A Winter Apology (Retraction)

Today marks the first day of Meteorological spring, and by simply typing that piece of trivia I can sense I’m the guy that won’t be invited to another party. It’s an optimistic thought, especially during this winter. Winter is still here, but it’s just starting to enter retirement. It still has life to live, but death is always on its mind.

In February I wrote an apology to Winter and I am now retracting that apology. To be honest, I wasn’t sorry, and now that Winter is becoming an old man I’m not afraid to say it. It’s dumping 3-6 inches on us as I type, and 3-6 inches on us Wednesday, but adjusted to 2015 expectations that’s a dusting. By apologizing I was accepting that I was the victim of this winter’s Lifetime movie. I did nothing wrong to deserve the beating I received, and even if winter promises he’ll never do it again, I won’t take him back (until the end of 2015 of course, when I’ve forgotten the damage he’s done).

I asked Winter to give me one 46 degree day in the 10 day forecast. That seemed like very little to ask. While there’s something depressing about winter in general we always get a break with a 50 degree day or 2. It reminds us that there’s reason to live. This Winter that didn’t happen so a 46 degree day is something to smile about.

But this winter’s caused me to think and act differently and put my life in danger to prepare my property for the disasters that headline the local evening news. I’ve climbed out of bedroom windows to shovel snow off of roof corners. I had to think about which direction I should fall to receive the minimal bodily harm. I’ve climbed onto an old and grandfather-built shed to clear hundreds of pounds of snow before the threat of rain. The shed houses enough rotary cultivators and other rusty and vintage garden tools to stock the prop-house for the next Saw movie. They would not gently break a fall through the roof. I’ve accepted that my mudroom needs some remodeling after a few buckets worth of water dripped from the door frame. I’ve accepted many of these things because millions of others are going through the exact same thing.

The act of snow removal has become an art, and one that I’ve become proud of. Six feed of snow surround my two cars in a perfect rectangle.  Chipping away at ice on the driveway is an exercise I can only do when the sun’s at a certain angle. When I’m able to get a large chunk of ice in one piece it makes me happier than I’d like to admit. I expect house guests to comment on the wonderful snow removal job I’ve done in the same way that I’d expect compliments for an impressive dinner spread or bathroom remodel.

This weekend I took snow removal a step further. My street is fairly busy and narrow and snow banks have become comically high. Parking spots on the street are already well-established and some potential spots are a lost-cause with 8 feet of filthy snow in the way with no place to put it. I climbed onto the snow bank closest to my house and shaved 2 feet off of the pile, displacing the snow to the potential parking spot that had long been lost to recent blizzards and chunky plow excess. But this one bank got me nowhere since 4 other snow banks block my view as well. Running on the high of the first bank I shaved several feet off of snow banks down the road.

As I stood on each bank I waved at oncoming traffic and pedestrians, and often got a wave and smile in return. While I thought the act was neighborly at the time I can now see it as slightly deranged. I was hacking away at giant piles of icy snow with my metal garden shovel with all of my might.

If it was the end of a movie the camera would rise up while filming me from above. I would raise my shovel in the air and scream up at the rising camera “They can take our street parking, but they’ll never take… OUR FREEDOM!!! (to reduce the blind spots)”.

The Cost of Taking Digital Photos

Go on vacation. I’ll wait.

Take lots of pictures. You have a 16gb memory card? Great!

See that sunset? Take 30 pictures of it. Is that the Golden Gate Bridge over there? Take 30 more pictures of that.

Now upload all of those photos to Flickr and Facebook. Don’t look at them first. Hosting on these sites is now free! Surely your friends and family want to see all of them!

This internal voice talks to all of us who walk with a digital camera and have a mother who has told us we have an eye for photography. This includes the majority of those under 40 in the western world.

There is no financial cost to taking an infinite number of photos. There was a time not long ago when a film developer was a valued trade but in the past two decades it has now gone the way of the whipping boy or a broomsquire; a dead or dying profession. Technology has removed virtually all barriers between the photographer and the actual photograph.

The ridiculous and italicized scenario in the opening did not affect the pockets of the fictitious vacationer. It is very tempting to take thousands of photos on vacation. I do it, and will continue to do it. However, there is a cost that comes in uploading all content to social and photo sharing sites: saturation and apathy. When the world has a camera in their pocket, curating the raw batch of photos into a presentable (smaller) group is a large factor that now sets good photographers apart from a novice. Pride and a bit of extra effort can replace what used to require a year in photography school. But when the photographer is no longer required to think about the act of photography, they are less likely to take pride in the final output.

For the sake of my own argument I’ll consider operations outside of the auto function of a camera to be advanced and skilled labor. Same goes for basic post camera editing including cropping, leveling and filling/darkening light. My solution against saturation and apathy is for the photographer to go through their 4000 photos and pick the best 100 to share. I understand this is like telling an overweight person to eat fewer snickers bars. It’s easy on paper. However, both of these skills, deleting 90% of photos and eating less junk food, require no skill or training yet produces a far more desirable output. I will discuss some examples below. These are screenshots from anonymous Flickr pages with the intent to better the world’s digital photo album, not shame an individual. They are real, but nameless.

Example 1: Nauseous Repetition

This is the classic example. These 6 photos are fine and are no worse than ones I may have taken. However, the repetition comes across as lazy. I’d pick one (really any one but the 5th one which has too much boring ocean to me). Straightening out the horizon would be nice, but as I mentioned before, I’m considering that an advanced technique.

