08 December, 2010

PAW: Drop It Like It's Hot

I spotted this slammed and tucked vintage Datsun 610 wagon on the way home this evening.

After some searching, I found that the car and its driver were recently profiled on the Super Street Online website.

28 November, 2010

This Is Just To Say (an Epilogue)

A month ago, I stopped on a whim and took some photos of a persimmon tree. Little did I know that they would become just the first in a sequence.

I have eaten
the persimmons
that were on
the counter
Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold
Unintentional Prologue: Autumn Harvest
Accidental Body: This Is Just To Say
You can find more on William Carlos Williams here.

13 November, 2010

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the persimmons
that were on
the counter
Thanks to L for the cutting; the arrangement was my own doing (take that as you will :o). With apologies to William Carlos Williams.

09 November, 2010

PAW: Burning in the Night

A couple nights ago, I took a trip to Ocean Beach to hang out and watch people spinning. I managed to get this shot, which I think came out well.

"What is art? Or better yet, what isn't?" —Alex Leme

07 November, 2010

PAW: Keep Calm, Carry On

A snail climbs a wet tree despite the water droplets that continue to fall just after a Mountain View rain shower.

This image is dedicated to my friend x10. DON'T PANIC. Focus on the fundamentals and keep your feet moving. As Benjamin Disraeli once said, "the secret of success is constancy of purpose."

02 November, 2010

Keith Urban Visits the Googleplex

While on tour for the release of his new album "Get Closer," three-time Grammy winner Keith Urban made a quick stop at the Googleplex.

Above, he sings the lyric "I love this girl!" during his performance of the album's opening track, "Put You In A Song." Urban mentioned that he had originally written this song about the proverbial unattainable girl, as a way to keep her with you when she's in your thoughts. "Wrap you up in a melody so you'll be stuck in my head all day / 'Cause you're already there anyway" he sings.

Overall, the show was a unique opportunity to learn about Urban's music as well as his personality. The concert alternated between songs and Q&A, during which Urban took us through some of his experiences in being a professional musician, and also explained some of the motivations behind his songs.

Google has a fantastic stenographer who transcribes nearly everything that's asked, spoken, or sung in Charlie's, Google's main "auditorium." Here, she follows along with the lyrics for "Put You In A Song" as Urban sings them.

For people who can hear, it provides a second opportunity to catch a lyric, a question, or an answer that one might have missed, and for people who are hard of hearing, it provides a way to follow the concert in time with the rest of the audience. During this concert, it was an especially valuable service since people often asked questions that were pertinent to the songs that had come immediately before.

A short line forms behind a microphone during one of the Q&A interludes. Members of the audience (both in Charlie's and watching over VC) asked a variety of questions, including what it's like living in Nashville, how Urban chooses which groups to play with during concerts and tours, and how he achieves a work/life balance.

I was struck by his response to the work/life balance question. First, he acknowledged that the work/life balance doesn't just happen, but rather it's something that one has to actively work to maintain. Urban emphasized that when you're drifting too far to one side, you have to realize that and be willing to make changes. He also mentioned that in his own life, he tries to organize his tours so that he's not away from home for more than three days at a time.

The response was an interesting contrast to the concert two years ago where Jimmy Buffett's daughter Savannah Jane responded to a question about what life was like with a traveling dad (see here). It'd be interesting to hear what Urban's daughter, Sunday, thinks thirty years down the line.

A Googler asked a two-part question which evoked laughs from Urban and his interviewer, but which also served to highlight Urban's sense of humor and improvisational skills. First, the person asked whether Urban would be giving away a guitar during that show. Urban had a chuckle before flatly responding "no," after which he quickly explained to the audience that some time back, he had started a tradition of giving a way a guitar during each concert while on tour.

The Googler then explained that his sister was very hard to shop for, and that if Urban had been planning on giving away a guitar, it would be nice if he could have given it to her. He further explained that his sister was actually also a Googler, and was in the audience. After a round of laughter, Urban asked for his sister's name ("Sarah") and had a quick chat with her before he went on to play the last song of the show.

