Friday, December 28, 2007

There and Back Again

I was back in Bombay for the holidays which, don't you know, is always a smashing time to visit. Firstly, it's the coolest weather one can expect (clocking in at a marrow-curdling 85F), and secondly, it's the one time of the year when the snappy "Jingle Bells" ditty belted out by the building elevator (to signal that you've neglected to close collapsible grate), is actually appropriate.

Primary purpose of the trip of course was to hang out with the old hive over Christmas-break, but as a side-benefit, I got to celebrate a dear old friend's (Michael's) decision to feed for life out of the same bucket with the lovely Fiona.



While the wedding itself was awesome, the part I enjoyed most was chewing the fat with all the old school friends that I hadn't seen in almost a decade (sometimes more!). What's interesting about a large part of that crowd is that they have practically no internet presence to speak of, and I've had no easy way of getting in touch with them.

Except, apparantly, for Facebook.

While I've heard rumors that Orkut is all the rage in India, everywhere I met up with old cronies, I was presented with the question: "Are you on Facebook?" So there, suddenly, was the "one good reason" I'd been holding out on signing up with Facebook for. And I have to admit, it's pretty scary how many denizens of the old haunts I've been able to find on there.

I still think the site is not all it's cracked up to be, and most of the "applications" are an utter waste of time (send me another stupid "gift" and by Apollo's bronze behind, I'll un-friend you, I swear). But the potential for connection discovery is awesome. Somewhat similar to LinkedIn, but for the non-professional side of your network.

But that brings up the question of social context. I'm part of something like a social network on Flickr/Blogger because the sites are particularly suited towards sharing of ideas within the social context of the photographic community. It'd be hard for Facebook to be the generic social platform for every social context: photography, basket-weaving and physics? That's why I think 2008 will be the year that the industry realizes this and sprouts an eczema of social aggregator companies that claim to unify the experience across properties. This will be an interesting circus to watch...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Playing Hookie

I'm going to be on a solo trip to India next week, and consequently will be separated from Her Radiantness on our anniversary.

So as a substitute, we decided to take last Friday off to loaf about in San Francisco, and paint the town a frivolous shade of 0xff0000. After mangling a spot of dim-sum, and wandering about Chinatown during the afternoon, we caught some nice late light up at Coit Tower, on Telegraph Hill.






Dinner was at this little Senegalese restaurant that we've been dying to try out for the longest time. And since we'd planned to spend the night in SF, it provided the perfect opportunity to grab tickets on Saturday morning for SFJazz's 2008 Spring Season. Here's what's on the agenda:
  • March 8: Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, & Jack DeJohnette
  • March 14: "Tyner & Taps"; McCoy Tyner Trio with Savion Glover
  • March 15: SFJazz Collective
  • April 11: Wayne Shorter Quartet with Imani Winds
  • April 13: Ana Moura
  • April 17: Bobby McFerrin, Chick Corea, & Jack DeJohnette
  • May 31: Miles from India
  • June 8: Fiesta Venezuela
We've even got Coeman coming up for Tyner and the Collective, which means I've inadvertently contributed to The Grand Procrastination...

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Wingsuit BASE Jumping

Ok, that is just scary shit.

Friday, December 07, 2007

xkcd @ Google

Randall Munroe (only the creator of one of the best comic strips in the world) gave a talk at Google today. Among the highlights:
I work at a surreal company.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Zion: Evening Light

For those of you in the know, I'm spending 3.5 days in Zion National Park as part of a workshop on landscape photography. Today's assignment was to capture the "golden light" of sunset, while playing with interesting compositions. Here therefore, are the results of scrambling up 600 feet over 40-degree inclines, getting stuck like a pincushion by some fine-thorned cactus, and grazing a much-loved elbow.



While technically correct, this one is actually not a very good picture since the composition is dead boring (Uh-huh. It's a mountain. We get it.) Still, it was pretty for a cliche, and a good example of the quality of the last rays of sunset causing the top of the mountain to glow. I also had a polarizer on which shifted the sky behind to a slightly deeper blue.



I'm happier with this image. It's a stretch for me to be composing landscape pictures with a narrow lens, so I was pushing myself into somewhat uncomfortable territory at this 300mm (35-mm film equiv.) setting. The idea here was to have the setting sun cast a glowing warm rimlight on the tree and the rock ledge, while the background rock face contrasts with a cooler in-shadow look. Personally, I also like the lines of the background rock striations and the foreground ledge that lead your eyes over to the tree.

