Monday, November 5, 2012

A Metro Ride With Bieber Fans

So apparently Justin Bieber is playing in DC tonight. This of course resulted in my getting on Metro, sitting down in my usual center-car spot, and almost immediately being inundated with shrieking teenage girls both in front and behind me.

It took me a moment to realise they were giggling at me, the half-dozen in front of me trying to get my attention; the half-dozen behind me trying to get my attention.

Mentally acknowledging I am twice their age, I did what any man would do in his attempt to avoid the judgement of the few older passengers on the train were I to offer any sort of attention toward a bunch of adolescents: pull out my phone and stare at Twitter, doing my best to ignore the girls. If I had a phone back in elementary school: I would have used this exact same defense tactic.

However, this was made particularly difficult when one of the chaperones -- best I could guess: one of their moms -- moved to sit directly across from me and said "They think you're cute."

"mmhmm." I said with only a brief glance of recognition away from my phone.

"...and so do I."

"Cool." -- not looking up -- and immediately cozying into the corner with my phone.

I only get one really awkward moment every 2-3 years, if even that frequent... this would count as one of those moments.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Space Is Big

Imagine yourself sitting by one of those globes from school showing a scaled-down Earth -- they're usually about 12" to 18" in diameter.  Now answer these two questions by imagining yourself waving your hand near the globe to indicate how far away you think is correct:

 - Where does space begin?
 - How far away is the Moon?

Where does space begin?  I'd guess that you're probably going to wave your hand somewhere around 1 or 2 ft away from the little planet.  But for what we popularly consider to be "space": if you smacked your hand right onto the globe you'd have been closer.

Compared to a 12" globe: Sunday's (amazing) skydive began 0.04" above the surface.  That's about half of a ruler's little tick-mark.  The International Space Station is 0.10", which is just one tick-mark.  Most satellites are put into Low Earth Orbit, which maxes out at just under 2 inches away.  The upper limit of Medium Earth Orbit -- which is home mostly to fancier & more expensive satellites -- goes up to only about 3 ft away.

How far away is the Moon?  You probably waved your hand in the range of 3-5 ft distant from the globe, which is convenient since in your mental image of sitting/standing by this globe that's well-within an easy reach.  Well... the Moon would actually be 30 feet away.  Next time you're asked this question: leave the room and go next door.

The Sun?  That's more than 2 miles away.  Our nearest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri?  By the scale of that 12" classroom globe, Alpha Centauri is well over twice the *actual* distance between Earth and the Moon.  But since we already can't fathom that distance correctly in the first place- it's best to just call it a day at that.

Space is big. Our planet is small and we're even smaller.

Saturday, September 22, 2012


Bossi's Day Off:

- Ate a freshly-made soda from legit soda jerks at Franklin Fountain. Didn't know what to expect; it was quite good! But too pricey and the flavor gave way to mere seltzer too soon. Friendly service, though. Ice cream looked amazing but didn't get any (I wanted to eat a real lunch first).

- Discovered Philly has an underground city. Well, formally underground concourse... 
but still never knew that was there. But unlike Montreal: it's less city and more urine. So much wasted space; would be perfect for arts or retail.

- Saw an 18th century rowhome just by Independence Hall that looked exquisite -- just like a home straight out of Georgetown. It was running for cheaper than places I'm looking at in DC.

- I love Philly's use of sidewalk space. DC needs to emulate this.

- Last time I was in Condom Kingdom was at their old location and I was with my grandmother.

- The lines for Jim's, Pat's, and Geno's are entirely too long. Especially Geno's. I mean, I'll forgive Pat's and Jim's, but really... PEOPLE: PAT'S IS ACROSS THE STREET FROM GENOS. It may only be marginally better, but at least it's legit.

- Italian Market is like DC's Chinatown: its eponymous ethnicity has left for the suburbs.

- I love working class cities. They may be intimidating at night, but by day everyone is so phenomenally friendly- people readily engage in conversation. In DC people just look confused or ignore you completely if you say "hi".

- I was taking photos of graffiti and was approached by a guy who used to be a graffiti artist way back in the day. Later on I met a few current artists and was introduced to the Philly scene; brought around to a few great spots. Lots of time deriding taggers. Philly's got some great talent; but not quite enough of it.

- A scofflaw bicyclists ran into me. He was about four years old. His bike helmet crashed into my rear-end at about 1 mph. He bounced away more than I did.

- Rittenhouse Square is pretty phenomenal. I can't recall EVER seeing a park so diverse and friendly, with so many people doing so many different things... together; across racial lines.