The last song was going well when all of a sudden Urban mentioned the name "Sarah." I was slightly confused, and I saw the people around me look at each other in the same "wait, wait, was that part of the song?" manner. As we did, he started singing a verse about how, if he were going to give away a guitar, he'd definitely give it to Sarah, at which point we all had another bout of laughter. Urban finished the song with a flourish, thanked the audience, and left the stage.

30 October, 2010

PAW: Autumn Harvest

While walking back to my building, I looked up and spotted these persimmons on a tree next to the path. I aimed upward and took a couple quick shots.

As winter approaches and the leaves start to wither and fall again, I'm reminded of this line from someone called levelbest:
"It is not my job to create beauty. It is my job to witness it, to frame it, and tell the story of it. Even in tragedy there is a glimpse of humanity, just as at night there is a promise of the dawn."

22 October, 2010

PAW: I reach into the sky…

The cloud formations in the moonlit sky this evening were stunning. When I first looked outside today, I was greeted by a glaring white haze that stretched from the ground all the way up to the sky; it's amazing how that haze gave way to such a striking distinction between the earth and the heavens.

Unfortunately, looking at the photo is nothing like having that cloudy expanse stretch above you in every direction, but hopefully it offers a microcosm of what it was like.

The title comes from a poem which was featured in a fantastic retrospective on the Honda NSX.

14 October, 2010

PAW: O Canada!

I visited Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada recently and got this shot of a leaf as it sat atop a bus stop in the evening rain. The leaf is backlit by an arc-lamp in the night.

03 October, 2010

PAW: A Spring That's Passed

Found this one at random and figured I'd put it up. Shot on May 20th of this year, it provides an interesting contrast now that the leaves are starting to turn.

Now go read "Nothing Gold Can Stay"

06 September, 2010

Man in Space

My friend Raphael "Raffi" Peterson is a bass guitarist. Back in late 2008, I went to watch his band, Dizzy Balloon, perform a Thanksgiving concert. As I wrote at the time, it was insanely awesome.

A year later in 2009, I went to their concert Thanksgiving Extravaganza II: Second Helpings. It was less insane but still awesome. Looking back now, it's interesting to see how their interactions with the audience changed during that year. As I noted then, "the interactions were generally more subtle but were definitely still there. It was clear that folks in the audience enjoyed themselves."

Now, 9 more months have passed. A subset of Dizzy Balloon has now started a second band, Man in Space. Most recently, I went to their EP release concert, at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco.

After the concert, I asked Raffi about the main differences between Man in Space and Dizzy Balloon. His response was pretty straightforward: Man in Space is about the instrumentation. There's no front-man; everyone sings and everyone plays.

They shuffled the instruments a bit as well. Louie Diller, the drummer for Dizzy Balloon, is now on keys. His brother Martin (pictured above) is on drums. Jules Leyhe joins Jonny Flannes on guitar, and Raffi remains on bass guitar.

They switched instruments a bit during the show as well. Peter Labberton (an extra player? I'm not sure) spent much of the night rocking on a synthesizer, and swapped with Raffi for a couple songs as well.

Raffi had mentioned that they played many more instruments for the recordings than they had hands for during the concert, so I presume Peter helped to transform their recorded sound into a live performance. Whatever strings they had to pull and compromises they had to make, though, it definitely worked. The concert was fantastic.

As I've watched and listened, it's become increasingly apparent just how much the band members simply enjoy music and dedicate themselves to music and to performing. About forty minutes after the concert ended, I found Jonny curled up in a back corner of the stage, playing quietly to himself.

By comparison, a couple months ago I saw a band playing while eating out with some friends. Ashton, rock guitarist and lover of all things metal, watched the band for a short while and lamented, "they're only in it for the money." And I could see what he meant — the players had no energy; they were playing their instruments but showed no signs of being invested in the experience.

Both Man in Space and Dizzy Balloon have been exactly the opposite. Every time I've seen them, the energy in the house has been nearly palpable, and I love it. Keep rockin', my friends. Keep rockin'.