Other lessons learned:
  • This takes time. It's not about cranking out 30 different compositions. It's about looking around and carefully picking a composition (or three). And then it's just a matter of waiting till the light looks right. Sometimes that means coming back another day to get that one shot that looks really evocative.
  • Timing is everything. The light changes quickly. You need to have your filters in place, and the camera in position on the ball-head so that you're ready to crank off those 3-4 pictures that you'll have time for in the few seconds that the light peaks. If you're fumbling around trying to screw on that polarizer at the last minute, you might as well come back tomorrow.
  • Don't pack up as soon as the light's gone. Sometimes your best picture is the one you see over your shoulder when you're putting your gear back in the car.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Silicon Valley 5k

The wife and I did the Silicon Valley 5k this morning. Lots of fun, and absolutely perfect weather for running. This was my first 5k, so I was really kicked, and I'm all looking forward to the next one. My time was 32:47, and Jayita did 44:16. Woot!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

3d Lenses & Focus Correction

This post has been making rounds recently. It's in French, but if you scroll down you'll see a video by a guy from Adobe (speaking English) showing off a prototype compound (as in, insect compound versus human simple) lens which allows one to do some pretty amazing stuff:
  • Selectively change the focal plane
  • Move the camera viewpoint by a few degrees
All from a single image capture. It's probably several years before the big hardware manufacturers start to take notice, and he says that the compute time to render that image was of the order of a week.

If you could throw a couple of thousand machines at it though...

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

SearchLight

I mucked around with Custom Search Engines today, and created SearchLight, a mini search-engine restricted to retrieving results from websites about off-camera photographic lighting.

Give it a whirl, and let me know if there are sites you'd like me to add.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Warning: More of Yours Truly in the Offing

One of the drawbacks of being an amateur photographer is that there never is enough opportunity to hone the old skillz. Now I freely admit that I'm married to a woman whose unbridled joy at being at the business end of a Zuiko 50mm f/2.0 is second only to the pleasure she takes in her 8-hours-of-the-dreamless each night. But even so, having to stand for hours on end while her photog. spouse makes ever-so-slight adjustments wears somewhat thin.



I've often considered practicing portrait lighting on myself of course, but the drill is awful: Press, run, get in position, <click!>, run, gawk at botched picture to figure out what to adjust, press, run... well, you get the idea.

First, the good news...

A fellow strobist reminded me of this little feature that I remember glossing over in the camera's user manual (yes I did RTFM --- just not that carefully): Video-out. Simply put, God's greatest gift to narcissistic photographers.

Most recent LCD monitors have a composite-video input jack, and my E-330's USB output doubles as a video-out line. They've even provided a handy cable for the purpose. Combine that with the its live-view feature (which Olympus was something of a pioneer at with DSLRs) and you've got heaven. Now I can simply connect up the monitor, point the camera at the finely chiseled, and I make composition adjustments right where I sit while viewing them on the 20-incher. This assumes that I've got the lighting parameters (shutter, aperture, flash-power) nailed down of course, but that's getting easier all the time.

All that's lacking now, is to get one of those little IR remotes that I can use to trigger the camera remotely.

Now the bad news... Given my new found freedom, you can probably expect more pictures of yours truly. I know I'm not as easy on the eyes as the beautiful ball-and-c., but hey, you can always volunteer as a guinea-pig, even if it is just to keep me from myself :)


Sunday, September 02, 2007

Oh. That was easy...

I remember trying a couple of years ago to get Flash working on my 64-bit desktop, with not much success. This weekend I thought to myself "Maybe I should give it another go, and throw a couple of hours at it again...". So quick search for [gentoo amd64 32 bit firefox] pulls up this page at the top result which (halfway down) provides the following incantations as advice:

> emerge netscape-flash
> emerge nspluginwrapper

So, I dutifully installed the indicated packages, restarted Firefox and voilà! Instant Flash. Note that the nspluginwrapper spits out this message at the end of the install:

* Auto installing 32bit plugins...
* Any 32bit plugins you currently have installed have now been
* configured to work in a 64bit browser. Any plugins you install in
* the future will first need to be setup with:
* "nspluginwrapper -i path-to-32bit-plugin"
* before they will function in a 64bit browser
*

Good to know.