- As always, I completed my pilgrimage to my great-grandfather's plane in front of the Franklin Institute.

- Spent an evening with two Amy's (ha ha- like the pizza!) -- a pair of lovely ladies to spend an evening with taking photos!

- In the drizzling walk back to my hotel, went to go check out the underground concourse again- came upon a homeless camp at the closed entry. Initially rebuffed, within another minute I was invited to sit down and share dinner with them. I'd just eaten and I didn't eat much, but I couldn't turn down such generosity.

And that's pretty much everything up til now.

Thanks, Philly!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

SlutWalk DC 2012

This year went far more smoothly and comfortably than my experiences last year, when I'd battled camera issues and dashed through less-than-pleasant weather to try and get there.  Furthermore, I felt a bit more relaxed and sociable this time around.

When I arrived at Lafayette Square I still lingered hesitantly about, focusing more on group shots and photos of people a bit more conservatively covered.  As I said in last year's post: I was raised in a rather puritan area and feel a bit awkward photographing people who are not fully clothed unless I ask for permission, and it seems strange to ask for permission to photograph a woman's scantily-clad body when you're at an event that is protesting objectification of women.

I have to remind myself that I am there to document an event and help get its message across.  This can help motivate me to photograph things I may be a bit more hesitant about, but can also help keep my mind on a straight course if I do become... um... distracted... which is to say: I am a heterosexual male and there's no denying that there were some attractive women present; but that would be exactly the wrong reason to be there.  My photos are not for me; they are for the group of people in front of the lens.

Fortunately, there were a number of creative signs and fashions which kept me occupied for that initial period of time at Lafayette.  And there were a few loquacious ladies showing a bit more skin who were delightedly posing for photographers, helping break my initial timidness.  So to that I especially want to thank Elly (in the photo at right: blue top and pink bottom), who was my first of that variety & was fun to chat with for that brief duration.

By the time we'd left Lafayette I'd started getting into the swing of photographing everyone & also striking up conversation.  I especially like that last point... makes me feel less like one of the creeper dudes who wears a large-brimmed hat, has a bushy mustache, and is quietly taking pictures from the perimeter.  Later on I'd take off my shirt, completing a transition into someone who could be misconstrued as a participant.

Not to say I necessarily wasn't a supporter; I just try and stay vehemently neutral whenever I'm doing photos.  Listening in on the speakers this year I felt it was more strongly focused on personal anecdotes, whereas last year seemed a bit more focused on calls-to-action amid the stories.  Last year I'd felt there were a number of things I'd disagreed with, but this year it seemed I had a bit more shared sentiment.

During the march from Lafayette Square to the National Mall, I dashed back and forth along the length of the march trying to snap photos of just about everyone in the group.  It was interesting to see how people would react, with some ignoring the photographers, some intentionally staying straight-laced and serious, and some putting on a massive smile or -- in one case -- a delightfully goofy face (one of my favorite photos from the whole event).  I also loved the passion held by Catherine as she snapped photos along the march, putting on a picture-perfect pose that I only wish she'd held a bit longer so I could get a better-composed shot.

By the time we arrived at the Sylvan Theatre I was leaving a trail of sweat behind me, taking on a body odor where "horrendous" would only begin to describe a room filled with roses and lavender.  While the brutal heat wave of the summer had broken in the sense that were were finally not hitting triple-digits anymore, it was still hitting about 90°... which felt cool for most purposes but was pretty rough when repeatedly running to catch up to the front of the group again.  Plus the humidity... oh my, the humidity.  That's DC, alright.  It wasn't too long after arriving at the Mall's Sylvan Theatre when I'd stripped off my shirt and continued on my rounds of photographing everybody.

I'm pretty sure I managed to get photos of just about everyone there.  Not a single person denied a photo and most struck a great smile, with the day's excitement giving them great poise -- I don't think I had a single subject which didn't turn out a good photo.  While editing my photos later on I'd come to find I'd captured some people several times without realising it, including Jessica, who I'd completely missed at the event itself but afterward came to discover that she's been to a number of events I've personally had a hand in running -- DC's No Pants Metro Ride, Pillowfight, Survive DC, etc... it was a bit surreal to get to chatting with someone over Twitter despite having been within arms reach of her on at least a half-dozen occasions & probably having photographs of her over the course of several years.

