Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Super Cool HDR Look

For those of you who couldn't give a hill of beans about photography, it might be time to move past this post, but a look that I've really liked but is so trendy I hate to do a lot with it is HDR.  What it is, in a nutshell, is when you take a range of pictures (typically 3-7) at different exposures (ex. -2/3, 0, +2/3) and then merge them in photoshop.  The person who is most identified with it is a guy named Dave Hill, and it's quite amazing stuff, but I just hate to overuse it, like any cool photographic technique that you just find out about and do it ALL THE TIME.  At any rate, I do my HDR experimentation the old fashioned way, which is to say, I take one picture and run it through Photoshop to clean it up, then I run it through a series of adjustments in a plugin called, appropriately enough, Topaz Adjust.  I've got a sample here to give you an idea.  At any rate, I've done this with a bunch of pictures from a bunch of places, just trying things out, testing, and in general fiddling around with my pictures.  Some look better than others, but one city that I think you could put in this technique on any photo taken in Vienna and it would look amazing.  I don't know why Vienna looks so good with it, but it does.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Reading, 'Riting, 'Rithmatic, and Recess

The New York Times had an article today about how...wait for it...recess is actually good for students.  I have seen schools tighten down ever harder on students to get them to buckle down because we're falling behind the Chinese or the Indians or the Japanese or the (insert current cultural bugaboo here).  Are our test scores comparatively bad?  Absolutely, you can't question the emperical data.  At the same time, our cultures are completely different, and ratcheting down the curriculum isn't going to change anything.  If we want to score better on tests, we teach to the tests.  At any rate, I think that this study proves what 3M, P&G, Google, and a host of other companies have already come to recognize - you get more out of your people when you give them some relaxation time.  By taking away the recess, be it in school or at work, you're going to have less productive workers because they need that break every so often to get out of a problem they're working on, clear their mind, get some blood flowing, and then get back and tackle the problem. 

Friday, February 20, 2009

Possession with Intent to Photograph

I don't exactly know why, but for one reason or another, people get antsy whenever they see someone with a D-SLR camera.  They get doubly antsy when that person has...A TRIPOD!  Seriously, I can see the trip hazard aspect of it, but people also get mental when they see monopods.  This particular case from The Colbert Report is just indicative of the abject stupidity that happens when cops and/or rent-a-cops care more about the blatant photographer than they do about the guy in the trenchcoat with 20 lbs of Semtex or the man wearing a kaffiah and carrying an AK-47.  Seriously, photographers (speaking as one) are threats to our national security how?  What about the guy with a point and shoot or with a camera phone?  Rule #1 of surveillance is to keep a low profile.  If you're carrying around a couple thousand dollars worth of gear, you're probably not doing that and thus not a professional.

My Review of No Line on the Horizon

Thanks to the good folks at Universal Music Australia (who have certainly been sacked by now), I have got my hands on U2's No Line on the Horizon.  I was very concerned about the quality of the album when I heard "Get On Your Boots," the only officially released song from the album.  It was not a good first single at all - tough to get into, lyrics that seemed to be all over the place, and an incoherent sonic structure.  I did end up liking it okay, which is to say about as much as "Vertigo," which in and of itself didn't grab me on U2's last album.  Nevertheless, I am extraordinarily happy to say that "Get On Your Boots" is the worst song on No Line on the Horizon.
It's hard to describe NLOTH in any sort of pithy way.  It's a definite departure from the sound that they had starting with All That You Can't Leave Behind and ending with the U2:18 Singles songs.  If you've been listening to U2 long enough, you can hear bits and pieces of their sound from Achtung Baby, some from Zooropa, Pop, Joshua Tree, and even Boy.  There's also a healthy smattering of some new sound in there as well.  It's an extraordinary album, easily the best thing they've put out in the past 15 years.  I would also say that it's the best complete album put out in that timeframe too.  There are songs that are better, perhaps even albums with multiple better songs.  At the same time, those albums tend to have strong material and weak material.  Take Gwen Stefani's The Great Escape.  There are 4 songs on there that I think are phenominal, but there's an additional 7 that are absolutely hideous.  It's the most bipolar album I've ever heard.  That's what's so amazing about NLOTH.  The a-side is great, but the b-side might be just as strong...something that I haven't heard since Achtung Baby.  You would be doing yourself a great disservice if you didn't go out and grab it or download it as soon as it is actually released.  Is it their best album ever?  Not upon 5 listens in 24 hours.  It has the potential to get close to Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby, but I don't know that it will ever pass them.  It's definitely the third best U2 album ever though.
How the songs rate (best to worst)
1. Breathe
2. Magnificent
3. FEZ - Being Born
4. White as Snow
5. Unknown Caller
6. No Line on the Horizon
7. I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight
8. Stand Up Comedy
9. Moment of Surrender
10. Cedars of Lebanon
11. Get On Your Boots

