31 October, 2009

Halloween off to a nice start

Just a quick update. I shot the Googleween party yesterday afternoon (Friday) and got this cool shot of someone in a Domo-kun costume. I really like how this guy is an integral part of the appearance of the costume (for instance, compare to this domo-kun from last year's Googleween).

♫ ♪ We drinkin' Santana champ, cause it's so crisp

This was one of my favorite costumes; they fit the song perfectly.

Finally, when I was about to head home, I noticed that the sun was low enough to make a pretty even exposure between ambient and the moon. The question in my mind was "if this were going to be a wallpaper, what would it look like?" I think the answer came out pretty well.

Anyway, 'tis all for now; more to come soon. Happy Halloween!

26 October, 2009

Festival of Lights: Diwali at the Googleplex

From the outset, it was clear that Google's Diwali celebration would be a festival of lights, music, dance, and tradition. The announcement touted thousands of candles on and around Charlie's patio, and while I didn't even attempt to count, there were certainly plenty to go around. Music was playing from early on, and dancing began as the daylight faded.

What became increasingly clear as the afternoon turned to evening though, was that this was also a celebration of family, friendship, and community. The evening was mildly windy, and it took a constant effort from attendees to keep the candles aflame.

In the face of the large task to light all of the candles, and the ongoing task of relighting the ones that had been blown out, personalities and connections began to emerge. For instance, in the above image, parents teach their daughter how to properly light a candle. The care they took conveyed the importance of that knowledge, and of the Diwali celebration as a whole.

Sometimes it's hard to tell what you've accomplished from up close. You might focus on the problems, the mistakes, the kicked-over cups and the blown-out candles without ever realizing that the result isn't perfect, but y'know, it's pretty good.

This was the approximate proportion of completeness that was maintained at least until I departed. Even though one candle in every couple was blown out, the shapes were easily-discernible and pleasing to look at.

I found it interesting to watch the ad-hoc teamwork and camaraderie that seemed to spontaneously occur around the patio. For one, at the beginning of the evening, nearly everyone working on the design was wearing some sort of traditional clothing. As the evening progressed, though, the numbers started to even out as people, perhaps onlookers, friends, or family, joined in and figured out how they could help.

Above is pictured the start of one ad-hoc fire-distribution team that formed, passed the flame along, and just as quickly disbanded to work on different parts of the design.
What was interesting, though, was how the people involved seemed to protect the flame like a gift. The way they passed the flame certainly wasn't the most efficient way to do it, but instead of pure efficiency, the passing seemed to evoke a measure of duty, of stewardship and friendship, that wouldn't have happened otherwise.
Here, the flame nearly died after an especially strong gust of wind extinguished the candles. Thankfully, though, both candles autoreignited and the lighting went on.

And I say that "thankfully" with an amount of sincerity that I wasn't quite expecting. Even as a passive observer, I felt like part of this team. I wasn't helping, but they clearly cared, and I cared with them.
And finally, the gift was put to use. As the night went on, most of these people invariably moved on to other things, and others arrived to take up the watch and keep the candles lit.

The flame passing reminded me of this quote by George Bernard Shaw:
"If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas."

Thanks for looking. You can find more photos here.

23 October, 2009

Sneak Peek: Diwali

I shot a Diwali celebration at work this past evening (Thursday). I was struck by how well this image came out, so I figured I'd toss it up here quickly, before I get around to the blog post. This is image 9 of ~380, so there will certainly be more to come.

22 October, 2009

Roadwork, Pt. 2

Many projects involve teamwork, and the roles involved usually include some that are more glamourous and some that are less so. Even so, the less appealing jobs are often crucial to the success of a project.

This is especially apparent in any sort of construction project, including various forms of road work. In Part 1 of "Roadwork," I watched what could be considered a microcosm of a normal road project: under an hour from beginning to end, and only handful of people directly involved. Part 2 covers a larger-scale project.
Around two weeks ago, I spotted a team doing some grinding in preparation for re-paving a couple spots on Charleston Rd., right next to the Googleplex. I had never seen this in action before, so I decided to hang out and watch.

A team of two folks operated this cold milling machine. The main driver was situated on top, where he had a clear view all the way around the machine. This guy was on the ground, and did a couple jobs from shoveling and marking to making fine steering adjustments to keep the giant machine on its mark.

