girls on film

Between Saturday afternoon and Wednesday evening, I took 363 photos with my new camera.

I’ve never had any formal training in photography, so any progress I make comes from trial and error. My new camera – a Canon Powershot SD1100, for those of you just joining us – is a lot smarter than I am. It makes certain adjustments automatically, it finds faces – or what it thinks are faces – when focusing, and it ups the length of exposure when I shut off the flash. Between the camera and iPhoto ’08, it’s ridiculously easy for me to turn out photos I’m proud of. Provided I take a lot of them.

Trial and error’s good for me. I either figure things out quickly or abandon them in impatience – more so the latter than the former since I left high school. But sticking at a process through a long and repeated series of screw-ups builds character.

My current problem: figuring out the flash. I usually end up too close to my target for the flash to be worthwhile – the camera’s autofocus throws light over the dust in the air, leading to grainy splotches all over the final image. So I turn off the flash. This works fine for stationary images, but for moving targets – like the black belt test I spent Saturday photographing – it leads to a conflagration of artistic blurs.

So once I figure out the flash, and how to frame a shot, and what sorts of exposure settings I need, and how to adjust contrast without washing everyone out, and how to retouch a little more subtly, I should be good to go.

(People who know me on Facebook can see my photography efforts there)

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get the cd from sam goody

If I released a music player that stored two hundred songs, took up about as much space as a fat paperback book and used a proprietary format other than .mp3 or .aiif or .wav, how well do you think it would sell? Even if I only charged $15? Do you think it would compete with the iPod, or the iRiver, or the Zune, in any meaningful way?

How about if I sold it ten years ago and charged $150? How would I do then?

Humans are addicted to convenience. We not only love saving time and effort, but we quickly build a tolerance for labor-saving devices. Once we become accustomed to something being faster, easier or more accessible, going back to the old way becomes anathema. Ten years ago I could blow the market wide open with a portable music player that had 200 songs. But after eight years of mp3 players bringing us 1000+ songs in our pocket, that’s no longer acceptable.

(Econ nerds will recognize this as touching on time preference, one of my favorite subjects)

All the above is prologue.

The story: a week ago, I drove up to the ATM nearest my house and popped my card in for cash. After asking for $x and confirming, the machine told me it could not complete my transaction. It popped out a receipt (“YOU ARE NOT AN AUTHORIZED USER OF THIS CARD”) and refused to give my card back. Frustrated, I sped off.

I didn’t panic; I’m not that sort of guy. But I immediately began rescheduling my next day or two. Instead of taking the T to work, I would have to drive tomorrow so I could visit the bank. I’d need to wait until 8:30 for the bank to open and actually speak to a teller to withdraw cash. On top of all this, I’d need to speak with another human being to find out what had happened with my ATM card.

(Answer: a batch of cards had been compromised; they’d mailed the correction to an old address)

Another story: a year and a half ago, my car got impounded by the police for failure to renew my registration. The next morning, I tried to call the DMV to find out what I needed to do to renew and save my car. Unfortunately, my cell phone – the only phone in my house – started conking out, as it was wont to do. Even with a full charge, it would spontaneously turn itself off and on without warning. When on hold for 40 minutes with the DMV, this doesn’t help matters.

I probably had better options but, in a moment of impulse, I drove took the bus to the nearest Cingular store to see if they could replace the obviously malfunctioning phone. They couldn’t*. So, bus back home, where I finally get my phone to start working – don’t know how – and get instructions from the RMV. I take the subway to City Hall, where I pay my excess tickets; to the RMV, where I renew my registration; and the bus to Brighton, where I free my car from the tow lot.

To recap: I lost one convenience – my ATM – and had to write a new plan for the next 24 hours. I lost two conveniences – my car and my cell phone – and wasted a few hours in fruitless wandering. What would happen if I lost three or more? Weeping? Looting? Gun in the mouth?

Something to think on for the day. How many conveniences could you lose – and you don’t get to pick which – before you lost your mind?

