Archive for ‘English’

March 19, 2018

Black and White Photography

Boats at Chula Vista Bayfront Park with Otay Mountain in the Background

Looking toward Otay Mountain from the Chula Vista Bayfront Park, overexposed two stops.

Recently upon shooting the last frame of a roll of Kodak Ektar 100, I put a roll of Ilford HP5 Plus — my second roll of HP5 Plus, and my third roll of black and white film — into my Pentax K1000 and began shooting. After about five shots, I realized that I hadn’t adjusted the camera’s ASA setting, so I had overexposed those five shots by about two stops. When I received the prints back after processing, the subject matter of those first five shots was distinct and clear despite the overexposure. They had noticeably more grain than the other shots, but that was their primary deficiency.

I underexposed another shot in the roll by about two stops. A boat was going by, carrying passengers from downtown San Diego to Coronado. A marker post and a dock were nearby, and I thought it would be an interesting composition if I could line them up to point at the boat. Time was short, however, since the boat continued moving along as I tried to sort out the scene. In my rush, I screwed up both the metering and the composition. I needed about two stops more light in the camera, and I needed to be up a little higher. Nonetheless, the film did its job, and despite a little extra grain, the scene came out clear. You can count the windows in the buildings across the bay, if you so desire. Apparently, Ilford’s HP5 Plus is pretty generous about exposure. I don’t know yet whether — or to what degree — other black and white films are so generous.

San Diego Bay

San Diego Bay, underexposed.

As for the properly exposed shots, what can I say? I have been very pleased with the results. Upon receipt of the first set of prints, I was sold on black and white photography. I won’t be shooting black and white exclusively, but I’ll generally keep a roll of black and white on hand.

I grew up in a world of color. Between color film, color TV, and color computers, color was the norm. Even old black and white movies were occasionally colorized, though I realized early on that the colorization rarely added much, if anything, to the enjoyment of the movie. As I was growing up, I was exposed to monochrome computers, which were still in use in schools. I enjoyed the green and black screens of the old Apple IIe computers. I also enjoyed some old black and white TV programs. I even enjoyed the occasional black and white photograph. But color was the standard, and I never took black and white too seriously. That attitude was changing slowly, but my interest in film photography was a catalyst that made an abrupt and immediate difference.

Statue at Embarcadero Park

A statue at Embarcadero Park: “Morning” by Donal Hord, framed by two trees.

Color adds a lot to certain photographs. But color can also be a distraction. It can influence where your attention is directed in a photograph, and it sometimes does so in good ways, and sometimes in bad ways. Occasionally it’s nice to take away that distraction and force the viewer to consider other attributes of the elements in the photograph. And sometimes it’s good for the photographer to take a moment and compose a photograph with the different considerations that black and white imposes. You might benefit by asking yourself, upon seeing a black and white photograph, what color would add to it. Maybe the photograph would benefit from being in color. I think the conclusion will often be that color wouldn’t add anything substantial, and, in fact, that the photograph would lose some of its charm if it were in color. I confess that I have a photograph or two that I wish I had taken in black and white. Sure, I could convert it to monochrome in Photoshop (or the Gimp), but it wouldn’t be the same. Besides, I generally avoid making material changes to my photographs on the computer.

I like color. As I stated above, I will continue photographing in color. But black and white will also be part of my repertoire from now on.

March 8, 2018

Film Photography

“Do I believe in the objective existence of beauty?” was the question that persuaded me to purchase an old manual SLR camera (a Pentax K1000, to be precise) and start learning film photography. Curiously enough, law school is what drove me to the question. But that’s a long and boring story. The answer, of course, is yes. Not a hasty “yes;” but indeed a “yes.” After all, I spent much of this last year of law school in books on jurisprudence, with a particular emphasis on natural law. The question of whether beauty has an objective existence seems to have some relation to the question of whether there is a natural law. But I digress…

Given that beauty has an objective existence, and with the added premise that it exists in the world around us, I set out to capture it on the medium of silver halide crystals in a gelatin emulsion on a strip of plastic. Or, more to the point: 35mm film. Admittedly, I have enjoyed taking some Polaroid pictures also — both with my old OneStep Express and with the new OneStep 2 — but in somewhat fewer numbers because Polaroid film is expensive!