Now what do I do with the remaining 118 minutes?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

My Prodigal Ogg Player

Last week I begrudgingly had to send back my shiny new ogg-player for a replacement (you can read more about that story here). To add to the agony, I was out sick yesterday, so when the replacement arrived at the office, I had to sit and pine feverishly (I did have a fever) for it for an extra 24 hours before I could get my grubby hands on the device.

Arriving home with it today however, rather than immediately commence with the music upload, I thought I'd experiment with trying to take one of those fancy product-type shots you see in magazines and such. No time like the present, I convinced myself, before fingerprint-smudges mar the visage. Here's the result:





I knew I wanted a cool blue background, and in lieu of a second flash to slap a blue gel onto, I simply used a blue sheet of card-paper as the base and backdrop. After posing the device appropriately, these are the bits I had to consider regarding how to light it:
  • The bottom half of the face needs a specular highlight to emphasize the surface indentations where the buttons are.
  • This should transition to no specular highlight in the top half so that the graphics on the display can shine through.
  • I need some light as a fill on the right and to emphasize the metallic buttons on the side.
  • All this, with just one flash.
Here's the ghetto-setup shot, metered for the flash:


And here it is again, metered for ambient (I opened up the windows to get more light in -- hence the splotchy sunlight).


The guts of it is essentially hooking on that piece of cardboard to the top of the flash as a gobo to produce that light-to-dark transition on the paper which is then reflected in the face of the device. That, and making sure that there's enough shiny stuff at the top and at the right to reflect what little available light makes it through back onto the device for a fill.

Another detail: I was working at a fairly tight aperture, so in order to get the display and button lights to register, I had to use a tripod and keep the shutter open for about a half-second.

Stuff I could've done better?
  • Move the specular highlight producing paper further away so the grain of the paper doesn't show up in the reflection. This would've made the fill reflection on the left dimmer though, so it's tough without that second flash.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

My Fancy New Ogg Player

I've ranted and raved for a while about how the iPod is simply the aesthetically pleasing spawn of the devil, whose sole aim is to rob us of our hard-earned dough for substandard features, and incompatible media formats.

Unfortunately, my trusty iRiver iFP-890 died on me about 2 months ago, and I have not been able to find a replacement. Worse, the pointy-haired fools running that company have gone and sold their souls, and now don't support Ogg files, and only provide a proprietary (Windows Media Player) means of getting music on and off their devices.

So after wandering hither and yon and reading countless technical specifications in Korean, my replacement is here at last! The Cowon iAudio 7. Features that matter to me the most:
  • Plays Ogg Vorbis. Even at the insanely high bit-rate (256kbps) that I encode my CDs to.
  • Mounts as a standard VFAT filesystem under Linux. And because of this, it hooks nicely into Amarok from which I can drag/drop music, podcasts, etc.
  • 8GB of flash memory storage. No spinning hard drives, so I get (supposedly --- I haven't tested) 60 hours of continuous playback time.
  • Integrated FM radio.
  • Records from integrated mic, line-in, and FM.
The only glitch? I had to return mine for a replacement because (and you're not going to believe this), there was a hair trapped under the screen. Yup. I kid you not. I didn't notice it at first, but when trying out the image-viewing features, I noticed it in stark contrast against one of the brighter pictures. Luckily Amazon has a pretty good policy on replacements, although I'm pretty sure they've never heard a reason like mine before. So Jayita has another week or so before she loses another part of my soul to yet another shiny flashy gadget.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Scoop of the Day

So David Hobby over at Strobist had an assignment last week, where he asked people to elevate an ordinary piece of kitchen equipment to the level of art.

Imagine my surprise, when my humble submission below got called out in his blog post as one of the "standout" pictures!





It feels like back in grad-school, getting that first publication accepted ;)

Friday, July 20, 2007

Collective Mediocrity

The Live 2007 double-CD of the SFJazz Collective turned up yesterday. Consistent with the previous 3 offerings, this is another really polished performance from one of the tightest live acts I've seen.

But sadly, this year that's about the only compliment I can pay it.