(There was an excellent clip of Louis C.K. on Conan that circuited the Internet a few weeks ago speaking to this same effect. Sadly, NBC’s taken it off YouTube and I can’t find it on Hulu)

____________
* Of note, I’ve never found a Cingular store – or any cell phone store – to be of any use in anything but selling me more phones. They can’t help you with account issues. They can’t fix your phone’s technical problems. They can’t even replace defective merchandise. Hell, your average Best Buy employee may be a glorified middleman with the tech savvy of an irradiated rock, but if I bring him a computer he sold me that doesn’t work, he’ll give me a new one!

you didn’t know what you were looking for until you heard the voices in your ear

My school promotes students to black belt about once every ten months on average. We never do more than two or three at a time.

At the last one, in March, I promoted to black belt, along with two other students. We were the last three students to join the program while it was still at Boston College – the end of an era. I remember a lot of weekend practices and nights at the dojo until 10:00 or later. I remember waking myself up at night worrying, and then calming myself back down again the following morning. Other than that I don’t remember much, which is why I’m grateful for the photos.

This past Saturday, I stood in the back, along with the twenty-odd other black belts still active in Sensei Nick’s program. Two students knelt in the front – Rudy, the first student to join the program at its current home in Watertown; and Andy, who had started training 15 years ago but taken time off to recover from injuries. I didn’t really feel “senior” to them; the distinction between them, as students, and myself as a sensei seemed artificial. It’d become irrelevant in two hours anyway.

Black belt tests differ for every student. They’re intensely personal and revealing challenges: imagine fighting a horde of ninjas to get to the church on your wedding day. So I can’t really tell you what the test meant for Rudy and Andy. But I can say what the belt itself means, because it’s a point I’ve heard Nick re-iterate at least ten times since I’ve started training.

Getting a black belt (in our style) isn’t a destination. It’s a point on a greater journey. It’s the undergraduate degree. Black belt doesn’t mean you’ve learned everything: it means you’ve learned how to learn. Now you’re ready to start seriously training as a martial artist – if you want to.

Of course, that’s what the black belt signifies to the school. What it signifies to the student is something else. Nick requires each student to write a paper the week before their test, explaining what getting a black belt means to them. I’ve read Rudy’s and Andy’s, and the other black belts have read the one I wrote.

I’ll let you read mine too, if you like. Just promote to black belt at our school and I’ll e-mail you a copy.

there ain’t no need for ya

I have a real problem with pop songs that coast to success by sampling really, really good songs.

The most recent example of this is M.I.A.’s breakout hit, “Paper Planes.” The backing track comes from The Clash’s classic ur-ragga of post-colonial blues, “Straight to Hell.” Take one good song, a catchy hook (“all I wanna do is blam blam blam blam“), some mediocre lyrics and voila! Instant pop music! And not only are the lyrics fairly pedestrian, she repeats them twice. So the food’s no good and the portions are too small.

M.I.A. I can excuse, however, because screaming hordes of teenagers don’t instantly recognize “Straight to Hell.” There’s no law saying a sample has to be obscure, but I prefer it. It proves that people evaluate your song on its own merits, not by nostalgic transfer.

By that standard, Kid Rock’s 2008 dump, “All Summer Long,” is pure garbage.

Yeah, that’s a sign of true artistic talent right there. That’s the hallmark of genuine aesthetic integrity – sampling two of the most popular rock songs of the 70s, songs that are practically encoded in the DNA of every American born since 1977, and snarling half-baked lyrics that sound like John Mellencamp’s rejected first draft of “Jack and Diane.” You think folks will like it? Really putting yourself out on a limb there, Kid Rock! You bold genius! You maverick auteur!

The most egregious example I’ve ever seen of this comes from Mase and Bad Boy Records, circa 1997, with “Feels So Good”:

Never has the gulf between build-up (“ohmyGAWD, it’s DJ Kool, this my jam!”) and let down (“oh, shit, it’s just Ma$e again”) been so tragic.

I don’t object to artists sampling popular tracks for their songs. Kanye does it. Biggie and Tupac did it. Hell, “Good Times” wasn’t exactly an obscure song when the Sugar Hill Gang looped the bass. But in the two examples listed above – and in countless other examples I’m sure you can think of – the sampling’s so obviously mercenary. It’s talented hacks riding the coattails of more popular songs. That shit’s garbage, and I won’t stand for it.

put down the horse, pick up the jack

I finally saw Back By Popular Demand on Friday. I’d seen Jacey and Melissa H. do stunning musical improv in their half-hour format, but I didn’t know how it would transfer to the 75-minute slot. The answer: effortlessly. The time just flew by. Hell, they probably could have done two hours. John S. was hilarious as absentminded host Connie Connors – think early 70s Dick Clark with a little more edge. And lots of love for the band.