I chose film as my medium in order to slow myself down and teach myself patience. I also chose it because my early experiences with film, all of which took place with cheap consumer cameras, failed to result in clear pictures. It would have been easy and, in a sense, liberating to buy and use a DSLR camera. I chose constraints, limitations. This project had to be a challenge if it was going to be worth anything.

The choice has certainly paid off. From the time I purchased my first digital camera (probably around the year 2003 or 2004), I was able to effortlessly take clear photos and see the results immediately. I have captured some memorable moments, but I’ve never taken digital files to the store to get prints, and I’ve rarely gone back to look at the photos. I’ve spent more time looking through my old blurry film photographs than my digital ones. The ease of taking the photographs seems to have diminished their value to me. On the other hand, I experience a real feeling of excitement opening up the prints from my latest roll and a real sense of joy when at least some of the photos come out well. Those photos are accomplishments, and I value them so much more for what went into them.

Some have stated that the medium is meaningless; only the results matter. That’s a sensible position to take in a culture of consumerism. The photographer is just another sort of factory worker. Just as we don’t care about the overworked Chinese person who attached the screen to your iPhone before jumping to his death from the roof of the Foxconn building, the photographer doesn’t matter to us, nor the experiences that went into making the photograph. Luckily, I’m not taking photos for consumers. I take photographs for the experience as well as the results. Those experiences, including the choice of film as my medium, are meaningful to me.

I’m posting daily to Instagram, but I plan to put the occasional wordier post up here with thoughts related to a photo, or the story behind it.

October 31, 2017

Lisp Adventures 1: Jeremiah Learns McCLIM

In which I begin making videos of myself playing around with programming languages for YouTube…

September 14, 2017

Asteroid Belt

Recently, instead of paying attention in Constitutional Law class I sloppily slapped together a simple game in order to reacquaint myself with the LibGDX framework. The result is a game of dodging and shooting relatively slow-moving asteroids.

I threw the game up (as a free app) on the Google Play Store and the Amazon App Store (the latter is an affiliate link, FYI). One of the draws of LibGDX is that it supports various platforms, one of which is Javascript/HTML5 using Google Web Toolkit. Because of this, you can also play “Asteroid Belt” online (left and right arrows move; spacebar shoots).

The “Asteroid Belt” game was preliminary practice in anticipation of a more ambitious project. This new project is a western-style computer RPG in the tradition of “Ultima” and “Wizardry.” The current plan is for the game itself, called “Casus,” to be available as a free download on Google Play and Amazon, but with the twist that it will be in Latin. An English version (perhaps eventually localized with other languages) will be available for a small price.

I’m a huge fan of free (in the GNU sense) software, so I would like to eventually provide Casus under the GPL. Nonetheless, I would like app store exclusivity for my games for at least a certain amount of time. I’m trying to figure out the best way to work this out. One option is an initial release as a proprietary app, and a later GPL release. Another is releasing the source code under the GPL from the start, but using a restrictive license for the assets (graphics, sound, possibly story line), at least initially.

For now, expect some upcoming blog posts discussing the development of the forthcoming game…

October 12, 2016

A conspiracy to suppress the Lectures on Faith?

Denver Snuffer published an interesting note on his website yesterday. (Those not familiar with Denver Snuffer should read on through the next paragraph before clicking on the link.) In his note, he suggests that the LDS Church Historian’s Office “hopes to undermine confidence in [the] Lectures on Faith and bolster the inappropriate administrative decision to delete them from LDS scripture. . . .” I would like to take a somewhat different perspective on the issue.

Some background information about the note’s author is appropriate here. From whatever perspective you take, Denver Snuffer is one of the most interesting figures in modern Mormonism. He is a former member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His testimony, speeches, and writings have been the impetus for a movement1 within Mormonism which carries the potential to upset the established understandings of roles of different groups — e.g., member vs. nonmember — within the Mormon community. In particular, Denver Snuffer and those who share his point of view are critical of the LDS Church’s2 narrative of its history, but, unlike the expected “apostate” or “anti-Mormon,” they believe in the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith. A lot of Denver Snuffer’s writings and speeches are available on his website, along with links to purchase his books, but all of that is to be avoided if you are uncomfortable with materials that challenge the Church’s narrative about its history.

