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!"