I tested my ability to summon a small posse afterward by trying to rally folks, impromptu, for a night at Phoenix Landing. I snagged Melissa L. and Maile S. on the first pass, with Dave S., Serpico, Dana J., Marcelo, Megan and Kevin H. showing up soon thereafter. We closed the place out, per usual, fending off the riff-raff and enjoying ourselves.

And now he's cut his hair short again, so the argument's lost.

And now he's cut his hair short again, so the argument's lost.

Someone told me, unprompted, that I look like John Krasinski, which makes them the second person in Boston to say it. Other than me, that is. Even before I started growing my hair shaggy, I noticed a resemblance. He smiles the same way I do; it’s uncanny. That same unguarded grin in the rare moments that breach cynicism. I seriously found it unnerving the first few times I saw it happen.

Unfortunately, no one else sees the resemblance. Plus, there’s only so many times I can say, “No, really, I look like that guy on The Office everyone thinks is cute” before it starts to sound conceited.

(“Maybe if you smiled more often, people would pick up on it.”
“Eh, you’re right – it’s not worth it.”)

it’s all in the game

Thank you for your patience with those last two self-indulgent entries. Now we can have fun again.

A few days ago, Leonard commented on an AVClub interview with Flight of the Conchords. Bret observed that “There aren’t many TV shows that can go on tour.

The ideas immediately began bubbling in the drug dens of our brains, Leonard’s and mine. We brainstormed. We plunked out notes on a beat-up Steinway. We yelled at each other over coffee in Greenwich Village diners at 3AM. And finally, after about 45 minutes of effort, we uncovered a gem.

Ladies, gentlemen, and eligible Tony voters, we give you: All In The Game: The Wire, Live On Stage!

I’m Gonna Shoot Up Tonight (BUBS, Chorus)
(sung to the tune of “Luck Be A Lady”)

A slow violin intro. BUBS wanders down center into a spot. The cries of “Pandemic!” and “WMD!” fade into the background.

BUBS
They call you ‘Mr. Brown.’
You always treat me nice.
I lie in my slum and I chat with you ’till my toes turn to ice.
You’re on the town with me.
I’m flying like a kite.
Who cares if my clothes or the scabs on my nose make me loo-o-k … a fright?
They tell me I’m an addict
They say I might have AIIIIIIIIIDS!
But tonight, you’re all this poor … boy … neeeeeeds …

Lights up. The dealers have changed out of street clothes in the dark into tux and tails. They form a chorus line behind Bubs.

BUBS
I’m gonna shoot up tonight!
I’m gonna shoot up tonight!
I’m gonna ride that horse until I shit my trousers.
I’m gonna shoot up tonight!

The dancers surround Bubs, stripping him of his ratty jacket and pants and dressing him in a dinner jacket with silver sequins.

BUBS
I’m gonna shoot up my veins!
I’ll get so high, I might just go insane!
I’m gonna shoot that rock and sleep for thirty hours.
I’m gonna shoot up my veins!

More dancers appear on either side of the stage – one twirling a ribbon, one twirling a baton. Bubs snatches the ribbon from one and pantomimes tying off his arm with it. He takes the baton from the other and simulates making an injection.

BUBS
You never call me “bum” or “junkie”
Or “ghetto trash”! Or “worthless punk”!
I call you up whenever my girl Kima gives me ten,
Or when I catch a break from Mac or Bunk!

Dancers swarm the stage behind Bubs, now resplendent in sequined jacket and tap shoes. The dancers do a “bubble dance” (a la Gypsy Rose Lee), but using large rocks instead of bubbles.

BUBS
Let’s keep this party all night! I’ve
Got a scam that’s gonna do us right!
My sister hates me and my son thinks I been murdered
But I’m gonna shoot up …
Gonna get screwed up …
I’m gonna shoot up! TOOOO-NIIIIIIIIIIGHT!