You can find more photos here.

27 August, 2010

Conage Happens

This past weekend, the GGCBMWCCA held their second Test-and-Tune/Autocross double-header. For Saturday's Test-and-Tune, they set up a number of courses — an out-and-back slalom, a skidpad, a figure-8, and a small autocross track — for people to iteratively improve their car setups.

Shaikh, Founder and CEO of Fat Cat Motorsports, writes down some tire temperature measurements.

"I'll just be over here if you need me…"

Sunday morning, the Autocross drivers assembled at 9:00 for the drivers' meeting. 9:00 was apparently a bit early for some folks.

Lounging was the order of the day. The sun was beating down through the cloudless sky, and many of the participants tried to find or make shade while they weren't driving or working.

A team from Los Altos High School brought some American muscle. The driver gave it the ol' college try, but the weight of this car made it difficult to both go quickly and turn. It looked like an oceanliner in the slalom.

That didn't keep them from having fun, though. The Los Altos team included a number of students and a teacher. During a pause in the action, the "Topless" BMW started playing some tunes and the teacher danced along.

And that was that. More Test-and-Tune photos can be found here, and more Autocross photos are here.

24 August, 2010

PAW: Textbook

French pole vaulter Aurelien Chastagner demonstrates textbook pole vault technique as he takes off during a practice held at Los Gatos High School this past Sunday.

21 August, 2010

PAW: Hey, Honey

A few months back, during a trip to Philadelphia, I ended up walking around the Reading Terminal Market with a camera. This was one photo I got.

16 August, 2010

Stanford Jazz Workshop: Nothin' But Love

From June 25th through August 7th, Stanford played host to the Stanford Jazz Workshop, a musical meeting of the minds dedicated to jazz education and appreciation. The Workshop consists of the Jazz Festival (a series of over 20 performances) as well as a number of teaching programs.

That I ended up at Stanford for an evening of jazz was in itself one of a multitude of coincidences that night. I had been planning to go for a while, but didn't actually take action until a coworker sold me his ticket. And thank goodness, because it was a fantastic night.

One of the main things that struck me was the atmosphere. It seemed like everyone was a friend, either a friend from long ago, or one simply waiting to be met. The greetings weren't handshakes, they were hugs.

The evening started with a concert: trumpeter Nicholas Payton, performing with the Taylor Eigsti Trio. For a few minutes every song or two, Payton would leave the stage and the trio of Eigsti on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass, and Eric Harland on drums would play alone. On returning to the stage, Payton would stand back in the shadows for a bit before he returned to center stage.

Here, Payton waits with a pensive look during one of those breaks. One can only imagine what was going through his mind at the time.

Through a further sequence of coincidences, and with much thanks to Jimmy, I ended up at the Stanford CoHo after the concert's conclusion. The CoHo Jam Sessions offered a venue for growing musicians to play with Jazz Workshop faculty as well as with other experienced musicians.

Around midnight, Taylor Eigsti, Harish Raghavan (bass), and an unidentified drummer hopped on stage to play a short set. Oddly enough, Eigsti was one of the main reasons I ended up buying my coworker's ticket. Back in January, I was witness to a fantastic concert of Gershwin pieces that Eigsti played with Raghavan, Eric Harland (drummer during the Nicholas Payton performance), and the Peninsula Symphony. That Eigsti was included on the bill for that night made the decision to attend a no-brainer.

On multiple occasions I was floored by how much energy the performers poured into their solos. Above, a saxophonist blows with everything he's got.

The CoHo stage area was a cozy, if somewhat quirky place. And among the last musicians to take the stage were this trio, with Zaccai Curtis on piano in the green jacket. As it happens, Zaccai's brother is Luques Curtis, a bassist who I happened to recognize. Luques had played a lot with MIT graduate and saxophonist Louis Fouché back when I was still at MIT.