At one point I recall heading to grab a swig of water and one of the ladies at the table raising awareness for National Go-Topless Day called for me to come over.  I'd uttered an exasperated "one moment" as I dove for the water fountain, next turning my attention to her and learning about National Go-Topless Day coming up on August 26th.  She invited me to come photograph the event and assured me that I've been a good fit as a photographer (yay! Confirmation I'm not a creeper!).

Of course, that coincides with the weekend my friend Andrea is visiting... I'm not entirely sure if I can sell it to her given these intricacies of: (1) It's a rally in DC instead of usual tourist fare, (2) I don't know her opinions on the subject, (3) I don't know if she'd be bored as I was taking photos, (4) I don't know if she'd be weirded out because I'm taking photos, (5) I don't know if she'd want to join in or not & it'd be kind of awkward to proposition that to her, and (6) if she did... do I photograph her?  It's simply easier taking photos of strangers... or at least folk that you meet at such an event since that sort-of sets those foundations of what is and is-not taboo.

Fun tidbit, by the way: it's legal to be topless in DC.  Actually, as long as it's not sexualised: you're allowed to go all-out naked in DC.  I actually learned this while chatting with some Metro Transit Police officers during the last No Pants Metro Ride, where they cautioned that if anyone decides to go down to more than their skivvies (which isn't something we suggest, but just in case) they should make sure not to ride across into Virginia or Maryland, where neither state permits such degrees of nudity.  But really, I'd think that if someone felt up to it: one could force a case through either state that it is discriminatory to allow men to be topless but not women; which is much of the driving force behind National Go-Topless Day.

It was while I was here where I'd met the guy in a badger costume, which seemed a little strange... also that he was quite adamant for me to take his picture with the topless woman.  But I didn't want to pry in to that.  I'm of the nature that if you're going to do something, attend something, say something, whatever-something that's controversial: own up to it; make it your own.  If you can't accept the consequences: you aren't committed to your opinions.  And if you try and hide from public view while being in public... well, either you're on the internet or you're being a bit of an oddity.

Anyways, a photo of the badger guy with the topless woman is here (NSFW), which I don't show here only because I don't feel like marking this blog post as moderate (even though really there shouldn't be any difference than if it were a man... again the whole point behind Go-Topless Day).

Also at this tent was when a woman, Mindi, walked up to me to exchange contact info.  I remembered photographing her before and striking up conversation- particularly in that not only was she cute and I'd gotten a great photo of her sign back at Lafayette, but she was carrying the exact same model of camera as I was carrying.  And I can't turn down a chat with a woman carrying an SLR... it's become a weakness of mine.

But I was definitely taken aback slightly in that my overwhelming stench didn't keep her at bay... that's what was running through my head, and in my head it seemed so funny that I'd nearly broken out laughing for what would have appeared to have been no apparent reason.  Prompting the "I'm not demented!" defense, even though on some occasions I question whether that's a true statement.  I did get a great testimonial from Mindi later that week, however, which I plan to post any time I ever need a testimonial: "You're not a weirdo!"

Sorry if most of this post is about me feeling like I'm a creeper... but seriously, that's what's running through my head half the time.  I have to admit that we both do the same things: take photos of people.  If we do it from a distance: a photographer just calls them "candids".  Granted, a pricier camera helps set me apart... but really the only difference is that bit I said about how our mind processes the event: I'm here not for me; but to document & help share the message.

There were some great presenters on stage.  The opening band was decent and brought a great energy to kick things off.  Each of its band members was also quite photogenic, and I especially loved the colors and facial expressions I got of their lead singer.

I especially liked Maureen, a marine who had a story about another marine -- a man much like a brother to her -- who assaulted her for several hours but escaped without due punishment.  I'd gotten a number of photos of her as she'd marched from Lafayette as she put on such a strong look -- her face exemplified what a marine looks like: strong, determined, and with a fierce will.  It was a stark contrast to listen to her story and see her expression change as she became less a soldier and more a human.  But even as a shimmer of tears came to her eyes, her gaze still kept that show of strength.

I did not catch the name of another presenter -- a thin red-haired woman who shared a background as a soldier.  She was among my favorite subjects to photograph that day but also one of the only people who didn't crack a smile the entire time -- keeping a serious expression the full duration of the event.  She'd stood at the corner of the stage as other presenters shared their stories, holding her sign above her head and showing an endurance that I surely could not match.  Not only was she downright beautiful to photograph, but her anger showed through very well into so many of my photos.  It was when she took to the microphone when her hardened military exterior melted away and she, as with Maureen before her, became a person.