It’s All In The Game (STRINGER, AVON, WEE-BAY, SLIM CHARLES, DONUT, KENNARD, WALLACE, NAMOND)
(sung to the tune of “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof)

ALL
The game, the game! It’s all in…
The game, the game! It’s all in…the game!

STRINGER & AVON
Who, every day, must handle every re-up,
Worry ‘bout the po-po, keep our records clean?
And who rolls around in Lincoln Navigators,
Running a well-oiled machine?

ALL
The kingpin, the kingpin! The kingpin!
The kingpin, the kingpin! It’s all in…the game!

WEE-BAY & SLIM CHARLES
Who must know the way to beat a lyin’ bitch,
A punk-ass hood, a chickenhead?
Who must ferret out and murder every snitch
And fill some niggas up with lead?

ALL
The muscle, the muscle! The muscle!
The muscle, the muscle! It’s all in…the game!

DONUT & KENNARD
At six I got my corner named; at ten I learned to shoot
I hope I get a bump real soon; this job is shitty.

ALL
The runner, the runner! The runner!
The runner, the runner! It’s all in…the game!

WALLACE & NAMOND
And who makes sure that no one can lighten up the take?
And who will get a beatdown for each mistake they make?

ALL
The counter, the counter! The counter!
The counter, the counter! It’s all in…the game!

McNulty! (RAWLS, MCNULTY)
(sung to the tune of “Tomorrow” from Annie)

RAWLS
You’re such a cheap prick, McNulty!
Can not stand the sight of you, McNulty!
Why don’t you die?

You fuck up my life, McNulty!
Talking to Burrell just makes me sulky.
Wanna know why?

MCNULTY (speaking)
I don’t know what …

RAWLS (singing over him)
‘Cause you talked to that judge!
‘Bout A-
-von Barksdale!
And re-opened these fi-i-les!
Don’t smi-i-le!
These fi-i-les!

MCNULTY (speaking)
Look, I can explain …

RAWLS
I’m shipping you out, McNulty!
You’ll be on this new task force, McNulty,
With a thumb up your ass!

And let me be clear, McNulty!
The next time Burrell should say, ‘McNulty’
I’ll fuck you with glass!

MCNULTY (speaking)
Oh, c’mon …

RAWLS
Don’t you open your ly-
-ing I-
-rish piehole!
Or I’ll fill it with shit!
With shit!
With shi-i-i-t!

(crescendo)

McNulty! McNulty!
I hate you! McNulty!
I’ll fuck you, if it takes ten years!
McNulty! McNulty!
You ratfuck, McNulty!
I’ll fuck you, right in the ears!

West Baltimore (CARVER, HERC)
(sung to the tune of “America” from West Side Story)

CARVER
I like my time in West Baltimore
Cleaning up crime in West Baltimore
Wiping off grime in West Baltimore

HERC
Trying to rhyme in West Baltimore.

CARVER
Lots of drug dealers to take out!

HERC
We piss in bottles on stake outs.

CARVER
Daniels and Greggs do the job right!

HERC
I’m still in debt from that hot mic.

CARVER
We could get paid in West Baltimore.
We could make grade in West Baltimore.
We’ve got it made in West Baltimore.

HERC
I can’t get laid in West Baltimore.

CARVER
We get the dope from our C.I.s.

HERC
Sure, if we pay them for cheap highs.

CARVER
I could make Sarge if I learn fast.

HERC
Just keep your nose up Burrell’s ass!

CARVER
We could make friends in West Baltimore.

HERC
I get the bends from West Baltimore.

CARVER
We’ll make amends in West Baltimore.

HERC
War never ends in West Baltimore!

HERC AND CARVER
La-la-la, la-la, West Baltimore!
La-la-la, la-la, West Baltimore!
La-la-la, la-la, West Baltimore!
La-la-la, la-la, West Baltimore!

Marlo Stansfield (FREAMON, MCNULTY, DANIELS, RAWLS, AVON, STRINGER)
(sung to the tune of “Oklahoma (Reprise)”)

FREAMON
There’s someone droppin’ bodies, but we can’t say how

MCNULTY
We can’t find corpses and we can’t find clues

DANIELS
We’ll never get a wire on ’em anyhow

RAWLS
It’s all about numbers, Cap’n …

DANIELS
Like that’s news!