One of the reasons this group was put together was to force a severely modern rethinking of jazz that we have become too comfortable with. However, with the exception of Miguel Zenón's two arrangements of Monk's Epistrophy and San Francisco Holiday/Worry Later, I was a trifle disappointed with the rest of the band's all-too-delicate handling of Monk's work. They sorely could've used Miles Davis' advice:
When you play music, don't play the idea that's there, play the next idea. Wait. Wait another beat, or maybe two, and then maybe you'll have something that's more fresh. Don't just play from the top of your head, but listen and try to play a little deeper.
Newcomer Dave Douglas saved my flagging attention on the second CD of original compositions with his three-movement San Francisco Suite which, along with Eric Harland's Union seemed to be the only pieces that really provided a platform for interesting musical discussion. Admittedly I've only listened to the album a couple of times since yesterday, and while it does take a couple of listens for me to grok a tune, with the rest of the pieces I had the feeling that I was simply embedded in a stream of somewhat incoherent background conversation. Nothing on the album had the sweeping vision of Collective Overture (on the Live 2006 album), or the joy of Development (on Live 2005).

Hopefully the injection of new blood this year with Joe Lovano replacing Joshua Redman, and Stefon Harris replacing Bobby Hutcherson will revitalize this group in the coming season.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Second Light

I've always been a fan of those cool wine/martini glass shots, like this one over at Liquid Air Photography. Now that's all fine and dandy, but I just have one flash, and the setup clearly requires two broad sources of light (one on each side of the glass).

Now although I plan to get a second flash sometime in the near future, I'm putting it off for a couple of reasons: Firstly, I need to actually do other stuff with all that money like um, pay rent. And secondly, having just one light source forces me to think a little more creatively than I otherwise would.

Now before I tell you how it all came together, goggle at the result for a second or two:




See what I mean about the two light panels? So the problem for me, is to figure out how to illuminate two panels on either side of the glass with my lonesome FL-50. It's something of a tricky problem since I can't allow any extra light to contaminate the scene, but I still need to get those two panels lit up bright enough.

So here's a top-view schematic of how we could possibly achieve this:





The key realization here is that unlike the Liquid Air setup, we don't need both panels illuminated via reflection, but instead one of the panels can be constructed out of material that transmits light via diffusion. This allows us to use a single flash on one side of the setup, lighting one panel via diffusion, and the other panel via bare reflection. With a little bit of placement trickery, we can make sure that bare light from the flash doesn't contaminate the subject itself.

The nice thing about this setup is that we can control the relative illumination of the panels by adjusting the flash distance, as well as the horizontal placement of the glass. The final ghetto setup cobbled together with all the garbage that was within reach on the table, is shown below:





One point that's not obvious from the top-views of the setup, is that the flash is kept just a smidge below the table level. This prevents the light from contaminating the surface that the glass sits on.

A couple of things that make me really happy about the result: As a proof-of-concept, I'm thrilled that it works, and I've learned a lot just by restricting myself to using just one flash. I could certainly improve on it too --- the DOF could've been increased (the base of the glass is a little out of focus), and now that I know this works, I need to build a little DIY studio to replace that ghetto setup.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Depth of Illumination

It's been a busy month, but more about all of that in another post.

It's refreshing to be exposed to a piece of information that radically changes my way of thinking about something. Especially when that something is as mundane as the distance of a source of light from a subject.

We're familiar with the notion of depth-of-field when it comes to focus, but now think about exactly this concept, but applied to illumination instead. We know that light falls off in intensity as we get further from the source. In fact, elementary physics tells us that the amount of light falling on the subject will be inversely proportional to the square of its distance from the light source. Fine. That's easy-peasy. So if we want to double the intensity (1-stop up), we need to reduce the distance to the light source by a factor of 0.7071 (1/sqrt(2)). Conversely, if we want to halve the intensity (1-stop down), we need to increase the distance by a factor of 1.4142 (sqrt(2)). That's trivial. Now here's where it gets interesting:

We're normally illuminating more than just one plane. Typically the scene consists of a bunch of objects scattered about at varying distances from the light source, so if we expose correctly for the middle-distance objects, the ones closest to (furthest from) the light source will be over(under)exposed. But by how much? If we define +-1-stop of light as an acceptable exposure deviation, then from our calculations above we know that objects within the 0.707x to 1.414x (where x is the distance of the correctly exposed object from the light source) box are "acceptably" exposed.


The cool thing is that this gives us a useful creative knob to tweak. The diagram above shows that by moving the light source further away (and cranking up the light power to compensate), we can increase this box of "acceptable" exposure. Similarly, if we want the zone of acceptable exposure to fall off quickly, we just have to move the flash in really close (and decrease its power). The object in the middle-zone gets exactly the same illumination each time, but the gradient of illumination can be as smooth or as sharp as you like.