Example 2: Accidental Artistic Vision

With digital photography there’s often no reason to get it right on the first try, especially with still subjects. The idea here is interesting. The student sitting on a bench is framed by the circular end of the bench. The camera is likely sitting on the bench so it was just a matter of playing with aperture and focus. The left photo was a bit too shallow and the bench student is too blurry to really make out. It’s unclear where the focus should be. The second photo works and it’s clear the subject is the sitting student. However, the fact that both photos were uploaded suggests to me that the creativity I see in the latter photo was likely accidental.

Example 3: Just a Regular Accident

This is a fine picture of a dog and his(?) birthday cake. I’d want to take his picture too if I spent the time struggling with him to put that hat on, and then convince him not to eat the cake for long enough to snap a few pics. Pic 1 and 3 are identical making it a candidate for Issue #1, but the photo of concern here is the middle one. It’s blurry. Maybe the dog moved, or the camera shook, but the photo is clearly one that should be thrown away.

So what’s the cost of taking digital photographs. Once the equipment is purchased the cost is $0. But with that comes responsibility and self-control.

Dear Winter, I’m sorry. – Love, Boston

Dear Winter,

First, I’d like to apologize for things said between early December and mid-January. Christmas was 60 degrees and the only thing white about Christmas in 2014 was my unexpectedly-exposed pale skin. I forgot about your immense power. Things were prematurely said about how mild the winter was and everyone talked about spring as the natural followup to Christmas.

I also forgot to check your Outlook Calendar which clearly showed your European vacation planned for the holidays explaining your absence. You booked it months in advance and trusted Fall to make the extra effort to freeze us all. Fall tried, and put an extra effort into freezing us in November. But, it proved too much for Fall and they clocked out on December 21st despite a verbal contract that you told me about (I trust you, really).

The aftermath of storm one, the prequel to the Blizzard of 2015.

But please, you’ve proved your point. The damage you’ve caused so far is reversible; no permanent damage done yet. Backing out of my driveway is a suicide mission with the 10-foot snowbanks. Former 2-way streets now have enough room for a few scooters. These things can all be fixed.

Office water-cooler chatter is supposed to be about American Idol in January and February. We’re supposed to talk about how the dynamics of Harry, J-Lo and Keith is so much better than previous trios. It’s a fresh show again after some missteps in judge-staffing decisions. Instead it’s been reduced to this compulsory exchange:

“Ugh snow”
“I know right. My snow blower broke and I had to shovel it the old-fashioned way”
“I heard 12-18 more inches next week”
“Ugh, where are we gonna put it?”

Why does everyone’s snow-blower break? Is that you or should I take this up with Sears?

But I’m only 3, what do you mean it’s my turn?

 

It’s only been a few weeks but I miss the small things already. I miss dry mail and predictable trash pick-up schedules. I miss short supermarket lines and the factory-set color of my car. I miss prime-time television without school cancellation notifications. I miss going to a public space and not bringing home the flu. I miss right-turn-only lanes. I miss opening my heating bill without trembling in fear. I miss going outside and seeing oncoming traffic before it hits me.

It occurred to me that you may be a Seattle Seahawks fan. In reviewing Malcolm Butler’s goal-line interception during the Super Bowl, it may have not been fair. He didn’t call it, and it clearly wasn’t thrown to him. It’s just rude and I’m sorry.

No escape.

 
Seattle weather is 54 degrees today. I’m not asking for that. All I’m asking is for one 46 degree day in the 10 day forecast. In return, besides this apologize, I promise to treat you with respect next winter. I’ll cower in fear and stock up on bread and milk when 6 inches are scheduled to fall. I’ll act frustrated when it takes a few days for those 6 inches to melt. I won’t forget that you have the power to make us all work from home again.

Kind Regards,
(A guy from (near)) Boston

Valentina’s Lullaby

The term lullaby is, again, used loosely. I understand my writing style to be a bunch of disjointed ideas crammed into a 3 minute piece. I play these ideas enough times that they grow on me and I eventually like the songs I write. However, without it being crammed down the throats of an audience they may come across as boring and confused.

This lullaby is for my second daughter, Valentina.

I’m sure every parent plans to give their second child the same exact experience and privileges as their first. Valentina (kid2) took such a different path than Carmela (kid1), even before ripening to 40 weeks, so that idea seems off the mark. To say that I wrote Valentina a lullaby because I wrote Carmela a lullaby 4 years ago isn’t true. I wrote them both a lullaby because I like any excuse to write a song and hope that some day they’ll enjoy listening to it.

For Carmela I created an entire Flickr set for each week of her entire first year on earth. She was born in May, a very comfortable photography month, and I had little else to do at times than take these pictures. Valentina came as mother nature locked us indoors with frigid weather, then dumped 5 feet of snow over 2 weeks to make sure natural-light photography was off limits until spring. Valentina won’t get a Flickr set for every week of her first year, but she’ll have an nauseating amount of photos taken of her for as long as I’m alive. My life has changed a lot in the past 4 years and there’s no reason to go back to force the same experiences.

The song came together quick from a theme I played with a few months ago. I came close to keeping it very simple, or, an actual lullaby, but it made me uncomfortable to play an entire song on only white notes. Time-signatures are thrown around in an un-lullaby kind of way. At some times it’s intentional in a prog-rock type of way. At other times it sounds accidental in a Nick Drake type of way.

Tempo is also abused to the point that a notation of “with feeling” can’t cover it up. However, there’s a good excuse. I wanted Carmela in the video which wasn’t easy. At first she wanted to dance, which went well at first, but after a minute her energetic moves included banging on the piano. It did not compliment the piece well. She eventually agreed to watch the iPad in the corner quietly which I took at the best possible solution. The background noise was just background noise until a theme song played and I fought against matching the tempo of the iPad. Normally I would just re-record the song but I felt the fact that Carmela moved from the carpet to the chair, and the cute interaction that followed, could never be re-created. The faults in the recording are small in comparison.

Jason McGorty