One of his primary jobs was to make sure the cuts started and stopped in the right places. Here, he had just marked the starting and stopping points for the manhole and manhole cover using some green spraypaint. After every cut, he would make a hand-signal to the main driver when the machine had reached the mark.

It was clear that the two were comfortable working with each other. Most of the time, a quick hand-signal conveyed a mutual understanding of what was being "said." At one point, though, they stopped to have a quick chat. Unfortunately, I couldn't hear what they were saying over the din of the engine.

I'm often surprised at how much equipment these guys can cram into a seemingly-narrow space. At one point, the milling machine was a few inches inside of the center lane line, and a truck calmly drove past over the bike lane.

What surprises me really isn't that they do this; that the truck can drive past, for instance. It's how effortlessly it happens, and how much experience they must have to be able to nail it without a second thought. It leads me back to the conclusion that construction requires practice and experience and skill as much as many more-glamourous occupations, a sentiment which reminds me of a quote from a friend:
"Is photography art? Is cooking an art? Is loving an art? Is art art? Only when it is raised to the level of art."

17 October, 2009

No time for sleep; the stars beckon

When I heard the learn'd astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.
When I heard the Learn'd Astronomer, Walt Whitman

15 October, 2009

Roadwork, Pt. 1

On Tuesday, the rain came.

Most places that I've lived, rain is rain. You get a little wet, whatever. But this being California, the rain is mixed with tiny hatchets that fall from the sky. The end result is that trees and tree branches go down just about everywhere.

When I noticed the rain Tuesday morning, I made a mental note to find some photo to commemorate the "first" rain. At lunch, a coworker of mine mentioned a downed tree and, figuring I could at least get a shot of the tree from an interesting angle, I went to shoot it.

When I got there, two police officers were standing next to their car, which was blocking one side of the roadway. I took a few photos, then walked over to chat, and after a couple minutes, one of the two remarked "I think these are our guys." Sweet. A work truck rolled to a stop, and the guy above popped out with a sort of nervous yet tireless energy. Let's call him "E."

His partner, whom we'll call "C," was a seemingly-quiet guy who handled the small chainsaw. Whereas E jumped out of the truck, nearly shouted a "hello" to the cops and myself, and immediately started off on a good-natured complaint about how Liquid Ambers can't deal with rain, C seemed nearly stoic.

He methodically pulled the chainsaw from one of the truck's many side-compartments, oiled it, fired it up, and started cutting. He would cut off the outer, leaf-bearing branches around 5 feet at a time, and toss the cut branches behind him, where E would grab them and pile them on the side of the road, out of the driving lanes.

In the 15 minutes that the two were there, I only remembered hearing C speak once. At one point, the chainsaw was pinched by a large branch before the blade made it all the way through. C asked for a hand, and then calmly and quietly worked the saw back out with E's assistance.

After the cutting was done and the downed branch was finally out of the roadway, E grabbed a narrow, stiff rake and started pulling the bulk of the leaves and fruit pods to the side of the road. As was the case the entire time, his movements were deliberate and sure-footed, but still with a bit of nervous edginess to them. As he was finishing up, he quipped with a smile, "I tell ya, rain and sweat don't mix."

And with a quick salutation from E, the pair were gone, off to deal with the next spot on their list, seemingly unconcerned with the still-driving rain.

What struck me about the two was their teamwork and efficiency; each knew their roles, their tools, their truck. And watching the two work together was like watching the calloused hands of a carpenter guide a piece through the band saw: deliberate, confident, like clockwork. It was as if C and E started with manual labor, and raised it to the level of craftsmanship.

As they demonstrated, "Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning how to dance in the rain."

Part 2 of "Roadwork" to come sometime soon; hopefully tomorrow. More photos from Part 1 can be found here.

02 October, 2009

"All About Light," Contest Entries

This past Monday night was the deadline for Zenfolio's Featured Image Contest. The theme was "All About Light." "We are looking for images that are striking because of their use of light, natural or artificial, witnessed or controlled. We will accept a lot of flexibility in the subject but the light must 'make the shot.' … [The images] should make the viewer pause, take a deep breath, and admire the work."