ALL
Like that’s news!
Like that’s news! Homicide blues!

AVON
Lockin’ down the corners, crackin’ suckas’ heads
Shootin’ up the projects ’till the streets turn red

STRINGER
Tellin’ you: this nigga ain’t about to peel
Let me cut him in and we can make a deal

AVON
You ain’t a soldier! This shit’s hot!
Go get Marlo or we gonna get got!

MCNULTY
Maaaaaaar-lo Stansfield!
He’s been dropping bodies in the West!
Tell you what he’ll do, if you cross his crew
He will put two bullets in your chest!

AVON
Maaaaaaar-lo Stansfield!
He’s a hot young player in the game!

STRINGER
He’s got Chris and Snoop waiting on the stoop
So don’t let them hear you say his name!

FREAMON
Check those boarded-up houses for sure!
You’ll find bodies and blood by the score!

MCNULTY, FREAMON, AVON and STRINGER
So when we saaaaaaay
“Don’t cross that nigga down the waaaaaay”
You know we’re really talking about Marlo Stansfield!
Marlo Stansfield! Marlo!

ALL
Maaaaaaar-lo Stansfield!
He’s been dropping bodies in the West!
Tell you what he’ll do, if you cross his crew
He will put two bullets in your chest!
Maaaaaaar-lo Stansfield!
He’s a hot young player in the game!
He’s got Chris and Snoop waiting on the stoop
So don’t let them hear you say his name!

Check those boarded-up houses for sure!
You’ll find bodies and blood by the score!

So when we saaaaaaay
“Don’t cross that nigga down the waaaaaay”
You know we’re really talking about Marlo Stansfield!
Marlo Stansfield! Marlo!
M, A, R, L, O, Yo!
Marlo Stansfield!

hunger hurts, but starving works

GYAARRGH,” I yelled. “How do they expect people to work under these conditions? It’s stupid! This is insane!”

A slice of Upper Crust pizza appeared in my hand – spinach, mozzarella, feta, garlic, no sauce. I ate it in about two bites. Then I ate another, slowly.

“Huh,” I mumbled through a full mouth. “Actually, this shouldn’t be too hard. Let me just check some numbers and get back to you …”

Despite living with myself for nearly twenty-eight years, I still get amazed at how much little things affect my mood. Hunger’s high on that list. If I’m really hungry, I start snapping instead of speaking. My face defaults into a frown rather than a neutral state. I judge everything put before me in the most critical terms possible. No one’s moving fast enough or sitting quietly enough for my taste.

This isn’t shocking, of course. No one operates well when they’re hungry, or tired, or itching all over. I bring it up, however, for two reasons:


  1. I usually ignore the symptoms of hunger – up to a point. I don’t like taking time out of my day to eat. Walking to the kitchen and spending ten minutes preparing a sandwich? To hell with that. You know how much work I could do in ten minutes? My body takes the hint and represses its hunger pangs, quietly leeching protein and glucose from backup stores (my arms, my brain, etc) until I become a feverish ghoul.


  2. As a recovering hard rationalist, I still hold the output of my brain in very high regard. I’m fascinated by what comes out of my brain. I trust my brain. Up until the point where I can’t, anyway.

    The problem: I’m just as certain of the judgments I make when I’m hungry as I am of the judgments I make when full. Hell, I’m usually more certain – once I skip one meal and the second comes late, it’s all dire pronouncements from the ivory tower. When I’m hungry, the people around me are idiots. When I’m not hungry, the people around me are human beings with different agendas.

    If the judgments I make when I’m hungry are false, what makes the judgments I make when I’m not hungry true? What makes my full stomach the “correct” baseline, objectively speaking?

    I can’t always trust what I’m thinking. For most people, that’s a fact to acknowledge and plan around (“I should probably bring a snack, in case we don’t eat for a while”). For me, that’s deeply disturbing.


“I’m human after all” sounds like one of those realizations I should have come to as a teenager. Add that to “sometimes you hurt people, even with the best intentions” and “the audacity of your dreams is no guarantee of your success.” One of these days I might actually grow up.