Hailing from New Orleans, Fouché was deeply affected by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and became a major organizer of benefit efforts at MIT. I shot both Luques and Louis on a number of occasions, both before and after the hurricane; for instance, they performed during the "Pulse" culture show, which I shot for the 22 Feb 2005 issue of The Tech (see page 6).

I guess it's a small world after all.

04 August, 2010

Like an old friend by the ocean: Santa Cruz Boardwalk

A few weeks ago, some coworkers and I took a trip down to Santa Cruz. While there, we took a stroll along the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, an amusement park founded in 1907. Even walking through, it was a completely unique experience, different than any other amusement park that I've been. One factor was the openness: instead of paying for entry, you purchase tokens and use them for individual rides. Another was the location: sandwiched right between a beach on the Pacific and the roadway.

As we walked, I spotted things I had seen many times, as well as some which were new to me. The above is a merry-go-round with a twist. The long arm on the right dispenses rings, which the outside riders can try to grab and throw in the clown's mouth. It's an interesting way to perk up a ride that older riders might find boring otherwise.

The section of the Boardwalk we visited had some of the feel of a traveling fair, although the overhead architecture (as seen in the photo) tempered that sentiment somewhat. Even so, a lot of the rides, stands, and random fixtures looked like they were designed to be mobile.

For instance, the structures to manage lines for the rides were generally attached to their respective rides, rather than affixed to the ground. Most of the structures had wheels, in some cases obscured by a skirt. On the whole, it felt as if the whole enterprise (sans the roller-coasters) could pack up and leave at a moment's notice. But maybe that's just the reality of having a park right next to the ocean.

Near one end of the Boardwalk is Marini's, a candy shop which specializes in salt water taffy. Given the volume of taffy they produced, most of their production workflow was mechanized. A pair of synchronized spinning arms pulled the taffy, and a different machine would take long strands of the final product (from the left, in the mirror), cut pieces to size, wrap the individual pieces in wax paper, and deposit the wrapped candies into a bin.

It seemed that the machine was malfunctioning, because when we walked past, a couple Marini's employees were looking at the machine and tinkering with it. A few of my coworkers bought some candy, though, and by the time we left it was back in action, spitting out candies with what seemed like the speed and precision of a sewing machine.

As the daylight continued to wane, we walked along the beach back to the main entrance. As we left the beach, I looked at the sky out over the ocean and the moon had risen above some whispy, barely-purply-red clouds. It struck me that this is what's so unique about the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.

It's not the tallest, or boldest, or prettiest theme park, but the location is fantastic. You're in nature in a way that seems at first inconsistent with the whole concept of a theme park. Because it's open and close to home (for those in Santa Cruz), you feel like it could be a place you'd grow up with and get to know, more like an arcade or a library than a typical park. It feels like it's not the new and exciting, but the old and familiar that makes this place what it is.

25 July, 2010


Despite being a significant consumer of lolcat photos, I had never had a good opportunity to take cat photos myself. Recently, such a chance presented itself and I started shooting.

At the house of a friend's friend, there are three cats: one older cat and two new kittens. When I was there, the three were still having periodic scuffles to establish a pecking order. Above, the older one sits in its customary lounge corner, ready to close its eyes near the end of the night.
The old cat and the adventurous youngster make eye-contact after the kitten climbed my friend's recently-deposited backpack. This white kitten was the most energetic of the three, constantly jumping on whatever it could, climbing when it couldn't jump, investigating the unfamiliar people in the meantime, and keeping a close watch on the bird toy all the while.

It also knew how to put its claws to good use, as one person discovered. He was holding the bird toy, and the kitten tried to climb his jeans to fetch it back. Ouch…
Kitten number two had brown and black patches. The older cat quarreled incessantly with it when their paths happened to cross. Most of the time, though, this kitten could be found under this blue-and-white chair skirt, peeking out and grabbing at the bird toy when it came near. The older cat would occasionally pad around the chair, growling or hissing, but it never tried to go under as far as I could tell.
This is my friend, a traveler beset by kittens. Cool cat that he is though, he fit right in. As for the kittens, they played with each other frequently, and would sometimes follow each other on excursions behind the couch and across people's laps. Every once in awhile, they'd have a quick game of tail-nibble. And at the end of the night, they shared a trip in a kitten carrier.