A practical application of this is when doing portrait shots against a background. By controlling the depth of illumination, we can easily control the relative illumination of the subject versus the background simply by changing the distance of the light source from the scene.

In a nutshell, the following 2 rules should help:
  1. Given a correctly metered subject, you'll know that 30% inside and 40% outside its distance from the light source, all objects are within a 1-stop illumination deviation.
  2. Conversely, if you've got a scene of depth x, then to illuminate it all within a 1-stop deviation of the central part, the light source has to be at distance at least x from the near edge of the scene.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Making Lemonade




Face it: At some point in life you're going to be asked to take a picture of a singularly boring object, so learning how a bit of creative lighting can make an image pop can be helpful.

Subject: Blue vase, white flowers. Couldn't be duller.

Arranging the main light was easy. I hooked up my FL-36 at camera left, and fired it into a silvered umbrella about 3 feet away from the vase. To add a bit of light on the right, I added a sheet of aluminum foil to the right (you'll see the ghetto setup in a minute).

The first question was the choice of backdrop. Since I was using the flash, I could turn up the power such that it overwhelmed any ambient light, and I'd be left with an effectively black background. Nice, but still boring. The windows with the vertical blinds in the background provided a nice regularity against the chaos of the flowers themselves, so I decided to keep that in the picture.

To get a good balance between main and ambient, I switched the flash off, and adjusted the shutter speed till I got the ambient light to be about 2 stops underexposed. Now that that's done, all I need to do is crank up the flash to light the flowers up to the brightness I want.

Now keep in mind that the ambient light filtering through those blinds would be pretty close to neutral white, so at 2 stops underexposed those blinds look something of a crypt-like sickly grey. Time for a mood adjustment.

I strapped on a CTO gel to the front of the flash. What this does is make the main light that illuminates the flowers orange (or warmer).

Now, I adjust the camera's white balance to compensate, which gets the main (flash) light on the flowers back to white, but also has the side-effect of shifting the ambient background light from the blinds to blue. Voila, we have mood.

Could I have done better? Absolutely. For one, I would've closed the blinds a smidge, so I wouldn't get the distracting view through the glass. And secondly, I would've used a longer piece of foil on the right, so that fill would extend down to the bottom right flowers too. But that's why I'm an amateur.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Babies Abound

Ok. It's something of an epidemic. Everyone's having them. Some aren't even learning their lessons, the poor devils. Regardless, congratulations to the following recently sleep-deprived:
  • Sushil, Lalitha & Sunayna
  • Sean, Amy & tot
  • Stefan, Ladan & Ella
  • Katie, Brandon & offspring
  • Ram, Mrs. Ram & Harish
  • Priya, Hashim & Tarun
  • Michael, Lauren & Ava



Sunday, May 27, 2007

Non-Industrial Light & Magic

I splurged a little this week.

Since about the beginning of the year, I've been running into a wall when it comes to getting more creative with the photographs I take. The two most common problems being:
  1. I need more light. Either that, or I'm stuck with using really wide apertures and leaving only a thin sliver of the image in focus.
  2. I need to control available light. Either there's too much spill from the available light source which clutters up the image, or it's simply coming in from the wrong direction.
So many hours of online research and several trips to Keeble and Shuchat later, I'm now the proud owner of:
  • 1 Olympus FL-36 flash
  • 2 PocketWizard Plus IIs transceivers (to remotely trigger said FL-36)
  • 1 Westcott 43" silver umbrella
  • 1 Manfrotto light stand (over 6', but collapses to 19")
Add to this an assortment of DIY snoots and gridspots (created out of the boxes that all of the above loot arrived in) and one trigger-happy amateur photographer, and you've got the makings of a joyous long weekend.

First experiment: Creating soft light for a headshot. The difference between soft and hard light is all in the shadow. Actually, it's all in the transition from light to shadow. And that's all about "apparant light-source size", which is just a fancy name for the size of the light source relative to the size of the object being illuminated. Take a gander at the following diagram, where the white bars on the left represent light sources that are illuminating the circular object on the right:



In each case, imagine you're an ant moving along the surface of the object (see arrow), you first hit a point at which the far edge of the light source starts to go out of view. From now on the amount of light hitting the surface gets progressively less until the near edge also goes out of view leaving the object completely dark. What the top and bottom diagrams show is the difference in the distance between the first and second point when the size of the light source is changed relative to the object. The smoother the transition, the softer the light. Here are a couple of examples which demonstrate the quality of soft light.