In his brief article, Denver Snuffer noted that the first lecture from the Lectures on Faith was placed in the appendix of The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 4. (The Joseph Smith Papers is a series of publications by the LDS Church Historian’s Office with the goal of publishing complete transcripts of all documents related to Joseph Smith.) He cited the reasons given by the Historian’s Office, namely, that Joseph’s role in the production of the lectures is not certain. Brother Snuffer goes on to mention that this treatment is inconsistent with the treatment of various documents in The Joseph Smith Papers, Administrative Records: Council of Fifty, Minutes, March 1844-January 1846. Specifically, the latter volume places minutes of meetings that took place after Joseph Smith’s death, and therefore are not directly related to Joseph Smith, in chronological order instead of relegating them to the appendix.

Brother Snuffer concludes:

“The disparate treatment forces the conclusion that by relegating Lecture First to an appendix and questioning the authorship, the Historian’s Office hopes to undermine confidence in Lectures on Faith and bolster the inappropriate administrative decision to delete them from LDS scripture in 1921 without approval by the body of the church. Likewise, by putting into the JS Papers project, meetings held after Joseph’s death which were presided over by Brigham Young, the Historian’s Office wishes to convey the impression of continuity and trustworthiness in the LDS institution following Joseph’s death. They want to convey the impression it was “business as usual” and nothing changed.

I don’t believe Denver Snuffer’s conclusion is necessary (that is, I disagree that the inconsistency “forces the conclusion” made by Brother Snuffer). I think that the Church Historian’s Office really suspects that the provenance of the Lectures on Faith is uncertain, and their treatment of it reflects, rather than promotes, their view. This distinction is admittedly subtle, but I consider it important because it avoids attributing a bad motive where such a motive may not exist. I don’t think the different treatment of the Council of Fifty minutes necessarily shows that bad motive; I doubt they were particularly concerned about a potential inconsistency between the two, and thought it more natural that the particular volume dealing with the minutes would go somewhat beyond the scope of the original Joseph Smith Papers project. It’s almost certain that the Church Historian’s Office subscribes to a belief in the “continuity and trustworthiness in the LDS institution following Joseph’s death.” The belief undoubtedly affected the presentation in the volume of Council of Fifty minutes. Nevertheless, to conclude that they “wished to convey the impression” goes a little too far for my comfort.

On the other hand, the Church Historian’s Office is part of the LDS Church, and no rational person would deny that the LDS Church has an agenda. It is, after all, a missionary church. I can see how Brother Snuffer or others could easily come to the conclusion that a motive to favor the Church’s narrative was behind the organization of the books’ presentation. Denver does have greater experience and insight into motives of LDS Church officials than I do, so the reader is welcome to count that against my credibility and in favor of his. On the other hand, the idea that the Church is consciously and purposely arranging the texts in order to convey a specific impression, without further supporting facts, is just too conspiratorial for me.3 If they wanted to preserve the traditional narrative intact and unsullied, it seems like not publishing the Joseph Smith Papers and continuing the branding of less-friendly historians as “anti-Mormon” would have been a more effective strategy.

This doesn’t leave out the possibility that in making the arrangements, the Church Historian’s Office was influenced by beings — false spirits are a thing in Mormon theology, after all — with the aforementioned motives. However, such things are far beyond my expertise to comment on, and I think to assume Brother Snuffer was suggesting such a thing in his comments would be to read more into what he has written than is there.

I appreciate Denver Snuffer’s insights, even when — as in this case — I’m not fully persuaded to adopt his viewpoints. I would encourage those who are comfortable doing so to review for themselves those things that he has written and determine whether or not they should be believed.

Notes

1. I use the word “movement” here deliberately. Others might say “schism,” but I see this as more analogous to a new activity springing out from an established religious tradition, which was referred to as a movement in the Book of Mormon in Alma 18:32. Unfortunately, the prevalence of far too delicate souls in the LDS community forces me to state what should be obvious: My use of the reference is not intended to extend the analogy beyond what I wrote. In particular, I’m not comparing the LDS Church to any particular aspect of King Noah beyond the fact that an established religious tradition existed in relation to him!