'Tis all for now. Until next time, "worship the kittens! be curious!" —manveru

23 July, 2010

PAW: Lyle Lovett and His Large Band

Lyle Lovett and his Large Band play a concert at Mountain Winery in Saratoga, CA on Thursday, July 22, 2010. The group played to a packed house, and went on to play an acoustic, unamplified second encore to a silent audience after the venue cut the mics promptly at 10:30 pm.

The Winery didn't allow SLRs, so I shot this with my Nexus One.

20 July, 2010

On Near-Misses

Photography is a struggle. Wherever I am on the learning curve, the goal is always to figure out how to take the next step, how to find the next handhold and inch that much farther upward. Of course, some of the steps I take are missteps. As Woody Allen put it, "If you're not failing every now and again, it's a sign you're not doing anything very innovative."

Most photos that I take fall in one of about four buckets. "Awesome," "decent," "bad," and "delete immediately." And as always, there are plenty of photos that are on the borderline — a decent photo that's also out-of-focus might end up straddling the "decent" and "bad" classifications.

A "near-miss," though. For me, a "near-miss" is a photo that is bad, but is very nearly awesome. And they're the most frustrating. Take the photo above. I shot that during a recent day-trip to NYC. I really, really like the composition, the exposure, the moment… but the guy's head is missing. The framing mistake totally kills the photo.

What's most frustrating about the near-miss is that it seems the tiniest of changes would have fixed things. For me, I learn from the lesson and move on, but questions about the photo seem to linger in the back of my head. In the photo above, if I had framed a little higher, or taken more than one shot, or… so many questions.

This photo has haunted me ever since I shot it in November of 2007. First, the caption: "U.S. Air Force Cadet Nathan Elowe (Tufts University) slowly marches across the MIT Student Center steps during a remembrance ceremony held Tuesday afternoon. The Air Force, Army, and Navy Reserve Officers' Training Corps programs held the ceremony to remember prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action."

I had long wanted to capture a powerful, meaningful, well-executed photo from this annual ceremony. I had tried and failed in 2006, and this would have been my last chance. In 2007, I finally found a shot, and when it was time to click the shutter and capture it, something went wrong. Great moment, nice composition, poor execution. Specifically, there are at least two ghost images that, due to their sharpness, are noticeable and visually displeasing (for instance, look at Elowe's ears in the large version).

There are lessons to be learned, of course, and I'll share some of them here:
  1. First and foremost, know your equipment. Had I used my own lens instead of borrowing one, this wouldn't have happened. Had I been used to the borrowed lens, this wouldn't have happened. Had I even tried to make this lens work like my own (by disabling VR), this wouldn't have happened.
  2. If you don't know your equipment, expect things to go wrong. Try to capture more than one good frame so that when something does go wrong, you have backup frames. In this case, I only had this one with the focus in the right place.
  3. If you shoot with in-lens vibration-reduction (Nikon) or image-stabilization (Canon), realize that if you hit the shutter without waiting for it to spin up, you will get double-images like this. It will be noticeable.
  4. If you have a near-miss in any situation, learn from it. Even if you can't let it go, learn from it.

16 July, 2010

Cookin' with Gas

During a recent trip back to MIT, I had the good fortune to be hanging around when some folks wanted to make weird food with liquid nitrogen. The first was simple, but still pretty awesome: frozen watermelon mush.

Next was a fried egg. Input: LN2, followed by an egg.

And then into the frying pan. After the freezing and mixing, the egg turns out looking like dippin' dots, and the final product ended up with a really interesting texture. Neat.

That's it for this quick post. Hopefully I'll get back into a rhythm soonish. Either way, here's a joke I heard from a friend. Cheers!
Q: What did the fried eggs say to the knives and forks as they waited for the monks to start breakfast?
A: "Oh no! It's out of the frying pan and into the friar!"

06 June, 2010

PAW: Chained