Except for Get On Your Boots, this is tough to do, because they're all great songs.  I'm seriously shocked at how much I love it.  It's like no album I've ever picked up on release.  With everything before 1996, I got to the albums after they'd been picked clean of singles, so I knew what to expect.  Since I became an active music collector though, I've never popped something in and wanted to listen to it again and again - without knowing where I want to start.  It's truly a revelation.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Money and a Championship

There are a lot of sports superstars out there who proclaim that their one goal is to win a championship.  Since that is their stated goal, why do so many who want to win sacrifice that ideal for the almighty dollar?  I'll take Utah's favorite power forward, Karl Malone (hereinafter referred to as Kamalone, as he would say it), for an example.  Kamalone always wanted a championship.  He even went to the Lakers as a third fiddle to Kobe and Shaq to try and get one.  At the same time, Kamalone wanted Kamalone's money during some of his prime championship years.  All the stars do this, and in baseball, that's fine.  You can get deep pocketed owners who will pay whatever and there's no penalty.  In football and basketball though, it's a different matter.  There's a good salary cap on both of those sports, and if a superstar really wanted to win championships and be considered one of the best ever, they should take the pay cut.  Take LeBron James.  If he cared about sticking around with the Cavs and winning a boatload of championships, he'd take a cut and get some other stars to come there for the same reason.  It's similar to what did happen in Boston.  KG went to Boston and along with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce and they didn't require max contracts to stick around.  As a result, they won the world championship.
It's one of my few beefs with Deron Williams.  I know that D-Will wants a championship, but his contract will make that more difficult than if he took a lesser salary.  Because the Jazz won't pay the luxury tax, we'll have to say goodbye to either Paul Millsap (most likely), Carlos Boozer, Memo Okur, or Andrei Kirelinko this summer.  If all of our high cost players would renegotiate their contracts down, say AK goes down to a much more reasonable 8 million per (which is a 50% pay cut) and D-Will, Okur and Booz take a trim down to 8 million as well, that would give the Jazz brass an additional $20 million to roll into new contracts.  If they were able to use their pull to add some good complimentary players - keep Millsap at the mid-level exemption, maybe trade Harpring and his bad knees (or buy out the contract) for a solid 3 so that we can keep AK as the 6th man.  We could still get a solid backup for D-Will or keep Korver behind Brewer or do some other creative things to send out a team that 1-10 is the class of the league.  Isn't that worth it, just once, for some superstars to give up a little (okay, a lot) of their money in order to be known as part of the best team ever put together?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Are You In Or Are You Out?

I was driving past UVU today and saw the following:

MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice in concert at the McKay Events Center February 27.
UVU - Orem, Utah.
80'S Dance Party. Featuring Live Performances from:
MC HAMMER with 24 person choir and dancers (performing
old school classics: Too Legit To Quit, Pray, Hammer Time,
Tell Me Have You Seen Her, etc).
VANILLA ICE with Crew (Performing old school classics
Ice Ice Baby, Ninja Rap, Funky Music, I Love Her, etc.)
Love You Long Time.
DJ Matt Hoffman and DJ Marcus Wing.
Dress 80's and bring your Hammer Pants because this event
will Re-Make History.
All ticket prices include $3.00 parking fee.

Who is in?  This has to be the greatest collection of old school washed up rappers ever under one roof!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Much Ado About A-Roid

So Alex Rodriguez took steroids.  I'd like to know what the big deal is.  I know that baseball's statistics are somehow considered more hallowed than any other sport, but cheaters have always existed in baseball.  Sure, they didn't inject TGH or HGH, but there are more ways than that to find your way to a higher batting average or more home runs than just chemicals.  There's pine tar, corking your bat, sanding the ball, and so on down the list.  They may not be as effective, but they were certainly designed to do one thing and one thing only: get better.  Just because the cheaters in the hall of fame (and you know there were many) weren't caught and/or weren't as technologically sophisticated doesn't mean that we should punish the cheaters of this day and age.
At the end of the day with Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and the 103 other positive tests, they shouldn't be punished for their perifidy with regard to the test.  The bottom line is that steroids were not banned in baseball when they took them.  That means that what they did, as stupid and life threatening as it was, doesn't matter.  Now they are, so it's a different story.  Anybody caught now should face the punishments baseball has meted out.
On the other hand, anyone who has lied under oath (i.e. Barry Bonds) should face the appropriate punishments in a court of law and the court of public opinion.  It shouldn't change their legacy, just how things end up with them. 