The first two are using the flash shot into the umbrella from about 3 feet away, while the third uses the flash bounced off the ceiling to create an even bigger apparent source.

Second experiment: Controlling light spread. This is where the snoot comes in handy. Using it to restrict the spread of the beam of light, you can get it to illuminate exactly what you want without scattering photons willy-nilly and contaminating the scene. I've always wanted to create those funky smoke photographs you see once in a while, and having a nice tight beam of light coming in from the side allowed me to capture these beauties:




Happiness :)

Monday, May 07, 2007

Methinks...

...we should rechristen it SueTube. Don't you?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Cheap Shot

One of the reasons I like Flickr over Picasaweb is that it has succeeded in getting the "community" aspect of the site to work. As an amateur with a lot to learn, being able to discuss photography and techniques with others helps enormously.

For example, I've long been a fan of the Strobist group which talks about using relatively inexpensive household garbage to achieve professional quality lighting. Today I decided to try out one of the cheap tricks mentioned for achieving nice omnidirectional soft light for macro shooting, when all you're stuck with is hard sunlight. Jayita had picked up a gorgeous basket of strawberries at the farmers' market this morning, so that was my subject du jour. Before I show you what the setup was, here's the result:



Now here's the setup in all its glory:



2 sheets of paper and 3 pieces of tape. Total cost about 1.7 cents, so I can save up for all those lenses on my list.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Monk 'n' Trane --- Straight, No Chaser

In early 2005, a recording engineer named Larry Appelbaum discovered a set of 8 acetate-tape reels while mucking about at the Library of Congress, which were labeled "Carnegie Hall Jazz 1957" with a handwritten note hinting "T. Monk" along with some song titles. As it turns out, this was a hitherto unpublished recording by Voice of America of the Monk/Coltrane date at Carnegie Hall.

You see, Monk and Coltrane worked together for a very brief period --- just over a year (April 1957 to September 1958) --- and while they performed together extensively during that time, there is a devastating paucity of recorded evidence of their work, which made Appelbaum's excavations all the more stunning.

Monk would've turned 90 this year, and as part of what they're calling the Monk Project, SFJazz's Spring Season yesterday featured a reimagining of that historic Carnegie Hall concert with Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Christian McBride and Brian Blade taking on the mantles of John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Ahmed Abdul-Malik and Shadow Wilson respectively.

When signing up for the tickets earlier this year, I was initially a little skeptical of attending one of those reenactment concerts which usually feature too much replication and very little imagination. I'm glad I ignored those initial anxieties. While they stuck closely to the original set list with a lot of Monk's standards like "Crepuscule with Nellie" and "Monk's Mood", this was truly a "reimagination". Blade and Redman were particularly inspired, while Mehldau anchored the quartet in Monk's trademark harmonic eccentricities. I was a tad disappointed in McBride's showing --- he tended to play in a detached sort of way, which was unlike the previous times I've seen him as a bandleader.

For cute irony, they rounded off the night with an encore performance of Straight, No Chaser. Awesome! :)

You know, anybody can play a composition and use far-out chords and make it sound wrong. It's making it sound right that's not easy.

--Thelonious Sphere Monk

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Avishai Cohen @ Yoshi's

Peter and I caught Avishai Cohen's trio at Yoshi's last night. Normally, when it comes to attending live shows, I'm somewhat risk-averse, and tend to go with musicians of whose music I've already heard (and liked) a significant chunk. In that sense, this show departed from that ethic, since I've only ever heard his playing on one album --- the Chick Corea New Trio's Past, Present and Futures.

My leap of faith wasn't misplaced. While his band isn't as tight as some of the other acts that I've gotten used to seeing (like the SFJazz Collective), the energy that pours out of these young guys is astounding, and made for quite an exhilarating evening. Both Peter and I are convinced we should attend more of these when we can.

Btw, the setlist was primarily from his As Is... Live At The Blue Note album. Sidemen on this date: Shai Maestro (piano), Mark Guilliana (drums).

