done. In addition to the mohawks, we also got "T"s shaved into both sides of our heads. I mean, you can't get a track 'hawk without letting people know where you're from. Go Tech!

So, Tao is also course 2. In addition to kicking butt on the track, this past year he beat the other course 2 sophomores and placed first in the Mech-E design and manufacturing competition, 2.007.

Tao is also a chicken.

This is stage two of the haircut. After a few weeks, the 'hawks go away, and we get just "T"s. With a line. One side is embossed, the other side is inset, and it looks sweet.

And it's totally worth it. A week later, I woke up in a cold hotel room in New Hampshire, for the all-division, All-New England track meet. I checked my computer before we headed out to the track and we were on MIT's homepage. That feeling was incredible, and is mostly indescribable. Later that day, I placed second in the region in the vault.

So yes, it's possible to work hard while having fun. Yes, it's possible to be serious with a smile on your face. Yes, it's possible to go to one of the best Tech schools in the world for four years, worrying about vault technique as much as classes, and then graduate with two degrees and as a two-time All-American.

As opera singer Ernestine Schumann-Heink once said,
"This shall be my parting word: Know what you want to do — then do it."

14 November, 2008

It's Late

I stayed at work pretty late today. On the way home, I noticed that the sky was cloudless and clear, and the moon and stars shone brightly. So I took a photo.

"There is something to be said about not trying to be glamorous and popular and cool. Just be real — and life will be real."     — Joyce Sequichie Hifler, Sept 13, 2001.

12 November, 2008

A Knee-Slappin' Good Time

Three short days ago, a coworker announced that John Hodgman and Jonathan Coulton would be giving a presentation, or a talk, or something later that afternoon. As a fan of both Hodgman and Coulton, my mind was pretty much decided as soon as I heard about it — I had to go.

So, after some more poking about, I found that the event was actually a small stop on Hodgman's book tour for his new book, More Information Than You Require, which he bills as "A Further Compendium Of Complete World Knowledge In 'The Areas Of My Expertise'." Comically, the new book follows his prior publication, The Areas Of My Expertise, which he calls "An Almanac Of Complete World Knowledge Compiled With Instructive Annotation And Arranged In Useful Order By Me, John Hodgman."

Much to my surprise, when I arrived, there was little room left to stand, let alone sit. I walked up the aisle, managed to find an empty seat in the second row, and then just sat down at the front of the aisle instead.

The talk started off with a song by Coulton about the new book, and then progressed into an increasingly-comical dialog between Coulton and Hodgman. And that was just the start: the entire event was hilarious beyond my wildest expectations. It was sort of like a backwards rollercoaster — we didn't know when the pair were going to throw various twists and turns at us, but when they did, the audience would nearly-simultaneously burst out into fits of raucous laughter.

I'm getting ahead of myself, however, as there are photos aplenty. For those of you who were there, I hope you have a few chuckles remembering the parts of the performance that you enjoyed. And for those who weren't, hopefully you'll get a glimpse of what you missed. Enjoy

I think this is a nice snapshot of Jonathan Coulton, both as a performer and as a person. During the beginning of the talk, Hodgman introduced Coulton as his feral mountain-man accompanist from the wilderness of Connecticut, raised by animals and only years later introduced into human culture and taught to speak English and play the guitar. Coulton's reply was simply, "I'm not feral."

All in all, though, Coulton was an amusing mix of seemingly-incongruous attributes: smart water, but pretty simple shoes. A beat-up guitar case graced with a comparatively pristine Creative Commons sticker. And as John Hodgman pointed out during a serious moment near the end of the talk, despite Coulton's accompanying role during the book tour, Coulton was arguably the more successful of the two, having gained international renown by virtue of doing the vast majority of his business over the Internet. By contrast, Hodgman noted, his book is bound much more tightly to specific geographies by various copyright and licensing laws.

Hodgman spent the majority of the time talking about, reading from, and generally interacting with his book. For demonstrational purposes, he grabbed a copy from an audience-member who had purchased it before-hand. After reading through the copious amounts of text on the cover, Hodgman nonchalantly demonstrated that it was, indeed, a hard-cover:

After smacking the book on the lectern a couple times, the talk went on with Hodgman reading various comedic excerpts from the book. At some point, he started comparing his new book to its predecessor. Despite the claims that both were compendia of complete world knowledge, Hodgman explained, there were some faults of the first book which were fixed in More Information Than You Require.

You see, John Hodgman likes Page-A-Day calendars. He expressed his disappointment that his first book wasn't a Page-A-Day calendar, but noted with relief that this was one of the problems remedied in his new book. He selected a page and boasted that the single page served multiple functions. Yes, it was a page of prose, but furthermore, it was yet a single page in a Page-A-Day calendar contained in the new book. And much like a normal Page-A-Day calendar, he explained, when the day is done, you just

After ripping the page from the book, Hodgman slipped it back between the adjacent pages, and returned the book to its newly-chagrined owner. He succeeded to pull his own copy of the book from behind the lectern — a backup copy, he explained — and then launched into a diatribe on what it was like to be a famous minor television personality.

And now, a quick aside. I generally shoot without a neckstrap, and so I always keep my camera in my right hand, if not both. Over time, I've learned to use my left hand to make clapping noises when I want to clap. Needless to say, Hodgman did or said something funny, and I started slapping my knee in applause (while simultaneously laughing hysterically).