I made sure to snap photos of some of the volunteers and support staff -- particularly those handing out water (THANKS!!!) as well as the sign language interpreters.  One of the interpreters was downright striking -- oh, what I would give to photograph her eyes.

One of the last people I'd photographed was a woman holding a sign that read "I'm not here for your viewing pleasure."  I couldn't help but remark at the irony of this as she posed for my photo.

I'd started processing all the photos with great zeal, but I can see a remarkable difference between photos I'd worked on initially and those I'm working on later on... namely: I've gotten far lazier with my efforts to properly adjust colors.  You can spot my later uploads by the strong yellow/green hues...

And with that I've somewhat run out of words but still have a bunch of photos I want to showcase... so below I just present a bunch of center-aligned photos for your perusal.  Enjoy!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Size of the Sun

Someone asked me about this photo:

(via NASA)

The question was: would the Sun really appear so large if you were standing on Venus?  I knew the answer to that is no, but I have been guilty of wondering if it would appear that large if you were standing on Mercury.  But again: the answer is no.  So how big would the Sun be if you were on either planet?  Below are some photos showing how the Sun would look from each one:

From Venus, the Sun would be a third larger (which really isn't that big a difference).  Mercury follows are relatively more elliptical orbit, with the Sun appearing twice as big at its furthest and three times as big at its nearest.  From Mercury the Sun is certainly much larger in the sky, but probably not nearly as big as you might have thought it would be.

So just how is it that the Sun is so big on those photos?  I mean, the camera can't be really close to the Sun... because otherwise it wouldn't be able to also have Venus in that picture at the top of this post.  So what if I was standing on a spaceship positioned at exactly where that photo was taken, in orbit above Venus looking toward the Sun?  Why wouldn't the Sun appear exactly as big as it looks in that image?

And to that I answer: the Dolly Zoom-

The short of it is that as you zoom in on something: further objects grow larger at a faster rate than nearer objects, distorting the perspective.  As you zoom in: your near object (Venus) only gets a little bigger, but your far object (the Sun) gets immensely bigger.

You've probably seen this before in the movies.  One of the most prominent uses of the Dolly Zoom is in Hitchcock's Vertigo, but more recently there's a memorable effect in the first Lord of the Rings, where Frodo senses the Ringwraiths approaching along the forest path.

Since telescopes are just massive zoom lenses: the ever-distant sun can appear to loom massively about the planet.  If you were to physically travel from Earth to Venus: you'd see Venus growing ever larger as you get close to it, but the Sun would pretty much stay the same size.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Occupy DC

The following is intended to be written from as neutral a perspective as I can offer.  While I do not affiliate with the Occupy movement I do support their right to assemble in protest, even if I may not necessarily share many of their ideals.  I have some police background and similarly try to appreciate their situation, as well.


An initial kerfuffle

I arrived to a bit of commotion as protesters smacked sticks upon the pavement and police rushed out of their lines with shields up...

The US Park Police arrived to enforce the No Camping regulation as they had been directed by a Congressional hearing to begin more stringent enforcement.  After an initial check days earlier, their arrival today reportedly caught many protesters off-guard.

Police searched each tent for sleeping paraphernalia (I'm quite proud of this term) as well as equipment related to cooking (including opened food).  If any such objects were found: the entire tent and all its contents were confiscated as evidence.  Clean tents were left standing.

The searches commenced part-by-part in each of the segments of McPherson Square, with protesters scrambling about the open sections cleaning out things... though some proudly displayed their prohibited wares, including one tent with an admittedly comfortable bed inside.

As police closed a new section the protesters moved to an adjacent section.  In general there had been little confrontation between either side, other than a few instigators calling out some more pointed remarks & a generally high degree of profanity being tossed toward the police.

Chasing rats

Most tents were pretty typical of any encampment, but I recall one tent in particular... it had been constructed with a tarp over cardboard & plywood walls, with cardboard laid down upon pallets to form the flooring.  Within those pallets, however, were dozens of rats... a sheltered home, warmed by bodies above, with plenty of food around: not exactly a surprise; but it sent both cleaning crews and nearby observers scattering as each darted about.  One tweeter opted to point out highly-personal bodily truths in response to his disagreement with my rat observation.  I'm not sure how one could doubt the presence of rats... I mean, firstly: it's a city; we have those.  Second: it had a downright perfect new home.

One other tent -- one of the first ones to be cleaned out -- included a gallon jug of urine and a vomit-soaked washcloth.  I was fortunate enough to be downwind... oof.