On Monday, Zenfolio will announce the top 30 images, which folks will have opportunity to vote down to the final 10 winners. I entered 13 images, which appear below with titles and vignettes, from oldest to most recent.

And quickly, people have been bugging me about downloading photos from Zenfolio, so now you can. The images will have no imprinted "©" label, and are $1.50 for the same size as the blog (720px on the largest dimension), $5 for 1600px, $10 for a 3-megapixel image (for instance, 2125x1411px), and $16 for a 5-megapixel image (2744x1822px). Just click on an image. And as always, I'm still feeling things out, so these are subject to change. Cheers!

Your Memories Burn Bright
In June of 2004, I got my D70 as a graduation present. Excited to put it to use, I drove around the Richmond area, looking for cool things to shoot. During one excursion in mid July, I came across the Virginia War Memorial, a monument dedicated to the memories of Virginians who died in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Gulf War.

After walking around, reading names, and reflecting for a bit, I noticed this flame and the solitary rose, sitting at the base of a huge yet solemn statue. I upped the aperture until the names were clearly legible, framed, and took a few shots, including this one.

Two weeks later, I noticed the nearly-full moon shining brightly outside my family's front door. It had been raining some, and the droplets on the leaves shone in the moonlight. I made a few attempts at shooting the moon alone, and then the moon composed with the leaves, before I noticed a hole in of the leaves.

I honed in on the exposure, flash settings, and composition that I wanted and finally nailed it. This has been one of my favorite images ever since.

Infernal Angel
After I arrived at MIT in late August of 2004, I heard about some sodium drop thing, and went to watch. Before the actual Drop, some of the upperclassmen put on a fire-breathing/fire-spinning show. Somehow, and I'm really not sure how, I got this shot. You get lucky sometimes.

I used this image for my inaugural blog post, "Moo.", on July 27th of last year.

Catchin' Some Rays
Fast-forward to August, 2005. My family and I had gone to Puerto Rico for a week to visit some relatives who had recently moved there. My recollection is that I spent every moment shooting, but in fact there have been single days when I've shot more images than number I brought home from that trip. ::shrug::

One morning, I noticed a brilliant sunrise beyond a mass of clouds. I tried a bunch of different compositions before I found this tree, and I took a number of shots of the tree before the gecko ambled into view, essentially completing the frame. The rope is from a hammock hanging between this and another tree.

All in a Day's Work
Back to MIT. In the few years that passed before I shot this in late March of 2008, I had learned the value of patience time and time again. Sometimes, that shot you were hoping for happens after the curtains close and everyone else takes off.

In this case, I noticed the road work as I was riding down Mass Ave. I stopped, pulled out my camera, and started shooting. At the time, the saw was sitting next to the light pole, and I got a couple frames of that. I also got a couple nice frames with the saw, police directing traffic, and the Dept. of Roads folks working in the background.

At this point, I had all the frames I needed and was considering taking off; but I decided to stick around for a bit longer. It was cold, but it was Boston: it's supposed to be cold. Finally, they walked across the street, replaced the blade on the saw, and fired that sucker up.

I asked one of the guys (in blue jeans, mostly obscured here) if I could take photos while they were cutting and he said it was fine; just don't get too close. As I was shooting, he suggested looking down the barrel of the light pole. A couple minutes later, everything finally came together. They finished cutting pretty soon thereafter and I packed up and went to go thaw my hands. All in a day's work.

So Dawn Goes Down To Day [a reflection on the poetry of Robert Frost]
14 months ago, to the day, I took my last cheap flight to MIT before moving across the country to California. During one of my last days up north, I took a day-trip to New York, which led to my "17 Hours of Street Photography" post.

After arriving around 3 in the morning, I wandered around Manhattan for two hours, shooting by the light of the streetlamps, until the sun began to rise. I turned a corner, walked for a bit, and when I looked above the low surrounding buildings, this beautiful reflection was practically staring at me. I braced my elbows against a mailbox, framed, and held my breath. *click*

The Circle of Light Moves Us All
Two days after starting at Google, and a few weeks past my NYC trip, I attended Google Dance. The theme was "Glow in the Dark," and the decorations were spot on. I noticed the cool spotlights when I walked into Charlie's, and after walking around a bit, I stopped and grabbed this frame. The spotlit shadows are awesome.