Sunday, April 22, 2007

More Wildflowers

We have a friend visiting from London, so as part of the normal touristy garbage that we inflict on her, we also took her for a short walk around Shoreline Lake. More wildflowers are coming up, and overcast skies provided the perfect lighting for some more photographs:




If anybody can identify the last two, leave a comment! :)

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Ladies Six-String

Two nights ago, Jayita and I caught Patty Larkin at The Attic. As expected, a fantastic performance, but the best thing I got out of the evening was a CD I picked up that she produced a few years ago called La Guitara. It contains some amazing pieces by some of the best and most influential female guitarists around including Kaki King, Vicki Genfan, and Badi Assad.

A brief search on YouTube brought up the following snippet (among others) of Kaki King's astounding percussive technique:

And while her sound is really cool and funky, Vicki Genfan has the ability to take that to the next level and get some seriously rich, sustained bell-like sounds out of her tapping. I find her style to produce a much more mature, disciplined sound.

My music shopping list just got a lot longer.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

It Was Meant To Be

I've taken a lot of pictures since I started dabbling in photography about a year ago (the groaning hard-drive is testimony to all those accumulating pixels). Nevertheless, this has got to be one of the pictures that I'm most proud of:



Until two days ago however, I didn't know what flower it actually was. I had happened to see it on the side of the road and had just grabbed the photo-op. It was only when I saw the comments of a fellow Flickr member that I happened to browse over to one of Kishimi-san's photos and realized that its botanical name is hypericum calycinum.

Even better, one of its common names is (and I just can't make stuff like this up): Aaron's beard.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Bassically...

It's turned out to be the season of The Bass.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Stanley Clarke kicked some serious (b)ass over at Yoshi's last month. It turns out that San Francisco is practically seething with bass-masters this Spring. On Saturday, Peter and I caught the legendary bassist Ron Carter's quartet. This was probably the most polished act since The Modern Jazz Quartet --- they even wore matching ties! Attire aside, I haven't seen a musically tighter group in a long time.

In two weeks we'll have Avishai Cohen in town. The first time I heard this guy was on Chick Corea's Fingerprints (off the Past, Present and Futures album) where his bass lines simply astounded. Other than samples off his website, I've heard very little of his own music, but the fact that he blends some Middle Eastern motifs into his work intrigues.

On a smoother-jazz note, Richard Bona will also be at Yoshi's next month. I quite enjoy his music for light listening, and Jayita's a fan too since he plays the kind of jazz that doesn't make her "tense". I've caught him in concert once back at USC, back in the days when the Fall jazz festival organized by Spectrum actually had some really awesome artists perform, and he could pluck a pretty pleasant string. As a side-benefit, he has an ethereal voice.

Here's to the low notes...

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Friday, April 06, 2007

New ER-6i Isolator Earphones

Here's the nub. I love listening to jazz while working. So picture me at my desk at Google, happily hacking away, and listening to Ornette Coleman (for example). Now picture a pair of spectacles surrounded by anguished features goggling at me from across my office. Multiply spectacles and anguished map by three, and you'll have an idea of what would come to pass were I inconsiderate enough to do this without personalizing the aural experience.

Hence, I've been on the lookout for a good pair of headphones for a while now. I considered the Bose noise-canceling variety that are hawked at every airport these days, but I couldn't stand the size. And my earlobes feel sore if I have stuff pressed against them for too long. True, I could use the button-headphones that come with most mp3 players, but you need superglue to keep them in place while running at the gym.

I finally found everything I was looking for in these. Awesome frequency response for the size, and the in-ear design meant that they would be locked in place and provide about 35dB of noise reduction pretty much across the spectrum.

The near (officemates) and dear (ball and c.) now can rest easy in the comforting thought that I won't be inflicting any jazz goodness on them. Poor blighters.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Early Wildflowers

Jayita and I decided to check out the first of the wildflowers peeking out at Russian Ridge this last weekend. So clutching our trusty guide-to-California-wildflowers book (Jayita, that is) and macro lens firmly screwed in place (that's me with the camera), we hove off early on Saturday morning.

Weather was bright and beautiful, and although there was quite a bit of haze visible across the Bay, we caught some nice views:



As expected, there was just a sprinkling of the early-bird wildflowers, but that made the thrill of spotting a novel one all the more keen. Here's a sampling of our current portfolio:





From left to right, top to bottom: Golden violet, popcorn flowers, red-stemmed filarees, saxifrage, blue-eyed grass, charlock, scarlet pimpernel, fiddleneck and baby blue eyes.

It's only the beginning of Spring, so we're definitely planning on making at least two more trips. Watch this space.