But both of those incidents were admittedly in the minority, as even tents that were cleaned out didn't appear to be any more dirtier than what I'd accrue if spending a weekend in the mountains.  And considering many of these had been in place for months: I don't intend my "dirty jibes" as any insult; overall most of the encampment has been rather well-kept, all things considered.

U-StreamTo the credit of police, there were quite a number of occasions where they returned property from across the barriers.  There was a large painted plywood sign, a guitar, a briefcase, and some tentpoles- and that was only what I witnessed.  From chatting with many of the officers most of this time: most were in good spirits and very pleasant to talk to.  They also let in Occupy DC's livestreamer as well as the closest thing I'd say they have to a leader, both granted seemingly unrestricted (or at least greatly flexible) access behind police lines.

I tried to take some time to humanise both the protesters... well as the police, which I felt even more important to capture.  I'm not without my critiques of their overall response this evening & with the actions of a couple select officers, but it's also important to remember that as individuals: these men and women are people who would drop everything and give themselves to rush to your defense, assistance, and rescue regardless of who you are or in what circumstances you would find yourself in.  And these are people with families, just earning paychecks, who faced this day not knowing what course it may take.

...Even the staff cleaning out the tents, who had perhaps the least-inspiring job of all:

The big standoff came when the Park Police moved to close the last section at the northwest of the park.  This is home to the previously-closed food tent, medical tent, and -- most dear to the protesters -- their main library.  I am not 100% sure how it all began nor would I trust any account from either side, but somehow tensions flared, people got thrown down, riot shields moved in, clubs out, and basically all those sort of fun things...

The only thing I could hear over the pandemonium was a young girl screaming at the top of her lungs.  All other sounds faded into a constant din of background noise.  My hearing is not the best, so with my eyes planted into my camera lens: I hadn't taken heed of the police officers surrounding me.  When I pulled my head back momentarily to look at the last photo I'd just taken, out of the corner of my eye I recognised the light blue of police helmets on all sides; and a split-second later the world took a dizzying tumble about me.

I had been standing on a bench, and moments later I was behind the bench... a police officer pushed me over the back of it; I'm not entirely sure in what direction I landed other than that my brain took a moment to collect itself and come to terms with my newfound respect for the force of gravity.

As I joined into the crowd being slowly pushed back: flare-ups grew all about as protesters and police clashed; the group in general being pushed ever-gradually backwards toward the exit, though for many it wasn't entirely clear where the exit was: police and barricades seemed to be in all directions.

At the exit some protesters made their final stand, including taking down a barrier that I just happened to be standing by.  I'm pretty sure I let loose a rather loud profanity in the video I was shooting at the time, as the attaching part of the fence went straight into my leg.  This gave me a rather nice hobble the rest of the evening.  As the battle ensued about this barrier I took an unexpected club to the chest -- yet again I suppose I hadn't heard a police order directing to me to move.

Things quieted down for awhile after that...

Cordial chatting, seconds before things flaredAt one point I moved in closer to where several protesters were chatting with some police officers.  The conversation seemed relatively cordial, but I must have missed something that was said which, I suspect, led to something being thrown, as in a split-second the relative calm erupted into shields moving on all sides of me and horses surrounding my position -- police moved in on one of those protesters for reasons I had not been able to discern. [I've since gathered that this may have been the alleged brick-throwing incident]

Once again my limited hearing got the best of me, as all the sounds merged into one and my attention fixated on my camera & getting good photos.  But just as well, as with the immediate appearance of mounted officers on all sides of me: I decided it best to stay in place and let officers personally direct me out of there.

At once I had an officer on my left come to escort me away from my position, pushing me rightward; and at the same time as an officer to my right was escorting someone the exact opposite direction -- causing us both to lightly collide... I quickly stated that I'm being sent right and left simultaneously, and the officers quickly sent us both to the right... and thankfully the officer with me immediately listened when I was visibly jumping on one leg and announced "I'm slow".  He heeded this and slowed down his escort of me to the other side of the police line.

After that, things quieted down right up until I departed.  I took some time to capture the sense of the shield wall, capturing both its physical presence as well as the emotions of those holding it together:

Some time later the protesters organised into a general assembly, to which I eventually decided that things were unlikely to flare up to such a degree again; so I took my leave and went home to begin tending to photos and video.  It was only after I sat that I came to find tally nice bruises on my left leg and right shoulder (I have no idea where the shoulder one came from... I guess when I went over the bench).  My right leg hurts, too, but that's solely a result of putting all my weight on it for several hours.  All-in-all an interesting night.