And I didn't notice at the time, but the ROY G. BIV colors were all represented (except that the "indigo" looks more like cyan).

Red, Blue, and Black in Hue
A few months after moving out here, I went to a Dizzy Balloon concert. A friend from school is the bassist for the Oakland-based band, and I was curious what they sounded like. Before they came on, though, Picture Atlantic and The Frail both played sets. Pictured is the bassist for The Frail, an electronic band. It was fun watching the bassist strum and hearing what came booming out of the speakers.

At one point in the set, The Frail's lead vocalist asked the A/V folks to turn off the lights so he could see the audience. The lights dropped, except for the blacklights and periodic strobes. It was fun, if challenging, light to shoot in. I especially liked the glow of the bassist's shirt, and managed to get a frame with one of the background strobes lit.

I ♥ Lasers
After The Frail finished, Dizzy Balloon came onstage, and man did they pull out the stops. For details, check out "Dizzy Balloon Rocks", but suffice it to say that they had all sorts of tricks, including a PowerPoint presentation (with sing-along song lyrics) that someone manually drove at multiple frames per second.

During the moments before they finally started playing, they cranked up the smoke machine, and then started the laser light show. At first, the laser simply traced out a straight line, which looked pretty cool despite its simplicity. From there, it progressed to a heart pattern and then a smilie face.

This is one of the only two good shots I got of the heart shape. I really like how the laser lets you see the texture (aka non-homogeneity) of the smoke. And the swirls have an uncanny resemblance to the appearance of the end of a piece of mechanical pencil lead through a scanning electron microscope.

Inorganic Curves
This is another image that I really, really like, which originally appeared in the post I like it in the city when…. For a couple months this sculpture, "Crouching Spider", settled in front of San Francisco's Pier 14. I happened past one evening while I was killing time, and stopped to shoot some pictures.

When I first arrived, it was a little brighter out, and I struggled to find a good angle for it. As the evening light began to dim, though, the shimmery reflections from a nearby streetlamp began to catch my eye. I set my camera on one of the conveniently-located square barricades between the spider and Embarcadero, and found this angle, with the lights of the bay bridge shining in the background. *click*

Light in the Dark
This is a more recent photo, which I shot a month ago and discussed in We are all of us in the gutter…. I had noticed this bell on my evening commute at least a few months prior, and had been watching and waiting for an opportunity to get a nice shot of it. On the way home on the evening of Sept. 2nd, I noticed the moon, high in the sky, and figured I'd make a go of it.

This wasn't the sort of composition I had originally envisioned, but after taking a couple shots, I noticed that there was sufficient cloud cover to diffuse the moonlight in a way that sort of outlined the right edge of the bell. I also accidentally stumbled upon this nice ghosting effect from a streetlamp and ran with it. All in all, I think the interplay of colors and textures works really well.

I Am Iron Man
I had been meaning to take some photos of this statue for a few months, now, and when I read the prompt for the contest, this was the first thing that sprung to mind. A version of this was the first image I shot specifically for this contest, about two weeks ago. I took another interim attempt, and finally got this during my third attempt, a week ago.

I really like the intensity of the blue LEDs, and the intricate work that went into crafting the body. Furthermore, most if not all of the pieces are recycled automobile and/or tractor parts. Neat. And the robotic aspect is why I used this photo for "I, For One, Welcome Our New Robotic Overlords."

Patriot in the Sky with Diamonds
This was a long night. I like the first version of this, as seen in "Trying to see the light", but the moon wasn't up. I went out again last Saturday and got some nice shots with the moon. They were pretty good, but it still seemed like something was missing.

The night before the contest deadline, I went out again. The moon still wasn't quite where I'd hoped it would be, but I tried to make the most of what was there. This third time, I was shooting considerably earlier than the first two attempts, so there was a lot more air traffic. I got two frames of this large, slow plane swinging around for an SFO approach before it disappeared over the bay, behind me.

I really think the juxtapositions of straight and curved lines, and of spots of light with the shadows and silhouettes are what make this image. Again, it looks best seen large.

"He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed." —Albert Einstein