Hodgman noticed this, and saluted me: "Hey there, knee-slapper!" He noted that he had never seen someone actually slap their knee while laughing, and that he half-expected someone to shout "Guffaw!" from the back of the room, a statement which elicited another round of laughter from the room, followed by someone shouting "ROFL!"

After moving on, the talk was again interrupted; this time by a ringing cell phone. As the front-row perpetrator (and/or victim) tried to silence the phone, Hodgman simply said "Oh, I'll answer it," then walked over and did just that. He had a surprisingly long discussion with what was apparently the person's dad, explaining that his son wasn't available because "he's watching me give a talk."

A little later, the topic of the discussion shifted to Hodgman himself, at which point he coyly asked, "What, you mean you haven't heard of me?"

As the talk came to a close, Hodgman noted that, as a result of the aforementioned internationalization mismatch (haha, I know some of you were thinking "impedance"), he and Coulton likely wouldn't continue touring together after the end of this book tour.

As a result, he explained, he had learned to accompany himself until he could find another feral mountain-man to do the job. At this point, Hodgman procured a ukulele from behind the lectern, strummed it, and looked menacingly at Coulton, at which point they launched into a duet of a song I recognized, but without any clue as to where I recognize it from.

After the duet, Jon Coulton spent a few minutes telling us how to sing the chorus, and then played a much-applauded sing-along version of Re: Your Brains.

To finish, Hodgman held the funniest Question and Answer session I've witnessed. He generally paraded around, including a couple treks through the packed seating area, and alternated between hoarding the three question-microphones, tossing them at thankfully-coordinated audience members, and having people shuffle them around to waiting inquisitors.

But don't forget, ♫ All we wanna do is eat your brains ♬

09 November, 2008

Happy Googleween

Much like other places around the country, it was recently Halloween at Google. I dressed up as a photographer — I wore my two bodies as well as my Tech photo hat. But other Googlers who are less lame than I devised costumes which were, in many cases, pretty awesome.

A costume party supplanted the normal TGIF festivities, and given that I was pretending to be a photographer, I went ahead and pretended to take some photos. Fortunately, despite my pretense, I think I managed to capture the costumes and their wearers in a way that conveys why I enjoyed the costumes, and indeed the entire event, so much.

As there are more photos than usual, I'll be writing less text for each one. And since this post is more about the costumes, I'll be leaving off the exposure details. Have fun!

I have no idea if these three were together on purpose or not, but this is just a mind-blowing set of juxtapositions. When I look at this photo, I subconsciously think up dozens of stories about why this situation might be perfectly normal ("Oh, what if the clown were also a convict, but they let him keep his clothes because he made the guards laugh?"). Of course, all of the stories I make up are completely ridiculous, but that's part of the fun of it.

Google is a self-proclaimed dog company, but it's not until Halloween rolls around that you discover Googlers' affinity for lazy lions (left), tiny cows with oddly-placed horns (right), and other interesting animals (forthcoming).

While she didn't quite approach without moving, I was nonetheless surprised to discover the existence of ninjas who attire themselves in things which aren't cleverly-worn shirts.

This quick diversion is for my mom. You see, Mom is always concerned that I don't eat enough greens, and that I don't like salads. I've repeatedly tried to quell her concerns, but to no avail.

As they sometimes say though, a word is approximately equivalent to 1 millipicture. So here you go, Mom. Pictorial evidence that I eat both "Greens" and "Salad." If this doesn't convince you, I don't know what will.

Here's another glimpse at the creatures which emerge on the 31st of October. Now, I don't speak Japanese, but by closely studying the relevant materials, I think it's reasonable to assume that Domo-kun is watching this bee's technique in an eager attempt to learn to fly (see the aforementioned relevant materials, starting at 1:25). The folks walking by are just a distraction.

Unfortunately, what Domo-kun doesn't realize is that the bee landed, rather than falling and missing the ground completely, which is the proper technique to achieve true flight.

Clearly, I wasn't the only one who dressed up as a photographer. This guy did a better job of it than I did, however. I believe I managed to catch this right when he saw me, but before he had a chance to react.

The devil clearly loves his technology; who knew? Of course, my previous mental images of the devil came from Sinfest and The Far Side, so one might imagine those weren't based in reality, or something.

Awesome. And, of course, there's only one comment that's appropriate for a costume like this: "Maybe you haven't been keeping up on current events, but we just got our asses kicked, pal!" If you've never seen Alien or Aliens, you should. And in the meanwhile, here are some quotes.

A couple folks dressed up as Joe the Plumber. I especially like this incarnation, however, because of his plunger-holster and double-beer holster: like a boy scout, he's ready for anything. And the Dickies work pants add a nice touch.

I'm not really sure what to say about this one; it's just an awesome moment. I have no idea why they were excited to see each other, but the situation really matches that gingerbread man's expression (which is good because I doubt he can frown very easily).

Aah, piracy. I think it's fit to mention this clip from Italian Job. It's "likely" that the clip isn't online legally, so that fits the piracy bill. Also, the guy with the camera calls himself The Napster, holding that he wrote the software of the same name. Earlier in the movie, he claims "[Shawn Fanning] said he called it Napster because of his nappy hairstyle; it's not true. It's because he took it from me while I was napping!"

The "Will Code Review For Food" guy looks pretty convincing as well.