2. In order to preempt complaints, I note that I freely reject here and elsewhere the guidelines in the LDS Church’s style guide that I think sacrifice correctness or clarity in order to push a certain image onto the public.

3. Creepy actions like the Elder Poelman talk revisions and the formation of the Strengthening the Church Members Committee notwithstanding.

September 29, 2016

Taking the nation seriously

A few people with whom I’ve spoken have expressed disappointment that, in the recent presidential debate, the candidates spent too much time hurling accusations at each other and too little time expressing substantive positions on the important issues our society faces. (At least one friend, however, expressed disappointment that the candidates didn’t get into an outright brawl; I suppose he was seeking entertainment rather than information.) We may not be able to convince Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump to cease the verbal attacks on each other, but we don’t need to follow in their footsteps.

The United States presently faces significant challenges both at home and abroad. Our foreign policy is openly challenged by Russia on many fronts, and particularly in Syria the opposition to Assad is left wondering if their interests wouldn’t be better served by seeking alliances with the Al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front and others instead of the United States. Even smaller countries more dependent on alliances with the United States, such as the Philippines, are becoming openly antagonistic toward their relationship with the superpower, as well as toward U.S. interests in their region. Credibility abroad is also undermined by domestic unrest at home, most clearly seen in the tense relationship between police officers and their communities as highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement, but also in (perhaps less worthy) far-right movements as demonstrated by the standoffs of members and supporters of the Bundy family with the federal government. The protest against the closure of sensitive federal lands to motor vehicles led by San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman, which involved defiance of the federal government by riding ATVs through Recapture Canyon, provides another example, albeit a lesser-known and less noteworthy one, of problems at home.

A United States with weakened credibility abroad will be less effective in preventing terrorism or negotiating agreements to improve security or the economy. Domestic disturbance directly impacts security at home and diminishes our freedom to live out our daily lives without fear of harm from either the government or each other.

Our next president, and his or her administration, will be charged with resolving many of the issues that we face as a society. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are capable of substantial success in doing so. At the same time, we can’t expect either to do so when we ourselves don’t demand the professionalism that we ought to be able to expect from them. If we prefer to see verbal attacks of the schoolyard variety, that appears to be what we’ll get. We show that preference by engaging in the same sort of behavior on social media and elsewhere. But we can change. If we start discussing substance rather than hurling insults and accusations, we will demand, through our actions, that our candidates do the same. By taking the issues seriously, we can force the candidates to act seriously.

It’s easier to share a meme suggesting that Hillary supporters are idiots or that Trump supporters are insane racists than it is to take the time to research and think seriously about the issues at stake in the current election. By doing so, we’ve put ourselves in a situation in which we are not only ignorant of the issues our country faces, but also of the candidates’ stances on those issues, if they have any. It’s simple to post a meme suggesting that Trump is insane or that Clinton is corrupt rather than to discuss seriously — without simply dismissing one group’s concerns as irrelevant — how to heal the divide between law enforcement and certain parts of our communities, or whether the United States can and should do something about human rights violations and the continual postponing of elections in Congo. Easy answers haven’t solved the problem so far. Forcing Colin Kaepernick to stand for the national anthem won’t magically create a satisfactory relationship between people and their government. Telling protesters that their grievances are fake won’t make those grievances go away. Pretending that what happens in the Philippines is irrelevant to us will diminish our security in the long run if ISIS really is taking a serious interest in expansion in the region.

For my part, I’m not going to share messages or memes that are based around accusations or even those that rely on the worst possible interpretation of something someone said. I won’t take you seriously as long as you do so, either. I hope you’ll join me and avoid sharing the unproductive rhetoric on social media. Instead, let’s learn about what’s going on in our communities and the world at large, and let’s talk about it like adults. Let’s think seriously about why communities with which we don’t identify are unhappy and what sort of creative solutions we can come up with in hopes of satisfying as many of us as are willing to be satisfied. Let’s show our candidates that we as a nation are united in our desires for real solutions, and that we expect a degree of maturity and seriousness out of them. By not hurling insults and burning bridges, we can retain a chance of influencing whoever wins for the better. Even if we can’t change the candidates in the short term, our informed involvement in civic life can make a good president out of a bad candidate.

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