Monday, February 09, 2009

Watch for Spastics

Here's a sign I saw in Palmyra, NY yesterday.  Apparently we all need to know that these children are not just any youth, but slow youth.  We also need to know exactly where they congregate, for one reason or another.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Illegals Must Be On The Rise

...or maybe Nancy Pelosi is counting everybody in North America, because otherwise this number doesn't make any sense at all. Of course, 200 million illegals would mean that for every 3 US citizens we have 2 illegals, but I'm trying to get the math here. That aside, isn't it just blatant fear-mongering to assume that if we don't pass the stimulus, every man, woman, and child in the country will be out of a job? I know that things aren't great, but they're not that bad.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Stupidity of Compensation Caps

The Wall Street Journal has done a great job covering the ongoing evolution of TARP, from its genesis at the collapse of Lehman Brothers up to and including today.  What I find amazing is how the government decided that it is now in their best interest and within their power to put in place whatever caps they deem fit for companies.  There is the much publicized $500,000 salary cap for executive pay for companies who take any additional TARP funds, but there are also revelations like the Treasury doing everything they could to force Bank of America to take on Merrill Lynch, regardless of Merrill's financial health. 
Then there's also the hand wringing about Citigroup's jet, BofA's fleet, Citi Field, apartments, junkets for high performers, and so on.  While I agree that some of these things are superfluous, some are necessary for their business.  Take AIG, the (now) government owned insurance and lending giant.  We hear about junket this and business trip that, and how can they afford to do that, they've lost billions.  Yes, they have lost a lot.  At the same time, the units that had these lavish parties - American General insurance, ILFC (a major aircraft lessor) - are units that are very profitable.  If that's the case, is the cost of these junkets really that big of a deal?  If the executives of these units feel that there is a good return on investment as a result of this (and knowing a thing or two about ILFC's chief Steven Udvar-Hazy, there is), shouldn't the government do what any good shareholder would do - shut up and let the managers manage? 
Ultimately, the way these bailout stakes are structured is as investments - ownership of large blocks of stock.  The #1 rule of stock ownership is to not write a letter to the CEO of the company you own every time something happens.  If you don't like the job that the CEO is doing, you get enough votes together to have enough board sway to replace the CEO.  That won't happen under the current structure in part because from the sound of things, nobody wants to have the government up in their business.  These leaders would be happier without the TARP money and are trying to get it paid back as soon as possible so they can take off the handcuffs and get back to doing business the way it should be done, rather than as a bloated, incompetent bureaucracy says it should.
Let's put this another way: who should we trust, people who year after year are trained to maximize profits and thus shareholder return in order to increase their company's share price, market cap, and market share...or people who continue to put money into a half a million dollar outhouse in Pennsylvania or the $650 toilet seat?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Denny's Hits a Grand Slam

I'm sure that everyone heard about Denny's free grand slam breakfast and some probably went out and got it.  The Wall Street Journal today had an interesting nugget about it when the CEO of Denny's said that they actually still broke even on the day because, in large part, of their margins on drinks.  That's a shocking piece of information.  The margins on drinks are really that high? 
The second piece of information, this one doesn't shock me, is that over 2 million people lined up for that free breakfast, some waiting an hour or more to get it.  While I love free stuff, I also try to be rational about it.  When Ben & Jerry's has their free scoop day, I avoid it.  When 7-Eleven does their free sample Slurpees, I avoid it.  The cost of either of those products is in the $1-2 range, and I'll wait in line 20 minutes to get one.  Meanwhile, I value my time at $35/hour, so it's costing me over $10 to get that "free" product.  It's the same thing with the grand slam.  I could wait in line for an hour, costing me $35, or I could just go get the thing another day and pay $6.  That's an easy call.  Even if the $6 was too much for me, I could halve that cost and do it myself.  It's not like they've got some sort of secret proprietary recipe for sausage and eggs and pancakes.  You could do the same thing yourself with Bisquik, eggs, and Jimmy Dean.